The Cinema Museum @ Elephant & Castle

Established by Ronald Grant and Martin Humphries, the Cinema Museum in Elephant & Castle is an absolute treasure trove of cinema history.

Grant started his career in the cinemas of Aberdeen, and the materials acquired when these venues closed form the core of the Cinema Museum’s collection, although many artifacts from more local venues have been acquired since then. The museum contains a vast array of cinema furniture, and not just seats. There are art noveau and art deco display boards and lettering, ornate cinema doors, light fixtures, carpets, clocks and, as you would expect, lots of huge pieces of projection equipment. Many of the rather plush usher and usherette uniforms from cinema’s golden age are also on display – whether volunteers don them when the museum holds its regular screenings in the small cinema auditorium I don’t know…

cinema museum london


The ground floor of the museum also contains cinema posters and autographed photos, and there are several side rooms dedicated to the museum’s huge archives – there’s a comprehensive cinema library, a film-fan and cinema trade magazine archive, a photo archive (with more than a million prints behind its doors) and, my favourite, a room dedicated to cinema architecture which contains plans and elevations of the ornate palaces of entertainment that used to grace every high street (and quite often still do, although they’re now pubs, bingo halls and places of worship for the most part).

Heading upstairs, the main corridor is dedicated to the most famous man ever to have been born around the Elephant & Castle, none other than Charlie Chaplin – there are a multitude of portraits and many original movie posters featuring the actor dating all the way to the early 1900s. The large hall on the top floor contains even more projection equipment, another area for film screenings and lots more Chaplin memorabilia, the most striking of which is a 15′ high silhouette of him in his typical bowler-hatted, cane-carrying pose, executed in cardboard. Apparently this is a scale model of a proposed steel sculpture which may grace one of the new housing developments going up in the area right now.

The Cinema Museum also holds events throughout the year for movie fans – for example Mark Simpson, Alastair Sim’s biographer, will be hosting a talk on the actors life on Thursday 3 May, which will include clips from his most famous appearances. On Thursday 24 May film historians Tony Fletcher and Alex Gleason will be selecting a programme of short films for ‘The Art Of The Short Film’, an evening looking at the moving image from the 1920s to the 1950s which will include fiction, non-fiction and animation. You can see the entire upcoming programme online here.

The Cinema Museum can be found at The Master’s House, 2 Dugard Way, just off Renfrew Rd (look for the gates of the old Lambeth Hospital – the museum is through the gates on the left). You do have to book your visit in advance however, either by emailing [email protected] or by telephone on 020 78402200 – I had no problems in securing a visiting slot a few days in advance. Entry does cost £10 (£7 concessions) but if you’re as entranced by the magic of classic movies and cinemas as I am then you won’t begrudge parting with a tenner, believe me!

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