Possibly one of Britain's most curious collections, the Cuming Museum in south-east London houses ephemera and antiques from the 18th and 19th centuries gathered by inveterate hoarders Richard and Henry Cuming. The father and son never travelled abroad yet were determined to collect something from every country, drawing together a collection that embraces archaeology, British social history, ethnography, decorative art, geology, textiles, natural history, prints, coins, ceramics, and ancient Egyptian and Etruscan objects. Pieces range from a Hawaiian feathered cape from Captain Cook's voyages to some of the very first ancient Egyptian artefacts available on the open market. The family also collected celebrity memorabilia: a ribbon from the bonnet of Queen Victoria and a scrap of cloth from the bed of Mary, Queen of Scots. And there's old-fashioned junk too: worn-out shoes, paper bags and a key to a London brothel. The collection was left to the borough of Southwark, where the Cumings lived, in 1902. It was moved last October to new premises on the ground floor of the old town hall, complemented by temporary exhibitions and a permanent display about Southwark's history.
There are lots of interactive exhibits for children to enjoy. Dress up as a pearly king, a medieval jester or Elizabethan courtier. Make a Charlie Chaplin puppet - the silent-film legend was one of Southwark's famous sons. Play the board games dotted about the museum: there's one based on Egyptian gods and goddesses and another about superstitions. Listen to stories from Southwark residents and watch films reflecting the borough's diverse community. Even smell the stink made by whale blubber - Southwark's docks were once home to a thriving whaling industry.
Amid the bric-a-brac you'll unearth some rare and important objects from around the world. But look out too for the fake antiques produced by infamous Victorian con artists Billy and Charley, who forged religious relics while pretending to have dredged them from the Thames. Southwark also owns around 6,000 works of art by a diverse range of artists. Until 31 March, an exhibition showcases art by John Ruskin, Ford Maddox Brown, Barbara Hepworth and Turner Prize winner Keith Tyson.
No food is available in the museum but Walworth Road has plenty of cafés.
Fully accessible. Hearing loop, large-print information, audio guide, information available in six languages. There is a disabled toilet and baby-changing facilities.
Open Tuesday to Saturday (closed bank holidays), 10am to 5pm, admission free.
How to get there
Cuming Museum, Old Town Hall, 151 Walworth Road, London SE17 1RY. (020-7525 2332; southwark.gov.uk/ cumingmuseum). By car: Restricted parking. By train: Elephant and Castle is served by Tube and rail routes, 10 minutes' walk. By bus: 12, P5, 45, 35, 176, 171, 68, 168, 468 stop at the museum.Reuse content