Jackie Keily

Senior Curator of Roman
and Pre-history

27 May 2020

Filming the Layton Collection at the Museum of London

In 2019 the Museum of London worked with the Layton Trust to make a film about some of their amazing objects that are in our care. Read on for an introduction to the collection and the new film, from Senior Curator Jackie Keily.

Thomas Layton, image courtesy of Layton Trustees

Thomas Layton

Image courtesy of Layton Trustees

Thomas Layton (1819-1911) was a businessman and antiquarian who lived in Brentford for almost all of his life. He was a keen collector – of books, coins, antiquities, maps and prints. He amassed one of the largest collections of London antiquities ever assembled by one person. It includes both London and international antiquities and ranges in date from prehistoric to 19th century.

Layton died in 1911 and in his will he instructed that his collection should form the basis of a Layton Museum in his home. In 1913, the collection was transferred to Brentford Public Library. Due to a lack of storage space in the library, most of the antiquities in the collection were physically transferred to the London Museum (predecessor of the Museum of London) in 1963. The books in the collection remain in the care of L B Hounslow Library Services.

The material at the Museum of London is on loan to us from the Layton Trust. The Museum stores and cares for the collection, using it when suitable in permanent displays and temporary exhibitions. It comprises almost 8,000 individual pieces, of which almost 200 are on permanent display in our galleries.

The Layton collection includes some of the finest objects in the Museum of London's early collections. Prehistoric objects are well-represented - particularly bronze weapons, stone and flint tools from the Thames and artefacts dating to the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. There is also a small but significant world cultures collection. Given the strengths of the collection as a whole, it is frequently used as part of collection-wide research projects and the Trustees are very supportive of its use in this way.

Prehistoric dagger sheath and Roman slide-key from the Layton Collection

Prehistoric dagger and sheath, and Roman slide-key

The image on the left is an iron dagger with a bronze-banded sheath, dating to the 6th century BC (O1763). It is thought to have been made in Britain. It was dredged from the Thames at Mortlake and is currently on display in the Museum's London before London gallery. The image on the right is a Roman copper-alloy ward plate slide-key (O1980).

Last year we were very pleased to work with the Layton Trust to create a film about the collection, so that people could see both the treasures that are on display but also those that remain in storage. Filming involved some early morning starts so that we could film in the London Before London gallery, before the Museum opened, and also some long days perfecting the right shots in our stores – I did a lot of wheeling that trolley and pointing at boxes! It is wonderful now to see the collection starring in its own film and we hope you enjoy watching it.

The film was made by NRG Digital and used some amazing filming techniques to help get across the diversity and beauty of the pieces. There is a behind the scenes film which shows how some of those shots in the film were accomplished:

The importance of the Layton Collection as a whole for the Museum of London exists not only in terms of the objects within it, and the part they play in telling the story of London, but also as a collection that reflects the preoccupations of collectors at the time of the British Empire.

Filming in the London Before London galleries

Filming in the London Before London galleries

We are pleased to have been able to work with the Layton Trust in creating this film. For more information the Trust has its own website at https://thomaslayton.org.uk.

This article is part of a forthcoming series exploring collectors and collections from different perspectives.