One of the best places to visit in London if you have any interest in English domestic life is the Geffrye Museum – this has been on my ‘to-visit’ list for several years and I just haven’t made it there on previous trips to London – so when I met up with Tony Grant and he said said his favorite museum is the Geffrye – well, done deal, off we went!
As mentioned above, I did not have my camera, and we got there late, spent too much time chatting over tea, and the place closed down before I could finish the tour on contemporary life and go to the shop – so I cannot offer much more than a link to their fabulous website, where you can take any number of virtual tours through the various rooms, and begin to imagine Jane Austen in her own time and place!
From their website:
The Geffrye Museum depicts the quintessential style of English middle-class living rooms. Its collections of furniture, textiles, paintings and decorative arts are displayed in a series of period rooms from 1600 to the present day.
The displays lead the visitor on a walk through time, from the 17th century with oak furniture and panelling, past the refined splendour of the Georgian period and the high style of the Victorians, to 20th century modernity as seen in a 1930s flat, a mid-century room in ‘contemporary style’ and a late-20th century living space in a converted warehouse.
The museum is set in elegant 18th century almshouses with a contemporary wing surrounded by attractive gardens, which include an award-winning walled herb garden and a series of period gardens.
A parlour in 1790 – photography John Hammond
The use of the parlour remained much the same as earlier in the century; it was the room where the family would have gathered, received guests and taken meals. However, the way it was decorated and furnished had changed considerably.
In diaries, journals and letters of the time people often referred to rooms and furnishings that they liked as ‘neat’, which meant bright and stylish as well as clean and tidy. This taste required lighter colours and more delicate decoration. Wallpapered walls were particularly useful for achieving this effect, replacing heavily moulded panelling.
In the museum’s room the wallpaper is a modern replica copied from a fragment dating to around 1780. The plaster frieze is copied from a house in Cross Street, Islington. Interest in classical design and decoration was increasingly widespread towards the end of the century.
When you first walk in, you are faced with a series of chairs depicting each era – a wondeful way to see the changes in that most essential piece of furniture – the lofty chair. And then you begin your tour through the period rooms, starting with a Hall of 1630. Each room is arranged to look as though someone just got up and left – letters half written, chairs a bit askew, cards spread out. Tony is a teacher and he said he loves bringing young people to this very hands-on museum – he would focus on a particular item or habit – for example, light – and have his students really think about how our use of and access to different kinds of light has changed through the years. It is a marvelous way of really putting yourself in each room and seeing how one would have to function in that context.
A drawing room in 1830 – photography Chris Ridley
The Almshouse was not open when I visited, so here again from their website:
An almshouse room in 1880 – photography Morley von Sternberg
The 1880s room, situated on the upper floor, shows how a former governess living in the Geffrye almshouses during the 1880s may have furnished it.
The interior exemplifies the principle of genteel poverty. Within this context, the objects on display reflect many of the principal themes related to daily life during the nineteenth century, such as scientific and technological developments, moral and social trends, travel, and educational and artistic accomplishments.
The Museum also houses elegant gardens from the 17th to 20th centuries; here is one from the 18th c – you can visit the website for lists of key plants:
18th century period garden – photography Jayne Lloyd
A lovely visit, despite my lack of camera! – and again my hearty thanks to Tony Grant for taking me there!
All the images posted here are from the website, where you can visit all the rooms, take virtual tours, shop*, and discover this magical world of the English home.
*the shop has many books, such as The History of the Geffrye Almshouses, by Kathy Haslam.
You can also visit them on Facebook here, where you can like them!
Copyright @2011 by Deb Barnum, of Jane Austen in Vermont