A Moment in London’s History – The opening of the Bethnal Green Museum…

This month marks 150 years since the opening of the Bethnal Green Museum, the first public museum located in London’s east.

The museum had at its core a pre-fabricated building which had earlier been erected as part of the first phase of the South Kensington Museum. It was brought to the Bethnal Green site and encased in a red brick exterior designed by James Wild.

Black and white print of the Prince and Princess of Wales arriving at the official opening of the Bethnal Green Museum (now Young V&A) on 24th June, 1872. Originally printed in the London Illustrated News. PICTURE: Courtesy of Young V&A

Formally known as the East London Museum of Science and Art, it was opened on 24th June, 1872, by the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, amid considerable pomp and great crowds.

The museum, a branch of what became the Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington, was built to house and display many of the collections which had been exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851. Among the art collections on show was that of Sir Richard Wallace (now housed in the Wallace Museum).

An interior view of the Bethnal Green Museum (now Young V&A). PICTURE: Courtesy of Young V&A.

After World War II, the museum was remodelled as an art museum and included a children’s section. Then, in 1974, the museum became the Museum of Childhood with displays focusing on everything from toys and dolls houses to children’s dress and books.

It underwent an extensive renovation in the mid 2000s and reopened in December, 2006, as the Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood.

The now Grade II*-listed museum, located on Cambridge Heath Road, is currently undergoing a £13 million redevelopment and will reopen in mid-2023 as Young V&A, a new museum dedicated to 0 to 14-year-olds, their families and carers.

The V&A marked a year to the opening of the new museum with the launch of a year-long Reinvent Festival, “celebrating 150 years with 150 waysto be creative”. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/blog/museum-life/young-va-reinvent-festival-reinventing-a-museum-for-the-young.