Category Archives: Museums

London’s has some of the top museums in the world and many are free!

Room to Breathe exhibition review: Exploring the journey from new arrival to finding ‘home’ @ Migration Museum

Migration Room To Breathe © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Room To Breathe is a new exhibition at the Migration Museum

The Migration Museum has been open since 2016 and explores how the movement of people has shaped the capital over history. Although a hot topic of conversation in the media, it’s far from new, as migration in and out of London and the UK as a whole has been going on for centuries. This month, the Migration Museum launched their newest exhibition Room To Breathe, which runs until summer 2019. I went along to the recent launch to check it out.

Migration Room To Breathe © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The exhibition humanises a group often depicted as simple numbers

Room To Breathe is the museum’s most interactive exhibition yet, offering an immersive journey through a migrant’s experiences, from arrival to settling in to (hopefully) finding somewhere they can call ‘home’. It explores the very different reasons people arrive in the UK, from escaping war, to seeking new opportunities, to love and family.

To those who may have visited before, the museum galleries have been transformed into a home, with a series of rooms featuring interactive learning tools. You start in the ‘Home Office’, an overwhelming place full of files, depicting how new arrivals are often seen as numbers on paperwork categorised into a section.

You then progress into a bedroom, a classroom, a kitchen with interactive screens, audio, and objects bringing these people to life. Over 100 migrants who arrived in Britain from the early 20th century until the present day have shared their stories for the exhibition. Many are hidden within the exhibition in drawers, cupboards or magazines so you are invited to rummage around and explore. People including war refugees, international NHS workers and Windrush migrants have revealed their personal histories. As a daughter of Irish migrants, I found some of the Irish stories particularly relevant. As many migrants can attest, pining for familiar foods or a favourite snack from home can bring a lot of comfort. I spotted a box of Barry’s Tea in the kitchen which made me smile. Whenever I visit family in Ireland, I always make sure I buy a box of Barry’s Tea for my mother, who insists it’s better than Twinings or Yorkshire Gold.

With many migrants often being demonised by society or the media, this exhibition delves deeper as it humanises them and turns them from numbers into living, breathing human beings. As well as educating and inspiring, there will also be a programme of events throughout the exhibition, including performances, workshops, cookery classes and storytelling.

  • Room To Breathe is on from 1 November 2018 – summer 2019. At the Migration Museum @ The Workshop, 26 Lambeth High Street, Lambeth, SE1 7AG. Nearest station: Vauxhall, Westminster or Lambeth North. Open Thu 12pm-8pm, Fri-Sun 12pm-6pm. Free admission. For more information, visit the Migration Museum website.

To find out what’s on in London in December, click here.

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The Poppies return to London as the Weeping Window comes to the Imperial War Museum

Go west! Exploring Kensington’s hidden gems and local hangouts

Kensington Palace © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Kensington is world renowned for its royal palace

The London district of Kensington is world renowned for its palace, famous museums and having some of the most expensive property in the UK. From the grand museums of South Kensington to the greenery of Kensington Gardens, each district has its own different character. With its location and tube stations providing easy access to the capital’s attractions, Kensington is a popular base for many visitors.

With the borough boasting an array of museums, it’s no surprise that three of its attractions appear in the top 10 list of most visited free attractions in London. The Natural History Museum had over 4 million visitors in 2017, while its neighbours the Science Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum had over 3 million. Meanwhile, Kensington Palace is No.11 on the list of paid London attractions, with over 645,000 visitors in 2017.

While all three of the big museums are brilliant places to go, there’s a lot more to visit in Kensington. I’ve worked a large chunk of my career in Kensington and have stumbled upon the lesser-known attractions of the area when I’ve not been working. For this blog post, I spent the day exploring some of Kensington’s hidden gems. One particular destination off the beaten path is the stunning Leighton House Museum. Located near Holland Park and Kensington High Street, it was built in stages from 1866 to 1895 as a home and studio for painter Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830-1896). From the outside, it looks like a classical, red Victorian home. However, upon stepping inside, it’s like entering a Moorish palace. The main attraction is the beautiful Arab Hall, with its mosaics, Islamic tiles and golden dome. As well as its stunning interiors and expansive garden (by London standards at least!), there is also an extensive art collection, featuring paintings and sculptures by Leighton and his Victorian contemporaries. If you’re a fan of architecture and/or art – particularly pre-Raphaelite paintings – I recommend checking it out. You’re not allowed photos inside, although you can get some good shots in the lovely garden.

© Leighton House Museum, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

The stunning Arab Hall in the Leighton House Museum
© Leighton House Museum, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

Azzedine Alaïa Design Museum © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Designer dreaming at the Azzedine Alaïa exhibition at the Design Museum

A short walk away is the Design Museum on Kensington High Street. It was previously located in Bermondsey, but moved to the former Commonwealth Institute in Kensington in 2016. The spacious 1960s building is worth a visit in itself for architecture fans. It is home to a permanent free exhibition; ‘Designer, Maker, User’, as well as various changing exhibitions and events throughout the year. On my particular visit, I bought tickets for the Azzedine Alaïa: The Couturier exhibition, which is on until 7 October 2018. Curated with the designer shortly before his death last year, the exhibition features a collection of his fashions from the early 1980s to his last collection in 2017. The museum is an interesting space and the way the team have presented Alaia’s creations on transparent models on mirrored platforms was brilliant and really showcased the layers and angles of each design.

Kensington Phillies eggs royale © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Eggs royale @ Cafe Phillies

When you’re in this end of High Street Kensington, there’s a great little café down a quiet side street if you’re feeling peckish. Located on Phillimore Gardens with a small outdoor terrace is Café Phillies. It’s an independent café and wine bar, popular with locals and serves an all-day breakfast. It’s a cosy venue with contemporary art on the walls and friendly staff. I took advantage of the unlimited brunch hours and ordered an Eggs Benedict Royale for a late lunch. Served on toasted English muffins, there was a very generous serving of smoked salmon and the poached eggs were perfectly runny. A great spot for lunch or breakfast.

If you’re looking for some fresh air, consider walking down to Kensington Gardens. The large park covers 207 acres, with Kensington Palace located in the western end of the Gardens. Known for being the London home of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, parts of the palace are open to the public, including the King’s and Queen’s State Apartments. On this particular visit, I remained outside the palace walls and enjoyed the many free attractions of the gardens. As the palace was the last home to the late Diana, Princess of Wales, there are several memorials to the royal, including a children’s playground and a memorial walk. Throughout the Gardens are many buildings and sculptures to check out, including the 18th century Queen Caroline’s Temple, Henry Moore’s arch and the ornate Albert Memorial. The north side of the park features the 150-year-old Italian ornamental garden, built as a gift to Queen Victoria from her husband Prince Albert. Nearby is Queen Anne’s Alcove, a small structure built in 1705 and designed Sir Christopher Wren. Meanwhile, deeper in the Gardens is Queen Caroline’s Temple, a quaint 18th century summer house with views towards the Long Water.  Read the rest of this entry

Discover the man behind the maps at James Cook: The Voyages at the British Library

© Sam Lane Photography © British Library

James Cook’s account of his first landing in Australia is on display at the British Library exhibition
© Sam Lane Photography © British Library

This August will mark 250 years since Captain James Cook’s ship Endeavour set sail from Plymouth. It was the first of three important voyages that changed the world. Although the figure of Cook can be somewhat controversial at times, there’s no arguing that he and his crew were responsible for some amazing exploration of the planet in challenging conditions.

To mark the anniversary, the British Library have curated a special exhibition following the story of Cook’s three voyages from 1768 to his death in Hawaii in 1779. This fascinating collection features many of the original maps, logbooks, sketches, and artefacts collected during the three expeditions. While many of Cook’s predecessors sought solely to claim new lands for their empires, his voyages were more intellectually minded as well with a goal to study the life and culture of the lands they visited. Joining him on the various vessels used over the decade were artists, botanists and astronomers.

The exhibition is split into sections covering how the world was before Cook and how he changed the world’s map. It was amazing to see a copy of Dutch explorer Abel Tasman’s journal of his discovery of Tasmania and New Zealand. Following a brief introduction to world maps at that time, the exhibition begins chronically with Cook’s first voyage (1768-1771), taking in Tahiti, several Pacific islands, New Zealand and Australia’s east coast. During this trip, the botanist Joseph Banks (1743-1820) and his team collected thousands of animal and plant specimens. The exhibition features a sea urchin and squid captured and preserved by Banks from the Pacific Ocean. There are also drawings of the various native people they came into contact with upon arrival in each country or island, such as the Tahitians and Maoris, and their culture. What is particularly amazing about this collection were the various maps of New Zealand drawn by Cook himself. Tasman before him only saw a small section of NZ, whereas Cook’s voyage managed to circumnavigate both the north and south island. If you consider he didn’t have satellite or drones like we would have today, to map an entire country’s coastline as near-accurate as he is did in the 18th century is pretty impressive. It was also on this voyage, Cook’s men caught their first sight of the Kangaroo, which is featured in a sketch by Sydney Parkinson, the first European drawing of the marsupial.

© Sam Lane Photography © British Library

William Hodges’ sketch of War Canoes in Tahiti (1774-75)
© Sam Lane Photography © British Library

The remainder of the exhibition continues in the same vein, with areas dedicated to the second voyage (1772-1775), which he crossed the Antarctic Circle and proved the so-called huge land mass named ‘Terra Australia’ was actually a myth. The third and Cook’s final voyage (1776-1779) resulted in the Captain’s death in Hawaii after clashing with the Hawaiians. Admittedly, Cook and his men made some mistakes along the way, although some of those you could blame the European colonialist attitude of the time. The pros and cons of Cook’s voyages, in terms of colonization and mapping is addressed by experts from both sides in a series of videos. In our world right now, we are so used to globalisation, it’s hard to imagine when the other side of the world was completely unknown and so dramatically different to our own way of life. Looking through Cook and his colleagues’ logbooks and diaries and seeing the images of the ships, you really get a sense of how treacherous and challenging these voyages were. It’s no wonder so many men never returned, dying from diseases or following violent clashes with the people they met along the way. Seeing these historic men’s handwriting was amazing and, admittedly, difficult to read at time with their small Georgian scrawls. It was particularly poignant to see Cook’s last ever logbook entry on 6 January 1779 – a week before he was killed in a skirmish over a stolen smaller boat.

Before this exhibition, I didn’t know much of Cook, a man I’d seen in various statues in New Zealand and Australia and had never really thought of him as a three-dimensional character. This fascinating exhibition has really provided a vivid and human picture of this famous figure together with the men who sailed with him and how they changed the world with these epic voyages.

  • James Cook: The Voyages is on from now until 28 August 2018. At the PACCAR Gallery, The British Library, 96 Euston Road, NW1 2DB. Nearest station: King’s Cross St Pancras or Euston. Opening hours vary. Tickets: Adults £14, Senior £11, Students: £7 (free for members). For more information and tickets, visit the British Library website.

Metro Girl likes: While you’re in the British Library, head to the free exhibition Treasures of the British Library. You can look at genuine manuscripts, books and letters from some of Britain’s most iconic figures. Among the collection on display includes the original 1215 Magna Carta; Jane Austen’s writing desk and a 1809 letter to her brother Frank; Beatles’ handwritten lyrics; a 1603 letter from Queen Elizabeth I and Sir Christopher Wren’s designs for The Monument. Currently, the Treasures room also features a small exhibition (until 5 August 2018) on Karl Marx and his daughter Eleanor. It includes a first edition of the Communist Manifesto, letters from Eleanor after her father’s death, and a chair from the original British Library Reading Room which Marx is likely to have sat in. After you’ve had a good read, head to the nearby Gilbert Scott bar in the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel for a cocktail.

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Delve into the history of the arts and crafts movement at the William Morris Society

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Kelmscott House is the former London home of William Morris and the current base for the William Morris Society

The name William Morris is often associated with home interiors, with some of his iconic patterns still available to buy today. However, the man himself was so much more, with poet, novelist, translator, and socialist activist among the many hats he wore. Born to a middle-class family in Walthamstow in 1834, William Morris became influenced by the Medieval world while studying the Classics at Oxford University. The Medieval period appealed to Morris because of its chivalric values and a more organic manufacturing process. He disliked what the Industrial Revolution had done to British people and their homes. He saw people were moving away from nature into the cities and were doing repetitive tasks, while their houses were full of identical, lower quality factory-made products. Morris grew to dislike capitalism and became enamoured with socialism. When he was at Oxford, Morris found a kindred spirit in artist and designer Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898), who went on to become a lifelong friend and collaborator. Following graduation, Morris became an apprentice to Neo-Gothic architect George Edmund Street (1824-1881), where he met fellow apprentice Philip Webb (1831-1915). However, Morris soon tired of architecture and wanted to focus on art. Around this period, he was spending a lot of time with Burne-Jones, who had become an apprentice to Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882). Morris and Burne-Jones ended up living together in a flat at 17 Red Lion Square in Bloomsbury.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Original William Morris strawberry thief textiles

By the mid 1850s, Morris was writing poetry and designing furniture, manuscripts and hangings in a medieval style. While he hadn’t established a successful career at this point, his personal life appeared to be going well as he married Jane Burden (1839-1914) in 1859. Following his marriage, Morris teamed up with architect Webb to design a family home, The Red House, in Bexleyheath, south-east London. The house was very different from the Victorian and Georgian designs and exists today as a unique example of arts and crafts architecture. After furnishing The Red House in a Medieval style, Morris founded a decorative arts company, Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co in 1861. They aimed to bring the craftmanship and beauty of the Middle Ages back to British homes. It sold furniture, murals, architectural carvings, metalwork and stained glass windows. With Victorians going nuts for Neo-Gothic architecture, the company’s stained glass in particular was a big hit. It didn’t take long before the wealthy became fans of MMF&Co’s aesthetic. Despite Morris’s socialist values, his products did have higher labour costs, so weren’t as accessible to the lower classes. A year after establishing the company, Morris abandoned painting and started designing wallpaper. Read the rest of this entry

Emery Walker House: A stunning time capsule of the arts and crafts movement

Emery Walker house © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The Emery Walker House stands on a Georgian terrace in Hammersmith

I must admit not knowing too much about the arts and crafts movement until recently. I had known of William Morris for some years, but had never heard the name Emery Walker until this year. Recently, I was invited along to the Emery Walker House with a group of fellow bloggers to join one of their guided tours.

The Arts and Crafts movement was a response to the Industrial Revolution, which saw objects being mass-produced in factories, losing their originality and connection with the natural world. Figures of the A&C movement wanted to make products with more integrity and higher quality, with the crafter actually enjoying the process of making it. Textile designer, novelist and poet William Morris (1834–1896) was one of the leaders of the movement and believed in creating beautiful objects and interiors, influenced by the past. Morris established his own company Morris & Co, and store on Oxford Street selling his furniture, wallpaper and other interiors.

The Emery Walker House stands on Hammersmith Terrace, a neat row of narrow Georgian terraces with gardens overlooking the Thames. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, this small neighbourhood in west London became the hub of the arts and crafts movement. Sir Emery Walker (1851-1933) was a London-born engraver, photographer and printer. He was a self-made man, having left school at 13 and establishing his own business by 30. In the late 1870s, he befriended Morris when he moved to Hammersmith Terrace as they bonded over socialism. The pair became firm friends and saw each other nearly every day. Walker initially lived at No.3 Hammersmith Terrace, before moving to No.7 – the house you can visit today – in 1903 and remained there for the rest of his life. Morris lived a short walk away at Kelmscott House and sowed the seed for the growing arts and crafts community of the area. Artist, bookbinder and sometime business partner of Walker (more on that later!), T.J. Cobden-Sanderson (1840-1922) lived at No.7 before Walker did, while Morris’ daughter May (1862-1938) ended up living next door at No.8 with her husband Henry Halliday Sparling. The playwright George Bernard Shaw lodged with the couple for a time and ended up having an affair with May, causing her divorce. Walker and Morris were firm friends with architect Philip Webb, who made Walker a beneficiary of his will, with some of his furniture now in No.7.

© Anna Kunst for The Emery Walker Trust

A Morris & Co Sussex chair
© Anna Kunst for The Emery Walker Trust

Emery Walker house © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The view of the Thames from the Emery Walker House

One of the most interesting stories about Walker is his business partnership and eventual feud with Cobden-Sanderson. The latter established the Doves Bindery in 1893, eventually becoming the Doves Press in 1900 when he partnered with Walker following the closure of Kelmscott Press in 1898. Cobden-Sanderson’s wife Annie provided funding after Walker admitted he didn’t have enough money to contribute. Their publications, featuring the Doves typeface which was inspired by Italian Renaissance, were a huge success. However, by 1902, their working relationship began to sour with Cobden-Sanderson complaining Walker wasn’t devoting enough time to the business. In 1906, they agreed things weren’t working, but disagreed over the splitting of the assets. Walker was entitled to have the metal letters and castings, but Cobden-Sanderson didn’t want him to have them. Between 1913-1917, the elderly Cobden-Sanderson made around 170 trips from Hammersmith Terrace to Hammersmith Bridge in the middle of the night, lobbing the heavy type, punches and matrices and hurling them into the Thames. Following Cobden-Sanderson’s death in 1922, his widow Annie paid Walker a large sum towards compensating the loss of type. Nearly a century later, designer Robert Green and the Port Authority of London searched the Thames below Hammersmith Bridge and managed to recover 150 types of the Doves Press.  Read the rest of this entry

Turner’s House: Follow in artist JMW Turner’s footsteps at his Twickenham retreat

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Turner’s House, aka Sandycombe Lodge, was built to the artist’s designs in 1813

Twickenham is home to some famous former stately homes, such as Marble Hill House and Strawberry Hill. However, there’s a rather less grand, but equally important building that recently been restored to its original Georgian splendour – Turner’s House.

Otherwise known as Sandycombe Lodge, Turner’s House is the Grade II-listed former home of one of Britain’s greatest artists, J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851). In his teens/early adult life, he briefly considered becoming an architect with his Twickenham home the only one of his building designs realised in bricks and mortar. Having opened last year following an extensive renovation and restoration project, what’s left of Turner’s garden has now been completed for the spring, full of green grass and flowers to complement the stunning architecture. I went along last week with some fellow Londoner bloggers for a special tour of Turner’s country retreat.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The stunning staircase is one of the house’s most striking features

In the early 19th century, Twickenham wasn’t a part of London but the open countryside. It had become a popular spot for the wealthy to build riverside abodes as a retreat from the bustling city. While born and bred Londoner Turner had a home and studio in the capital, he desperately sought an escape from the pressure of city life. In 1807, he purchased two plots of land in between Twickenham and Richmond and started designing his dream home in a cottage style. Finally, his plans were realised in 1813 and Turner moved in his beloved father, ‘Old William’ Turner (1745–1829), who had retired as a barber and wigmaker. Old William acted as housekeeper and tended what was then 3 acres of garden. The house was relatively modest, just two bedrooms upstairs – a large main overlooking the garden and the River Thames in the distance, and a smaller bedroom in the front. Downstairs, the ground floor featured a main living room, a dining room and small parlour, with a kitchen and further smaller rooms in the lower ground. Although Turner didn’t paint at the house, he did sketch and spent time fishing and strolling along the Thames and occasionally entertaining friends. One famous pal to visit was the Regency architect Sir John Soane (1753-1837), with his influence in the design of Sandycombe Lodge clearly visible in the hallway and staircase.

Turner sold the house in 1826 to a neighbour Joseph Todd, who extended it and rented it out. Turner’s garden was dramatically shrunk in the 1880s after the nearby opening of St Margaret’s railway station saw the area transforming into a more built-up commuter suburb of London. The house remained a residential home until World War II, when it was converted into a ‘shadow factory’ to make goggles. It was during this period, the house really began to deteriorate. However, a saviour came in Professor Harold Livermore (1914-2010), who bought the house in 1947. He was particularly proud of its history and campaigned for its Grade II listed status in the 1950s. Following Prof Livermore’s death in 2010, he gifted the house to the Turner’s House Trust with the provision it should be enjoyed by the nation.  Read the rest of this entry

Review: Ocean Liners – Speed and Style at Victoria and Albert Museum

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Bed and sink unit from the first-class cabin of the Mauretania, made in 1906-1907

Long before planes dominated international travel, cruise liners were the way to go abroad. Throughout the 19th century and early 20th century, huge swathes of Europeans crossed the Atlantic to start a new life or explore the Americas. Today, the cruise liner is stereotypically associated with pensioners on holiday and has been getting a bad rap in recent years for the ‘negative’ tourism it brings to port cities such as Venice, Barcelona or Dubrovnik. While current cruise liners are apparently very comfortable and have all the mod cons, we don’t quite associate them with the glamour they had in yesteryear. A current exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum delves into their history, starting as far back as Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s SS Great Eastern in 1857, which revolutionised boat transport.

Honour and Glory crowning Time, from the Olympic (1910), the Titanic’s sister ship

The exhibition kicks off with the advertising – with posters, brochures and flyers showcasing famous liners such as the Normandie, Olympic, Titanic and Mauretania. Like a would-be passenger of the time, this is usually the first impression you would have of a liner before seeing it in the flesh. The dozens of shipping companies in the 19th and early 20th century were incredibly competitive. New liners always tried to boast some new feature the others didn’t have, with the Titanic’s claim to being unsinkable proving horrifically untrue.

However, as in real-life for travellers, the advertising is simply a warm-up. We are then introduced to the first of 200 pieces of artefacts from cruise liners gone by, including furniture, uniforms, art work, film footage, panelling and more. As someone who has long been interested in the Titanic’s history beyond the film, it was amazing to see the ‘Honour and Glory crowning Time’ clock panel from the RMS Olympic – Titanic’s sister ship. Fans of the 1998 film will remember this was faithfully recreated as the meeting place for Jack and Rose on the grand staircase. The exhibition also features two artefacts from the Titanic – a deckchair and a panel from the first class lounge rescued from the north Atlantic after the ship went down in April 1912. The wooden panel is displayed at the end of the exhibition appearing to float at sea, just how it was found over 100 years ago. From around the same time period is furniture from the RMS Mauretania (1906). Run by Cunard, it was the world’s largest ship until it was overcome by the Olympic in 1911. On show is a bed from first-class cabin C23, designed by workers at the Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson shipyard at Wallsend Tyne and Wear.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Mannequins in swimsuits from the mid 20th century

One liner that often appears throughout the exhibition is the Normandie, launched in 1935 by the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique. Although not a huge commercial success, she is widely labelled as one of the greatest liners ever due to her stunning design and interiors and was the largest and fastest when she entered service. An Art Deco lacquer panel, designed by Jean Dunand for the first-class smoking room, is stunning and huge. Going back two decades is another example of a striking Gallic liner by the same company, the SS France (1910). The doors and panelling from the embarkation hall and communication gallery from around 1912 are joined by two armchairs from the first class dining room and they give you a good understanding of why the ship was nicknamed ‘the Versailles of the Atlantic’. However, as the exhibition progresses through the decades, the furniture and decoration rather deteriorates into more simple and bland designs by the 1950s and the 1960s. Looking back over 150 years of mass transit, it’s clear the Victorians and inter-war period were clearly leading the way in terms of style. Read the rest of this entry

Competition time! Russian Revolution exhibition at the British Library

© Sam Lane Photography

Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths is on at the British Library until 29 August
© Sam Lane Photography

This year marks 100 years since Russian overthrew its Tsarist autocracy. Following the forced abdication of Tsar Nicholas II in March 1917, Russia embarked on a turbulent period as different political and social groups battled to lead the country. To mark the Communist uprising, the British Library have curated a collection of propaganda and memorabilia from different sides of the battles.

Admittedly I didn’t know too much about the Russian Revolution before visiting this exhibition. I had been fascinated by the story of the ‘missing’ Grand Duchess Anastasia as a child, who has since been confirmed as murdered along with her family in 1918. The Russian Revolutionary period is convoluted and involves many different groups with different agendas and methods. The various parties were not only seeking power, but complete overhaul of society as a whole, so they needed to convert and influence the Russian people to their way of thinking… with propaganda.

© British Library

Red Army poster
© British Library

In a bid to unravel this complicated period, the British Library have set out their exhibition in six stages – The Tsar and his People; Last Days of the Monarchy; Civil War; The Bolsheviks in Power; Threat or Inspiration?; and Writing The Revolution. The exhibition begins in the last days of the Russian Empire, featuring photos of the Imperial family juxtaposed against scenes of millions of Russians living in dire poverty. Peasants were being heavily taxed with little in return so it’s clear to see why there was rising resentment against the ruling classes. An amazing part of this initial section is a first-edition of the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, which was published in London in 1848. Other impressive pieces are a coronation album of Nicholas II and a 1902 letter from the then-future Russian Communist leader Vladimir Lenin asking to use the British Museum’s Library under a pseudonym ‘Jacob Richter’, which he was using to evade the Tsarist police. Russia’s brewing social discord wasn’t helped by World War I, with conscription leading to labour shortages. Many Russians were unhappy over Tsarina Alexandra when she was put in control over the Government while her husband acted as Commander-in-chief of the military. Many were suspect about her relationship with the faith healer Rasputin – who is seen in photographs and as a caricature in pamphlets and posters.

The sections of the exhibition centring on the revolution itself features a range of propaganda and memorabilia from the period, including handwritten notes from Leon Trotsky with annotations by Lenin and pieces of Red Army uniforms. I particularly liked the electronic map of the different groups’ movement around Russia – seeing the Red Army swell, then retreat, before eventually achieving national dominance. Finally, the exhibition concludes with how the Revolution was captured in past tense, with the ruling party using propaganda to keep the status quo.

Using a varied collection of objects, posters, film, photos and other memorabilia, the British Library has provided a fascinating insight into the motivations behind the Revolution and breaks down the myths of what it achieved. It’s certainly heavy stuff and requires a clear head, but is a worthwhile visit from Russian history aficionados or novices.

  • Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths is on now until 29 August 2017. PACCAR Gallery, The British Library, 96 Euston Road, NW1 2DB. Nearest stations: Euston, King’s Cross or St Pancras. Open Mon, Wed-Fri: 9.30am-6pm, Tues 9.30am-8pm, Sat 9,30am-5pm, Sun 11am-5pm. Tickets: £13.50 (free for members). For booking, visit the British Library website.

Competition time!

To win a pair of tickets to Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths at the British Library, like our Facebook page and fill out the form below. Closing date: Monday 24 July 2017. (Competition is now closed!). The winner must live in the UK and be able to visit the exhibition before it ends on 29 August 2017. Only the winner will be contacted after the competition closes.


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Charles Dickens Museum: Discover the man behind the books at the author’s only surviving London home

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

The Charles Dickens Museum is situated in one of the author’s former homes in Bloomsbury

Charles Dickens is without a doubt one of our greatest authors. Although he was born in Portsmouth and died in Kent, he spent an awful lot of his life in London. During his decades in the capital, the writer lived in many residences, most of which no longer exist.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

The desk where Dickens wrote Great Expectations, Our Mutual Friend and The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Today, the only remaining home is now a museum dedicated to his life and work. The author and his wife Catherine (1815-1879) moved to 48 Doughty Street in Bloomsbury in March 1837 – just a few months before Queen Victoria came to the throne. Previously they had been living in rented rooms at Furnival’s Inn in Holborn, but the birth of their first son Charles Jnr (1837-1896) meant they required more space. He signed a three-year lease on the five-floor Georgian terrace, costing around £80 a year. Built in 1807-9, the building is now Grade I-listed.

During the Dickens family’s three years in Doughty Street, Catherine gave birth to their eldest daughters Mary (1838-1896) and Kate (1839-1929), as well as raising their son Charles Jnr. Mrs Dickens’ 17-year-old sister Mary Hogarth also lived with the couple to help them with their expanding brood. Charles became very attached to his sister-in-law and she died in his arms following a short illness in May 1837. She is believed to have inspired several of his characters, including Rose Maylie in Oliver Twist and Little Nell Trent in The Old Curiosity Shop, among others.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

The Drawing Room on the first floor includes some of Dickens’ actual furniture

While living at the Bloomsbury terrace, Dickens completed The Pickwick Papers (1836), wrote Oliver Twist (1838) and Nicholas Nickleby (1838–39) and started on Barnaby Rudge (1840–41). As he became more successful in his career and his family expanded, Dickens and the family left Doughty Street in December 1839 and moved to the grander 1 Devonshire Terrace in Marylebone. They lived at Devonshire Terrace until 1851 before moving on to Tavistock House, where the family remained for a further nine years. One Devonshire Terrace was demolished in the late 1950s and now an office block called Ferguson House stands on the site on Marylebone Road.

While most of Dickens’ London residences are long gone, the Doughty Street premises nearly ended up consigned to the history books as well. By the 1920s and 1930s, demolition of Georgian properties was becoming popular with the government, the majority of those being part of the ‘slum clearance’ programme. Many homes from this period had not been maintained well over the decades, providing unsanitary and unsafe living quarters for predominantly poor Londoners. Forty-eight Doughty Street was ear-marked for demolition in 1923, but was fortunately saved by the Dickens Fellowship, founded 21 years earlier. They managed to buy the property and renovate it, opening the Dickens’ House Museum in 1925. In 2012, the museum was re-opened following a £3.1million restoration project and now encompasses neighbouring No.49.

After having it on my ‘to do’ list for some time, I finally paid a visit recently and really enjoyed it. Upon entry you are given an audio tour which guides you around the five floors, including the kitchen and the attic. The museum really brings to life the man behind the books – his complicated private life, his feelings about his tough childhood and his many inspirations. The rooms have been decorated as the author may have known it, in a typical Victorian style and often with his actual furniture – many of which had been bought from Gad’s Hill Place – the Kent home where the author died in 1870. If you’re a fan of Dickens or history, I highly recommend a visit.

  • Charles Dickens Museum, 48 Doughty Street, Bloomsbury, WC1N 2LX. Nearest station: Russell Square or Chancery Lane. Open Tues-Sun 10am-5pm. Tickets: Adult £9, Child 6-16 years £4. For more information, visit the museum website.
© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

The basement kitchen

For a guide to London’s Dickens landmarks, click here.

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