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The Museum of London: 450,000 Years of History in a Single Afternoon

The Museum of London: 450,000 Years of History in a Single Afternoon

The Museum of London is a wonderful institution covering 450,000 years of London’s history.  It’s located in the oldest part of London, not far from St. Paul’s and the Guildhall, which I’ve mentioned in earlier posts.  You’ll pass some interesting historic buildings on the pleasant walk from St. Paul’s Tube station.  Suddenly the street curves slightly, and you’ll see the museum ahead of you.

Like everything in this area, the Museum of London is built over Roman and medieval ruins.  In fact, it sits alongside one of the better-preserved sections of the original Roman walls of Londinium.  The gallery depicting the city’s Roman history includes many artifacts unearthed in local excavations.  Some of these finds are used to re-create a series of shops and homes that depict what it was like to live in the city at that time.

My next stop was the gallery of Medieval London (410 – 1558 AD), which covers the beginnings of the city as we know it today.  Here you’ll find the popular exhibit on the many plagues and fires that beset Medieval London.  This includes the “Black Death,” an outbreak of bubonic plague that started in 1347, and the Great Plague of 1665-66, the last major outbreak in England.  By that time, London was one of the most populous cities in Europe.  The Great Plague killed an estimated 100,000 residents – almost a quarter of the city’s population.  The Great Fire of London in 1666 may have helped stem further epidemics. At any rate, there was never another major outbreak of plague after the fire.

Next I toured the Victorian Walk.  It re-creates a typical Victorian high street complete with a pub, barber shop, grocer’s, and even a public urinal.  An English high street is comparable to Main Street in America.  It’s the center of commerce in towns and villages across the country.  At one time High streets were dominated by independent shops and businesses.  Now you’ll see frequent references to “high street retailers,” the ubiquitous chains common in high streets across the UK today.

After the tour it was time for a break.  Once again, I opted for a cream tea — a large scone, jam, clotted cream, and pot of tea for the bargain price of only £5.  I’m falling in love with the cream tea.  It’s the perfect amount of food for an afternoon snack, and I find that the ritual of steeping and drinking the tea, and spreading cream and jam on the scone is the perfect way to relax.  By the time I’m finished, my feet are rested, I feel refreshed, and I’m ready for more walking!

England is hosting the 2015 Rugby World Cup, and one of the matches was playing on a giant screen in the café.  There was something slightly incongruous about watching the patrons cheering on the match while enjoying their tea and cakes.

Rugby is a popular sport in England and the World Cup is only held every four years, so it’s a very big deal here.  There are 32 matches being played across England from mid-September to the end of October.  England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland are all playing, along with 16 other teams from around the world.  You don’t hear much about rugby in the United States, but our national rugby union team is in the tournament too.  An interesting fact: the U.S. won gold medals in rugby at the 1920 and 1924 Summer Olympics.  Rugby was removed from the Olympics following the 1924 games, so technically the U.S. is still reigning Olympic rugby champion.

By this time it was almost closing time, but the Museum of London still held many more tantalizing treasures to explore.  I promised myself that I would come back another day to see the rest of the exhibits.  I’m particularly looking forward to seeing the galleries covering the two world wars and the exhibits on post-war London.

After a quick stop at the gift shop, I finished my visit by exploring the remains of the Roman wall outside the museum.  There’s a bird’s eye view of the ruins from the Museum of London’s elevated walkways.  As I looked down, it was easy to imagine how the wall might have looked in ancient times.

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