Museum of London
London before London
Meet the oldest Londoner and discover a time when wild animals roamed Trafalgar Square.
Our London Before London gallery explores the prehistoric story of the Thames Valley from 450,000 BC to the arrival of the Romans in AD 50.
Beginning when London was a wilderness and the local population would fit on a double-decker bus, London before London explores the relationship between humans and their surroundings.
War, Plague and Fire (1550s-1660s)
A turbulent time of great expansion and terrible devastation.
The War, Plague and Fire gallery tells the story of London from Elizabethan times, through the ravages of the English Civil Wars and the cataclysmic disasters of the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666.
During this period, London expanded beyond the bounds of the city wall and began its transformation into a truly world-class city. Rich displays of artefacts and documents bring to life the key events of this period from the execution of King Charles I to the 100,000 deaths of the Great Plague and the destruction of the Great Fire, which razed a third of the city.
People's City: 1850s-1940s
How London’s rapid expansion created a wealthy but divided city.
By the 1850s, London was the world’s wealthiest city but success came at a price. Population growth created a divided city, with Londoners living in separate worlds of rich and poor.
This was a time of conflict when workers united to fight for their rights, imprisoned Suffragettes went on hunger strike and communist and fascist groups emerged as the nation moved closer to war. It was also a time of wealth and glamour.
The social divide is reflected in the galleries. A room wallpapered with Charles Booth’s poverty maps sits alongside a stunning art deco lift from Selfridges, a glamorous symbol of the emerging West End.
As you leave the dazzling lights of the theatres and restaurants, enter a dark and immersive war room decorated starkly with a suspended bomb, showing a blitzed city unsure of its survival.
Roman London: AD 50-410
The creation of Londinium.
The Romans built the city where London now stands, bridging the Thames and constructing the roads that connected Londinium with the rest of the country. From around AD 50 to 410 – a period as long as that which separates Queen Elizabeth I from our present Queen – this was the largest city in Britannia, a vital port through which goods were imported from all over the world.
The rise of London from the arrival of Anglo-Saxons to the dawn of the Tudors.
This gallery covers more than a thousand years of history, from Anglo-Saxons and Viking raids to the Norman Conquest of 1066 and the splendour and bustle of England’s 16th-century capital. This is the London of Chaucer and Becket, of medieval crafts and guilds, merchants and overseas trade.
Expanding City: 1666-1850s
Discover a city rebuilding itself after the Great Fire.
This gallery explores London’s rapid growth after 1666. The centrepiece is a 240 year old printing press that spills news stories across the gallery in an innovative collision of new and old technologies.
Admire museum treasures, including Nelson's sword, an original door from Newgate Prison and the extraordinary aerial view of the 1806 Rhinebeck Panorama, as you walk over cases embedded underfoot.
London was the capital of a vast empire and this global influence was seen in the goods that Londoners could buy, from Indian cashmere to fans from China. Similarly, immigrants brought new skills that benefited the business and cultural life of the city.
In size and population, wealth and power, there had never been a city like it.
World City: 1950s-today
After facing poverty and war, London emerged as a rejuvenated, vibrant modern city for the masses.
London became a new kind of world city. A youth and multicultural revolution saw Londoners absorb new values and claim new rights. By the end of the 20th century, the diversity of its people was at the heart of London’s identity.
Homes were transformed by new forms of entertainment, technology and fashion. Television puppets Bill and Ben delighted London’s children in the 1950s, the first Apple Mac computers appeared in Londoners’ homes in the 1980s and fashion in the capital shifted from Biba and Mary Quant in the 1960s to Alexander McQueen and Tatty Devine in the 2000s.
As well as looking back, we face up to London’s future. One enormous image imagines what London will look like in years to come while a flowing interactive river lets you debate the issues affecting London today, from burial space to climate change.