The Geffrye Museum, 136 Kingsland Rd, London, E2 8EA. Free entry. http://www.geffrye-museum.org.uk
The Geffrye is a unique museum in that it is set in the former almshouses of the Ironmongers’ company, built in 1714 with a bequest from Sir Robert Geffrye. These Grade I listed buildings have been home to a museum since 1914, and today the Geffrye is known as the Museum of the Home.
The almshouses were originally home to around 50 pensioners, for around 200 years. One of these almshouses has been restored and can now be visited, but only on a few days per year (see website for dates). The main draw for me was the period rooms, of which there are 11. These take visitors through London history, looking at the central rooms of the house, from a 1630s halls into the drawing rooms of the 19th century and up to the living room of a late 20th century loft apartment. Currently they are holding an exhibition: Swept Under the Carpet: Servants in London Households 1600-2000 (until 4 September) and so there is a focus on the changing nature of the servant’s work and their relationship with their employer. There are also several events for adults and children related to the exhibition so please look online for dates.
As well as the impressive front garden which is open all year and provides access to the museum, there are period and herb gardens which are open between April and October. The period gardens have been based very carefully on evidence gleaned from drawings, maps and garden plans, and also from literature in order to be as accurate as possible. Whilst the 17th century garden is quite functional, providing plants that were useful for household or medicinal use, the 19th century Victorian garden is more decorative and also boasts a greenhouse.
After a good exploration of the grounds, the café at the Geffrye is a perfect place to stop. This is in the newer section of the museum and is very welcoming, overlooking the gardens. As well as coffee and cake, there is a full menu offering breakfast and lunch, a kids menu plus wine, beer and soft drinks. There was zero cafeteria feel which is an annoyance of cafés in the bigger museums and I would visit again just to use this.
And then – next to the café is the shop! I spend far too much money in museum shops as it is and this one is particularly dangerous. I escaped with only 2 books but could easily have bought more. They had beautiful cups, teapots (I don’t drink tea but was tempted!), hefty but beautifully wrapped bars of carbolic and laundry soap. I will be back.
The Geffrye is a registered charity so, although entry is free, donations are very much welcomed. There is a Just Giving page set up with the aim of raising £25000 (more info about the project is on there). You can also become a Friend for only £20 per year which is very reasonable compared to the bigger museums and galleries.