If you find yourself with some time to spare in Hackney, perhaps after or before a visit to the area’s Tudor Sutton House or Roman Road market, then you may enjoy popping into the local museum on Reading Lane.
Established in 2002, this museum gives you an interesting insight into the lives of the people who have lived in this area of the East End and even gives you a chance to take a look at the famous Hackney Hoard!
About the Hackney Museum
Hackney, like much of the East End, has historically been a culturally diverse area and the museum reflects both its historical and present cultural diversity. It is currently estimated that the borough of Hackney is home to people from six continents, speaking over 100 languages in total. People have lived in the area for over 1,000 years and this was often the place that settlers lived in when they moved to the country.
The museum has a range of permanent and temporary exhibitions at any given time. Many of the things you will see and can do are linked to the stories of past and present residents of Hackney. You can learn about the original Anglo Saxon settlers, for example, and hear the stories of people who have moved to the area both in the past and right up to the present day. The museum has established strong links with local residents and the broader community in and around Hackney, so you can expect to see and hear their perspectives at first-hand.
The museum also shows the businesses that people worked in in the area, including some skills that refugees brought with them from their original countries. There is, for example, an interesting display of a Jewish printer business. The museum is also home to an art collection, the Chalmers Collection. This includes some older paintings and some new commissions from modern artists such as Besmirch, Gluzberg and Needham.
Other permanent collections include Victorian artefacts, including a range of toys and games from the period that will give the kids an idea of what childhood was like before video games! There are also some interesting exhibits from local businesses – make sure to take a look at the 1910 lamp from a traditional East End pie and mash shop! Other exhibits worth looking out for are a Jewish Star of David cloth badge and an original Nazi newspaper promoting anti-Semitism. You will even find Daniel Defoe’s tombstone in this eclectic mix and, going a bit further back in time, you can also see the remains of a Saxon boat that was found in the local area.
Family Activities at the Hackney Museum
There are plenty of things to keep the kids happy in the museum itself, including some interactive play experiences around the exhibits. It also organises some activities such as storytelling sessions during term-time and trails. Kids can also play with a replica Saxon boat, loading it and unloading it as much as they like, and there are usually opportunities to dress up in period costumes.
The Hackney Hoard
No visit to the museum is complete without seeing the coin on display that is part of the famous Hackney Hoard. This was donated to the museum by the family of the original owners of the coin, the Sulzbacher family. The coin itself may seem like a small and insignificant thing to have on display, but its story is much bigger than that.
In 2007, a local Hackney resident found a jar of gold coins buried in his garden when he was digging out a pond. These coins were U.S. Double Eagle gold coins. A little more digging in research terms showed that the jar had been buried in the garden by a Jewish family who had moved to London as refugees to escape the Nazis. The family were worried that their money would be taken from them if there was a German invasion of Britain, so buried it in the garden for safekeeping rather than keeping the coins in a bank.
However, the family was killed in a bombing attack during the Blitz and the secret of where their money was buried died with them. After the householder found the jar, a relative of the family was traced and he was given ownership of the coins under Treasure Trove law. The coins were sold at auction; however, the family kept two of them and donated one to the local museum in Hackney.
Visiting Hackney Museum
The museum is a quick five minute walk from Hackney Central station. Entrance is free, but it is closed on Mondays, Sundays and Bank Holidays. Opening hours for Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday are 9.30am to 5.30pm with late opening on Thursdays until 8pm. It is open on Saturdays from 10am to 5pm. There is a shop on site.
The Hackney Museum runs storytelling, art and craft workshops for schools, families and toddlers during term time and the school holidays, as well as a programme of events for adults.