Geffrye Museum

After a few months of being very busy doing this, I finally have time to get back to Maximal Space. Phew!

So… my most recent visit was to a museum space that is fascinating in two respects: the history of the building and the museum’s approach to display.


Between 1703 and 1704 Sir Robert Geffrye – a wealthy Cornish iron monger and former Lord Mayor of London – wrote his will. This document outlined his request for the remainder of his real and personal estate to be left to the Ironmongers’ Company. It directed that this remainder be used to buy land for an almshouse for “poor people of good character over the age of fifty-six.” And in around 1716, in line with his request, a large terrace structure was built in Shoreditch.

But the story does not end there. 

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In 1914, this beautiful Eighteenth Century building was converted into a museum space. The London County Council requested that members of  The Arts and Crafts Movement use the space to display fine examples of furniture and workmanship, as a means of inspiring a generation of workers. While the museum displays have altered dramatically over the past one hundred years, one can still sense the same attention to detail that has gone into every object.


If you plan to visit this museum, make sure you give yourself plenty of time. Although the space may not seem large, the amount of engaging information on display is endless (but definitely not tiresome). Chronicling the history of the English living room from the 1600s to the present day, the museum experience is a little bit like watching a stop motion film. As you walk from room to room, each carefully made up in the style of a hundred year period, you begin to recognise themes and trends come and go. What is most fascinating is when you suddenly notice details, like the sudden appearance of a mantel piece as a central focus, and then, much later of course, it’s replacement – the television! The well written labels, which go alongside each display, also offer insight into social history, status and fashion.

This multi-layered approach to interpretation is what makes the experience so enjoyable. It is possible to access the collection on many levels: an appreciation of the finely constructed ‘rooms’; a chance to look at a timeline of each phase and relate this to prevailing fashions and design; an opportunity to view objects in an ‘original’ setting, and also a rare chance to get away from the city in a calm museum, surrounded by green space.  What could be better?

(Apologies for the photos – I only had my phone with me.)


Google Maps Link for the Geffrye Museum



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