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.
1945 – present
The docks were the first target in the London Blitz
Late in the afternoon of Saturday 7 September 1940, the Luftwaffe launched a massive daylight raid on London. Learn how the Port survived and aided the war effort from Dunkirk to D-Day.
A photo taken during the Blitz of 7th September 1940, showing smoke rising from the London Docks and West India Docks. © Port of London Authority.
This column was discovered in the debris of London Dock in 1980. Its iron was melted in the fierce heat of the blaze caused by German incendiary bombs during the 1940 Blitz.
This bombing of the docks set fire to huge quantities of sugar, in short supply during the war. This worker salvages some of the solidified sugar from the wreckage. © PLA collection.
This bell-shaped air raid shelter is made from a single piece of steel bolted to a concrete base. It could hold two adults, protecting Port workers caught in an air raid from bomb blasts.
These armed towers were built in the Thames estuary during the Second World War, to guard the entry to the river against German planes and ships.
Tanks arriving in the London Docks prior to embarkation for the D Day beaches. The port of London was a vital supply hub for the invasion and liberation of France. © PLA collection.
Telephone switchboard operators at the General Post Office needed to be able to work through an air raid, and were given these masks with built-in earpiece and microphone.
This artwork reflects an all too common sight in wartime London: the door of a family "bombed out" of their home, with only a short message to let friends know where they had fled.
The crucial role of the dockers to the war effort brought some improvement in their working conditions, including the introduction of mobile canteens. © PLA collection
This is a surviving section of a 130km long undersea pipeline, that carried fuel across the Channel to supply the invasion of France in 1944. Learn more about the astonishing story.
The gallery is open during the museum's normal hours:
The gallery is on the second floor and can be accessed by lift.
Learn more about the story behind the George Cross display
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The museum's oral history collection records the real life stories of everyday people
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