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Museum in Docklands

Created on 17/7/2008

This week I was at a meeting in London and had the good fortune to be able to give the MUSEUM IN DOCKLANDS a quick visit.

In London, a city rich in fantastic museums that are free of any charge it might seem unusual for me to recommend this one which has a normal ticket price of £5 ($10) per adult without concession, but I do as it is worth every penny and more. Whilst I was there I also popped my head into their Jack The Ripper exhibition, which added an extra £2 ($4) to the price. But I do want to give my support to this specialist London venue.

Everything about the Museum in Docklands is right. The museum has maintained the exterior elevations of the building first constructed about 3 hundred years ago, keeping the original wood in place where possible. The feel of the place is as much like the original, as it could be when you take into account the richness of the modern cultural experience you’re enjoying.

This location at one time housed the busy warehouses below which sat the rum vaults down below were stored with 3 millions gallons of the booze. This was the busiest port in the busiest and biggest metropolitan city in the world, and the centre of its empire that dominated more than a quarter of the world. The arteries of this mighty enterprise flowed directly down the river Thames, through which traveled the lifeblood of any empire, trade.

Even the café and souvenir shop are warm and welcoming as are the helpful and smiling staff. The place is intimate rather than overwhelming and overlarge. It doesn’t intimidate, but reaches out and embraces the visitor.

Whilst I was there I counted three tours of school kids of various ages who were clearly enjoying themselves and gaining knowledge and pleasure from the experience. There were also people from France, Germany and South Africa that I heard, and a grand mixture of people of every different ethnicity, race, age and type. The common theme I noticed about all the visitors was that they all appeared to be enjoying the experience.

The Jack The Ripper exhibition on the ground floor of the museum from 15 May to 2 November 2008 returns to the scene of London’s most infamous crimes in Jack the Ripper and the East End, which is apparently the first exhibition to explore the Jack the Ripper murders and their enduring legacy.

From police files and photographs to letters from the public and the supposed Ripper himself, examine, for the first time, surviving documents and artifacts from the investigation and follow the crimes as they unfolded.

You travel in time to the labyrinth of late-Victorian Whitechapel, and uncover the human stories behind the sensational reports and explore the lives of the victims, witnesses, suspects and police, and the world they lived in. I was especially impressed by the manner in which the museum has placed these terrible crimes in the social context of the deprived and somewhat depraved last century East End of London.

Although no one knows who he was, Jack the Ripper is probably the capital’s most infamous son, his story passing into legend, shaping the way London and the East End are imagined. Full of objects attesting to the never-ending public appetite for this story, the exhibition will ask why the tale of the Whitechapel murders continues to resonate 120 years on and why this one unknown figure became such an icon, and so much a part of London.

The Museum in Dockland’s public mission statement is to inspire a passion for London by communicating London’s history, archaeology and contemporary cultures to a wider world, reaching all of London’s communities through playing a role in the debate about London, facilitating and contributing to London-wide cultural and educational networks. As far as I could see all of this is being brilliantly achieved.

From Roman settlement to Dockland's regeneration, this immensely impressive museum provides the key to unlock the history of London's river, port and people from its historic and atmospheric West India Quay warehouse.

Go to this museum and you will find everything from whalebones to WWII gas masks in state-of-the-art galleries, including an interactive area for kids and a multi- media guidance system. There is also Sailortown, which is an atmospheric re-creation of 19th century riverside Wapping; and London, Sugar & Slavery, which reveals the city's complex and intimate involvement in the transatlantic slave trade.

The museum is located at West India Quay, Canary Wharf, London E14 4AL and the telephone number is 0870 4443855

Closest underground to Museum in Docklands is either Canary Wharf or West India Quay on the Docklands Light Railway. The museum is situated in what was St. Katharine’s Dock, and is evidence of how well the British do regeneration projects when they put their minds to it. My only negative is not in the control of the museum in that the West India Quay DLR station is clearly in need of refurbishment. It lets the area down, although there are signs that this long necessary work is being undertaken at last. The design of the stairs to and from the station is awful and desperately needs to be re-imagined then re-designed. On the positive side the DLR service is almost like the Disney monorail service at Disney World in Florida and is easy and fun to use.

The place is truly worth a visit. It’s deceptively engrossing and you could easily spend an entire day there if you have the stamina.

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