Discover Greenwich Museum

July 9, 2010 at 7:36 pm | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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The Discover Greenwich Museum is a new and exciting addition to the Greenwich landscape. Located near the Old Royal College and Cutty Sark, the museum looks out over the river and is full of interactive goodness.

Greenwich (20)

Oh and information.

That’s important too, not just the bright and shiny things.

When you enter you can either start wandering through the various exhibits or head to the centre of the room for a giant model of the area. The story of Greenwich is then periodically projected down onto the model. It’s very well done but I would suggest that they include a countdown on the screens that surround it, as it wasn’t clear when the next one would start.

Greenwich (5) Greenwich (9)

The rest of the museum covers the role of Greenwich from medieval times to today, looking at the construction of some of its landmarks and its place in naval history.

Greenwich (7)

The museum offers an excellent introduction to Greenwich before heading deeper into places like the Observatory, National Maritime Museum and Old Royal Naval College.

We took our time and it we were done in 30 minutes – oh and it’s free!

Greenwich (12)

My other criticism was the service. I realise that taking a coffee into a museum can sometimes be a no-no (and sometimes it’s a yes-yes), upon entering I looked for appropriate signage and not seeing any we went in. A staffer told us we couldn’t drink it, which is fine, apparently there is a sign but it’s from their inside café leading to the inside of the museum. Not exactly useful to the rest of us. After being told we could sit on a bench within the museum to finish our drinks yet another staffer came by to ask that we don‘t. So now I will too. Complain that is. End of rant.

Greenwich (10)

Again besides that little hiccup it was worth a visit.

More pictures over at Flickr.

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Museum of London (part 2)

July 8, 2010 at 7:32 pm | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | 2 Comments
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Many years ago, when I first arrived in London, I visited the Museum of London. I was disappointed to find that it only went up to 1600 but was told they were going to be opening new sections in a few years.

And was the wait worth it?

Emphatically yes!

The new galleries are now putting the old ones well and truly to shame.

So did much happen to London between 1600 – now? Quite a bit, from the great fire, empire, wars and various social upheavals. The curators have done an excellent job of covering the city’s history and presenting the content in stimulating and memorable ways. On the downside, if it could be considered as such, there can be a bit too much information, so it’s not as easy to do a quick trip and if there are a lot of visitors it can be quite the challenge to read.

Some of the more interesting elements to the presentation are in the Victorian period where there’s not only a streetscape to wander along (make sure you pick up the summary board at the entrance) but also a ‘real’ pleasure palace. You can sit in the middle and watch videos projected onto the sides reenacting the period.

The new galleries also have a number of screens, many of which are touch enabled. When I visited it was painfully obvious that everyone has been influenced by Apple’s interactivity model (even me and I don’t have an iphone) in how we expected things to work when we did certain things. Generally it didn’t work directly how I assumed it would. This is fine, every system is different afterall, perhaps a brief instruction panel? Would this destroy the aesthetic too much?

The museum is free and well worth the visit for both cynical Londoners and tourists alike.

V&A Museum of Childhood

December 26, 2009 at 12:23 pm | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | 1 Comment
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I’d been meaning to visit the V&A Museum of Childhood for a while but it seems so out of the way that I’d put it off. However it’s near Bethnal Green so it’s really a non-issue and I wish I’d taken the chance to come ages ago. It’s very cool.

So why is it cool? Well it has things for all ages from kids to adults, with a mixture of display cabinets and hands on activities (though some of the latter you’ll have to pay for).

The museum provides both a timeline f toys and childhood activities from Victorian times while also applying a kind of scientific classification regime by having sections devoted to different types of toys such as those with a look see component (from those old time spin wheel contraptions to video games) to push/pull toys like bicycles.

Thus it teaches how these larger theories are applied to childhood and even if the kids don’t get it parents will. Although the parents might just as easily be relieving their (or their grandparents) youth by looking at some of the older items.

Personally I saw a lot of familiar 80s/90s examples. I assume there were more recent ones but these weren’t particularly clear.

On the second floor you’ll come across a wide selection of doll houses, various baby cribs through the ages and a special exhibit space. When I visited it was showcasing the work of the Roald Dahl artist Quentin Blake but these change often so best check.

One of my few criticisms is that the display cases have frosted panels providing an explanation of the contents, which is excellent, however they can sometimes obscure an individual item’s description.

All in all a very enjoyable time and one worth visiting – especially as it’s free!

Photos of some of the toys and other displays are at Flickr.

Open House 2009

September 21, 2009 at 10:29 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Every year many of London’s buildings that are normally closed to the public are opened up for a rare chance to see some classic gems as part of Open House. This year I went to:

St Stephens: A historic church located near Bank. It could have been interesting but sadly it didn’t seem open when we came by at 9:15 (opening hours started at 9). Perhaps we missed the entrance?

St Stephens - Open House (3) St Stephens - Open House (2)

Lloyd’s:The iconic modern industrial high-rise in the City, home to Lloyds and numerous other traders. Normally when you visit you have to be smartly dressed and for men wearing a tie but not on this Saturday (Sunday it’s closed). The high atrium, external lifts and views of the city make this a worthwhile visit but it’s better to get here early as the queues can take a while. Probably no more than 30 minutes once you get in.

Lloyds Building - Open House (14) Lloyds Building - Open House (30) Lloyds Building - Open House (7) Lloyds Building - Open House (62)

Japanese Festival: Nothing to do with Open House but this special one off event at Spitalfields Market was on the same day so I opted to detour off the itinerary to check it out. There were plenty of stalls serving food and other Japanese related products. Taiko drummers were performing energetically when I arrived and provided a soundtrack for my wander around. It looked like a pleasant day out with a number of families perusing the various activities and shops.

Japanese Festival (18) Japanese Festival (23)

Chartered Accountants’ Hall: The Accountants’ Hall is, oddly enough, the home of the Institute of Chartered Accountants with a historic Victorian exterior, library and reception room blending with modern banqueting hall, restaurant  and council chambers. A 15 minute tour provides an overview of the building and its history.

Chartered Accountants Hall - Open House (12) Chartered Accountants Hall - Open House (6)

Pipers’ City of London: Located near Guildhall is the City’s marketing office and its scale model of London. It only takes 5 or 10 minutes to look at but it is quite cool to see the city in miniature with all of the proposed buildings on display. You can also choose specific buildings or categories and they’ll be illuminated.

Piper's City of London - Open House (19) Piper's City of London - Open House (11)

St Mary’s – Bow Church: Another historic London church and this one was open. There were tours of the crypt and guides on tour to answer your questions. I took the opportunity to let the ambience soak in. However I only stayed for 15 minutes.

St Mary-le-Bow - Open House (10) St Mary-le-Bow - Open House (5)

Salvation Army: The International Headquarters of the Salvation Army, located near Saint Pauls, had tours of their building every half hour. We missed the latest one so opted to have a wander around the basement cafe and small exhibit space instead. Obviously we didn’t get the most out of this building and I’d be interested to hear if anyone went on the tour.

Salvation Army - Open House (2) Salvation Army - Open House

120 Fleet Street: Formerly the Daily Express building (during the heyday of the newspaper industry on Fleet Street) is notable for its art deco foyer. You may have to wait in line for 5 minutes or so but with the 1920s style mouldings and design it’s worth it. Probably takes 5 – 10 minutes once inside.

120 Fleet Street - Open House (8) 120 Fleet Street - Open House (3)

Honourable Company of Master Mariners: Down near Temple tube station and moored in the Thames is the HQS Wellington, home to the Honourable Company of Master Mariners. A 40 minute guided tour of the vessel offers a background to the company, its tussels with the City of London and a history of the Wellington (named for the New Zealand City not the Admiral) and other ships. Interesting but a touch long.

HQS Wellington - Open House (9) HQS Wellington - Open House (14)

Society of Antiquaries: Located inside Burlington House, the Society of Antiquaries while relatively small is home to an impressive library and imbues a sense of history and the preservation of knowledge onto this casual observer. Definitely one to look in on.  10 minutes.

Society of Antiquaries - Open House (10) Society of Antiquaries - Open House (6)

Linnean Society: Also located within Burlington House, the Linnean Society does for biology what the Antiquaries does for museums and history. Again it has an interesting library although you can’t wander as extensively nor can you pick up random books to browse through. 10 minutes.

Linnean Society - Open House (3) Linnean Society - Open House (2)

Open House is a great weekend but it’s important to have a plan to make sure you can see as many sites as possible during the weekend and try and avoid those that are normally open – unless they have a special tour or event on.

More photos at Flickr and a Google map.

Plus unrelated to Open House but still cool giant chess set in Trafalgar Square!

Trafalgar Square Chess Set (2) Trafalgar Square Chess Set

Tate Britain (Lates)

August 5, 2009 at 10:42 pm | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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May of you will know that I enjoy going to the odd late night opening and the Tate Britain was no different. Although it is regrettable that it’s taken so long to write about one of their late night events.

The Tate Britain was the Tate until that upstart Modern turned up. The gallery houses an impressive collection of art from 1500s onwards! It is presented in the same way as the National Portrait and Art galleries. So if staid frames and artworks along painted walls is your thing then you’ll feel right at home. It certainly worked for me and without knowing more I felt like I had become more cultured – just from the experience.

Now, that was the artwork – which you can see on any visit but what about the Lates?

For those new to the concept, basically, various museums in London will have extended hours one night a month that’s just for adults. So there’ll be entertainment, drinks and food.

For Tate Britain they had Courvoisier in attendance providing discounted cocktails (in an attempt to broaden the appeal of cognac – according to our server). However, you could only drink in a very small space, relative to the entire gallery area, as a result we found ourselves pacing around trying to finish our beverages and move on. This is similar to the Victoria and Albert’s Lates. I respect that they don’t want accidental spillage but perhaps they could widen the drinking area or have a few other ‘safe zones’ throughout. I realise I sound like an alcoholic but if I wanted to just look at the art I’d come on a normal day but I chose to attend for a Lates experience.

Rant over.

Tate Britain (4)

Besides the bar area the main hub of the gallery was given over to a couple audio visual displays. Generally necessitating those who wanted to watch them all to sit on the floor. The Tate also held a variety of walks and talks but we weren’t able to make any of these.

Lastly there was musical entertainment in the form of the Shellac Sisters – a group of gramophone playing retro ladies. What we could hear of it echoing down the corridors seemed novel but every time we were actually in sight in seemed to be break time.

Overall I liked the artwork on display and found it satisfying. While the option to go Late is appealing I didn’t find the extra offerings compelling enough to recommend a late night visit. A regular day time trip should be fine.

The Grant Museum of Zoology

August 5, 2009 at 9:59 pm | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Over at UCL (University College London), near Euston tube, in amongst all of the academic departments you’ll find the free Grant Museum of Zoology and its collection of animal specimens.

It’s well signposted so should be fairly easy to find on the campus however it is in a teaching building so you you’ll need to advise security when you enter in order to get buzzed through the barriers.

As the name suggests this smallish museum looks at the animal kingdom. Upon entering you’ll see rows of display cabinets and every other piece of available space seemingly filled with different specimens. While not dark and musty it is still atmospheric, a cross between modern student and Victorian collector.

The first part details the development of the collection and the influence of its subsequent curators. The second section (and bulk of the floorspace) is devoted to each of the classes with multiple examples (generally skeletons, some in jars) in the cabinets.

The overview panels in each area provide just enough information to enlighten without boring a general reader. Each specimen will have a name tag and a number will provide more in-depth information.

Besides the general museum goer you may come across students and artists drawing some of the specimens.

For those with an interest in zoology and don’t want to go to the natural history museum then this is an excellent option .

The Petrie museum is also located nearby within the UCL campus.

The Polish Institute & Sikorski Museum

August 5, 2009 at 9:51 pm | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Opposite Hyde Park, on embassy row, if you look carefully you might see the Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum.  A small museum spread out over several floors detailing some of experiences of Polish expatriate forces during World War Two.

There are limited information sign next to the collected items however you won’t need them as a guide will take you around, answering your questions and highlighting the importance of the pieces. This could pose a problem if a number of people come through during the two hours it is open. This happened to me in the final room when the usher brought a few Poles in for the guide (there’s only one). Luckily we were almost done. Also, as to be expected the guide spoke Polish and English. A tour takes about 30-45mins.

Probably not the thing to focus on but I am a geek after all but they have an enigma machine!

It doesn’t matter that I didn’t go ‘whoa’, ‘whooo’, or ‘whaooo’ over any of the pieces because the experience of the guide as he slowly moved around the museum and raspily extolled the value of the items made up for it and created a sense of ambiance and the importance that these pieces have for the museum.

It’s interesting, particularly if you are fascinated with the history of the period – or the armed forces. This could be out of the scope for the museum but I would have liked to see some content about the experience of Polish civilians, general background history for the unitiated and an overview of the culture.

Ok that’s a lot of requests, which is probably why they only focus on the one area.

Masonic Museum

July 20, 2009 at 12:05 pm | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Set amongst the heart of theatreland is the headquarters of the largest Masonic group in the UK and within its imposing structure is a museum and library.

Masonic Lodge Masonic Lodge

I think we’ve all heard rumour and innuendo about the Masons. They are our overlords after all and will surely censor this if it doesn’t suit them! Right? So I admit to feeling a little trepidation when entering the building (especially in jeans and t-shirt) but the guards were helpful and after being signed in I was directed upstairs to the library and museum. It’s worthwhile to not that they also have guided tours of the building, check their site for more details.

The museum is at the far end of the library and has display cases showcasing the craft works of the masons (both for practical and ceremonial uses) and a description of the formation of the current Mason’s group, symbols and the construction of its headquarters.

I found the craft work detailed and some of the facts interesting (by law all Norwegian Masons are publicly listed) I unfortunately still came away not knowing who the Masons are and why they developed. I get the impression from the museum that being a Mason might be like a philosophy of enlightenment running parallel with your own religion. Of course I could research this further but I would think the museum should provide that brief overview as well.

Then again I may have just missed that display.

The museum is interesting and free but don’t expect the secrets of the Order to be revealed. Perhaps just another (their) perspective on the Mason’s history.

Also currently on display in the headquarters is a free exhibit on the Masons and the French Revolution. Specifically the impact the revolt had on ‘secret societies’ in Britain. It’s reasonable and worth a visit in conjunction with the main museum.

The V&A (the second coming)

July 7, 2009 at 5:06 pm | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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It’s been a while since I last visited the V&A. Certainly a very long time since I had a proper visit. Today I took the opportunity to see the special (and soon to be over) Baroque exhibit, Gilbert Collection and the Theatre Collection.

Baroque: The exhibit discusses the first global style – Baroque and its influence over the course of several hundred years over performing arts, religion and daily life. An adult ticket costs £11 and you can get an audio guide. I didn’t and don’t feel that I’ve missed out. The exhibit was larger than I expected with a number of interesting and intricate pieces. I found the localisation of the style (such as in Asia) particularly fascinating. If you have an interest I art, design and globalisation this would be a worthwhile visit.

Gilbert: if you’ve not had enough opulence at the Baroqe exhibit then make your way past the jewellery and silver collections to the new Gilbert Collection. It features a collection that was built up over the last half of the 20th century and bequeathed to the V&A at Gilbert’s death in 2000. It features a number of fascinating and well made gold pieces, small boxes and micromosaics.

Theatre: London used to have a dedicated theatre museum however this has now closed. The collection was given to the V&A and they’ve presented a snap shot in the new rooms. An attendant advised that it is possible to see the larger collection via special appointment with the information desk. The rooms cover topics such as producing, casting, costumes, legal obstacles, advertising and the sets. It’s all fairly interesting (such as the bishops who’d attend the equivalent of glorified strip clubs) but you’ll be able gloss over some items while reading the descriptions of pieces that grab your attention. For the children they can play dress up in some costumes. Overall very well done condensing a large collection into an accessible overview.

Met Police Museum

July 6, 2009 at 10:58 pm | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Close to West Brompton Tube at the Empress State Building is the local police complex and a newly opened police museum, which is also meant to be an aid to police recruitment.

Despite thousands of items in storage the museum is seriously restricted by the available floor space. They’ve certainly maximised the available area with blurbs covering topics such as the changing face of the Met since its inception, allowing women into the force and new technologies.

According to the museum they’ll be rotating the items on display and they’re also hopeful of expanding their floor space. The museum is new and the volunteer staff I spoke to genuinely excited and enthusiastic so I’m sure it will continue to grow and develop.

With the space as a caveat my only suggestion would be to add some greater information, perhaps anecdotes and histories on the display case items. Also an official website would be great too!

Given the size I can’t recommend it as a must see but if you happen to have an interest in criminal justice, working in the police or happen to be in the area then drop by this free and newly minted museum. Perhaps one day the Black Museum will open to the public too. Meanwhile perhaps one day the Bow Street Museum will open as well.

Also you might want to check out Time Out’s Big Smoke Blog on the museum.

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