MGM 2003 - A Capital Addition, Museum In Docklands Now Open

By Emma Midgley | 23 May 2003
Shows dockers unloading a cargo of elephants.

Left: from tobacco, to... elephants? You name it, they unloaded it! Image courtesy of the Museum in Docklands.

Snapping on a pair of braces and grabbing her filofax, Emma Midgley made for Docklands to see what it used to be like.

West India Quay will be transformed into a working dock, complete with boats and costumed actors, to celebrate the opening of Museum in Docklands on Saturday May 24.

Shows a recreated chandler's shop.

Right: the museum has recreated many aspects of Docklands life through the ages - a chandler's shop. Image courtesy of the Museum in Docklands.

The museum is based in one of London's oldest warehouses and celebrates 2000 years of Docklands history in an exhibition spanning 12 galleries - from the arrival of the Romans to the construction of Canary Wharf.

Mairi Allan of the Museum in Docklands, said: "The museum captures a lost time. The Docklands have always been a central part of London and Britain's history in terms of trade and industry."

The museum begins with a brief history of Roman, Saxon, Norman and Medieval London. Artefacts, which have been excavated at Billingsgate and Lower Thames Street, are displayed. There is a model of Old London Bridge - the first stone structure over the Thames.

Shows three python skins, more than 20ft long, hung over a roofbeam for inspection in Cutler Street Warehouses c.1927.

Left: three python skins, more than 20ft long, hung over a roofbeam for inspection in Cutler Street Warehouses c.1927. © Museum in Docklands / PLA Collection.

The following galleries show the explosion of trade in the 18th and 19th Century. Visitors can wander through a reconstruction of a Legal Quay from the 1790s, and 19th Century alleyways, which housed sailors back from overseas adventures.

There is an interactive Mudlarks' gallery for children aged five to 12. Children can learn to winch and weigh cargoes, see how divers work underwater and discover archaeological finds on the foreshore.

Shows the Trade Expansion gallery.

Right: the Trade Expansion gallery covers the dramatic growth of the port's activities when merchants grew rich from the rise in trade. © Museum of London.

At the weekends, they can meet characters from Docklands' past: a dockworker, pub landlady, Lascar or street entertainer.

The illegal underworld of London's docks in the 18th and 19th centuries is also investigated - piracy, murder, smuggling and the black market. A gibbet is on display as a reminder of the harsh punishment meted out to pirates.

As the exhibition moves into the 20th century, the devastating effect of the Blitz is shown with film archives and oral testimonies. Footage from the Imperial War Museum shows the part the docks played in an Allied victory.

Shows a diver preparing for his latest job, c.1935.

Left: a diver prepares for his latest dangerous job, c.1935. Divers assisted with wreck-raising operations and worked on moorings and piles from 7am to 5pm Monday to Friday and 7am to 1pm on Saturdays. Image courtesy of the Museum in Docklands.

The final gallery shows the controversial regeneration of the Docklands in the 1980s. The development of wasteland into loft apartments and skyscrapers is shown through the eyes of Dockland communities and developers.

A free opening party will be held on Saturday May 24, with live bands, treasure hunts, costumed actors and a prize for the best-dressed pirate!

Reviewer Emma Midgley is participating in the 24 Hour Museum / Museum and Galleries Month Arts Writing Prize.

Shows Museums and Galleries Month logo.
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