Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Rising from the Ashes: Museum of London (Part Two)

After the Great Fire, all buildings had to be made of brick or stone. Bridges built at Westminster and Blackfriars spread growth south of the river. The docks were established in 1800. Regent Street and Trafalgar Square added to the grandeur of the city. A side exhibit has the pleasure gardens revealing people parading in masks, bonnets, flamboyant costumes and hats – such as the design of a ship or antlers. The gardens had outdoor lighting, food and drink, tree-lined walks and often an orchestra. Many cities copied London and called their gardens Vauxhall, after the most famous gardens of all.

With fans, pistols, jewellery and a wonderful display of shoes, the Museum stresses that London’s manufacturing industries were thriving; it had more shops than any other European city (hence Napoleon’s ‘nation of shopkeepers’ jibe) and needed skilled immigrants. Workers in the same trades in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and the continent formed associations and unions for better pay and conditions. In 1776 the wages of workmen in London were double those of their counterparts in Edinburgh.

Exhibits from this era include Anne Fanshawe’s dress (the embroidered hops, barley, anchors and bales represent Anne’s father’s trade as a brewer and a Merchant of the City of London), musical clocks, fine glassware, a dentist’s surgery (complete with tools, medicines, spectacles and teeth), a tailor’s workshop, the Blackett dolls’ house (with hand-painted wallpaper and a spit-roasting mechanism in the kitchen), and a wax diorama by Samuel Percy of Turk’s Coffee House in the Strand where folk were meeting to discuss ideas.

Anne Fanshawe's dress
The Blackett's dolls' house
Wallpaper detail
There’s an admission form from the Foundling Hospital where mothers left children they couldn’t afford to raise – a piece of cloth was cut in two; one half given to the mother; the other left with the child in the hope of being reclaimed (very few ever were). There is also a door from Newgate Prison and the walls of a Wellclose prison cell, carved with pictures of houses and churches, and a poem from 1759 which declares, ‘The cup is empty/ To Our sorrow/ But hope it will/ Be full tomorrow.’ Positivity in adversity!

Among items from this ‘new city’ are reminders of its foundations; portraits of Omai and Benelong; a Royal Standard barge banner; a pair of paintings by Henry Nelson O’Neal – Eastward Ho! (a colourful depiction of cheerful, smiling soldiers, kissing wives and babies as they board a ship in Gravesend leaving to fight in the ‘Indian Mutiny’, or first Indian War of Independence), and the companion work, Home Again as they return, many wounded.

Eastward Ho! by Henry Nelson O'Neal

Home Again by Henry Nelson O'Neal
A work from the Community Link course at Barnet College entitled Goods from the British Empire is a cotton tablecloth bearing china cups containing silk, sugar and coffee (the building was originally a warehouse for such goods), representing both the positive exploratory aspects of Empire and the negative associations such as slavery.

You can stroll along the reconstructed Victorian Walk with a pawn broker’s, pub, bank, pharmacy, and tailor’s. The gentleman’s outfitters contain cloth, tweed, silks, suits, collars, coats, trousers and top-hats, with the paraphernalia to make them – scissors, tape measures, rulers, fashion plates, dressmaker’s dummies, buttons, and twists of material and thread. There is also a milliner’s, a barber’s, a tobacconist, a stationer’s (with cards, post cards and paper dolls), a grocer’s (with biscuit boxes, scales for measuring, and glass and earthenware jars), and a toyshop (with trains, dolls, puzzles, toy soldiers, marbles, and an ark with all the animals).

The Victorian Walk, looking a lot like Diagon Alley
There’s a baker’s, a confectioner’s, a tea and coffee warehouse, a glass showroom (with stunning glasses, decanters and mosaics), and a watch-maker’s. I love all their writing desks and sets of drawers. The street is furnished with lampposts, a penny-farthing, an old urinal, a cart/wagon, a piano organ, and beer bottle boxes and barrels.

I liked the Eight Day Regulator Clock from 1860, exhibited at the International Exhibition of 1862. It shows the time in GMT and has 24-hour dials for Sydney, Madras, New York, Canton, Calcutta, Paris, St Petersburg and Constantinople.

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