Geffrye Museum

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There’s no place like the Geffrye

The Geffrye Museum of the Home, Kingsland Road, Hoxton/Haggerston

Displays at the Geffrye Museum
Dis­plays in the Gef­frye Museum’s south-east wing

In 1685 the wealthy Cor­nish mer­chant and that year’s lord may­or of Lon­don Sir Robert Gef­frye (also spelt Gef­fery, and some­times even Jef­frey) donat­ed land for almshous­es on Kings­land Road, at a site that was then con­sid­ered the north­ern­most tip of Lon­don.

Funds to actu­al­ly build the almshous­es weren’t forth­com­ing until Gef­frye left mon­ey for this pur­pose in his will and the homes were com­plet­ed in 1715 by the Iron­mon­gers’ Com­pa­ny, prob­a­bly to the designs of the builder, Robert Bur­ford. The lay­out took the con­ven­tion­al form for almshous­es of that peri­od: two-storeys on three sides of a square – with a taller chapel in the cen­tre, sur­mount­ed by a ped­i­ment and cupo­la. A recre­ation space called the Vic­to­ria Room was tacked onto the south­ern end in 1897.

The front gar­den was plant­ed with lime trees, most of which were replaced by Lon­don planes in the late 19th cen­tu­ry.

By the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry the Hox­ton end of Shored­itch had become an over­crowd­ed and insan­i­tary quar­ter, and the Iron­mon­gers’ Com­pa­ny decid­ed to sell the almshous­es and build new ones in Mot­ting­ham, a local­i­ty that has since been absorbed with­in south-east Lon­don. They lat­er moved again, to Hamp­shire.

A cam­paign by lead­ing mem­bers of the Arts and Crafts move­ment per­suad­ed the Lon­don Coun­ty Coun­cil to con­vert the old build­ings into a muse­um of ‘cab­i­net mak­ing and kin­dred arts’ – which were long-estab­lished trades in Shored­itch. Re-cre­at­ed domes­tic inte­ri­ors were a fea­ture of the muse­um when it opened in 1914, and they have since become its star attrac­tion. A sequence of peri­od rooms and relat­ed dis­plays of fur­ni­ture, tex­tiles, paint­ings and dec­o­ra­tive arts serve to illus­trate changes in soci­ety, behav­iour and style over the past four cen­turies. One of the almshous­es has been restored to its orig­i­nal state and can be viewed on lim­it­ed occa­sions.

In the 1990s a new wing was added in the south-east cor­ner, with a glazed link to the main range. Shaped like a squeezed horse­shoe, the exten­sion con­tains the muse­um’s 20th cen­tu­ry dis­plays, a classy café and sub­ter­ranean activ­i­ty rooms for chil­dren (the Gef­frye has been putting an empha­sis on par­tic­i­pa­tive edu­ca­tion for decades).

Behind the muse­um there’s a walled herb gar­den and a series of four peri­od gar­dens. These are open from April to Octo­ber. Var­i­ous spe­cial events and exhi­bi­tions are organ­ised indoors and in the gar­dens – some free, some not. Every year from late Novem­ber to ear­ly Jan­u­ary the peri­od rooms are giv­en a fes­tive makeover to show how Christ­mas has tra­di­tion­al­ly been cel­e­brat­ed in Eng­lish mid­dle-class homes.

On 7 Jan­u­ary 2018 the Gef­frye muse­um closed for a “trans­for­ma­tion­al” £18m devel­op­ment project that was due to take almost two years to com­plete but seems to have over­run. Through­out the clo­sure the muse­um has been arrang­ing events and activ­i­ties in the front gar­dens – and the restored almshouse has been open for tours on select­ed dates. The muse­um itself will reopen some­time in spring 2020.

Geffrye Museum - six photographs

The Geffrye Museum, 136 Kingsland Road, London E2 8EA
Phone: 020 7739 9893
Website: Geffrye Museum (also on Facebook and Twitter)
Open: Tuesday–Sunday and bank holidays 10am–5pm
Admission free; charges apply to tours of the restored almshouse and some special events (see the website)
Nearest station: Hoxton (London Overground)