Museums are full of amazing objects exhibited in the galleries, but unbeknown to many, they also house a number of archive collections — much of which are stored behind the scenes. These collections largely consist of records and documentary material which help us uncover hidden but fascinating stories buried deep in paperwork! Here we put the spotlight on some such documents that showcase interesting aspects of London’s docklands and its inner workings, ranging from clandestine wine tastings to a special female police force.
From Roman Londinium and 18th-century coffee houses to modern-day Tube stations, London has been home to a vibrant and varied ceramic tile industry for centuries. Here’s a reminder, as we walk the streets of London, to look up and around ourselves, and enjoy this city of tiles.
Long before Joseph Bazalgette delivered London City from the Great Stink, Londoners had to live through the stench of dung hills, cesspits and, eventually, the disposal of the contents of fancy-to-everyday chamber pots. So serious was the issue that matters were sometimes even taken to court! Through the museum’s collection, we explore the smelly aspects of early-modern London’s sewage issues.
Is your upper lip looking less than fan-tache-tic? Are your whiskers whispy? Your sideburns a burden? Your goatee gone wild? Seeking ideas for your Movember look? Well look no further. Here are nine remarkable beards and moustaches from the London Collection to inspire your facial hairstyles this November.
1600 – present
Discover a city being transformed by vast new docks
The early 19th century brought great change to London's river and port. A huge docks complex was built on the Isle of Dogs, new bridges spanned the Thames and a tunnel was dug beneath it.
The City of London has always been closely tied to the river Thames, for transport, commerce and leisure. This gallery shows everything from ceremonial costumes to policeman's swords.
London was once the world's busiest whaling port. Sailors on whaling ships would pass the time by carving whale teeth, like this one.
This large cast-iron cauldron was used to render whale blubber into valuable oil. London South Sea whaling ships featured two of these pots in brick ovens on their decks.
The first ever tunnel beneath a navigable river, the Thames Tunnel was a miracle of engineering when it opened in 1843. London Overground trains still use the tunnel today.
These docks were built to increase and better control the shipping trade. The dock closest to the City of London opened in 1828, designed by the famous engineer Thomas Telford.
These weapons were issued to men of the West India dock police, a private security force created by the dock company in 1802, to guard the valuable port and cargoes.
These 6 hand-coloured images of the Tunnel under the Thames was published the year construction began, and form an imagined view of how it would appear "when completed".
This coloured lithograph was made before the new St Katherine Docks were built in 1827-28. They show a scene of bustling prosperity that it was hoped the new docks would bring.
This painting shows the Bargeman wearing the rich scarlet uniform of his profession, embroidered with the Royal Arms.
This large and intricate model shows the ceremonial barge that carried the Lord Mayor of London on his annual procession along the river Thames until 1856.
The gallery is open during the museum's normal hours:
The gallery is on the second floor and can be accessed by lift.
From gallery tours and object handling to kids' sessions, there's always something to do at Docklands.
Plan your visit
Discover a unique culture born in slavery in this free display.
The museum holds extensive records and objects from London's docks.
Explore our collections
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