WhatMuseums & Galleries
Warehouse, West India Quay, Hertsmere Road, E14 4AL
Opening hours: 10am–6pm daily
A trip to the Museum of London’s docklands outpost should really be done by water. While the Musuem of London in the City tells the story of London since Roman times, its docklands sibling is all about the river. Take the river boat from Embankment Pier to Canary Wharf, the museum is a short walk from the pier and its building, a listed 19th century sugar warehouse is an exhibit in itself.
The early galleries are on the top floor and show the importance of the river in the early development of London. It really comes into its own however, with the growth of the Empire and the burgeoning trade in sugar, rum and, crucially, humans. There is a whole gallery given over to slavery and our shameful role in it. Some of the stories are not for younger children, but there is a good balance between setting the historical framework, documentary evidence and personal history – some incredibly moving.
On the second floor the 19th century heyday of the docks comes brilliantly to life with Sailortown, a faithful recreation of the dark alleyways, pubs, chandlers, merchant houses. There is even an authentic smell of urine and barrels full of oyster shells – the alkaline in the shells apparently neutralised the acid of the urine so they served as early public urinals. There are lots of hands-on exhibits and we liked the boxes of spices that you have to identify by smell. Cloves were easy, but pepper had our junior noses stumped. There are excellent free talks that run throughout the day. We caught one about different types of sailors’ drinking vessels. Sitting in a recreated pub listening to stories of press gangs, recruiting officers and taking the King’s shilling, the children were rapt.
Full of stories of rum and trading and Empire, we whizzed through the War years and the post-war regeneration programme. Leave time for the superb Mudlarks interactive gallery for under 12s on the ground floor. You have to book tickets in advance and are given a timed slot. From lifting sacks to weighing goods, sailors’ knots to diving gear, they had so much fun playing on the various games, they didn’t even realise they were learning.
The museum's aptly named cafe, Rum & Sugar, has a nice setting. As we caught our river boat back West, full of beer battered cod, chips and mushy peas, the children had a real sense of how the river fits into their city.
Fab regular and holiday workshops.
Opening hours: 10am–6pm daily
Warehouse, West India Quay, Hertsmere Road, E14 4AL
0870 444 3855
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