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25 October 2012

The Geffrye Museum's director on the changing face of Hackney

MORE and more visitors are coming to the borough, according to a long-standing museum director who can remember very different times.

David Dewing has been Director of the Geffrye Museum, in Kingsland Road, since 1991.
"Hackney wasn't a particularly well-run borough at that time," he says. Adding: "It was pretty scruffy and messy. So many things have changed since then."

Not least of which is the extension of the London Overground and its four new stations in Hackney. The new Hoxton station sits right behind the Geffrye Museum, which is dedicated to the history of interior design, and features displays showing what homes looked liked from the 17th century up until the present day.

David says half of the museum's 100,000 annual visitors now arrive on the London Overground and that, according to surveys, more and more of them are coming from south of the river. He adds: "It's bringing different people to our part of London, and putting Hackney on the map."

Home, however, was a moveable feast during David's early years; he was born in (then West) Germany while his father was posted there in the Army, and the family would go on to live in places as diverse as Libya, Scotland, and East Africa. 

For David, the late 1960s and early 1970s were a particularly exciting time for design, and he first became interested in the subject during his final years at school, before going on to study it at Ravensbourne College, Bromley.

His first job was working for Kent County Council, in Maidstone, designing functional, economical interiors and furniture for courtrooms, police stations, and council buildings.

While working there his interest in history prompted some volunteering at Maidstone Museum, before successfully applying for a job as a curator at the Museum of London in 1979. A 12-year stint there followed, during which time he moved to the Finsbury Park area.

David eventually combined his interests in design, London and history by securing the post of Director at the Geffrye Museum in 1991. He moved to the De Beauvoir area in 1993, just a 15 minute walk from the museum. David says of this time: “Artists and designers moved into Hoxton and Shoreditch in the 1990s, which helped to generate interest in the area and bring people to Hackney.

"Since then it has become a vibrant and creative part of London, with lots of busy restaurants and bars, right on the doorstep of the City. Hackney retains its urban grit and is a lively place to be."
In 1998, he oversaw the opening of a major extension to the Geffrye Museum, which included new gallery space for 20th-century displays, as well as expanded education facilities, a temporary exhibition gallery, restaurant and shop.

Just over a decade later and annual visitor numbers are expected to top 150,000 in the coming years, due in part to the opening up of the borough to the rest of the capital by the Overground network. In response, future plans include a new extension to the museum, to create more space for educational activities and conferences, a new gallery, and room to house existing collections better by 2016.


1951  Born in Wuppertal, (West) Germany 
1973  Graduates with BA in Design, Ravensbourne College
1979  Joins Museum of London as a Curator
1986  Graduates with MA in Design from Birkbeck College
1987  Moves to the Finsbury Park area
1991  Joins Geffrye Museum, as Director
1993  Moves to De Beauvoir, Hackney
1998  Extension opens at Geffrye Museum
2010  London Overground (East London line) opens
2016  Planned opening of new building

For more info, call; 020 7739 9893; or visit: www.geffrye-museum.org.uk

David Dewing has been director of Geffrye Museum for more than 20 years

David Dewing has been director of Geffrye Museum for more than 20 years

David Dewing has been director of Geffrye Museum for more than 20 years David believes the movement of artists into Hoxton during the 1990s helped drive renewed interest in Hackney

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