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A Brief History of the East London Museum

Updated: Jul 3, 2020

Oxford Street, East London in the early 1920s, when the newly formed East London Museum Society had its inaugural meetings in rooms above the XL Tearoom. Picture: East London Museum

On July 19th 1921 a group of interested people met with the Mayor, Captain J. Neale, and Deputy  Mayor, Dr James Bruce-Bays, to suggest the building of a Museum for East London in Selborne and to forma Museum Society.

The first meetings of the Society were held in various member’s homes and then in rooms belonging to the premises of J. W. Jagger above the XL Tearooms, now XL Bazaars, in Oxford Street.  The Society premises were known as East London Museum and the latter was recognized as an official Provincial museum in terms of proclamation 216 of November 28th 1924.

In 1926 the Museum moved to rooms at 9 Gladstone Street and in 1930 to 15 Gladstone Street, where they were to remain until, after much effort and fundraising, and a loan of  4000 pounds from the Provincial Council, the first purpose built building of the East London Museum next to the Technical College was completed.

It was opened by Mr Voight, Acting Provincial Secretary on September 23rd 1931.

In the years after the Second World War the Museum collections outgrew the premises. The East London Technical College bought the 1931 building, and with a substantial grant from the Cape Province a new building was built in Oxford Street and opened on November 25th 1950 by the Administrator of the Cape, Mr. J. G. Carinus.

Significant additions were planned for the Museum to accommodate staff work areas and create exhibition space.

By April 21st 1982 the foundation stone was laid by the Administrator of the Cape, the Honourable, Gene Louw, and on December 6th 1983 the new Museum Complex consisting of a foyer, administration and workshop area was opened by Mrs. Elsabe Kemp, M.P.C.

Building projects for the East London Museum were proposed from the late 1990s, primarily to create viable storage facilities for collections.

Following a successful application to the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund for R2.6 million construction work on a two-storey storage repository and a new lecture hall commenced in March 2005.

The new buildings were officially opened by the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Mr. David Forsyth, on 22nd June 2006.

Source: Christina Reeve, East London Museum

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