To the reopened (after a 3 ½ year, £18m+ revamp) Museum of the Home, a London Society tour with the museum director Sonia Solicari, and Naila Yousuf, the lead architect on the project from the firm of Wright + Wright.
Way back in the dark ages of the 1980s I lived in Hoxton where the museum is based, close to the Regent’s Canal, just off Kingsland Road. Those were the days before Hoxton became “Hoxton”, stamping ground for the Young British Artists and the ‘bleeding edge’ of privileged urban lifestyles masquerading as slumming it.
The museum was then known as the Geffrye Museum, so named because it was sited in the alms houses built in 1714 that had been funded from the estate of Robert Geffrye (more on him later). It was a series of rooms that captured the furnishings and style of different periods, showing what the living spaces of (comfortably off) families would have been like from the mid-1600s through to the 1950s.
The revamp of the museum has been transformational. The historic rooms are all still there (refreshed and with better contextualisation), and in addition the basements of the 18th century buildings have been incorporated into the displays; where the ground floor spaces look at rooms and domestic objects through time, the idea of the basement galleries is to look at different concepts of ‘home’.
There are even a couple of new rooms – one by the artist Michael McMillan with a 1970s front room that aims to capture some of the experience of African-Caribbean families in London, the other a 90s living space that is an example of the then-voguish ‘loft living’. It is personally tragic to realise that everything in that space is now ‘history’.
For anyone interested in the ways in which we live and inhabit our homes (and gardens, the museum also has examples from a Tudor knot garden to a 21st century green roof) has changed over the centuries this is an excellent visit to make. The entrance is literally next to Hoxton Overground station and a short walk from Shoreditch.
The Museum of the Home can be found at 136 Kingsland Road, E2 8EA and is open seven days a week, 10am-5pm and is free to visit. Full details here.
*Sir Robert Geffrye (1613-1704) was a city merchant, Master of the Ironmongers’ Company and Lord Mayor of London in the 1600s. He was an investor and profited from the East India Company and the Royal African Company – the latter of which shipped more slaves from Africa to the Americas than any other company in the history of the Atlantic slave trade. His statue stands over the old entrance to the building, but is in fact modern – it was erected in 1912 when the Ironmongers’ Company sold the buildings to the London County Council. Unfortunately for the museum, the building is Grade 1 listed, which means they cannot move the statue without an enquiry and, given the current government’s propensity for stupid culutre wars rather than actual policies, the final say would be that of the ethically compromised Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State.