Museum of the Home
|Location||Geffrye Almshouses |
136 Kingsland Road
|Public transit access||Hoxton|
|Website||Museum of the Home|
The Museum of the Home, formerly the Geffrye Museum, is a free museum in the 18th-century Grade I-listed former almshouses on Kingsland Road in Shoreditch, London. The museum explores home and home life from 1600 to the present day with galleries which ask questions about 'home', present diverse lived experiences, and examine the psychological and emotional relationships people have with the idea of 'home' alongside a series of period room displays.
In 2018 the museum had about 120,000 visitors before then closing for two and a half years, during which an extensive refurbishment and building programme took place. The Museum reopened as the Museum of the Home in Summer 2021 with a mission to reveal and rethink the ways we live, in order to live better together, and with 80 per cent more exhibition space for its collections and 50 per cent more public space. The Museum of the Home now has new basement galleries (The Home Galleries), a cafe, learning pavilion, collections and reference libraries, several events spaces, and replanted gardens.
Almshouses were built on the site in 1714, to house the widows of ironmongers. The almshouses were funded by a bequest from Sir Robert Geffrye, a merchant who had served as Lord Mayor of London and Master of the Ironmongers' Company. There were 14 four-room houses, for up to 56 pensioners, with a large garden.
The Metropolitan Public Gardens Association contributed to the funding for the acquisition of the former almshouses and garden by Shoreditch Metropolitan Council, and the MPGA's landscape gardener Fanny Wilkinson laid out the garden in 1900–01.
In 1911 the Ironmongers' Company decided the area had become too dangerous for pensioners, moved them to the country, and sold the buildings to the London County Council (LCC).
The museum opened on 2 April 1914. When the LCC took over the site to create the Geffrye Museum, Wilkinson's design was replaced with a new layout. The area was a centre of the furniture trade, so it was decided to establish a reference collection of furniture and interiors to inspire the manufactures. When furniture production moved away the focus of the museum shifted to a younger audience, particularly school children. In the latter part of the 20th century it was run by the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA).
In 1992 a herb garden was opened on a formerly derelict site to the north of the building, partly funded again by the MPGA, which then awarded the herb garden its London Spade Award in 1992.
The museum expanded in 1998 with the opening of a horseshoe-shaped extension designed by Branson Coates Architecture, providing space to add a 20th Century exhibition, shop and education rooms.
In January 2018, the museum closed for an £18m development project, reopening in June 2021. Until this closure, the main permanent displays were a series of room settings furnished and decorated to show the main living spaces and elements of domestic life through the centuries, reflecting changes in society, behaviour, style and taste. The museum's change of name was announced in 2019. Since reopening, the Museum has new galleries to "explore the concept of home through people's everyday experiences of making, keeping and being at home over the last 400 years".
With the reopening of the refurbished and extended buildings in Summer 2021 the museum has 80 per cent more exhibition space for the its collections and 50 per cent more public space, with its entrance now facing Hoxton station. The Financial Times' correspondent praised the Museum's refurbishment and exhibits, stating: "There is nothing else quite like the Museum of the Home ... Other museums tend to dwell on the finest artefacts, the most famous chairs, lamps or most beautiful manufactured pieces. This is not that. This is about how even the humblest of homes reveals rich, unique stories, a recognition that culture is not only the domain of museums but of all of our front rooms, bedside tables and the snaps in photo albums (or on phones) of years of family dinners in the room with slightly ropey wallpaper, the stopped clock, those old plates and granny’s dining table."
The Times dwelt on Michael McMillan's West Indian front room: "The stand-out set is the new West Indian front room circa 1976 with its glittery cushions, pineapple ice bucket and kitsch souvenirs from St Vincent. A proper home with cheering clutter ... The gardens are heavenly, the gift shop divine. It might be the best present-shopping spot in London."
As part of its exhibits the museum also has a mission to rethink the way we live now, with the museum's director Sonia Solicari stating that: "“Interestingly, the almshouses are beginning to look like a viable model for 21st-century housing ... Each person had the essentials, a bed and a table, and relied on itinerant food sellers, bakehouses and bathhouses. People are thinking about pod living now, and how we can make these smaller homes work. There’s an idea where our home is just a base and we get everything else we need from outside the home in shared and communal spaces. There are new artists’ homes in Barking and Dagenham like this — made with communal and shared spaces as an integral part of the plan. The home of the future is looking a lot like the past.” 
Several structures connected with the museum are listed on the National Heritage List for England. The main museum building is Grade I listed and the niche in the northwest corner of the forecourt of the museum is listed Grade II*. The forecourt wall, gates and railings to the museum are also Grade II* listed, and the two K6 telephone boxes on Kingsland Road outside the museum are listed Grade II. In 2021 the museum reopened following an extensive rebuilding programme.
Statue of Robert Geffrye
Above the Museum's former entrance is a statue of the benefactor who financed the almshouses within which the museum is now situated, Robert Geffrye. Geffrye was a merchant whose wealth was partly derived from the forced labour and trading of enslaved Africans. The statue is a replica replacing the 1723 original which was moved to the new almshouses in 1912 when the building was sold. Following the refurbishment of the museum and the reorientation of the site towards Hoxton Station, the statue of Robert Geffrye is now located at the back of the building, with the new museum entrance located opposite Hoxton Station.
In July 2020 the museum held a consultation on the potential removal of the statue, with 79.4% of local people voting to take the statue down. Under pressure from the then Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, who threatened to remove the museum's funding, the museum's board of trustees elected to "reinterpret and contextualise" the statue in its current location. There is now a sign at the foot of the building below the statue.
In November 2021 the Museum published a revision to their previous position, stating that the Museum "... strives to be a welcoming place for all. We feel that the statue of Robert Geffrye on the front of the Museum's buildings does not promote the sense of belonging that is so important for our visitors, and fundamental to the Museum's values." They went on to state that: "As a Grade I listed building, there is legislation that the Museum must take into account in making any decision. The Museum will work closely with its stakeholders as anticipated additional guidelines are issued by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on effective decisions concerning heritage, as well as the process around Listed Building Consent. We have been listening to many views and considering all options concerning the display of the Geffrye statue. We believe there is potential to retain the statue on site but in an alternative and less prominent space, where we can better tell the full story of the history of the buildings and Robert Geffrye's life, including his involvement in transatlantic slavery … We are confronting, challenging and learning from the uncomfortable truths of the origins of the museum buildings, to fulfil our commitment to diversity and inclusion.”
The statue of Geffrye at the museum, after a 1723 original by John Nost
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