Located in the East End’s Shoreditch, the Geffrye Museum combines charming displays on urban living through the ages with an insight into historic almshouse life in the area. This may not be one of London’s best known museums, but it is well worth a visit.
The Geffrye Museum is embarking on a transformational £18m development project – Unlocking the Geffrye. This will mean that the museum will close on 7th January 2018 for almost two years.
Although the main museum building and period gardens will be closed, there will still be plenty of reasons to visit. Throughout closure we will run a programme of events and activities in our front gardens. The restored almshouse will also be open for tours on certain dates throughout the year.
You don’t have to be interested in interior design to enjoy the museum’s room displays, and you’ll also get an inside view into the Grade 1 listed historic buildings that house its collections.
The History of the Geffrye Museum.
The museum officially opened in 1914. It is located in a set of historic almshouses established by the Ironmongers Company. These were built in 1714 with funds from a bequest from Sir Robert Geffrye, who was once a Lord Mayor of London and Master of the Ironmongers Company. These almshouses served the local community for over 200 years, giving a home to around fifty pensioners at a time.
But, by the early 20th century, Shoreditch was not a particularly pleasant place to live in. Like much of the East End, it was overcrowded and could be dangerous. The Ironmongers Company decided to sell the almshouses and move their pensioners to a better area. London City Council bought the buildings in 1911, and in 1914 agreed to convert the premises into a museum.
Originally set up as an educational resource for local workers in furniture industries, by the 1930s the museum had a much wider scope with a focus on interiors and home life through the ages. It became a popular local resource for families with children.
Displays at the Geffrye Museum
The Geffrye Museum showcases the lives of British people in an unusual way. Each of its display rooms, originally called parlours and drawing rooms, gives a snapshot of living room life in a specific period. Everything in the room is set out as it would have been at that time with authentic furniture, fixtures and fittings. There are currently eleven rooms on display in the main museum, covering designs from 1600 to the present day.
Christmas at the Geffrye Museum
If you’re considering visiting the Geffrye with children, then there are plenty of regular activities for them, but you may want to time a visit for the Christmas holidays. During this period, each of the rooms in the main museum gets a seasonal makeover, so that you can see how Christmas celebrations have changed over the years. It’s quite a sight to see the look on children’s faces when they reach the room set in the time of Cromwell and realise that he really did ban Christmas!
The Geffrye Museum Gardens
The museum has a couple of gardens at the back of the building, which are worth a visit. Bear in mind that these are only open to the public between April 1st and October 31st each year. The museum sets out the gardens in chronological order, in keeping with the way its interior displays work. The period gardens showcase gardens since the 17th century. You can see an authentic Tudor knot garden with a design based on a motif found on a livery cupboard dating back to the 1600s in the museum’s hall.
The herb garden follows a formal plan, contains over 170 different plants and is designed around a bronze feature piece made by a local artist. It contains many of the household herbs that were used in many different ways by families over the centuries. So, for example, you can see herbs used for cooking, medicine, dyeing and scent.
The Geffrye Almshouse
The museum has restored one of its almshouses so visitors can see what it was like to live in this kind of social housing. Most of the interior fittings in the house are original, including the staircase, closets and wall panels. You can look around two rooms, which have been furnished in the styles of the 18th and 19th centuries, and see exactly how the Geffrye pensioners lived.
This can be a bit of an eye-opener, especially for children. People who lived here in the 18th century lived in fairly sparse conditions; those who lived here in the 19th century were much more comfortable. You can also see a display on the history of the Geffrye almshouses and its East End residents in this area of the museum.
Visiting the Geffrye Museum
Entrance to the Geffrye’s main museum, exhibitions and gardens is free. The museum is closed on Mondays unless one falls on a Bank Holiday, although this doesn’t include holidays during Christmas, New Year or Easter. The almshouse museum area does not keep the same opening schedule as the main building, and is open for timed-slot visits and guided tours on a few days each month – up to date details are stored on the museum’s website. There is a small charge to visit this part of the museum.