London Visit: The Geffrye Museum is dedicated to the home and how the middle classes furnished, decorated and enjoyed their spaces. Situated along Kingsland Road, London E2 it’s close to Hoxton, Haggerston and Old Street. This museum is free to visit and is set in beautiful grounds with a fantastic cafe. If you’re searching for free museums in London, free things to do in London or find yourself in the vicinity do pop in and have a look around the Geffrye Gardens and Geffrye Museum. It’s a must for any homes and interiors fanatics. (Building work is taking place from January 2018 for two years so the main museum will be closed, see information section below).
The Museum and Front Grounds
The museum is set in former almshouses which were built in 1714. These were founded by Sir Robert Geffrye to provide housing for elderly poor people. The almshouses were sold to the London County Council who opened the gardens and museum of furniture in 1914. Look out for a statue of Sir Geffrye above the front of the building.
The Geffrye Museum of the Home
The Geffrye is dedicated to the home and gives the viewer a front row seat of parlours and drawing rooms from 1600 to the present day. It’s a real insight into how the English middle classes lived, particularly Londoners. As you walk around the museum you are transported back in time. It’s fascinating to see how furnishings and decorations have changed over the decades and eras. The architectural proportions are as accurate as possible to give you a good sense of the overall space including ceiling, window and door height. To piece together these settings they have referred to paintings, drawings, photographs and film. It’s not just the fixtures and fittings which are explored, it’s also how the rooms were used for family life and to entertain guests.
1830 Drawing Room
These room sets are located in the Almshouses with more in the new annex. The tour starts in the Almshouses with a 1630s hall which is based on a 19th century sketch of a room in Aldersgate Street. You discover how this one central room was used by the entire family household for living, greeting guests and running a business. As you move onto the 1695 parlour it is apparent that the Great Fire of 1666 changed the way houses were built from the materials to the layout of the home. This is modelled on a 1686 house from Denmark Street in Soho. As you move onto a parlour in 1745 you can see how homes became grander with the period room replicated from Meard Street in Coven Garden. This section continues to the 1890 home which I found particularly interesting. The style is based on the Aesthetic Movement, of rejecting mid Victorian taste, which was inspired by writers and artists including Oscar Wilde and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
1890 Living Room
When you reach the cafe and shop you find yourself in a modern annex building. In this new section there are some big room sets of a 1910 drawing room, 1935 living room, 1965 living room and the loft style apartment of 1998.
New Annex Building Room Sets
My favourite was the 1965 living room which was based on a town house of modernist style. This demonstrates how living changed during this period with open plan space and communal gardens. The furniture was fantastic which really captured the orange tinged glow of mid-century modern parquet flooring to the Scandinavian furniture.
1965 Living Room
One of the almshouses has been restored to show how the pensioners lived in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This is only open on specific days so do check online for more information.
Geffrye Museum Garden
The grounds in the front of the almshouses are often enjoyed by nearby workers and visitors sitting on the benches or the grass. Make sure you venture into the gardens at the back of the building, you’ll see a sign saying Herb Garden. You will pass by the graves of Sir Robert Geffrye and his wife, although their remains have been moved to another location. The herb garden is walled and so delightful with benches around the outside so you can sit down and admire the planting. There are over 170 herb varieties including medicinal, culinary, aromatic and dye plants.
Adjacent to the herb garden you’ll find the period gardens. You just wouldn’t believe you are in London, it’s an oasis of tranquility and calm. The space has been divided up to echo the period rooms in the almshouses. It gives you a snapshot of the types of planting throughout the eras with a mix of formal and informal schemes. Again, you will find benches so do sit down for a while and soak it all in.
Geffrye Museum Cafe and Shop
The cafe is really good and you get great views across those wonderful period gardens. You can enjoy breakfast which is served all day and includes the East End Hash of Cumberland sausage. Chorizo, back bacon, potatoes and duck egg. There is a vegetarian version of this with chestnut mushrooms. Lunch starts at 12 noon which is along the lines of soup with artisan bread, salads and tarts. Or you can order a sandwich with some nice fillings like salt beef or Scottish salmon. A children’s menu is also available.
You can stop off for afternoon tea and a slice of cake which all looked very tempting. Expect to see firm favourites like carrot cake, bakewell tart and brownies. I treated myself to a scone with jam and clotted cream.
Scone with Jam and Clotted Cream
The shop is opposite the cafe and stocks a good selection of homeware gifts including mugs, enamel tableware, trays, vases and more. You can also purchase greeting cards, postcards and glossy books about furniture, design, architecture and London.
Geffrye Museum Information
The museum is located at 136 Kingsland Road, London E2 8EA. The nearest station is Hoxton (Overground Line), Haggerston is also close by (Overground Line) or you can travel from Old Street (Great Norther Trains and Northern Line Tube). Admission is free but please make a donation if you can, they recommend £3. I bought the glossy guide for £5 which is a good read. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am-5pm and closed on Mondays unless a bank holiday. The gardens are open April to October 10am-5pm. The cafe opens 10am-4.45pm. Please note that from 7 January 2018 for almost two years there will be extensive rennovation work taking place so the main main museum building and period gardens will be closed. But you can still see the almshouses and there will be events. For more information visit the website www.geffrye-museum.org.uk. Enjoy your visit.
Author: Homegirl London. Photographs: Homegirl London.