An “epic farewell party” that could last all night will be the last public event at the Museum of London before its building is torn down ahead of a move to a new site, its director has said.
The doors will close for the last time on December 4, the museum confirmed, “and we are really preparing for this last weekend,” said museum director Sharon Ament. “If there’s demand, we’ll stay open 24 hours a day – we really want everyone who hasn’t been to the Museum of London to come and see it.”
The institution, which claims to be the largest collection of urban history in the world, has been housed since 1976 in an eccentric building on London Wall, but announced in 2015 that it would move to a new home in derelict buildings in the Victorian Market. near Smithfield.
Ament said she did not feel sentimental about leaving the site, which is wedged between the Barbican housing estate and a roundabout and has no street-level entrance, forcing visitors to navigate a maze of elevated passageways to enter.
“If I’m being really honest, I can’t wait to get moving,” she said. “It is no longer suitable for use as a museum. It’s served us well so far, let’s say, but it’s really time to move on.
But first, in a five-month blast, the museum will host a packed program of events, featuring many of its best-known and most popular collections, from prehistoric relics and Roman mosaics to artifacts from the suffragettes.
A packed summer schedule is aimed at families, with opportunities for children to build a giant Roman mosaic from Lego, a Minecraft Roman temple or picnic like a Roman soldier.
School visits throughout the fall will be structured around a different historical theme each week, and the museum is promising insider behind-the-scenes access to some of its 7m artifacts during the Open House weekend in September. The schedule will culminate with two weekend-long festivals before the shutters finally drop.
“I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, and I’m really, really excited about it,” Ament said. “I hear that some of our curators want to think big.” One artifact under discussion is Donald Trump’s airship, which the museum acquired after it was first flown by protesters during the US president’s visit to London in 2018. “Oh, I’d love to see that fly at the above the museum. Watch this place.”
Ament said she was proud the museum showcased this new approach to collecting. “Museums generally run at a slower pace than most other channels, but what we want to do in our museum is be more journalistic, faster.” The Whitechapel fatberg – a huge mass of frozen fat that was collected from the capital’s sewers and put on display in 2018 – is another example, she said. “He was found one day, and we picked him up the next day.”
Her last two exhibitions, which focused on grime music and footballer Harry Kane, had been chosen specifically for their broad appeal, she said. “We have a responsibility to engage the whole of London.”
The museum may be relieved to move its collections – including the remains of 20,000 historic Londoners stored in a bunker under the London Wall roundabout – but there is controversy over what will replace the existing building.
The City of London Corporation, having abandoned plans to develop a £288million concert hall on the site, is consulting on an alternative scheme for “a new retail destination in the economic heartland of London”. The residents of Barbican are “appalled”, however, and a new campaign tries to reverse the “monstrous and untenable proposals”.
An undoubted loss to the museum when it moves will be its current proximity to part of the existing Roman wall, which visitors overlook even when examining excavated Roman artifacts.
“But Roman London is under our feet everywhere,” Ament said, “and yes, we will say goodbye to one part of London’s history and hello to another. Smithfield is a place where martyrs were burned, William Wallace was hanged, shot and quartered, the great cattle markets were there, St Barths was the first public hospital in the country, it feels like history is everywhere.