The Museum of London might just be my favourite museum on the planet, and after visiting again yesterday I think I know why. It tells stories. Of course, all these stories sit within one greater story, the story of the city itself, which doesn’t have a half-bad arc of its own (born from nothing, makes good, is destroyed, comes back stronger than ever, lapses into a self-satisfied decline of which it is only half-aware). But within that meta-story are some powerful tales in their own right.
I was snapping away merrily in Evernote, and am still working through the notes, but here are some highlights:
- the “baby farmer” (child minder – where in Hell did that name come from though?) Margaret Waters, hanged at Horsemonger Lane Gaol (near present-day Newington Causeway in Southwark) for murdering a baby called Cohen in Brixton
- the extraordinary Pleasure Gardens exhibit, with lifesize video playing inside a dark space in which strange figures (women with antlers!) seem still and then start to move, and with a start you realise they’re the other visitors, wandering around this time-slip Pleasure Garden with you. Were the Gardens really that dark? I felt like having an illicit tryst myself in there
- the rebuilt cell from Wellclose Square prison, 1750, with the original walls and the original scratchings of the prisoners on them. One in particular – EDWARD BURK – scratched in bigger than all the others and several time. Who was Edward Burk?
- the real fragment of a medieval wharf, with even the builders’ instructions still visible
- the model of the Roman forum. Was London ever that orderly?
- the Two Hills of London (versus Rome’s Seven), Ludgate Hill and Cornhill, with the Walbrook separating them. Must admit, I’d never thought of the place like that.
- the little model (I took a picture, it’s rubbish) of the Bronze Age method of building walkways across the swampy Thames marshlands with twigs and sticks. Don’t why this struck me. But it did.
And lots, lots more. Brain food round every corner. And probably enough material for about a half-dozen novels on one visit.