Revisiting a Museum of the Streets

There won’t be a Bartholomew Fair this year – but still much to explore around Smithfield and elsewhere in support of the Destination City programme. Developing a Museum of the Streets could be one way to put on a good show, and build a partnership for future celebrations.

Last year the City Corporation spent £1.5 million re-staging Bartholomew Fair, as the centrepiece of its Destination City programme to attract visitors to the Square Mile. The investment was catalysed by ideas from councillor Matthew Bell, including an article for the EC1 Echo. More links about that at the end: Echo spread below.

In an accompanying article in the Echo I suggested that a lot could be done to help people explore the City during the rest of the year through the use of digital technology to develop maps, promote walks, create virtual tours, display photos old and new. I later suggested how these elements could be combined to create a Museum of the Streets while we await the re-opening a spectacular new Museum in West Smithfield. Here’s a “sneak peek” at how that’s going.

Following an independent review, the focus of the Destination City programme has now shifted from big events to the promotion of the City’s unique culture and heritage. The review author, Paul Martin, told a Citizens Forum event:

  • the historic City of London has the most amazing resources and attractions about how London first developed as a city, a depth which is unknown anywhere else.
  • we should improve the public realm of streets, open spaces, areas for play and congregation to benefit visitors, workers and residents
  • the re-location of the London Museum to Smithfield Market will transform that area into an international visitor destination.
  • people don’t know what’s going on, where the hidden treasures of the City are, and so the City needs to improve in the telling of its story

Rather than expecting a central Destination City team to deliver, Paul Martin said that action will depend on partnerships:

I’m thinking of cultural and heritage organisations, the Livery companies, the BIDs, businesses themselves, resident organisations – we need to think how we can harness the totality of these enormous and extraordinary community assets to achieve the goals of Destination City.

There won’t be a Bartholomew Fair this year, although St Bartholomew the Great is hoping to stage another Great Disputation in September, to mark the anniversary. Last year’s debate on ‘This House believes that the love of money is the root of the nation’s evils’ was a great success, together with other events organised around the original site of the Fair. These included a traditional opening by the Lord Mayor (below).

Here’s the Cloth Fair website I developed with local councillors, residents, the church and City Courant magazine.

The prospect of the Disputation – and maybe some other activities – prompted me to look again at the Museum of the Streets, and what might be done to keep the idea of the Fair alive.

The London Museum is planning a “a festival curated by Londoners” before the opening in 2026, according to its website. Maybe there could be elements of a Fair. Creating a Museum of the Streets could help form the partnership needed for a Fair, and for the Destination City programme envisaged by Paul Martin.

Back in 2022 Matthew Bell said of Smithfield:

There can be few other places in the country as full of history as this tiny area. The City of London is keen to bring more people in to the City. Bartholomew Fair was all about bringing people in to the area for over seven hundred years and having it resurrected in late August as well as a virtual Fair all year round, would be a fantastic way of introducing people to the area, its history as well as everything it has to offer now.

This though should really be the tip of the iceberg. There is history everywhere here and with the remarkable digital revolution that we are in the middle of, there is no real excuse for not having the history of our streets readily at our fingertips. When it opens, the physical Museum of London in West Smithfield should have no boundary with the Museum of the Streets on the phones in our pockets”.

Both Matthew and councillor John Foley, executive editor of The City Courant, have said they think it worth promoting the idea. Maybe we could have a get-together of others interested around the time of the Disputation.

Meanwhile I can do further research into what projects have developed, or are planned. I think the aim should be to assemble, as far as possible, a Museum of the Streets by joining up existing initiatives, and (as with the idea of re-staging the Fair) sparking adoption by an organisation with some resources.

For example, here’s some updates I’ve added to the original Museum of the Streets post:

I think that we have many of the components needed for a Museum of the Streets, and I’m offering the idea in response to the invitation from the City’s Policy chief Chris Hayward in June 2023:

If you feel we’re not consulting widely enough on Destination City, or the more engagement residents could have, we want to know how precisely we do it … we want Destination City to be owned by the residents as much as by anybody else.

Maybe Museum of the Streets isn’t the best way to meet Destination City objectives in a way that works for residents, workers and visitors … or the best name … but at the moment we don’t have any other indications of how the programme will work.

Despite the best efforts of councillor Brendan Barns, the Resident Representative on the City Envoy Network, in organising Citizens Forums, details have been scarce as I wrote here.

Here’s hoping for more at the next forum which will at the Broadworks Cultural Hub, Broad Street, on Tuesday July 16. Booking here.


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