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.

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.