- The Washington Times - Friday, December 16, 2005

LONDON — Thoughts of the Middle Ages often bring to mind knights, castles and plague, but a new Museum of London gallery reveals much more about this tumultuous time.

Visitors can jump into medieval London when they try on a replica of a medieval headdress, face the challenges of village life with an interactive computer game and see artifacts including the remnants of a Merton Priory stained-glass window smashed when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries during the Reformation.

The new gallery, which replaces a medieval exhibit in place since the museum’s opening in 1976, begins in the year 410 with the end of Roman rule and continues to 1558, when Elizabeth I became queen.

Redesigning the gallery gave the museum an opportunity to make displays more accessible to audiences, with fewer text panels and more interactivity, assistant curator Meriel Jeater says.

“This makes up for 30 years of archaeological digs and 30 years of study of the Middle Ages,” says Hedley Swain, the project manager. Although some of the items displayed are donated by private individuals or are on loan from other museums, Museum of London teams found many of the artifacts during their own excavations. At least 25 percent of the items in the new gallery have been excavated in the past 30 years, and these are “just the tip of the iceberg” of what teams have found, says senior conservator Helen Ganiaris. Mortimer Wheeler House in Hackney contains many other London artifacts and is open by appointment.

The banks of the Thames River are a rich source of artifacts from London’s long history.

According to Robert Payton, deputy head of conservation, the mud along the river is full of bacteria that eat up the oxygen, creating an “oozy, black material” that allows for “remarkable survival.” Even items such as tiny children’s mittens and a delicate hairnet have survived and are on display at the medieval gallery.

Leather shoes with long, pointed toes, a “stupid fashion accessory” in style during the 1300s and 1400s, also are in surprisingly good condition, the project manager says.

When the medieval gallery opens, the museum will begin work on a new learning center and updates on its galleries covering 1666 to the present.

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The Museum of London is a short walk from St. Paul’s Cathedral. The closest stop on the London Underground is St. Paul’s. The museum also can be reached by buses 4, 8, 25, 56, 100, 172, 242 and 521.

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5:50 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. It is closed Dec. 24 through 26 and Jan. 1. Admission to the Museum of London is free.

For more information, visit www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

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