Wednesday, 17 October 2012

The City of the People of the World: Museum of London (Part Three)

A timeline of events and quotes contains photographs and costumes – dresses, Pearly King and Queen outfits – and a picture of Bolton winning the FA Cup Final at Wembley.
“It is not a pleasant place; it is not agreeable or cheerful or easy or exempt from reproach. It is only magnificent.” Henry James, 1869
“If I stand for a moment under the pavement in the heart of London… the great avenues of civilization meet here and strike this way and that. I am in the heart of life.” Virginia Woolf from The Waves (1931)
Meanwhile, the dates: Jack the Ripper stalks the city (1888); Tower Bridge is completed (1894); New Zealand grants women the vote (1894); Harrod’s store installs London’s first escalator (1898) – nervous shoppers are offered smelling salts – Queen Victoria dies (1901); The Ritz opens (1906); London hosts its first Olympic Games (1908); World War I begins (1914); Votes for Women (1918).

Selfridge's lift - sheer hedonism
Carlo Gatti’s Italian ice cream house combined the taste of a treat with the face of immigration. Selfridge’s bronze lift is on display – introduced in 1928 and operated by a uniformed young woman. Displays such as this, and images of the Savoy, highlight the disparity of rich and poor. This was the era of prostitution and suicide. Women took work as baby farmers, laundry facilitators, and matchbox assemblers. Men were brickmakers, or dockers, and unemployment benefit was introduced in 1911. Water pumps were made available and public baths were run by the Council as part of the war against disease, smell, dirt and lice.

Banners from the Salvation Army and Barnardo’s indicate that some attempts were made to relieve the poor. Charles Booth’s Map of Poverty (1889-1891) is on display. It divides London street-by-street into socio-economic areas defined as ‘semi-criminal’, ‘very poor’, ‘poor’, ‘mixed’, ‘fairly comfortable’, ‘middle class’ and ‘upper middle class’.

An array of his volunteers walked the streets taking notes for the survey to enable the categories to be imposed. A rough working-class area was defined as one with open doors, broken windows, prostitutes, thieves, and ‘a row always going on between warlike mothers’. Flowerpots, lace curtains, scrubbed doorsteps and hanging birdcages were the ‘hallmarks of a respectable neighbourhood’.

Displays include the Illustrated Police News with a story on the Whitechapel Murders, Suffragette posters and banners, WWII propaganda posters, travelling trunks and gas masks, bomb fragments, ration books, and photos of the blitz – bomb shelters made out of tube stations, and buses among the rubble. St Paul’s Cathedral was a symbol of hope during the war and remains the heart of London for some. A film of Jewish immigrants explains that they worked as domestic servants because ‘compared with instant death, it was a glorious opportunity’.

There is a mock-up of the Lyon’s tea rooms and a couple of gorgeous paintings by Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson – Amongst the Nerves of the World (1930), and London, Winter (1928). Even street furniture was changing with the introduction of the K2 telephone kiosk: Giles Gilbert Scott won the GPO competition to design one in 1926 and, although he wanted them to be green and silver, they had to be red to stand out more and constitute less of a hazard. Traffic lights were introduced to assist motorists, and a model of the underground/overground reveals the complexities of that particular endeavour.

Amongs the Nerves of the World by Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson
Museum items tell stories: the toy coach souvenir of the Coronation; the fashion over the ages of winklepickers, kitten heels, platform shoes and Dr Marten’s boots; the freedom and statement implied in a Vespa; the Mary Quant dresses of Swinging London; and the end of National Service leading to fears of juvenile delinquency.

A trolley from Heathrow airport indicates global Londoners, and they do come from everywhere: 250 languages are spoken in London and 20% of Londoners are of ethnic minority. Protest placards, silver jubilee memorabilia and psychedelic clothing embrace this diversity – you have a ‘punk’ outfit of mohair jumper and bondage trousers beside a ‘Vexed generation’ hijab to demonstrate that this is ‘the city of the people of the world’.

No comments: