On this page we tell you about some of the things we have been doing at the museum. Using Twitter, you can follow the day-to-day life of the museum. We report on what's going on in the museum, what's being done for the future development of the museum, and of course keep you up to date about events, using the Twitter service. The stories below are more detailed reports on things that we have been doing at the museum.
In between major projects the museum understakes small projects that either improve the infrastructure or add to what we have to offer visitors. Three minor improvements have been implemented in summer 2018, in line with our continuing work to ensure there is, every year, more to see and more to do.
HRH The Princess Royal, as Patron of the Canal Museum Trust, the charity behind the museum, officially opened the new exhibition Boats and Cargoes on 10th March 2017. The exhibition is theresult of a long period oof planning research and development. Legacy display cases have been replaced by a new purpose-designed display of model boats that illustrate the history of the craft that have carried goods in London over two centuries or more. Visitors can push buttons to light up the boats that are described on labels in front of the case. It is a striking display of models made by the late David Wood and model-maker Paul Wells.
The cargoes part of the exhibition is a new display that illustrates the diverse cargoes carried on London's waterways in the past. Far from just carrying coal, the waterways were used for all sorts of goods including timber grass and gunpowder. The new display features drawers that visitors will be able to open to discover more.
Also celebrated on the day was the refurbishment of our exhibition on London's waterways, now called "London's Living Waterways". Re-using the existing timber display cases, which have had a major overhaul, we have completely redesigned and renewed the exhibitions on the first floor of the museum to tell the story of the canals of London including the Lee Navigation.
The Royal visit marked 25 years since the museum was opened by HRH in March 1992. To celebrate this a special anniverary cake was ceremonially cut by Councillor Kat Fletcher, Mayor of Islington, and distributed to all the guests including some children from Argyle Primary School who had earlier demonstrated their bridge-building sills to the Royal visitor.
The special occasion was also a celebration of the completion of two major improvements to the museum's infrastructure. Our toilets have been completely rebuilt and four facilities are now available in the space previously offering just two facilities. A large colourful mural has been printed onto tiles and these are on the wall of both ladies and gents. The museum's ageing heating system has been replaced by a modern, eco-friendly air-sourced heat pump that supplies heating and cooling to the building
Four museum development projects will have been completed by the end of the first week of March 2017. The way that these have come to fruition at around the same time is largely co-incidental, a consequence of delays to some of them and advance planning to do buiding work in the first two months of the year, which tend to be the least busy months. The improvements herald a considerable upgrade to both infrastructure and exhibitions.
Our Boats and Cargoes exhibition was the ast of our exhibitions to include unimproved exhibition stands from the museum's opening in 1992. Over the years these did great service but they were definitely at the end of their days and decidedly shabby. They were also in black and white, which by today's standards is rather old-fashioned. The Boats and Cargoes project will transform the exhibition. A new exhibition case will show our collection of models. Seven new models were commissioned from a model-maker and to these we will add a number of the existing models to create a more coherent and relevant display of model boats that illustrate the main types of vessel that have worked on the London canals over the last two centuries. Our Bolinder engine will have new interpretation and visitors will be able to listen to a clip of the sound of a similar engine working in the narrowboat Minnow, specially recorded last summer. There will be new displays about the history of boats and an installation allowing visitors to explore the cargoes that were once carried on London's waterways.
Our long-delayed new heating and cooling system is nearing completion. The delays were caused by a year-long process to obtain planning consent unencumbered by impossible conditions. The new system has an air-sourced heat pump at its heart, shielded by an accoustic enclosure that is designed to ensure no local residents are caused any noise nuisance. Despite meeting the local authority's guidelines on acceptable noise levels, planning permission in March 2016 was granted subject to an impossibly restrictive condition that would have made it impossible for us to have any heating in the building during cleaning, maintenance, or internal meetings out of opening hours. The restrictive condition was removed on appeal in December 2016. An air-sourced heat pump is the most environment-friendly heating solution that is practicable for our building, and extracts latent heat from the air, even in winter. It replaces a gas-fired system and at a time when air quality in London is reported to be at a level that is injurious to peoples' health, we are pleased to be reducing our use of carbon fuel. The old system is very inefficient and distributes heat unevenly in the building, but the new system has been designed to create a comfortable environment for both staff and customers, and it will also provide improved cooling in the summer.
New toilets on the first floor are nearing completion. Originally the museum only had one ladies toilet and one gents facility. In the 2000s an additional toilet was built on the ground floor, accessible to wheelchair users. Three toilets in total has been sufficient but not a generous provision and during private functions attended by a lot of people, as well as when school groups are visiting, we have felt the need for more. The old toilets have been completely stripped out, the dividing wall demolished between the ladies and the gents, and a new wall built in a slightly different position. It is a tight fit but we're fitting four toilets in the space previously housing two, so the museum will have five modern toilets when the project is complete. The opportunity has been taken to add a touch of interest and excitement to these new toilets by commissioning a fine work of art from our resident "roses and castles" expert Tricia Parrott. A fine piece reflects all the traditions of canal boat decoration with flowers and castles - it is very colourful and will be glazed into the tiled walls of both the ladies and the gents. A visit to "spend a penny" will be worth a lot more than a penny, just to see this fine piece of art.
In two phases an in-house team, with some external specialist help, has overseen the complete refurbishment of a number of exhibition stands that date from 1992. They have been repaired, painted, modified and fitted with new exhibition material. The exhibition covers some of the colourful history of The Regent's Canal and also the Grand Junction Canal and the River Lee Navigation. It is full of colour and images to illustrate the story of these canals.
The London Canal Museum has made more than 120 archive images available for purchase online, in digital format, for use in publishing, the media, and online as well as for personal use. Four collections have been published in a new website "Picture Shop"; Canal prints, Ice trade photographs, a collection of early 19th century images of Islington, and a collection of Edwardian photographs of scenes on The Regent's Canal. Many of the images are unique to the museum. some are also held by other archives and pricing is competitive with most. Almost all of these images may be downloaded in high resolution and the fees charged for licensing reflect the use with higher charges for commercial purposes such as advertising, and low fees for personal use such as making prints for home display. The system is automatic and images are provided for download almost immediately, with payment being made through Paypal. The museum hopes to generate a revenue streat from image licensing, and also to make the collection more widely available.
The Picture Shop may be accessed at www.canalmuseum.org.uk/picture-shop
The museum's exhibition on our home waterway, The Regent's Canal, has been refurbished and upgraded in a project that was completed in November 2015. The previous exhibition dated from the opening of the museum in 2015. The exhibition panels were in reasonable condition but the timber stands were deteriorating. The exhibition had been created in 1992 before the widespread use of computer-based exhibition design that is now the norm and were far less colourful and attractive than the new display that has replaced them.
The project included modifications and repairs to the timber cabinets, which were also painted. The modifications allowed slightly bigger panels to be shown in them, and they have been fitted with casters so that they are easier to move around when events are held on the first floor. A team of museum staff worked for some months on the design of a completely new exhibition about the history of the canal, and sourced new images and illustrations. London illustrator Jane Smith was commissioned to create maps and drawings where no photographs were available. The next exhibition makes use of all available space and is therefore larger than the previous one.
The museum has installed a digital screen or notice board in the front window that is now being used to advertise forthcoming events and other things to passers-by. Although we are in a quiet street, there is a flow of local residents and people visitoring or working in the offices on All Saints' Street and of course there are visitors to the museum itself who may not be aware of forthcoming special events. The screen is a high-brightness device so it can be easily read in sunshine. It is powered by an Android-based media player that is Internet connected so it is possible for us to edit the content of the screen remotely as well as from inside the museum. To fit the screen in the window we not only had to choose our screen carefully, we had to have a special backing board made for us by a carpenter, on which to mount the screen. It retains the possibility of taking the screen out for maintenance or to enable the window frame to be painted or cleaned.
Emma Smith worked as a canal boatwoman from 1943 to 1945 and is one of the very few so-called "idle women" still alive. The teasing nickname was due to the badge "IW" (Inland Waterways) that they wore. Now aged 91, Emma visit the museum on 5th November 2014 to take part in an interview for the BBC's political discussion programme The Andrew Marr show, which was broadcast on a special remembrance theme on Remebrance Sunday, 9th November 2014. (For those reading this from outside the UK, this is the annual day on which those who have lost their lives in war are specially honnoured throughout the UK).
Emma Smith did not go off to fight, but the work she did was vital to the war effort, transporting coal and steel and other traffic on the Grand Union Canal, to help keep industry going. The canal boatwomen left behind lives of relative comfort for the tiny cabins of canal boats and the hard, dirty and sometimes dangerous work in conditions that were primitive. They had to contend with doodlebugs in the sky and bed bugs in the cabins, dealt with by fumigation.
Emma was interviewed on the canal wharf by TV Presenter Sophie Raworth who also showed viewers around the narrowboat Coronis, which is a Grand Union Canal butty of a type used in the war years. After the interview, Emma had a look inside the cabin, which brought back memories that are still visivid of her wartime adventures. She wrote a book called Maidens Trip, that recalled her adventures and she admits to having enjoyed her two years on the canal.
We also took the opportunity to invite Emma to record an oral history interview, which she was glad to do. We had to turn our staff accommodation into a temporary recording room because the stairs to our Library where we have done other interviews were not an option. Emma is as sharp as a knife and gave us a recording of around 40 minutes telling our oral history team leader Jane all about her experiences.
The programme is typically watched by an audience of around two million viewers. Both the filmed interview and our oral history sound recording are a valuable record for future historians of a small, but dedicated band of young women who endured a lot for their country.