About Us

Man bending to listen to audio from speaker in a temporary exhibition
Detail of wall hanging with exhibition visitors in the background

Hackney Museum is the community history museum for the London Borough of Hackney. We care for over 8,500 ​objects, artworks, images and oral history recordings. 

Our collections represent the everyday lives of people in the borough, many of whom have migrated from different parts of the world. We use these collections to encourage under-represented voices to share their own experiences and memories and to create a trusted space to engage and empower local communities to tell their stories, share their concerns about local issues that are rooted in a historical context, and understand how their experiences fit alongside others.

When Hackney Museum was established in 1986 it inherited a number of existing collections about the local area from internal departments, notably the Arts & Entertainment Service, Library Service, Hackney Archives and the Mayor’s Office, as well as the Chalmers collection. In its desire to build the collection, reflect the Borough’s ethnic and cultural diversity and attract further donations, the Museum team at the time collected extensively and without discrimination to reflect the lives and histories of all the Borough’s residents. Many of the items were a reflection of Hackney at the time such as posters, ephemera and photographs as well as objects. Many of these items were related to the social and cultural history of the borough of Hackney, which formed the basis of the Museum’s permanent displays in Central Hall, Hackney.

The second Hackney Museum in 2002 in the Technology & Learning Centre, 1 Reading Lane, worked closely with community collecting panels and gave them support, funds and means to collect objects to represent the experiences of members of specific ethnic and cultural communities in the Borough. These partnerships informed the team’s development of the content for the current permanent displays, which tell a narrative of migration and settlement to Hackney over the past 2,000 years.

From 2002 to 2008 Hackney Museum’s collecting was largely passive and the majority of our acquisitions were the result of unsolicited offers from the public. Since 2008 there has been more emphasis on active collecting, in relation to exhibitions and projects such as Mapping the Change (2009 – 2012) and Our Museum (2012 – 2015) as well as documenting changes in Hackney.

From 2002 onwards a handling collection was developed primarily consisting of a number of ‘suitcase’ resources. Each suitcase tells the story of somebody who moved to Hackney at some point in its history, through replica objects, copies of original photographs, alongside maps and other printed information. The suitcases, where possible, are created in collaboration with the represented person or a descendant, or are based on an oral history account in the Museum’s collection.

The handling collection also consists of other objects relating to specific eras that feature in our programme for schools, such as the Victorian era, World War II and Windrush, as well as objects from different communities that are represented in Hackney and are used extensively in the Museum’s Learning Programme.