About the Cuming Museum

Do you remember the Cuming Museum on Walworth Road? Did you have a favourite item? Perhaps it was the fierce bear or the brightly painted Ancient Egyptian mummy’s coffin mask or the odd little charms.

From 1902 to 2013 Southwark’s own museum, the Cuming Museum, occupied two spaces near to the Elephant and Castle end of Walworth Road. The original museum was above the Newington Public Library before it moved next door to the former Walworth Town Hall in 2006.

Many people have fond memories of coming to the museum, perhaps as part of a school visit, to see one of the regular exhibitions or to simply relax and enjoy a quiet wander around its peaceful spaces. 

In 2013 the Walworth town hall building suffered a fire. The building had to close and for many years there was no new space for the museum.

However, the entire collection was rescued, with only a very tiny amount of loss or damage, and it has been kept safe and secure since then. Staff continued to make it accessible. You might have seen it pop up everywhere from handling sessions at Canada Water Library to a history stall at Bermondsey Carnival.

Richard Cuming, a local gentleman, and his son Henry Syer Cuming, had a passion for collecting. They lived in Walworth and Kennington from the late 1700s right up to 1902. The Cumings acquired all kinds of objects from around the world. They also created a collection of objects related to Southwark’s history, telling a story of this borough from Roman times to the late Victorian era.

Henry died in 1902 and left funds in his will to create a public museum to house his family’s collection. This museum opened in 1906, on the first floor of the Newington library. More material has been added to the collection ever since, trying to tell the more modern story of the borough and its people.

The Cuming collection is now a key part of the new Southwark Heritage Centre and Walworth Library, which opened in April 2021. It is a large collection and we can’t display it all, but we continue to take it out and about and we are developing new heritage activities and programmes for people to enjoy. Meanwhile pop along to the new heritage centre and library. You may see some old friends!

You can explore many items from the Cuming Collection online

Page last updated: 26 November 2021

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