London is, of course, famous for its museums. It’s great that, despite efforts by previous goverments, the national collections still remain free, except for their specialist exhibitions.
Apart from the great institutions, there are what I would term “pseudo-museums”. One knows the ones – they generally relate to highly offensive subjects like torture and capitalise on the less discerning public’s fascination with the darker side of human nature and history. Starting from a certain dungeon the fashion has spread to Italy where the medieval high rise town of San Gemignano apparently has three of these blots. Regrettably, the trend has hit Lucca, as anyone going down the via Fillungo will know. I avoid these exploitative “museums” like the plague. In fact, I have fantasies that their perpetrators would be infected by the same mediaeval pox they gorely publicize. Perhaps, I’m being unfair…we all have to make a living, somehow.
In London, however, what is even more deplorable than these “musea” are the true museums that have disappeared altogether in the past twenty years. I point to at least three wonderful places which have been taken away from the enjoyment of the discerning visitor.
The museum of mankind, which concentrated on social anthropology, had magnificent premises in Burlington house which gave ample scope to fascinating exhibitions which even managed to re-created south Indian craftsmen streets and simulate earthquakes in Japan. I used to take my multi-ethnic college classes, when a lecturer in the great wenn, on a regular basis with immense success. Now that museum’s quite vanished, closed down in 1997.How sad for London’s increasingly cosmopolitan population.
The museum of the moving image, otherwise known as MOMI, illustrated in a lively way the history of the cinema from early Victorian experiments through the first flea pits to the glamour of Hollywood palaces, with diversions to Soviet and French films. We would be diverted by role-playing guides and the whole experience remains unforgettable in my mind. This fantastic museum shut its doors in 1999. Again, how sad!
Even in the centre of theatreland, in the very area where Nell Gwynn sold her apples, museums dedicated to the stage do not seem to be able to survive for long. London’s theatre museum, for so long wished for and finally opened in 1980, closed in 2007. Again, how terribly sad and such a waste!
The list could go on but it would be too heart-breaking. The fascinating museum of labour history, for example, in London’s east end closed in 1986. ( I am, however, happily informed that it will re-open soon somewhere in the North of England).
Another wonderful museum which closed was the North Woolwich railway museum which finally closed its doors in 2011. This was a museum we were particularly involved in as we contributed some of the old enamel advertising placards as seen here:
The museum had been opened by the then Queen Mum in 1986 and I still have the letter she asked her Secretary to write to us when we informed her in 1999 that the museum was first threatened with closure.
Regrettably, it is doubtful if we shall ever see this museum open again. The station itself is closed as a result of the new dockland extension under the river to Woolwich arsenal and the remaining track, which was to have been used to run vintage trains, has now been taken over by the consortium used to built London’s crossrail link.
If you are in London please try to enjoy Woolwich’s firepower museum, the Kirkaldy testing museum, the Fire brigade museum and the Imperial war museum for these are just a few of several other museums in London which, even in the hundredth anniversary of the great war, are scandalously threatened with closure. They just may not be there when you next visit this marvellous, ever-changing world city.