Twelve Days of Chirstmas London Style – Day 4


The Geffreye Museum, Shoreditch

Tucked away, a 20 minute bus ride from the city centre in Shoreditch, is one of my favourite London museums – The Geffreye Museum. Built by Sir Robert Geffreye in 1714 as an almshouse, it was turned into a museum, focusing on the home and domestic life of the ‘middling sort’, in 1914. It’s a glorious oasis of calm and tranquility in the heart of a busy neighbourhood. Locals who live and work in the area often come here to enjoy a picnic in the grounds of this beautiful building.


The Geffreye Museum, Shoreditch

Spread out the length of the main block are middle-class living rooms, ranging from Elizabethan to Victorian times. The exhibition continues downstairs with more rooms featuring our evolving lifestyle throughout the 20th century. Although I’d visited the Geffreye before, I wanted to go back to see the rooms decorated for Xmas – and it was a treat.


Room of ‘the middling sorts’ depicting the 1600s. Geffreye Museum

First off was the Elizabethan room in a home ‘over the shop’. Panelled in rich golden oak with green curtains at the windows, this was the room where the household gathered to eat, socialise and entertain, a fire burning in the grate. With the walls and mantlepiece decorated with greenery for Christmas, the table is laid for a feast.  But look carefully. Disguised as hard-boiled eggs and strips of bacon are sugar treats!


The Geffreye Museum, Shoreditch

Over the next few centuries a change started to take place in the middle class; home and workplace became separated. Further division occurred within the home itself; instead of one great room for all social activities, these were separated into dining rooms and parlours. Also, there was a growing distinction (and separation) between the family and their servants. Interesting to note, too, how little Xmas decoration there was during this period. A hangover from the Puritan era perhaps?


Victorian room decorated for Christmas. Geffreye Museum.

Contrast that with the full explosion of the Victorian room! Although Queen Victoria’s husband, Albert, is credited with introducing the Xmas tree to Britain, apparently Xmas trees had been seen in homes earlier in the century. What surprised me about the tree was the decoration at the top. It’s neither star nor fairy but a union flag! (The tree at the Dennis Severs House – which I blogged about a few days ago- was also topped by a flag.)


1950s Christmas. Geffreye Museum

Downstairs, we enter the 20th century. This room depicts the 1950s. This was the era when my parents bought their first home, so there are some elements here (the paper chains hanging from the ceiling, a miniature artificial tree) which I recognise from my own childhood Christmases.

Behind the museum you’ll find a collection of gardens matching the time periods of the rooms inside. Our gardens have also evolved over the centuries just as much as our interiors. Unfortunately, the gardens are not open to the public during the winter months.

And the purpose of the great room appears to have come full circle. Once again, in the 21st century, common modern home design is to create one large open-plan space on the main floor where the family eats, socializes and children do their homework together. The more things change, the more they stay the same?


Ginger/Lemon tea. The Geffreye Museum

During your visit, make sure to stop and have a meal or snack in the museum’s cafeteria. Backing on to the gardens below, it’s a lovely, bright, open space. The food is great quality – I dare you NOT to have a dessert – and very reasonably priced. I chose to have a cup of ginger and lemon tea (along with a delicious chocolate brownie!) and was delighted to be presented with a small teapot holding slices of fresh ginger and lemon, a tiny dish of honey on the side as sweetener. That’s something I’ll be trying at home.

Entry to The Geffreye Museum is free and it’s open most days except Monday. For further details on the museum and how to get there, please click here.


London in Calgary, Alberta – Challenge 3

Lesson learned. Today I was going to upload some photos of The Geffreye Museum I’d taken a few years ago.  I’d stored them ‘safely’ onto an external hard-drive on my return from London in 2011, but when I went to retrieve them this afternoon for this blog posting…? Wouldn’t load. Looks like the cable’s wrecked.  Moral of the story – store digital photos on both CDs AND external drive!

So you’ll just have to trust me that The Geffreye Museum is a fascinating and beautiful place to visit if London. A former almshouse built in 1714, it is dedicated to the history of the home, specifically the living rooms of the English middle class, over a four hundred year period. One room follows on from the other, each depicting a different era, and the same is true of the gardens.

The reason I’d wanted to revisit it this trip back to London is because in December the rooms are decorated for Christmas. So could I find a comparison in Calgary?

Heritage Park, which celebrates prairie history from the 1860s to 1913, comes very close.

STREET1STREET2I visit the park every summer, but come Christmastime, like The Geffreye Museum, many of the homes are decorated in a time appropriate fashion.


The first house we visited belonged to Peter Prince, a wealthy lumber merchant from Calgary’s late 19th Century. It’s a beautiful, well appointed home, and its formal decor reflects his affluence.


Then there’s the Thorpe House.  Home to a family of Norwegian immigrants, it is warm, welcoming and cosy. Apparently it’s traditional for Norwegians to drape their tree garlands from top to bottom rather than side to side as we do in North America.


The Ranch House is my favourite home in the whole park.  I worked there many years ago, baking cookies for visitors to enjoy as they toured the house, and trust me, when it’s +30C outside and you have an old wood oven going, it’s hot work. Today, stepping into the warmth and smelling the freshly baked gingerbread was sheer heaven. And although the tree was rather spindly and all its decorations home made, I thought it was the most beautiful of all the trees we saw.


As well as being able to view the decorated homes, there are shops enticing you with holiday goodies, a bakery selling delicious breads and gingerbread men, and carollers singing in the church.  There’s even a special shop just for kids (adults forbidden) where they can buy that special something for their parents.

Heritage Park is open on weekends for the Christmas season until December 22nd.