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The story of the Museum

The Museum of the Home has its home in 300 year old almshouses in Hoxton.

The almshouses and statue of Sir Robert Geffrye

The Museum of the Home is housed in almshouses built in 1714.

The money to build them came from Sir Robert Geffrye (1613–1704).

Geffrye was an English merchant, who made part of his money from his involvement in the exploitative East India Company and Royal African Company and his persistent investment in the forced labour and trading of enslaved Africans.

There is a statue of Sir Robert Geffrye on the Museum's buildings to acknowledge his donation to build the almshouses.

Following a process of reflection, debate and research, and a consultation conducted in partnership with Hackney Council, the Board of Trustees of the Museum has taken the decision not to remove the statue from the Museum's buildings.

Read the full statement from the Board of Trustees (pdf)

For information about the decision and the statue

Detail from drawing illustrating the history of the building by Wright & Wright Architects displayed in the RA Summer Exhibition 2019 Detail from drawing illustrating the history of the building by Wright & Wright Architects displayed in the RA Summer Exhibition 2019

Becoming a museum

In 1911 the London County Council (LCC) bought the building and gardens. The main reason was to save the gardens which represented 14% of the open space in Shoreditch, a densely populated area of London.

Designers, artists and architects at the time were petitioning for an exhibition space for arts and crafts. The LCC saw that they could give new purpose to the almshouses by turning it into a museum.

On 2 April 1914 the Geffrye Museum opened to the public.

1914: Furniture first

When the Museum opened in 1914, it was a museum of furniture and woodwork. It was a resource for the many local people who worked in the East End furniture industry.

1930s: History of domestic life

In the mid-1930s the focus shifted to a younger audience, particularly school children.

Molly Harrison, an educational pioneer, developed the museum's learning services. She led the way in making museums centres for learning and education.

Marjorie Quennell, the museum curator, created a chronological run of living room displays. These were a unique resource for learning about the history of domestic life and everyday things.

1940s: Keep calm and carry on

The Museum remained open throughout WWII, closing for just a few months for air raid shelters to be built. The shelter dug into Kingsland Gardens held up to 700 people.

Over the years the Museum evolved, presenting paintings, furniture and decorated arts in the context of living rooms.

In the last few decades

An extra wing was added with 20th century period rooms and spaces for learning and exhibitions in 1998. The herb garden and the period gardens were opened to the public in the late 1990s. One of the 14 almshouses was restored to show the living conditions of former residents in the 1780s and 1880s. To reflect the Museum's focus on home and home life, the Museum became the Geffrye Museum of the Home in 2011.

2020: The Museum of the Home

We reopen in 2020 as the Museum of the Home. We will have new galleries and learning spaces, a new café, entrance hub and a collections study room. And our purpose is to reveal and rethink the ways we live and think about home.

 

 

Life in the almshouses

Almshouses are charitable housing provided to people in need, who belong to a particular community. In this case the residents were associated with the Ironmongers' Company.

The almshouses were built in 1714 with fourteen houses. Each house had four rooms. Each room usually had just one inhabitant. So there was room for around 50 pensioners.

All rooms came without furniture, residents had to buy their own. They received a pension of £6 per year, 6 bags of coal and free accommodation.

There were four members of staff who lived in the almshouses:

  • Chaplain
  • Groundskeeper
  • Matron
  • Chapel clerk

In the 1700s the surrounding area was largely rural. Market gardeners cultivated the land, supplying Londoners with fresh vegetables and herbs.

As London expanded during the 1800s, the area became the hub of London's furniture and clothing trades. Terraced housing, factories and workshops replaced the farmland.

By 1911, the area had become one of the most heavily populated areas of London with severe overcrowding and little sanitation. The Ironmongers' Company decided to sell up and move the residents to the cleaner, safer suburbs in the country.

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