We are back from our epic Easter weekend trip to London with sore feet and a lighter wallet. Our first stop was the Museum of London Docklands.
London for us is always worth the effort and we aim to visit at least once a year with the kids. There is just so much to explore and so many of the awesome museums are free to visit. Just being in London is exciting for the girls who got pretty good at navigating the London Underground maps. They didn’t even mind the 14 hour days of sightseeing as long as they got to go to the gift shops and a sugary treat along the way!
How to get to Museum of London Docklands?
The first of our Easter trip to London museum blog posts starts here with a visit to the Museum of London Docklands. Canary Wharf was a new area for us to explore and to get there we needed to experience a new mode of London transport. Sadly the weather gods were not smiling in our favour. The day we visited on Good Friday the rain was torrential. Still, we battled on with raincoats on and a spirit of adventure intact. From our hotel in Park Royal, we took the Underground to Bankside to catch a Thames Clipper ferry. Unlike the London Underground kids weren’t free on the Clipper so we bought a couple of tickets (£4 one way) for them and waited for our ferry. There were plenty of Clipper staff dockside to keep us right!
Thames Clipper Travel with Kids
Many readers may know that my brother Philip is the skipper of the Shields ferry, so we were expecting something of a similar ilk. The Thames Clipper was an altogether nicer experience (sorry Shields ferry) with comfy leather seating and a large snack bar. Once we got past the London eye the skipper warned us he was going to get moving and get moving he did. Hang on to your hat! It was such a fun way to see the sights from the river (despite the steamy windows and rain) and would recommend it the next time you are in the city. The trip took around 30 minutes and was great fun. The barista coffee was much welcomed too.
Museum of London Docklands, Canary Wharf location
The Museum of London Docklands is situated in Canary Wharf between the huge skyscrapers on the Isle of Dogs. It feels like you are in another country rather than England. Everything is so huge and modern. The Museum is operated by the same charity as the Museum of London at the Barbican. We had hoped to visit this one too as I remember going on my first school trip at the age of 10 but time wasn’t on our side. We’ll have to save that for another time.
As you enter the museum we were greeted by a friendly member of staff who advised us to start at the top and work our way back to the ground floor. He also told us about the lockers which although were £1 non-refundable were a godsend to attempting to dry out of soggy coats. Entry to the museum is free but donations are welcomed.
A sign at the entrance said that the next Mudlarks session was at 4.30pm (it was around 2 pm). We weren’t sure what this was but turns out it’s an Under 5’s play area which seemed to be pretty popular judging by the number of buggies parked outside. There is a cafe in this section too serving up cakes, sarnies, and the usual fare.
So we started on the third floor as instructed on the No 1 Warehouse gallery. A list of talks was advertised including a hands-on session with artifacts but we just decided to wing it. One slight criticism was that we never saw any guides throughout our journey through the galleries. This would have been a nice touch to engage the kids and something the Wonderlab at the Science Museum does very well.
No 1 Warehouse Gallery
The No 1 Warehouse of the West Indian Docks is one of the oldest in London. In this historic building, the story of the docks success is described. The history of how merchants weighed and totted up products coming into the city is detailed. The docks were massive employers with various Customs & Excise staff, merchants and managers employed. Hooks, pulleys, and barrels weighed the goods out and there were plenty of examples of originals. The museum is well laid out and although the kids were a little bored in this section they found some heavy original doors to pose against.
The girls really enjoyed exploring this mock-up of the docks Sailortown with its inn, pet shop and tavern. There was some hands-on lift the flap and guess the smells for them to do and a mock-up of a merchants front room. I think this part was where the museum did well to bring the past to life and describe the vast amount of silk, tea, and spices that were coming into the city from all over the world. The girls loved the smell of the vanilla but the black pepper wasn’t as pleasant.
London, Sugar & Slavery
So much of Britain’s industry was built on slavery so it was only right that a lot of the museum is dedicated to telling the story of the enslaved men, women and children Africans who provided the labour to produce the valuable commodities. Some Londoners who were against the slave trade bought sugar from East India. They said it was better than West Indies sugar because it was not harvested by enslaved Africans. The exhibit really made you sit back and realise that slavery is still happening together in many parts of the world, and those who campaigned and continue to campaign against the horrible practice.
Docklands at War
Being such an important industry the Docklands was always going to be a target in WW2. In fact, the Docklands was the first target in the afternoon of Saturday 7 September 1940, when the Luftwaffe launched a massive daylight raid on London. In this section, there was a mock-up of an air raid shelter and descriptions of life for Eastenders during this time. It must have been terrifying and no wonder so many people opted to send their kids to the countryside as evacuees.
New Port, New City
This for me was the most interesting section of the museum. Love a bit of modern history and I can remember the yuppies of the 1980’s (or Harry Enfield’s version anyway!). As the docklands closed a new boom of banking needed a new location and the East End was cheap, available and vast. The area became Europe’s largest regeneration project, and it still evolving today. When it was built in 1990, One Canada Square was the tallest building in Britain. 800 feet tall, the skyscraper became a symbol of the transformation of Docklands. It’s blinking light at the top alerting airplanes. It was so foggy on the day we visited we could barely make out the top!
It wasn’t all gold and shiny for everyone in the East End though and there was lots of poverty as dockworkers lost their work. Not unlike the decline of other heavy industries in other parts of the country like my own hometown Jarrow.
Rum & Sugar
Now, this is something I think most museums could benefit from around here…their own bar! We enjoyed a jug of rum-based goodness while we planned the next part of our day and braced ourselves for the relentless rain outside! While we watched the rain, it was now we decided to try and get tickets to see School of Rock the Musical!
Museum of London Docklands Video
Here is a video from out Museum tour and river cruise.