The London Society offers a “sneak peek” into the site of the new London Museum

The London Society organises excellent walks and talks, and last week I was delighted to be able to join in a “sneak peek” organised by director Rob Fiehn just down the road at the site of the new London Museum.

Installation of the occulus glass panel to the top of the dome, sealing off the roof. October 2023 © Museum of London

The former Poultry Market with its restored copper-clad roof. © Luke Hayes

As a resident of Smithfield I’ve been following plans for the Museum’s move to West Smithfield – and the controversial scheme for its former site at London Wall West – but I’ve never been able to see inside the former General Market and Poultry Market buildings as they are transformed. Aerial views above, courtesy of the Museum.

(That’s not the better-known Smithfield Meat Market, which will be in operation for a few more years. More below on that and all the buildings of Smithfield).

We were offered a highly-informative talk, and a walk around the site led by architect Paul Williams, comparing the state of the interiors now with the design concepts developed by Stanton Williams. More on their website, and in the gallery below. Thanks to Bree Wilkinson and Stephanie Kirklees for images and information.

Lead architect Paul Williams and Claire Dale-Lace, Senior Associate, Stanton Williams
Inside the General Market on the Ground Floor level

After the visit I wondered how best to report, because I was more concerned to take in the extraordinary surroundings than take notes. Fortunate the websites of Stanton Williams, and the Museum, provide a good account. For more see this recent report from the BBC and Architects’ Journal in 2023. In summary:

  • When the General Market closed in the 1990s it was left to decay as the owners, the City of London, and developers, tried to get approval for various schemes. Fierce opposition from conservationists prevailed, and the site was offered to the Museum of London in 2015. Later the Poultry Market was added to the package.
  • Stanton Williams as lead architects, working together with Asif Khan and conservation architect Julian Harrap, won an international competition to “transform a group of derelict market buildings into a 24-hour, world class cultural destination and a democratic arena for public life”.
  • Some 70 per cent of the original fabric of the buildings will be preserved, and as much as possible of Horace Jones’ original design.
  • The original home of the Museum closed in 2022, and the City Corporation recently gave itself planning permission for an office-led development on the the site, against strong opposition. More here.
  • The current budget for the new Museum is £437m – the funding coming from a “partnership between the City of London Corporation, the Museum of London and the Greater London Authority, with a range of private foundations, sponsors and private philanthropy”, according to the museum.
  • The Museum’s 7 million artifacts are mostly in storage.
  • The first parts of the Museum will open in 2026, with the spaces in the former Poultry Market opening in 2028.
  • The Museum is planning to host “a festival curated by Londoners” before the opening, according to the Museum website. There will also be other activities in Smithfield as part of a £650,000 “cultural transformation” of the area. Play Cycles will be part of that on June 28-29 2024.

The Buildings of Smithfield Market, on A London Inheritance, posted in 2020, provides a detailed guide to all the market buildings, and nearby cold stores.

The Smithfield Meat Market buildings are also due for transformation.

The Wholesale Markets website explains plans to co-locate the City of London’s historic food markets to Dagenham Dock. It offers a vision for the future of the meat market buildings.

Here’s a video from eight years ago in which Museum director Sharon Ament and others explain why West Smithfield is such a good location.

The new Museum deserves a setting worthy of the exceptional design and development evident from architects and museum staff. I’ll return to what’s planned for the wider Smithfield area in another post.

Meanwhile here’s news of Play Cycles, launching in the Smithfield Rotunda Garden on June 28-29 as part of the London Festival of Architecture: “a pop-up outdoor play programme taking place across London during the summer holidays!

“Designed by NOOMA Studio, in partnership with the Museum of London and City of London Corporation, this family of pedal powered play units hits the road this summer to reimagine London’s streets as radical places for joy, creativity and gathering.

“Everyone is invited to the launch celebrations at the Smithfield Rotunda Garden on Friday 28 June, 4-8pm, and on Saturday 29 June, 11am-4pm, featuring FREE family-friendly play activities for all ages, live performances and food and drink. Dress for mess! Plus a chance to vote for Play Cycles to visit where you live over the summer”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *