A coin from Queen Cleopatra’s 51-30BC reign, mummies, fragments of tombs from Thebes and stones inscripted with hieroglyphics are feared lost after in a blaze that swept through a museum building in London.
But firefighters say they have managed to save more than 500 objects that were on display at the Cuming Museum in Southwark.
Adrian Whittle, head of cultural services at Southwark council, told the Evening Standard: “Only about one per cent of the collection is on display at any time and the rest is held in storage, so the majority of the artefacts are safe.
“We are still waiting to get into the museum so we can see the extent of the damage. We just don’t know what has been lost yet.”
The collection was started by Richard Cuming, who moved to Walworth from Devon with his family in 1779 when he was two. He developed a passion for fossils after being given one as a child.
His son Henry bought thousands of historical objects at auctions over his lifetime as well as keeping contemporary memorabilia from including theatre tickets, toys and even paper bags before his death in 1902.
The museum was founded by the Cuming family in 1906 and is famed for its 100,000-strong items collected from around the world over the course of more than a century.
The blaze is believed to have started on the roof of the Grade II-listed building in Wansey Street, Walworth, just before 12.30pm yesterday. At its height, more than 120 firefighters were on the scene and the fire was brought under control at 5.30pm. Four fire engines and other support services remained at the museum today. A spokesman for London Fire Brigade said: “It was a really large fire and we are still down there, dampening down the remaining hotspots. We did manage to get 500 artefacts out last night and they are safe but we are still assessing the extent of the damage.”