The Museum of London has embarked on an extraordinary journey of transformation to relocate to West Smithfield
The new museum will sit in atmospheric but currently dilapidated market buildings, at the heart of one of the capital’s most historic and creative quarters, Smithfield.
This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reconceive what a museum for London can be. London is one of the most magnetic cities in the world and needs a museum just as compelling – a shared place for Londoners who want to feel more rooted in the city and for visitors from the UK and the world seeking authentic London experiences.
Working with a world-class design team, led by Stanton Williams Architects and Asif Khan with Julian Harrap Architects, the museum is now launching its public consultation.
Smithfield is an area of unique historic interest. It has been a Roman cemetery, a place of execution, home of the boisterous Bartholomew Fair, a grimy muse for Charles Dickens.
The first written record of the ‘smooth field’ dates to the 1170s, by which time it was already a bustling livestock market – a use that continued for centuries. The first of the enclosed dead meat markets opened in the 1860s, ultimately stretching a quarter of a mile.
The buildings at the western end of Smithfield are in desperate need of repair and renewal and are a perfect home for a new Museum of London.
Moving to Smithfield from its current site at 150 London Wall means that the museum will be able to do so much more, for many more people. It will provide street-level entrances, better transport links courtesy of the Elizabeth line, and the opportunity to create innovative new galleries, exhibitions and events. The new Museum of London will be one of the highlights of Culture Mile, located in the north-western part of the City of London. This area will be revitalised to become a vibrant and welcoming destination for the arts, heritage, learning and entertainment.
In 2016, the museum ran an international architectural competition. From a 100-strong field, they appointed Stanton Williams Architects and Asif Khan with Julian Harrap Architects. Since then, the team have been exploring the buildings in minute detail.
They have also been developing our design proposals, mapping complex museum requirements into the spaces – from object stores and conservation laboratories to extensive galleries, learning spaces, shops and cafés.
The museum already has a wealth of support behind the project and are grateful to the City of London Corporation and the Mayor of London, and to our Founding Partners, The Goldsmiths’ Company and its affiliated Charity, and the Linbury Trust. The project also secured initial support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund,and from global law firm DLA Piper, the project’s inaugural Corporate Champion.
As the project has developed, the possibilities have grown. Together with the City of London Corporation which owns the buildings, the museum are now proposing a masterplan that includes the renovation of the derelict General Market and Annexe buildings, together with the adaptation of the adjacent Poultry Market and surrounding public space.
This masterplan sets out a coherent vision for the future use of these buildings as they become available. With the Corporation’s plans to move the meat markets from Smithfield over the coming years, there will be new opportunities for current and future generations to gather, talk, learn and play in Smithfield.
The museum’s ambition is to bring architecture and content together to create unique and memorable spaces. The buildings will play a vital role in the visitor experience.
The ground floor spaces will be wonderful places to meet - everything within them a conversation starter. Below, cavernous subterranean spaces will be rich with London objects, stories and immersive and interactive experiences to explore. Throughout, the fabric and features of the buildings, their histories and echoes of lives lived within them will add texture and help to create a deep sense of place.
From the galleries, exhibitions and events to the learning spaces, cafés, restaurants and shops, everything in the museum will channel the spirit of London. It will be truly London - a museum like no other, one that could be nowhere else.