Most blog posts end with disclaimers – this one will begin with a rather big one, slash news update.
Disclaimer: I now work at the Museum of London!
I’m completely delighted to have landed the job of my dreams in my favourite museum (shhhh! Don’t tell the others!) I’ve spent the last year trying to a) act like I know what I’m talking about and b) getting used to full time hours. Any working parent will (hopefully) understand why this blog has been quieter than an evacuated ghost town – out of season.
So as a resting blogger cum employee, I was surprised to be invited to a family bloggers preview of their Fire! Fire! exhibition. You mean I get to hang out with my kids for a morning during work hours? Score! I forgot this meant I would have to display my dubious parenting skills for all of my colleagues to see. Releasing the toddler from the buggy on arrival, a huge wave of cheerios fell from her clothing, bouncing all over the newly swept exhibition floors. What’s the saying about never working with children? I’m sure it has even more meaning at your own (new) workplace!
Fire! Fire! is a major family exhibition timed to mark the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London. Having not worked on the exhibition, and put my fingers in my ears anytime someone started talking about it, me and the kids had no idea what to expect. We were absolutely stunned by our first view – an atmospheric recreation of Pudding Lane before the fire. Here’s a (rather unflattering) photo of mine and the Museum boy’s jaws dropping!
The museum worked with a theatrical set designer on the exhibition, and the entrance definitely feels like an experience. The immersive street scene incorporates real objects – museum toddler loved the original carved wooden overhanging brackets that would have originally supported the upper floor of a building. She returning to them repeatedly and asking ‘pick me yyyuuppp’ so she could look more closely. I assume it was because the grotesque figures carved into the brackets have boobs!
We then reached a small recreation of the bakers shop where the fire began, which uses a huge digital projection to show how the fire began. Both children were captivated by the lights, and and it made it super easy to explain to Museum boy how the fire began, even though he’s only 4.
A map showing how the fire spread is projected onto a giant bread (think uneven flatbread rather than Hovis). It certainly caught both children’s eyes, although maybe because they wanted to climb all over it! The burnt loaves suspended from the ceiling are a witty touch.
The thunderous sound of burning wood and a giant, animated wood-cut illustration of London aflame place you right in the moment of the Great Fire.
A number of questions are asked – what would you do to fight the fire? In the centre of the room there is the pre-requisite dressing up as early fire-fighters. My son loved the very simple but effective digital interactive, where you can try to fight the fire with either long hooks, buckets of water, or ‘squirts’ (large metal water pistols). This really showed him the different fire fighting methods and how effective they were.
Another thing to think about is what you might take with you in the fire. My son had a small basket and had to think quite hard about what he could fit in it, or what he might have to hide – he wasn’t too keen to do a Samuel Pepys and bury his cheese.
The after effects of the fire are also considered, including the development of fire fighting services and the various scapegoats blamed for the fire. A temporary ‘camp’ is an area to hear eye witness accounts – and a reminder of our current refugee crisis. It is a reflective space – museum toddler sat here, turning the pages of the clipboard, for LITERALLY ages. Sidenote for exhibition designers: always include a clipboard in an exhibition aimed at families. Pretty please.
The rebuilding of London area includes a table with wooden block buildings, where children can create their own plans of how they would have rebuilt London. My kids really enjoyed playing with these – clearly the only way is up for them!
Fire! Fire! is really well thought out for families. There are lots of varied hands on activities which naturally appeal to children, and help them understand more about the Great Fire, and what it might have been like to experience it. Thanks to the lift the flaps, my 4 year old now knows the materials used to build London before and after the Great Fire – impressive! My children are below the target age group – which would explain why some things like the flaps were a little high for them – but there was still plenty for them to enjoy and concepts they could grasp easily.
And it’s not all about the interactives – museum toddler was particularly drawn to the 17th century fire engine, partially reconstructed with animation to show you how it worked. The older children I saw visiting were really intrigued by the x-rays which showed you what was inside the otherwise unidentifiable lumps, fused together in the great heat of the fire.
The children then got to touch real items from the Great Fire in a handling session, including sniffing a brick which still smelt of smoke! This was rounded off with a story telling session, which my children weren’t quite old enough for but would be great for school age children.
We were treated to a pizza lunch in London Wall Bar and Kitchen, right next to the museum. I had a good pizza straight from their wood fired oven, and the kids enjoyed the pasta and burger from the kids eat free menu.
After lunch we were gifted vouchers for the shop, at which point I thought they must have forgotten I was just the employee along for the ride. I dashed over to the shop clutching said vouchers before they realised their mistake. My son was shocked by my uncharacteristic declaration: ‘buy anything you want!’ We left with a bus money bank, giant flame shaped lollies, a fire extinguisher water bottle, and a cuddly cat which Museum toddler has barely let out of her hands since (she still sleeps with it).
We were invited along to the family walking tour on the great fire, but at this point I thought I really better had drop the kids at nursery and get some proper work done before I got the sack.
Museum boy has since said he really wants to go back to my work – and calls it ‘the one with the fire’. I’m pleased he knows where I work – even if he has tied it to a temporary exhibition. Luckily Fire! Fire! is on until April so there is still time to revisit, before the fire is finally put out. And nobody at work has even mentioned my questionable parenting skills. Phew – maybe I can mix work and kids after all.
Disclaimer: You clearly didn’t read this post. Start again at the beginning.
Photos courtesy of Museum of London.
I was given free entry, lunch and vouchers for the shop in return for… well, they said I could blog about if it I wanted. And I did, so I did. Eventually.
THE BARE BONES
Fire! Fire! runs until 17 April 2017
Museum of London, 150 London Wall, London EC2Y 5HN
Ticket prices (including 10% voluntary Gift Aid donation):
Cheaper prices available on off peak (Mon-Fri during local school term time). Cheapest prices available every Wednesday during local term time only. See website for further info.
Baby change: Toilets and baby changing facilities are just opposite the entrance to the exhibition. There are additional facilities on each level of the museum, near the lifts and stairs.
Toddler time to toilets: They’re on the same floor, so you can do it in 1-2 minutes.
Forgotten anything or had an accident? There is an emergency pack at the entrance to the exhibition with helpful items (nappy, spare pants and baby wipes) should you need it. Just ask a host or volunteer. Great idea, no?
Nearest playground: Fortune Street Park has play areas for toddlers and bigger kids, and is a 12 minute walk away. If you want some green space a bit closer, try Postman’s Park, which is just a stone’s throw away from the museum and small, but suitable for a picnic and to show them the wonderful Watts memorial.
Want to make more of a day out of it? There’s lots more for families throughout the Museum – handily reviewed here: https://museummum.wordpress.com/2014/06/04/review-museum-of-london/. Or carry on the Great Fire theme with a trip up Monument (http://www.themonument.org.uk/) , a visit to St Pauls (https://www.stpauls.co.uk/) , and a selfie at Pudding Lane.