Geffrye Museum – A journey through four centuries of domestic life in London

Milica Sterjova
Decor style from 1830. By JRennocks – CC BY 4.0

Located in Shoreditch, London, the Geffrye Museum of the Home offers an amazing demonstration of life in the English city through the centuries.

The museum buildings date from 1714 and they were originally almshouses. The Geffrye Museum was named after Sir Robert Geffrye (1613–1703), who served as Master of the Ironmongers Company and Lord Mayor of London.

In his will, Geffrye bequeathed a charitable fund to build almshouses that could home 50 poor pensioners from the local district.

Two centuries after their construction, the company decided to move the residents to another location.

The property was sold to London City Council in 1912, and three years later it was opened as a museum. The initial goal of the museum was to provide knowledge for local furniture manufacturers.

During the 1930s, the original idea evolved into a display of domestic life and house interiors.

Parlor, 1695. Davide D’Amico. CC BY-SA 2.0

There are 11 rooms in the museum that showcase the life of London’s middle class, each one being a unique example of family life in England starting from the 1600s until today.

They all contain characteristic furniture, lighting fixtures and paintings that wealthy professionals, such as doctors or lawyers in the 17th century or manufacturers from the 19th century, would have chosen to decorate their home.

Parlor, 1745. Davide D’Amico. CC BY-SA 2.0

In another display, it is possible to see how the almshouses would have looked in the 18th and 19th century.

Every room represents a detailed time capsule, covering every aspect of domestic life, from interior decoration to home entertainment.

The earliest room in the museum is a 1630 hall which was the center of the household, where the family spent a lot of time and where they received their guests.

It was furnished based on a drawing of a house that managed to survive the 1666 Great Fire of London.

Parlor, 1790. Davide D’Amico. CC BY-SA 2.0

The next one is a 17th century parlor, which was less active than the previous century hall. The family gathered here and had their meals.

In the 17th and 18th century, the parlor had the almost exactly the same function.

A drawing room from 1830. Author: Davide D’Amico. CC BY-SA 2.0

The 1830 drawing room was where members of the family would spend time reading or painting.

The term drawing room is shortened from withdrawing room or withdrawing chamber, as this was the place in upper-class houses where the ladies would withdraw after dining. It would also be used to receive guests during the daytime.

By the late 18th century middle class people also had these rooms in their homes.

The drawing room generally has a large table usually in the middle. It was common for the furniture and walls to have the same colors.

The last room from the 19th century dates from 1890, when the Aesthetic Movement had a major influence on home decor, introducing new and original patterns.

1910 drawing room. Jeremy A.A. Knight. CC BY 2.0

The next century starts with a room from 1910, which was inspired by a North London suburban house.

This drawing room is a perfect example of how 20th century decor was intended to make the room more comfortable for daily use, as opposed to previous eras when it was suited for special occasions.

1935 living room. Jeremy A.A. Knight. CC BY 2.0

The 1935 room is a representation of a flat decorated in Modern style; there are fewer furniture pieces, and the colors of the furniture and walls are more neutral.

Scandinavian style influences the decor of the 1965 room which has white walls and simple wooden furniture. This is the time period where the television set was becoming a focal point in the room.

1965 living room during Christmas holidays. sam.romilly. CC BY 2.0

The most recent room dates from 1998 and it is an example of a loft-style London apartment, typical for the era.

The kitchen is connected to the living room, which remains a common feature in contemporary apartments of the same kind.

1998 loft-style apartment. Cmglee. CC BY-SA 4.0

Another great feature of the museum are the gardens.

They share the same characteristics with the rooms – arranged in chronological order, they demonstrate how urban gardening progressed starting with the 17th century.

A view of the garden. Neil McCrae. CC BY 2.0

Based on information from the matching period, the gardens are as close as possible to the originals.

During the Christmas holidays, all the rooms are decorated as they would have been in the past, offering a chance to experience Christmas celebrations from centuries ago.

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The Geffrye Museum of the Home period rooms, gardens, and the restored almshouse are open for visits.