Beasts of London at the Museum of London: review

Beasts of London at the Museum of London: review

How do you retell the story of London? It’s such a big topic and it’s been retold countless times, but the Museum of London has managed to give us a fresh take on the subject in its new exhibition: Beasts of London. Running from Friday 5th April to 5th January 2020, Beasts of London is a collaborative project with the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Through a series of nine multi-media “episodes” the viewer is taken on a journey through London from its prehistoric beginnings when woolly mammoths marched across the landscape right through to the present day where foxes and pigeons share this modern city with us humans.

Episode 4: a killer among them… credit Museum of London

Senior curator Francis Marshall describes Beasts of London as an experience rather than an exhibition. While there are artefacts from the Museum’s collection to complement each episode; a fragment of Roman pottery, a stuffed cat; much of what we learn is through impressive digital installations, engaging music and the “voices” of the animals.

Although the sound and scenery has been produced by the students of the Guildhall School, it’s a sign of the times that the Museum decided to use celebrity voices to bring some of the beasts to life. I’m not sure which of these was the bigger stroke of genius: using Brian Blessed’s mighty boom to voice the microscopic but mighty bacterium which killed off some 100,000 Londoners, or the use of Kate Moss to voice the urban fox at the end of the exhibition. I wonder if the model’s inclusion will attract a new audience to the museum.

Museum of London

The fox, voiced by Kate Moss, credit Museum of London

Not all of the animals are voiced by celebrities however. In episode five a clever installation depicts the brutal sport of animal baiting. The scene is the rowdy 19th century Blue Anchor Tavern where terrier Tiny the Wonder (a celebrity himself) confronts a swarm of rats. He is voiced by a student from the Guildhall School, Ishaka Kalokoh. Tiny speaks to the viewer as a contemporary young Londoner might do, defending his violent actions and snarling at the thought of the rats he will soon be called upon to dispatch. This episode is a brilliant mix of the past and the present.
Beasts of London

Tiny the Wonder could catch up to 200 rats an hour, credit Museum of London

When I wander through museums with my children (aged seven and five), they often dash ahead while I try to read the caption accompanying an exhibit. At the Museum of London, parents will no doubt enjoy the immersive aspect of Beasts of London. There is very little to read but plenty to experience. Children will love episode seven: the age of the horse. Viewers sit on carousel horses while an equine history of London is played out on the surrounding walls. This is a beautiful and highly engaging installation covering everything from jousting to the horse’s role in the military and from sporting history to the horse’s more contemporary partnership with humans in royal parades and security.
Museum of London horses

An equine history of London

Although the installations are big on effect, there is plenty of information to take away. It was human lice as well as rats’ fleas which spread the plague and it took over 200 years to discover the source of the illness. Animal baiting was banned as long ago as 1835. Over 100 types of fish swim in the Thames today. As a parent I’m discovering that children learn in different ways. Bring your kids to Beasts of London and they’ll absorb the city’s history in a totally brilliant way.

Visiting the exhibition

Tickets to Beasts of London cost from £20 for a family of four. The exhibition works on a timed entry system, see the Museum of London website for more information.
Disclosure: I was invited to a complimentary preview of Beasts of London but all views are my own.

Have you visited the Beasts of London exhibition? Let me know in the comments below.

Interested in other family-friendly London outings? We’ve enjoyed visits to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, the National Gallery and a Thames trip on the Paddle Steamer Waverley.

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22 Comments

  1. 4th April 2019 / 4:37 pm

    I’m so pleased the Museum of London has put together an exhibition celebrating all the animals that inhabited London (and those that still do). I enjoyed the Bacterium room and the Carousel “ride” Beasts should be a very popular exhibition. #farawayflies

    • 5th April 2019 / 12:18 pm

      Yes, it’s such a refreshing take on London’s history isn’t it?

  2. Clare Thomson
    5th April 2019 / 6:43 pm

    Wow, this sounds amazing, Annabel! I think my two would really love this and we’ve yet to visit the Museum of London. I might have a bit of a problem with those overly realistic looking rats though…. Thanks for sharing on #farawayfiles

  3. 6th April 2019 / 6:59 am

    The Museum of London is great gnerally, and this looks particularly fabulous. On the list for our annual summer visit for sure! What an excellent original idea.

  4. Trish @ Mum's Gone To
    8th April 2019 / 3:17 pm

    I loved the Museum of London when I visited a few years ago. This sounds an interesting exhibition – worth a look, do you think, without children? #farawayfiles

    • 21st April 2019 / 8:12 pm

      Definitely. I really enjoyed the video sections: visually very beautiful.

  5. 8th April 2019 / 4:17 pm

    Good to see the Museum of London trying something different, I was transfixed by the Apothecary and the tale of the plague. #FarawayFiles

    • 21st April 2019 / 8:11 pm

      Yes, I loved Brian Blessed as the bacterium.

  6. 27th April 2019 / 11:23 am

    It’s a really unusual approach and I like it. I’d love to see this in person next time I’m in London. Hope it’s still running! #culturedkids

  7. 29th April 2019 / 11:29 am

    This looks like such an intriguing exhibition, we will try and see it! I love the new perspective on discovering London and the exhibitions at the Museum of London are always visually stunning and informative. #culturedkids

    • 1st May 2019 / 7:24 am

      Yes, we love Museum of London. The Fire of London exhibition was equally brilliant.

  8. pigeonpairandme
    29th April 2019 / 2:38 pm

    Ah, someone else I missed – I too was invited to the preview, but couldn’t make it! It would’ve been lovely to see you. I think we’d love this, although a fox just killed our pet rabbits, so we might not be too taken with Kate Moss’s character….. #CulturedKids

    • 1st May 2019 / 7:23 am

      Sneaky fox, hope your kids are dealing with it ok .
      Shame to miss you. We should arrange a meet up some time!

  9. bavariansojourn
    29th April 2019 / 8:51 pm

    I have heard so many good things about this, it looks incredible! 🙂 #CulturedKids

    • 1st May 2019 / 7:22 am

      I’m heading back there next month with the kids.

  10. 2nd May 2019 / 2:33 pm

    Really like the way the Museum of London has tried a different approach to telling London’s story with this, I especially liked the Bacterium #CulturedKids

    • 3rd May 2019 / 10:55 am

      Yes, I loved the Bacterium. Heading back there next month with the kids!

  11. 3rd May 2019 / 11:52 am

    The booming tones of Brian Blessed aka the Bacterium was my favourite bit too! So glad you enjoyed it and interesting to hear which bits your kids engaged with. Taking my youngest later in the month so will report back! #CulturedKids

    • 3rd May 2019 / 8:45 pm

      It’s great to be able to expose children to such a diverse range of artistic methods. The carousel seating was a great idea!

      • 4th May 2019 / 12:59 am

        I think there is something for everyone

  12. 8th May 2019 / 12:59 pm

    I also have seen this, and I agree it’s a totally new way to present the history of London. My favourite was the apothecary with booming Brian Blessed. #culturedkids

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