What has happened to the Cuming Museum collections and building?
Monday 25 March was a sad day for Walworth, London museums and museums in general as the news came through that Old Walworth Town Hall, which holds the Cuming Museum and Newington Library, was on fire.
I hadn’t heard whether there had been any serious damage to the library or museum collections and so when I went along to listen to an update at a meeting by the Walworth Society I was both surprised and saddened at what I heard. Here’s a quick summary of what was said in the meeting.
But we’ll start with the good news:
- The majority of the artefacts on display in the ‘Cuming Family Collection’ gallery were saved and are now safe and undergoing specialist conservation.
- Only 1% of the museum’s collection was on display, the rest is housed in a different building.
- Outreach work by the museum, for instance children’s activities and the ‘youth panel’ continue from other premises.
- The library stock next door to the museum was largely unaffected.
- Insurance money will be earmarked for rebuilding the civic building on at least the same size footprint.
But there were many sadder messages that also came out:
- 400 of the 1,000 objects on display in the ‘Cuming Family Collection’ gallery could not be saved, despite the quick work of the fire brigade and museum staff.
- The ‘Southwark’ room and temporary exhibition room remain under rubble and so it is unclear what damage there is to artefacts in these rooms.
- Structural engineers are yet to assess the extent of the damage to the building, but metal buckled by the intense heat is visible and brickwork will have been weakened due to the heat too.
- Structural issues and practicalities such as fire exits and power to the building will mean the library will remains closed for months rather than weeks. Opening hours have been extended at John Harvard Library in Bourough and East Street Library on Old Kent Road.
I think I was most surprised that the temporary exhibition space was still under rubble, it’s a space I know well as I helped create an exhibition that was on display there last year and saw their current exhibition recently. But opportunities will come through this setback and from the look of the support the museum has received so far from the community and beyond there is clearly a will to see a new an improved museum and civic centre to take its place.