Where: 19 Princelet Street, London E1 6QH
£: Free, but donations welcomed to keep the museum running and preserve the building.
What was it?
19 Princelet Street (aka Museum of Immigration and Diversity) is an unimposing house down a quiet street between Spitalfields market and Brick Lane. The house is only open to visitors on certain days in the year and to groups who book in advance. For the many people living in London that aren’t originally from the area and for those who like the rich culture surrounding the museum it’s certainly worth making the trip, despite the queue.
The staff are all volunteers and are very keen to welcome you and get you to engage with the house and the exhibits inside. You are directed around the house starting in the old synagogue which was built by Jewish immigrants. Along the walls as you go around the house there is information about the different waves of immigrants that came to east London to escape persecution and hard times to start a new life. There were the French Huguenots, Polish Jews, the Irish, Bangladeshis, Caribbeans and Somalians amongst others. All the immigrants had were there skills and each other.
Not often when you visit a museum such as this do you get asked about yourself and your opinions, but they are very keen to get you thinking. From games where you match views on immigration to the correct photo of the person, to writing on a luggage tag what you would take with you if you were leaving the country with just one suitcase.
The building itself is interesting to look at, although small and much in need of repair, but what makes it a great experience is the enthusiasm, friendliness and dedication of the staff. My favourite comment from one of the school children was the importance of immigration on the amount of curry that is available in the country. That made me smile, but of course the diversity that exists in London is what makes the capital the place it is; not just the food but our entire culture.
More info: The museum is open to the public again on 19th, 23rd, 25th & 26th June 2011. Visit the website 19 Princelet Street for more details.