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This, combined with a return to free entry for all, could herald a new lease of life for the country’s principal museum for the decorative arts. The displays take up two floors in the area previously occupied by what were officially known as the English Primary Galleries, but which had come to be known simply as the Furniture Galleries. The new galleries are far more ambitious in their scope and draw on all aspects of the museum’s vast collections of textiles, ceramics, silver and objects to create a complete review of British applied art from 1500 to 1900.

Old favourites like the Great Bed of Ware, Henry VIII’s writing desk, the Channon commode or the William Burges cabinet are now part of a far richer exploration of the tastes and influences of their respective periods. Those who feared that the need to adapt the displays for a 21st century audience would lead to a dumbing down of the whole experience can take comfort. The British Galleries are crammed full of objects and the designers have gone to impressive lengths to make the objects equally accessible to those used to traditional museums and those who prefer an interactive approach.

Large study areas on both floors encourage background research via computer screens, while separate discovery rooms offer opportunities to explore and to touch. Visitors of all ages are to be encouraged, among other things, to try on armour, build a chair from its component parts, weave on a loom, or try on a hooped skirt.

The importance of antique dealers in the development of taste in the late 19th century is also acknowledged in a separate display and discovery area devoted to collectors and collecting.

A number of London dealers, including Blairman’s and Mallett, have made substantial financial contributions to the £31 million project.