I visited the Geffrye Museum for the first time this weekend, admittedly it was a bit of a rushed one, but I still enjoyed myself and think that the hour and a half I spent there was enough. The building, which was once an almshouse (a house founded by a charity that helps the poor) for the Ironmongers’ company built in the eighteenth century, is beautiful and set apart to the dark, grey world of London just outside its gates.
The Geffrye’s (I feel like I’ve made a new friend) predominant focus is the homes and gardens of the urban middle-class from 1600 to the present. I’m not sure why, but I expected to actually be walking through the stereotypical rooms of peoples’ homes. I was a little disappointed by the this, but, I also understand why that’s probably not feasible/practical although it would be quite fun and definitely interactive.
Before you enter the main exhibition – which is a series of connecting rooms displaying living rooms throughout the centuries and rooms displaying significant objects and timelines to provide guests with an overview of the time – you are met with a beautiful, entrance made of oak (I think). I wish I’d taken a picture of it.
You are initially view a semi-circle of popular types of chairs throughout history. This was quite nice to see, and to have the physical objects in front of you in ascending order is a nice touch. I liked the 1620s chair the most, I think that says a lot about my own personal taste.
Much of the information from before 1800 has been taken from individuals’ inventories which were detailed accounts of belongings that were in each room. I can appreciate how hard it is to find details of life before the nineteenth century and whilst walking through the earlier rooms I didn’t feel that anything was missing from them in comparison to the more modern ones.
I definitely enjoyed the earlier living rooms – a with their darker panelling and green furnishings. There were replicas of armchairs scattered throughout which made it possible to compare how comfortable, or not, life was. There were quite a few more interactive elements to the museum but I won’t ruin them for you. There were also graphics of what a typical urban house would look like from the inside throughout the galleries. These helped to visualise the rooms viewed in the context of the house, instead of these floaty spaces in a museum to simply look at.
The best new (actually old) object that I was introduced to was the tea caddy. These were special containers, with locks, to store the owners’ tea. Many of them were intricately decorated and placed on show. I can only presume this was a sign of wealth as tea was quite exotic and expensive at the time. I’d like to get my hands on a caddy one day to store my, erm – coffee!
There was one room, which was covered in portraits and paintings of middle-class families. There were books scattered around and also a number of tables. There were so many books, some historical, others modern, but all relevant to the museum. I can imagine you could quite easily find yourself being absorbed by them and spending hours in the single room. I should also note that there are gardens to but seeing as it is the end of January there really wasn’t much to look at. They’re probably beautiful in the spring and summer though.
After this room, you exit the older part of the museum and enter a much more modern space with a restaurant and shop. Then, through a set of doors, you are met with rooms from much more recent times. They were nice but it also felt quite weird to stare at a TV set from the 90s that you’re sure your parents owned.
There was also the special exhibition that focused on the bedrooms of teenagers which can be described as ‘like a house inside of a house’. It was only a small space, but fun to see, and rather nostalgic.
All in all, I enjoyed my short amount of time spent wandering around the museum. It’s quite linear so it’s quite hard to miss things although at times the rooms did get a little packed even though there wasn’t that many people there. I much preferred the earlier rooms and enjoyed the portraits of middle-class families too.
It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in East London and have some time to spare. Plus, it’s free so who can argue with that!