Museum in Docklands

March 11, 2008 at 1:00 pm | Posted in Gay & Lesbian Issues, Gay and Lesbian, General, London, museum, Museum of London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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On a fine winter’s day I went to the imposing citadels of the new financial center at Canary Wharf and the Museum in Docklands, which traces the history of the area and the Thames.

Canary Wharf (3)Canary Wharf (7)

While the pre Roman and Londinium periods are touched on it isn’t done extensively as it wasn’t until medieval times when the docklands area became more productively used for shipping and trade purposes.

I didn’t think there would be nearly so much content but I’m happy to say I was wrong – especially given the price but more on that later. The medieval period features a reasonably interesting model of London Bridge complete with buildings and pubs weighing it down. Would have been cool to live on – until it collapsed… This section also includes an explanation of the trade conducted and the methods of transportation – like the small boats that whizzed around unloading cargo.

The museum features a Victorian era streetscape to walk down attempting to recreate the alleys of the docks with a pub and at times throughout the day a ‘period’ pub owner telling anecdotes.

Slavery helped to build up the various merchant houses as slaves from Africa worked the fields to produce luxuries like sugar that were then sold in London. As part of the anniversary on the banning of the trans-Atlantic slave trade the museum has a special exhibit on the history and ramifications. A few facts I was previously unaware of was the role of disenfranchised women in the push for abolition and that despite the aforementioned ban slavery within the colonies was not banned until much later.

As with much of the world not a whole lot changed with the technology until the Industrial Revolution and as production ramped up so too did the need for manufacturing, storage and a workforce. For many of the workers (hired on a daily basis) life was less than rosy with families sharing boarding houses and common sleeping areas with others. General strikes did try and improve the situation and apparently they were able to hold out through supplies provided by Australian unions.

World War II and the blitz were particularly brutal with the destruction of a great deal of warehouses and shipping. Much of the docklands was sealed off from the rest of London to restrict espionage, word of destruction leaking out and construction efforts – especially in the lead up to D-Day. According to the museum leaders had been secretly planning contingencies should war break out to limit the impact on commerce. Of particular interest to me were the sea forts they built at the mouth of the Thames to try and protect access to London and the South East. You’ll also be able to see some of the 1 (or maybe 2 man) portable bomb shelters, which contrasts with the ‘normal’ shelter that sits adjacent.

After the war the area went into decline as Britain’s empire tumbled and the post-war hardships further limited commercial interests. There were any number of attempts to reinvigorate the area but it wasn’t until sizeable tax breaks and incentives were offered that Big Business got in on the act and the first skyscraper took form as One Canada Square. Light Rail (DLR) and other infrastructure projects all went on in parallel with the above ground work so that the new docklands could take shape.

Canary Wharf (5)Canary Wharf (9)

In other words giving London the gleaming towers and undeniably dull social scene we’ve all come to know and well just know.

I’m assuming that in keeping with modern docklands the museum also had a special exhibit on being LGBT and black (in other words two potentially persecuted groups) and while a worthwhile subject the space devoted (a small corridor as you exit the main section) and the content felt lacking.

While walking to and from the station I was struck by how eerily quiet it is on the streets. Sure there were people around but the open space was relatively isolating compared with the bustle of the ‘real’ London.

The Museum in Docklands is reasonably interesting for the nautical or nautically challenged but on the whole it’s just another museum with a slightly different take on the London experience. The entry price for an adult is £5 and on face value this is definitely too much (although compared to the Operating Theatre it may be about right) on the other hand your ticket is valid for a year so if the Museum has any special exhibits you could come again ostensibly for free.

Unless you’re coming to Canary Wharf for another reason I wouldn’t recommend the Museum, a free and more central location would be the Museum of London.

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