Today, 10 February 2022, the Museum of London announced that its planned relocation to West Smithfield will begin at the end of this year, where it will occupy market buildings that have lain derelict for over three decades – saving the historic General Market site for generations to come.
The new museum will be renamed The London Museum. In 2025, the new museum will host a festival curated by Londoners in and around the new museum building in West Smithfield. The festival will give Londoners a chance to see the remarkable architecture of the General Market building alongside music, art commissions, food and events inspired by London and all its people from the past, present and future. School groups will be given special access through a programme of dedicated activity.
The museum’s current site at London Wall in the City of London will close in December 2022. The Museum of London Docklands will remain open to visitors. Under the leadership of new Managing Director, Douglas Gilmore, it will be renamed The London Museum Docklands from January 2023 to reflect the new museum brand.
Since the original London Wall site opened in 1976, the Museum of London has been a fixture on the capital’s cultural scene welcoming over 21 million visitors, including more than 1.5 million schoolchildren (since 1998). At London Wall, the Museum of London has proudly displayed the highlights of The London Collection telling the story of the capital before it was London to the present-day capital.
From June 2022, a series of events, activities and displays at the existing Museum of London site will celebrate the museum’s successes over the past 45 years. This will be the very last chance for fans of the Museum of London to visit the museum in its current location before expert curators and conservators carefully relocate the objects to West Smithfield.
As a result of the move to Smithfield, The London Museum will be able to open up to millions more visitors and showcase more of The London Collection than ever before, giving Londoners and visitors to the capital the opportunity to explore London’s story.
Thanks to Crossrail, The London Museum will be one of the world’s most accessible museums with Farringdon station just seconds away. The London Museum will open early and close late – reflecting London’s position as a 24-hour Global City. Extended opening hours on Friday and Saturday nights will attract visitors to West Smithfield throughout the weekend, and the new museum will support a host of independent small businesses around the perimeter of the General Market building.
Sharon Ament, Director of Museum of London, said:
“London has been slap-bang in the middle of it all – of culture, of trade and of ideas – for hundreds of years and so it feels right that we’re relocating the Museum of London to Smithfield Market – in the historic heart of the capital. This will be more than a museum, it will tell the story of all Londoners – past, present and future; it will be a new civic space for millions of visitors to enjoy, 24 hours a day, and it will be a living, breathing building that buzzes with the energy of Londoners. It will bring a new economy and foster a new relationship between people and the place in which they live, work or are visiting.
“The countdown starts now. This summer, we’ll be celebrating 45 years at our London Wall site, honouring our great past at the centre of London life before looking forward to being reborn as The London Museum.”
Young people will be at the heart of The London Museum. The new museum will welcome every London schoolchild through its doors where they will enjoy a new purpose-built facility that will excite and educate young Londoners about the capital’s history.
The General Market will house much of The London Collection in a vast and atmospheric underground gallery space. Object rich and beautifully designed, this space will tell the story of London like never before, drawing on the latest academic and expert research. Using cutting-edge DNA research, The London Museum will give a new perspective on who our ancestors were.
Visitors will meet Fortunata, a young slave living in London during the Roman era. Archaeologists discovered a reference to her on a wax writing tablet found in the remains of the River Walbrook in the mid-1990s. Piecing together what we know about Fortunata and other archaeological finds visitors will be able to imagine the daily life of a slave in an imperial city.
The museum will explore key moments in London’s history and unpick what we think we know to reveal new insights. It will celebrate and challenge, it will consider big contemporary topics and themes that draw contrasts and connections between then and now – London in all its glory and with all its difficulties.
Visitors will see evidence of the birth of the digital age in London in 1837 via a section of the world’s first commercial electric telegraph cable that ran between Euston Square and Camden Town. Early celebrity culture and perspectives on femininity will be explored using garments like a corset worn by Azella, the first solo ‘flying dancer’ who hit the headlines in the 1860s. The corset appears delicate and graceful despite being constructed using industrial hardware.
A special guided tour by the animals who lived in London through the ages will be on offer for the youngest visitors to The London Museum. Inspired by animals mentioned in historical records, this promises to be the capital’s most fun museum experience for children with educational links to the National Curriculum.
Within The Goldsmiths Gallery, the Cheapside Hoard will go on display in its entirety for the first time. It will sit beside extraordinary pieces from Goldsmiths’ Company Collection, comprising works of art of world class importance from stunning historic and contemporary gold and silver plate to jewellery and art medals. Only previously shown once in a smash-hit exhibition a decade ago, the Cheapside Hoard is the world’s finest collection of Elizabethan and Jacobean jewellery discovered by chance on a building site.
Zipping through the middle of the museum every few minutes will be Thameslink trains travelling between King’s Cross and Blackfriars – the only museum in the world to have a trainline running through the galleries.
The ground floor level of the General Market will retain the feel of the old Smithfield marketplace. It will act as a new civic space in the heart of London, while also showcasing exhibitions and events curated by Londoners and designed by London’s most creative talent.
Taking inspiration from the museum’s recent successful displays Dub London, The Clash: London Calling and London Making Now, this part of the museum will investigate the topics that really matter to Londoners from our time, including objects recently collected to reflect Londoners’ experience of Covid. The museum’s ambition is to connect with 100,000 Londoners to create the new museum as well as artists, poets, authors and an Academic Panel of specialists on London.
Protest will be a theme in this part of the museum. An oversized Katharine Hamnett t-shirt from 1989 with the words ‘CLEAN UP OR DIE’ will tell the story of the Londoner who wore it and how the fashion industry has campaigned for the environment. The Trump Baby blimp will hover above the displays reminding us that both local and global resistance is a part of London life.
Preparation work for the new museum is well underway. A team led by Stanton Williams and Asif Khan Studio with Julian Harrap Architects has been working on a masterplan for the reuse and restoration of the existing historic fabric, with contemporary interventions which will enhance the visitors’ experience and significantly contribute to the revitalisation of Smithfield.
Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, said:
“Culture is in the fabric of our city and for our economy to thrive we need ambitious creative projects to drive our recovery. The new London Museum will be a fantastic addition to our city, inspiring the next generation, attracting visitors from the around the world and securing our position as a global creative capital. This project will also create jobs and support our city’s recovery and I’m proud to be investing in it on behalf of Londoners”
Part of the team’s proposals has seen the restoration of the exterior of the General Market building and other areas, with conservation work led by Julian Harrap Architects. This work, the first stage of which is now complete, has seen the grand and historic façades of the General Market brought back to their former glory.
The design and restoration process has uncovered some architectural surprises, including forgotten underground vaults that were part of the former market cold stores, which will be used as interactive exhibition space. This is set to be one of the most atmospheric and evocative parts of the museum.
Another stunning discovery was Lockhart’s Temperance Cocoa Rooms – an establishment which promoted abstinence during the 19th Century. As part of the redevelopment, the Cocoa Rooms will be brought back to life with restored original tiles. Cocoa Rooms will be open seven days a week – complementing the independent food scene in and around Smithfield.
Also forming the perimeter of The London Museum is a ‘museum high street’, a row of terraced houses that will become home to independent shops, cafes, social enterprises and cultural partners, bringing vibrancy and economic opportunity to the area from 2025.
Following a visit to the West Smithfield site in 2021, Prince Charles was named Patron of the Museum of London, reflecting the Prince and museum’s shared passion for London’s heritage, the capital’s built environment as well as a shared optimism for the future of the city.
Catherine McGuinness, Chair of the Policy and Resources Committee of the City of London Corporation, said:
“The stunning new London Museum is central to the City of London’s plan to create a world-class culture offer with people and inclusivity at its heart. The new museum will be a welcome addition to the Culture Mile and we look forward to celebrating the museum’s contribution to the capital as we reflect on its 45 years at London Wall.”
As part of the masterplan for the West Smithfield development, The London Museum plans to further extend its footprint into the adjacent Poultry Market, offering new exhibition space for a rolling programme of temporary exhibitions.
The City of London Corporation has made an unprecedented investment into the project alongside a significant contribution by the Mayor of London and donations from the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths and their affiliated Charity, the Linbury Trust and The National Lottery Heritage Fund. Global law firm, DLA Piper, is the project’s inaugural Corporate Champion.