Last week, I was poddling about on my bike (as I do) and I noticed two rather lost looking women, consulting a map near Old Street. It turned out they were trying to find The Geffrye Museum (museum of the home), so I was able to point them in the right direction, which as it happened was reasonably fortuitous, as they were about to go the wrong way. So, for this reason, I thought I'd write a brief post about the museum. If you have a spare hour or so, have an interest in how our ancestors lived or are researching old interiors or furniture, then it's well worth a visit. It's also free (donations obviously welcome).
We've popped in there a few times on my Sunday east London walk, and suffice to say, approaching The Geffrye Museum through the council blocks of Hoxton, traversing the busy Kingsland Road brimming with Vietnamese restaurants, then stepping through the museum gate, first time visitors are usually quite astounded to find themselves plunged in to the garden of a long row of lovely 18th century almshouses. It seems like you've unwittingly stepped in to another time and place.
The main part of the building (which you can see above), dates back to 1714 and was formerly almshouses of the Ironmongers' company, left by a guy called Sir Robert Geffrye, who was himself Lord Mayor of London in 1685. After the Ironmongers' pensioners moved to greener pastures at the beginning of the 20th century due to the encroachment of the Victorian east end and all that entailed, the building became a museum.
Upon entering The Geffrye Museum, you will be taken on a journey through the living rooms of the English middle classes, or what I believe Samuel Pepys referred to as 'the middling sort', from 1600 to the present day. The long row of almshouses have effectively been turned in to a time machine, giving you a glimpse of furniture, style, fashion and taste throughout the ages. If you happen to visit in the run up to Christmas, you'll also be treated to the added bonus of seeing how houses were decorated during the festive season and the types of food that would typically have been eaten. Aside from being able to gawp at the rooms, you're provided with bits of historical context that help set the tone and allow you to understand a bit more about the people who lived in such rooms and what life was like for them.
The more recent annexe makes room for 20th century inclusions, and if you get a bit peckish, there's a cafe. During the summer months, you can also visit the gardens and walled herb garden. The museum also have loads of special events, do lots of educational work with kids and for a very small fee you can join a tour (Saturdays, Tuesdays & Wednesdays) of one of the restored almshouses and see how it would have been for the pensioners living there in the 18th and 19th centuries.
My only minor qualm, is that having walked through the museum, you then have to scuttle back through the oncoming visitors along the narrow walkway to get out. However, it's not really that important and anyway, it would seem that changes are afoot. In their quest to fulfill their vision of becoming the 'Museum of the Home', The Geffrye Museum are embarking on an ambitious £18.9m development programme, turning the already excellent museum in to an even better one, which includes another door right next to Hoxton Overground Station which is directly behind. So remember that too ... if you're going there via the overground, Hoxton station couldn't be any nearer if it tried.
The Geffrye Museum, Kingsland Road, E2 8EA - Tue-Sat (10am-5pm), Sun (12-5pm)
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