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On the edge of the Barbican, on the way to St Paul's, lies an obscure (to this ignorant person!) archive of the changing shape and society of London. The Museum of London has a wealth of material ranging from the oldest human remains found in the London region to the gates of Newgate prison. It maps the importance of the river in the expansion of the city and has much information on the impact of plagues, industry and fire. A lot of money has quite obviously been put into the building and the displays and everything is kept looking shiny and important. Why then, with this range of resources and exciting material, does the Museum end up being so dull? Walking round is a very sterile experience, with the most intriguing pieces, such as the recreation of a Victorian streetscape or the reconstructed Roman materials kept firmly behind glass, with acres of dull text to plough through before the significance of anything is known. The most interesting displays are those found on the website, but with such a small number of computers scattered throughout the building, it's hard to get through the hordes of bored children to investigate.

Of course, it's not necessary for museums to open up their cases and let prying hands in to sully each piece. But many exhibitions, such as those in the Science Museum and, looking back deep into my childhood, the Glasgow Museum of Transport, have found innovative ways of bringing their exhibitions alive and telling stories without resorting to dull narrative. The lack of coverage of post 1914 London is also slightly annoying, given the number of changes that have occurred in the city in the last 90 years. Until the Museum of London uses the splendid archive it has in a more imaginative way, I'd suggest giving it a miss and using it's rather nice website as a starting point for going out and exploring the history of London in the old-fashioned way.


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May 2014

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