Inside the Night Museum: 10 relics of lost London

This autumn, the Museum of London presents the Night Museum: three spectacular free evening festivals, with live music, exclusive talks and weird experiences around the themes of Loss, Darkness, and Endings. We've selected 10 objects that give a sneak preview of what awaits within the Night Museum.

Loss: the Museum of Lost Sounds, 29 October 2016

The first event in the Night Museum calendar explores the dark and lost borders of music, sound, art, and film, in partnership with Illuminations Festival. Our first few objects from the Museum of London collections are united by sounds now vanished from London's streets.

1. The clink of ancient British coins on Eel Pie Island

Hoard of ancient British coins found on Eel Pie Island.

Coins from an ancient British hoard

Iron Age (800BC-AD43); ID no. N1059

These three irons age coins date from before the Roman conquest of Britain in 43 AD, and were excavated from the earth of Eel Pie Island, in Twickenham. They are known as 'potins', named for the alloy of bronze, tin and lead that they're made from. It's unknown when or exactly why this hoard was buried on the island and then abandoned for over two thousand years. The use of metal detectors in recent decades has greatly expanded the number of finds – there are abot 340 Iron Age coin hoards and over 2700 Roman coin hoards currently recorded across Britain, increasing in number at around the rate of 80 a year.

2. The bellow of a wild aurochs in prehistoric London

The skull of an extinct aurochs on display in the Museum of London.

Aurochs skull, Lower Palaeolithic (200000BC-170000BC)

ID no. L340/12

This skull comes from an aurochs, an extinct type of giant wild cattle that once inhabited Britain and Europe. This colossal beast stood six foot tall at the shoulder, and its weight could vary anywhere from 1500kg to a massive 3000kg. The thick skull was specially adapted to support its wide, heavy horns. This particular skull comes from one of a herd of aurochs that roamed the land where London would one day be built, grazing on the rich floodplains of the river Thames in the distant Pleistocene period (the era that began 1.8 million years ago and lasted until 11,700 years ago, at the end of the last ice age). Humans eventually forced the aurochs into extinction, capturing some for domestication- the ancestors of modern cows. The last European specimen died in Poland in 1627.

3. The wailing of Roman funeral mourners

Funeral urns used to inter dead Romans, excavated from Walbrook.

Selection of Roman face pots, 43 AD-200 AD

ID numbers 18302, 21674, 21739, 73.68, A1739

These Roman pots may look odd - even rather jaunty - but they had a serious purpose. They were used as burial or cremation urns, holding the remains of those who died in the Roman city of Londinium. Libations of blood and offerings of food and drink were ritually poured over the ashes of the dead, and then the pots were buried. All these pots were excavated from the area of Walbrook stream, which used to run just outside the ancient Roman wall of Londinium. Their crude, barbaric, rather comic-looking features are stuck, rather incongruously, on a classic-shaped Roman jar. The eyes are circular, with a horizontal slit relaying the appearance of sleep, or a peaceful death.

4. The scrape of brushes on oyster shells

Oyster shells used as paint palettes in medieval London.

Oyster shell palettes, 13th century

Excavated from the Guildhall site; ID no. GAG87[495]<212>

It's not unusual to find oyster shells in archaeological digs - they decay slowly, and humans throughout history have been partial to shellfish. But these oyster shells, excavated from the site of the London Guildhall and dating to the 13th century, were reused for a striking purpose, as we can tell from the faint traces of paint still visible. Throughout the Middle Ages, illuminators and scribes often prepared pigments in oyster shells. Several of these palettes, retaining traces of pigments, derived from lapis lazuli and iron, lead and copper minerals, have been recovered from monastic sites in London. They were used in the decoration of the walls of churches and palaces- and, for that matter, guildhalls.

Darkness: The Museum of Dark Places, 2 November 2016

The second event in the Night Museum is inspired by the darkness of the night. Nocturnal visitors are invited to accompany us on a programme of night walks, talks, readings, performances and journeys of discovery into the dark heart of the city. Taking place in the hidden spaces underneath the Museum of London, as well as in nearby Barber Surgeons’ Garden, Postman’s Park and the Church of St Botolph-without-Aldersgate, the evening will include mythical creatures, an experimental choir, a talk on apocalyptic London literature, a thought experiment on night walking, and walking tours of London’s night sounds. Here's three items from our collection related to ways that Londoners have illuminated the city's dark nights across history.

5. An elegant Roman lamp

Roman clay lamp in the shape of a sandalled foot.

Roman clay lamp

AD 50-60; ID no. BGH95[522]<426>

This remarkably well-preserved Roman oil lamp is shaped as an elegantly sandled right foot. The blackened big toe forms the nozzle leading into the central fuel chamber. The craftsmanship brilliantly recreates an authentic Roman sandal, complete with iron hobnails on the sole - ideal for marching down a Roman road, perhaps carrying this lamp through the inky blackness of an overcast night in 2nd century Londinium.

6. Lights in darkest England

19th century matchbox lid issued by the Salvation Army, bearing the slogan

Matchbox label & lid, c. 1891

Made at the Salvation Army match factory; ID no. 74.14/1

This lid is from a box of matches made at the Salvation Army match factory. The printed label applied to the embossed card has the title 'Lights in Darkest England'. This isn't so much a reference to the matches within as to the mission of the Salvation Army, who saw themselves as bringing Christian enlightenment into the dark heart of London. The label also includes the crest of the Salvation Army and, around the border, 'Manufactured by the Salvation Army, Fair Wages for Fair Work Security from Fire.' The Salvation Army match factory that opened in 1891 was airy, well ventilated and well lit. Tea making facilities were available and the 100 workers received better wages than those in other factories. Londoners who purchased 'Lights in Darkest England' matches could tell themselves they were bringing spiritual light into the city.

7. Brilliant displays at Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens

    Poster announcing the last grand
night ascent of the Royal Vauxhall
hot air balloon piloted by Captain
W. H. Adams on 17 September,

    Poster announcing Vauxhall balloon ascent, 1858

    ID no. A9162

    Life in London: or, the day and night scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq., and his elegant friend Corinthian Tom, accompanied by Bob Logic, the Oxonian, in their rambles and sprees through the Metropolis. By George Cruikshank.

    A night scene from Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in 1821

    Detail from Tom and Jerry and Logic making the most of an Evening at Vauxhall, by George Cruikshank, 1821. ID no. A1819

    This poster advertises a spectacular show at the Royal Gardens, Vauxhall- perhaps better known as Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, one of the most fashionable nightspots in London in the first half of the 19th century. This event featured the last 'grand night ascent' of the Royal Vauxhall hot air balloon, piloted by Captain W. H. Adams on 17 September, 1858. The event was organised to mark the ending of the long tradition of pleasure gardens in the city. These locations combined live music, theatrical performances, and richly illuminated walks into a theme-park-style extravaganza. One contemporary commentator said: "the garden's great attraction arises from their being splendidly illuminated at night with about 15,000 glass lamps". They were also popular with those looking for ‘courting opportunities’, because the many darkened bowers and deliberately unlighted walks presented the perfect opportunity for ‘genteel romance’. By 1858, however, Vauxhall Gardens heyday was over. The business drove its owners into bankruptcy for a second time in 1859, and the festivities faded away, replaced by more modern attractions

    Endings: The Museum of Last Parties, 4 November 2016

    From Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens to Fabric, the history of London is littered with shuttered nightclubs, silent cabarets, and parties that inevitably petered out. At The Museum of Last Parties the end of the night is never quite reached. The bands play on, the dancers keep dancing, time has been called, but the bars are still serving. Curated by Shunt co-founder, Andrew Rutland and Martin Green, co-creator of the 90s nightclub Smashing, The Museum of Last Parties celebrates the history, diversity and excitement of nightclubbing. Let's finish with three relics of how London used to party.

    7. A horny medieval drinking vessel

    Kingston-type ware drinking horn with handle on the back. It has three feet under the base and the front is shaped like a human face.

    Medieval drinking horn, 14th century

    ID no. A3914

    This drinking vessel would have been used in London houses during the late medieval period, about the 14th century. It's a Kingston-type ware drinking horn, modeled on the shape of a traditional animal horn used to hold ale, with with handle on the back. It has three feet under the base and the front is shaped like a human face. The most striking decoration, however, is at the rear: there are broken-off remains of a man with a large erect phallus seated behind the handle.

    8. Ravishing shoes from the roaring 20s

    Gold leather evening shoes with grey kid lining and brown leather insole. The Louis heels are decorated with small diamantes and gold beads in geometric pattern.

    Party shoes, 1925

    Made by Ignazio Pluchino; ID no. 68.60/11b

    These splendid shoes were made for the "Countess" Lena de Hamon, wife of the fashionable Irish occultist and palm-reader known as "Cheiro". This pair of colourful characters captivated London society during the 1920s, with Cheiro (real name William Warner) predicting the future for everyone from Mark Twain to King Edward VII. These shoes have a grey kid lining and brown leather insole. The Louis heels are decorated with small diamantes and gold beads in geometric pattern. These beautiful gold leather evening shoes were made by the 'high class shoemaker' Ignazio Pluchino. Each pair of shoes was hand made to fit the client, who had a personal cast made from which the shoemaker could work. It took three days, working long hours, to make one pair of shoes.

    10. Remains of a hundred members' clubs

    This is one in a collection of 100 club membership cards used by Emile Klaber from the 1920s to the 1940s.

    Three membership cards to London clubs, 1930s

    From a collections of over 100 London club memberships used by Emile Klaber from the 1920s to the 1940s. ID no. 74.451

    These three cards were used to gain access to three different drinking establishments in London- Murrays Club, the Ambassador, and the Swallow Club, each of which offered live orchestras, dancing, and a private drinking environment. These are just three cards from the remarkable collection of Emile A. Klaber. Emile donated to the museum a collection of 100 club membership cards used by him from the 1920s to the 1940s. Whilst most of the cards were issued by London clubs, where he lived, several refer to temporary membership of European clubs and casinos acquired on his travels. Almost none have survived to the present day.

    Book your free tickets to one of the three Night Museum events, from 29 October to 4 November 2016.