Magazine article History Today

London -- World City on Display

Magazine article History Today

London -- World City on Display

Article excerpt

AS PART OF a long-term plan to renew and expand all of its permanent displays and to mark its 25th anniversary, the Museum of London opens the first and largest of its new galleries, World City, on December 7th. The gallery covers the important historical period from the French Revolution to the First World War when London became the first great metropolis of the industrial age, a city with a globally dominant economy, the financial and commercial capital of an expanding world empire.

How the rapidly expanding metropolis managed to function as it grew in size and population; how it supplied itself with food, fresh water and goods; how it disposed of its waste; how Londoners used and were employed within the city, are all questions explored by the new displays.

World City looks at how a largely laissez faire system of government in London was replaced during the nineteenth century by metropolitan controls, regulations and finally by a locally-elected authority with limited powers. The technology of the industrial age is presented as a key factor in the evolution of the capital into a modern city. A new sewage system and improvements in transport, from the underground, to trams and commuter railways, are all given special attention.

Of the 3,000 artefacts in the new gallery, many have not previously been seen by the public, while others have been in store for years. Since the Museum of London opened in 1976, there have been many notable additions to the collections. In the 1980s when London's manufacturing base was in decline, the Museum acquired extensive working history collections. The largest such piece featured prominently in the new gallery is an enormous bandsaw made in London by Charles Powis & Co. in 1862 and used by the vatmakers Carty's of Peckham.

Several items have been generously donated, such as the contents and work-basket of the Quaker philanthropist Elizabeth Fry, which dates from the 1820s and which she took with her on her visits to Newgate prison. Others have been acquired with help from bodies such as the National Arts Collections Fund and the V&A Purchase Grant Fund. Among the works of art are the amazing Rhinebeck panorama of London (c. 1807), George Elgar Hicks' `One Minute to Six' (1860), William Macduff's `Shaftesbury, or Lost and Found' (1862) and, most recently, Henry Flather's photographs of the building of the Metropolitan District Line (1866-68).

The aim of the new gallery has been to show the breadth and quality of the Museum's collections. Instead of displaying reproductions of historical images on text panels as a means of explaining a theme -- known to curators as the `book on the wall' approach -- we display only graphic originals. The conservation issues this presents mean some images can only be on view for short periods; but we make a virtue of this by rotating material from the Museum's rich archives.

The gallery introduces the visitor to the main events and developments in the capital by means of a core narrative. This is complemented by the artefacts and detailed captioning, as well as additional thematic panels.

The story begins with the French Revolution in 1789, responses to this and the ensuing European war, and how these events affected the foundation of the future wealth and power of London. …

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