Tales from the Mystery Object Group

By Wes White, Library Development Officer

Canada Water Library’s Mystery Object Group meets around once a month to explore a different artefact from the borough’s collections or with relevance to the history of the area. The item chosen for each session is a secret until it is unveiled to the group. We encourage members to respond creatively to the items – in writing, artwork, creative photography, or however they might be moved to do so. In this post we are sharing some of the creative work that has been inspired by our mystery object sessions since the group was incepted at the beginning of the year.

Click on an image to see the details.

The Printworks

In June the group went outside of the library on a field trip to the Printworks building. This space is best known currently for hosting dance music and film-inspired events, but it retains an original newspaper press – a huge machine – and we made that our mystery object that month (slightly too big to bring into the library!) Group members sketched, wrote about and photographed the space.

‘All’s Well’

In this session we focused on the Camberwell coat of arms, of which we had a painted wooden carving. We were struck by the heraldic symbolism, particularly the wounded deer on its crest, which is an emblem of St Giles – Camberwell’s patron saint.

Roman Southwark

In March there was a display of the Cuming’s artefacts from Roman Southwark at Morley College, and to complement it at the end of February the museum’s curator Judy Aitken brought us a whole range of original Roman objects to draw and explore.

McAndrew’s Models

In January, we had a selection of models from the Cuming Museum’s handling collection. We don’t know a great deal about the origins of these apparently handmade figures, which seem to depict characters from life in Victorian London. They are marked with the name McAndrew. Among them, group members identified a tailor complete with measuring tape; the self-styled ‘Royal Ratcatcher’ Jack Black; and one of the rats he had caught!

Our next sessions are on Tuesdays at 2 – 4pm on 22 August and 26 September 2017 at Canada Water Library.

To find out about more email wes.white@southwark.gov.uk.

 

 

 

Roman Southwark

By Judy Aitken, Curator of the Cuming Museum

For more than 2000 years, Southwark has been a place of settlement, business and trade.  The Romans established a foothold on the south bank of the Thames shortly after establishing their city of Londinium on the north bank from around AD50.

This southern location, around present day Borough High Street, then grew into a major “suburb” feeding the new trade and travel routes to the South coast and thrived under nearly 400 years of Roman rule.  Sites and artefacts have been found all over Roman Southwark helping us to build a picture of this fascinating period.

Roman Cinerary chest lid (C15232)

The Cuming Museum has over 600 items of Romano British archaeology in its collections, some dating from the earliest days of archaeological excavation.  Early digs in Egypt tended to be focussed on excavating treasure for profit, rather than intellectual understanding and most found their way to traders.

Richard Cuming, the founder of the collection, would have purchased or traded for curios from these digs.  Henry Syer Cuming, his son, was much more interested in archaeology as a discipline.  But even so was keen to take items given to him by workmen who were themselves “excavating” London for new roads, embankments, tube tunnels and other developments.  Henry tended towards Roman British finds rather than Ancient Egypt and there are a large number of small, often personal artefacts from all over London.

The rest of the Cuming’s archaeology collections come from digs during the 20th century.  Professional archaeologists such as Kathleen Kenyon, who went on to make her name as one of the world’s foremost archaeologists in places such as Jordan, carried out extensive excavation of sites around Borough High Street.  Look out for a blog about her soon!

The Southwark and Lambeth Archaeological Excavation Committee (SLAEC), which continues to this day, also carried out extensive excavations of sites.  Much of the material came to the Cuming Museum as the nearest place of repository.

However, in the late 20th century the main place of repository for archaeological excavation material was the Museum of London.  The Cuming’s collections still contain large amounts of material from Kenyon’s and SLAEC’s digs however, and we are working with Museum of London to review it all.

Roman Hunter God statue (C15236)

London Borough of Southwark still supervises major digs in the borough, along with professional archaeology companies such as Pre-Construct and Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) as the north of the borough in particular is rich in archaeological evidence.  Companies who want to build or alter premises have to have an archaeological survey carried out and if there are finds then work can be paused in order for archaeologists to record and preserve the sites and any material.

“Pots and Prayers” is a new free exhibition at Morley College, giving a glimpse of Southwark’s Roman story by showcasing from the collections of the Cuming Museum.

It will run from Wednesday 1 March to Wednesday 19 April 2017 and will be in the college’s main foyer.

Events during the exhibition run include talks, walks around Roman Southwark and creative workshops. Families will be able to make Roman mosaics, try a toga or create a Roman city.

While the exhibition only scratches the surface, you will be able to learn a lot more during Morley’s 10 week Roman London course, starting Wednesday 26 April 2017.

Janus: the Roman god of beginnings, doorways and the New Year

By Wes White, Learning and Engagement Officer for Southwark Libraries and Heritage

On Tuesday 17 January we featured the first ‘Museum on the Move’ at Canada Water Library. Each month we’ll present a themed collection drawn from the Southwark Heritage collections. Original documents and artefacts from the Cuming Museum will be on display, freely available for visitors to see and swap thoughts about in the library, while artworks are shown on a big screen above.

Temple of JanusMy theme for January was Janus – the Roman god of beginnings, doorways and the New Year; after whom January is named. He is famous as the god with two faces – one looking into the future, and the other on the back of his head peering into the past. Janus might not be an ‘A-lister’ in the Roman pantheon, being less well known than figures with planets named after them like Jupiter, Mars and Venus; but even so he was a significant figure in Roman mythology, and the Cuming collection actually features a number of objects directly related to him. These come in the form of coins bearing his likeness; and even one showing his temple, from the reign of Nero. The story of Janus’ temple tells that its gates stood open when Rome was at war, but closed in times of peace – and they were rarely closed.

Also featured in the display were some press cuttings sourced from Southwark’s Local History Library and Archives about New Year celebrations in years past; particularly from the year 1900. I picked out that year to look at because of the significance of the turn of the century, only to find myself reminded by the Bishop of Rochester that technically the new century would have begun in 1901.

And considering that New Year’s Eve is famously such a busy time for the emergency services, I was also surprised to find a story called ‘Firemen at Play’ describing the Fire service’s own New Year’s Eve party – it finished up, predictably, with some of them having to get changed out of their party gear to tackle a fire…

Because Janus stood at the threshold of the New Year, he was also the god of all kinds of crossing-over points and doorways. This gave me the opportunity to feature some of the Cuming collection’s keys in the display. Those included a surprisingly small and humble key to Marshalsea Prison (which several visitors thought looked just a bit too easy for the pirates and smugglers the prison held to copy), and a far bigger, heavier, 13th century key to Bermondsey Abbey, which stood until the reign of Henry VIII. The Abbey is widely thought to be the reason that the area is known as ‘The Blue’ – as the colour represented sacredness.

By far the oldest thing on display this month was a fragment of an even older belief system than the Roman myth that Janus was a part of – a fragment of a false doorway from a tomb in Thebes. This and other Egyptian artefacts came to the Cuming collection via the explorer James Burton in the 1830s. So, why would there have been a false doorway in a tomb? It was false only to the living: this was the door that the departed spirit was supposed to step through, into the next world.

Fragment of a false doorway from a tomb in Thebes

The next outing for the ‘Museum on the Move’ will be at Canada Water Library on Tuesday 14 February, 2pm to 4pm, and you might be able to guess the theme from the date! It’s Valentine’s Day – come and check out an exploration of romance down the ages.

Researching the First World War: Introducing Tommy Atkins

By Patricia Dark, Archivist at Southwark Local History Library and Archive

This is the first post in a series exploring ways to find out more about the part your family, school, workplace, or neighbourhood played in the First World War.

War memorial, Mill Pond Bridge. October 1921 (PB01254)100 years ago, our ancestors would have known the First World War as simply the “Great War”. It changed the lives of almost every family in Britain, and around the world. Men and women saw active duty as military personnel – in the slang of the time, a “tommy” – or served as civilians in medical aid units overseas or working on the home front. Millions of people were taken prisoner of war, interned as enemy civilians, or fled their homes as refugees.

In the UK, nearly a million service personnel died and more than half again were injured. In addition, more than 100,000 civilians died in the conflict – most of malnutrition and disease brought on by the war, but nearly 15,000 members of the Merchant Marine died at sea, and about 2,000 from air and naval attacks. In fact, there are only 52 communities in the UK – all in England and Wales – where all the service personnel who left for the front survived; they’re known as “Thankful Villages”. France, which saw nearly a million and a half combat deaths has only one such village without a war memorial – Thierville, in Normandy.

The First World War touched every family and community in Britain – which means that it’s an indelible part of the history of every community in Britain today. You may be interested in finding out more about the part your family, school, workplace, or neighbourhood played in the Great War: we aim to explain what information you may be able to find, where it is, and how to access it. We’ll also tell you the information you will need to know find out more.

Places to start

The First World War was the first truly global war, and so is the commemoration of its centenary. If you are looking for an overview of the Great War, or information on its impact and aftermath, the UK national First World War centenary website or Wikipedia may be able to help. However, if you’re interested in more specific stories – for instance, the experience of your neighbourhood or members of your family – you will probably need to look in surviving archival records; to do that effectively, you will need to have specific information that will help you weed out false leads.

Generally speaking, there are a few critical pieces of information you will need to pick your tommy out of the pack. These include their full name (maiden surname for women, who usually left wartime service on marriage), date of birth, and (for military personnel) service number. The more you know about someone – date(s) and place(s) of service, call-up date(s), occupation(s), unit name(s) – the easier it can be to match records to the person you’re looking for. In some cases, knowing details of someone’s religious/philosophical beliefs, occupation, and nationality can be extremely helpful.

One excellent place to look for clues is in your own family’s records and collections of heirlooms. Uniform items, medals, and souvenirs from the front can give you information about dates, places, and units where someone served – this information is vital to find out more. Collections of family papers may contain official paperwork (like call-up, recruitment, discharge, or pension papers) that provide leads, or diaries, personal letters, photographs, and other documents that open a window into life in wartime.

To take these leads further – to discover what your ancestor did during the First World War, or how it affected your neighbourhood, you will often consult other surviving records; if you are interested in fleshing out a story, you may find objects surviving from the period very useful.  Heritage institutions like archives and museums hold records and objects, and are invaluable for following leads. There are almost as many archives and museums as there are organisations (and what they hold and how they operate varies by country), but some are especially useful for researching the First World War. We’ll take a look at these in the next post in this series.

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Cuming Museum: On Loan

While you can often see items from the Cuming Museum on display in other museums, we also loan objects and artworks to organisations which, for various reasons, will not be putting them on display.

Our Hawaiian feather cape was originally collected on Captain Cook’s third voyage. It is kept at the British Museum’s stores as they have the right conditions for this very fragile object which is too delicate to display.

We also have two items on loan to the V&A, an embroidered coif (close fitting cap) and a pair of linen gloves, which are used in their textile history research.

Little was known about one of our early Italian Renaissance paintings until it was sent to the National Gallery for identification.  On discovering that it is a rare example of work by the artist Nicholas di Pietro, the National Gallery and the Courtauld Institute agreed to clean and conserve the painting.  The intention is to display the final result but in the meantime it continues to be stored by the National Gallery.

Nicholas di Pietro Painting (C01234)

Research into objects and materials, as well as their conservation, helps build the body of knowledge we have about artefacts and culture.  We will keep you updated, here on the blog, about future projects which see items from our collection going out on loan to other museums and organisations.

Cuming Museum: On Display

Although the Cuming Museum doesn’t have its own permanent display gallery at the moment, it is still possible to see items from the collection on display in other locations.

We often loan out parts of the collection to other museums. This can be for a temporary exhibition of a few weeks, or could be a longer term loans for a number of years.

You can see 120 items from the Cuming Museums ethnographic (people and cultures) collection on the ground floor of the Saffron Walden Museum, Essex.

One of our Roman funerary urns is on display at the Cater Museum in Billericay.

If you visit the music gallery at the Horniman Museum in South London, you can see a little ceramic whistle in the shape of a horse from our collections.

Sceaux Gardens ceremonial key (LDCUM1983.002.003)

For the next few days you will be able to see various items relating to Camberwell, Southwark, on display in the library. This includes the commemorative key for the opening of Sceaux Gardens, a Shire horse medal which was presented to Camberwell Council for their working horses and a Camberwell  Beauty butterfly.

When items go on display at locations in Southwark, London or further afield, we will keep you posted here on the blog.

 

Southwark on Film

By Lisa Soverall, Heritage Officer at the Local History Library and Archive

Historically, films have not really been given the same status as traditional manuscript archives.  Yet, films can contain rich information about place, time, and culture that the written word can’t capture so accurately. ‘Seeing is believing’ is definitely my mantra for film archive! Films can remind us what a street, building or person used to look like and entertain, educate and enlighten us.  Films aid research and those in our collection, on different film formats and spanning over 100 years of film making, help build the story of the borough of Southwark.

Some of the gems in our Film Collection include those from The Bermondsey Borough Council, whose Health Department under the direction of Dr Connan (Medical Officer for Health at the time), made over 30 films between the 1920s and 1940s.  Most of the films were made in-house as it was deemed important that they were made by people with medical expertise. The aim was to send a clear message about good health for its residents.

The Council showed the films in ‘cinemotors’ which, being portable, enabled the film makers to reach a wide audience, much to the delight of local children!  For decades, the films were shown around Bermondsey and Southwark, helping to improve the health of residents and prevent deadly diseases like Diphtheria – a fact highlighted in the film Some Activities of the Bermondsey Borough Council (1931) which boasted an impressive reduction in deaths from infectious diseases over the previous 30 years.

Cinemotor van, Bermondsey, 1937

Around half of our film collection was digitised by London’s Screen Archives in 2012. You can view many of these films on their website and YouTube channel, including some of the films from the Brandon Estate Cine Club whose collection of around 20 films, all shot on standard 8mm film, was made by Richard Morgan and Brian Waterman. Both cine enthusiasts, they started the club on the estate in Walworth in the 1960s. The films record life on the estate through the residents’ activities over more than a decade – summer fetes, Christmas parties and coach trips to Canvey Island.

While some of our films are available online, others can only be viewed in the library and archive. We have the fantastic  ‘Two Bob’s Worth of Trouble’,  a film made by class 3C of Walworth School in 1961, which follows the adventures of a boy who is robbed of his trophy cup. The film features some of Southwark’s lost sites, like the Surrey Canal.  We also have many great films made by local historians, such as Michael Holland, and films by the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV.

Each month we showcase a different film from the archives. You can view this, or any of the films listed in our Film Collection booklet, at Southwark Local History Library and Archive, free of charge. It’s usually possible to just drop in and speak to a member of staff about viewing a film, but if you need any more information please give us a call on 020 7525 0232 or email local.history.library@southwark.gov.uk.

A Brief History of the Cuming Museum

The Walworth Road 1799

In the late 18th century Walworth Road was not the commercial street of shops that we think of today, but lined with grand terraces of Georgian houses, much more in keeping with the style we now associate with areas of London such as Bloomsbury.

Henry Syer TN03705

Miniature of Henry Syer Cuming

Richard Cuming, and his son Henry Syer Cuming, lived in a part of Walworth Road which now lies between Manor Place and Amelia Street, and they had a passion for collecting.

Between them, during the late 18th and the 19th century, they acquired all kinds of objects from around the world – from Japanese shoes and ancient Egyptian amulets to a brown bear, purchased from the Leverian Museum in 1806. In An Introduction to The Cuming Family and The Cuming Museum author Stephen Humphrey describes the more local additions to the collection:

And all the time, father and son accumulated the printed and pictorial ephemera of everyday life – advertisements, catalogues, tickets and programmes, letters and circulars, and even the paper bags in which they bought their rolls from the baker – which have become one of the most compelling sources for local 19th-century history.”

 

CollectionHenry died in 1902 and left funds in his will to create a public museum, which opened above the Newington public library on Walworth Road near Elephant and Castle in 1906.

Camberwell Beauty LDCUM1985.003_1

Camberwell Beauty

Many local history objects have been collected, from the early 19th century right up to today, expanding the Cuming Museum collection and reflecting Southwark’s rich and diverse history, and its unfolding story.

In 2006, the museum opened new public spaces adjacent to Newington Library, on the ground floor of the former Walworth Town Hall. This new space housed regular events and changing exhibitions alongside permanent displays showcasing key items from the collections.

A fire in 2013 damaged the Walworth Town Hall and since then the museum has been without permanent display galleries. However, successful projects and programmes have taken place in locations around the borough. These include the Cabinet of Curiosity, our programme in Southwark’s libraries; Cuming Explorers, our early years offer, in conjunction with Inspire and Victory School; Natural Selection, our collaboration with artist Janetka Platun and Peckham Platform; and our most recent project with the MA Animation students at London College of Communication.

Past Projects

The Cuming museum will return to the former Walworth Town Hall building when it reopens in a few years. In the meantime, look out for consultation opportunities concerning the redevelopment and follow us here and on Twitter to get regular updates about our work and events.