Museum of London - a City Museum in Transition

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The Museum of London (MoL) is one of the world's largest and best-curated collections. It was formed fifty years ago from the merger of two rivals: the archaeologically oriented Guildhall Museum, representing the antiquarian harvest from intensification of the central business district, which coincides with London's ancient core municipality; and the London Museum, metropolitan in scope, eclectic in its collections, oriented towards the scale and diversity of the modern city. From its formation MoL has sought to combine and reconcile these strands, making it - as IUAV expert Prof Donatella Calabi notes - a seminal example of a modern city museum. MoL's purpose-built home in the architecturally famous Barbican complex suffers from a fatal defect. Its entrance on an elevated deck is inaccessible, limiting visitor numbers. After several unsuccessful attempts to open up ground-level access, the museum has decided to relocate. MoL seized the opportunity to acquire two halls formerly belonging the wholesale meat market at Smithfield, in a prime visitor location close to the massively enlarged railway station at Farringdon, meeting point of London's north-south and east-west Crossrail routes. The new premises combine spacious ground levels under high domed roofs with deep cellars intended for cold storage of meat. Plans for the transition are well advanced with MoL scheduled to reopen its doors in 2023 The paper discusses the challenge of relocating the Museum from a purpose-built modernist structure on an elevated deck, to buildings that are larger and older, with street access from all sides; and the consequent choices for organisation and presentation of the collections. We see how those basic questions of urban museology which fuelled the rivalry between Guildhall and London collections a hundred years ago continue to exercise the MoL’s curators today.
**pre-conference draft, please do not cite** ** author can supply latest version of this work-in-progress **
city museums, London, urban history