The Cinema Museum, South London - A Guided Tour

by KathleenDuffy

The Cinema Museum in south London pays homage to the golden era of cinema-going. It is a vibrant, living testimony to the great age of cinema.

Are you nostalgic for the days when cinema was an escape from the drudgery of work into a darkly luxurious fantasy world, when queues often formed round the block, when kids went to Saturday morning pictures, when cinema attendants wore smart uniforms and carried torches to guide you to your seat? If they were lucky, courting couples could sit on the back row and if they were really lucky, they would have a double seat!

In the interval (yes, there was always an interval) you could queue for an ice-cream from the ice-cream lady who brought her softly-lit tray right into the auditorium. Today many theatres keep up this tradition, but in cinemas it's a forgotten luxury.

However, the Cinema Museum in Lambeth (not to be confused with the Museum of Film in Covent Garden) has everything you could wish for to remind you of those glory days of cinema.

The Cinema Museum - A Labour of Love

For the past twelve  years The Cinema Museum has been housed in the administrative block of what was once The Lambeth Workhouse, an imposing gothic-style building.  There is even a film connection here because Charlie Chaplin and his mother lived in the workhouse when they faced destitution.  

Staircase in the Cinema Museum
Staircase in the Cinema Museum
K Duffy

The Cinema Museum exists because of the dedication and hard work of its founder, Ronald Grant and the dedicated team of enthusiasts.   As a youngster in the 1950s he was an apprentice film projectionist, a learning curve that lasted about five years.  In today’s digital age the training is two weeks.  

When you visit The Cinema Museum you will not only have a tour of the building but there will be a visit to the little in-house cinema with original seats saved from a cinema that was being demolished. Here you will see a number of short films which might include a poignant tear-jerker documenting the final days of the London tram, an amazing 1910 film of the Paris floods and an early 1960s film about Soho’s coffee bars.  

The only thing missing is the whiff of a Woodbine and the ice-cream lady!

On the Guided Tour
On the Guided Tour
K Duffy

Some cinemas of the past were like palaces - hence their name ‘picture palaces’.  Others were like enormous, exotic Egyptian  or Moroccan temples, often called “Alhambra” or “Granada”.  

On the other hand some were so scruffy and dirty it was hardly surprising that they were known as ‘flea pits’ or ‘bug hutches’.   But young people still loved them. This was where you met your friends every week, smoked your secret Woodbines, (I won't mention the VP wine...) and if you were in the balcony,  chucked crushed cigarette boxes down onto the crowd below. And there was no fear of the parents turning up. They were at the posh one.

Mindless Destruction of Old Cinemas

Many of the superb cinemas were demolished in the 1960s by profit-hungry, short-sighted developers, along with the little scruffy ones.  A good example of such mindless destruction was the Granada Cinema in Bedford.  

Talking to a good friend who remembers this Bedford cinema, she said:

“I shall never forgive Bedford for demolishing the Granada Cinema... one of the finest in the country... and building a Liddell with a fake front in the style of the beautiful cinema,  with a plaque saying 'The Granada Cinema stood here'. Idiots!!!! This is what happens of course when you have a corrupt Conservative council hand in hand with property developers.”

Film Display Board, Cinema Museum
Film Display Board, Cinema Museum
K Duffy

Fortunately The Cinema Museum has rescued thousands of items related to cinema-going including banks of cinema seats, posters, original films, ticket machines, marketing materials, old projectors, usherette uniforms, torches, art deco fittings and furnishings, including doors and carpets  - the list is endless.  They also have an impressive archive of printed publications and documents, including fan magazines and original photographs. 

The Cinema Museum - Attend Events, Do Research and Volunteer

The Cinema Museum is hoping to be able to stay in the ex-workhouse and to this end they have launched a campaign to raise money.  They are a registered charity and are not maintained by public funds, so they organise fascinating events including talks, Question & Answer sessions and screenings.  

They sell books, posters and other items of interest to film and cinema buffs.  They also organise private events in this wonderful space.  And if you love the history of cinema this is a perfect place to carry out your research or to volunteer your time and energy.  

According to The Cinema Museum’s own brochure, “There has never been a more exciting time to get involved with The Cinema Museum”.

You can Buy Vintage Movie Items Online

Display Board - Cinema Museum
Display Board - Cinema Museum
K Duffy

The Cinema Museum is located in Kennington, close to the Elephant and Castle. Address: The Master’s House, 2 Dugard Way (off Renfrew Road), London SE11 4TH

You can find out all the details for visiting the Museum and what public events they are organising on their website.   Please note that tour visits  must be pre-arranged as volunteers have to be organised. 

This is a gem of a place and well worth a visit.  It’s not a conventional museum - it’s a labour of love.


  Copyright: K Duffy

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KathleenDuffy on 04/04/2013

Well worth a visit Toni. A unique place run by people who deserve a medal for all the work they've put into the place!

Toni on 04/04/2013

I did not know this Cinema museum existed. Very interesting and I shall like to go and visit it myself. Well done Kathy for sharing this with us.

KathleenDuffy on 03/06/2013

So glad you like it Elias! thanks for your comment.

EliasZanetti on 03/06/2013

Lovely! Exactly what a film aficionado searches for!

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