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Museum History

A View of Sir Robert Geffrye's almshouses, 1805

The Geffrye is set in the former almshouses of the Ironmongers’ Company, built in 1714 with a bequest from Sir Robert Geffrye, former Lord Mayor of London and Master of the Company.

The almshouses comprised fourteen houses, each with four rooms, providing retirement homes for up to 56 pensioners. In the eighteenth century, the surrounding area was largely rural, cultivated by market gardeners supplying Londoners with fresh vegetables and herbs. As London expanded during the 19th century, the area became the centre of London's furniture and clothing trades and farmland was replaced by terraced housing, factories and workshops.

By 1910, the area had become one of the most heavily populated areas of London with severe overcrowding and little sanitation, so the Ironmongers' Company decided to sell up and move to the cleaner, safer suburbs in the country.

The almshouses and gardens were bought by the London County Council in 1912, mainly to provide a public open space in such a densely populated area of London. Leading members of the Arts and Crafts movement subsequently persuaded the LCC to convert the almshouses into a museum to inspire and education the local furniture trade. 

The Geffrye Museum opened in 1914. By the mid-1930s, as the furniture industry moved away from Shoreditch, the focus turned to children and family audiences and the collections were organised into period rooms to provide a unique resource for learning about the history of domestic life. The museum's learning services were developed under the initiative of Molly Harrison, who is credited for her pioneering work in expanding the potential of museums as centres for learning and education. 

Over the years, the museum evolved, attracting wider audiences with collection of paintings, furniture and decorated arts presented in the context of living rooms. Since the Geffrye became an independent charitable trust in 1991, all of the period rooms have been refurbished, a twentieth-century wing added, herb and period gardens created and one of the almshouses restored to show the living conditions of former residents in the 18th and 19th centuries. 

Today the Geffrye focuses on the home, both as a physical space and a concept. The period rooms and gardens illustrate home and home life through the centuries, reflecting changes in society, patterns of behaviour, style, fashion and taste. Home and garden themes are further explored through temporary exhibitions, events and learning programmes for all ages.

The buildings were Grade I-listed in the 1950s and with their gardens now form a wonderful oasis in Hoxton, east London.

You can explore our period rooms here, find out more about the almshouses and search objects in our collections here.

Corporate keyhole logo for Geffrye Museum