Former Lambeth refuge for Charlie Chaplin is hidden home to London's Cinema Museum

By Culture24 Reporter | 23 September 2011
Martin Humphries on a pageboy's jacket at The Cinema Museum

If you want a hidden gem, you can’t do much better than The Cinema Museum. Set in an archaic Victorian warehouse within a Lambeth NHS complex, this homage to the age before the multiplex only opens to visitors by appointment, but it’s been providing an invaluable archive for researchers since Ronald Grant and Martin Humphries started it in 1984.

“We were in a crumbling ruin in Brixton,” says Humphries, sitting in a top floor room which houses an atmospheric cinema, fed by a projector the size of a cannonball inside a cavern adorned with film posters on one side of the space.

“Our original idea was just that we could find somewhere which could accommodate the collection and where we could exhibit some of it. We didn’t think that we’d be in this enormous building.”

They moved to a council office in Kennington before the switch to Lambeth, but are now formulating ambitious plans for their larger home.

If they finally receive public funding – talks with the Heritage Lottery Fund are imminent, with Humphries confident their case “ticks all the boxes” – they could well expand it.

“We want to put a 300-seat cinema out here, with a permanent exhibition and research space,” he says, surveying a yard at the back of the building.

“Our architects say there are ingenious ways of doing it which are eco and relatively economical.”

In the meantime, their current set-up is full of charm. An apprentice projectionist in Aberdeen in the early 1950s, Grant moved to London to work for the British Film Institute, but a trip back to his home city saw him save artefacts and memorabilia destined for the scrap, left behind when a chain of cinemas across the region shut down.

Posters, boards and signs from the public face and inner sanctums of those picturehouses throng the old walls and darkened rooms of a museum which is a spit-and-sawdust film fan’s dream.

In a fitting twist, it also has a direct connection with Charlie Chaplin, a local lad organisers feel should receive greater celebration in his native area.

“He came in here as a child with his mum because she was destitute,” says Humphries. “They were here for a couple of months, and then he went to poor school.”

If the museum can repeat its most famous resident’s rise to prominence, screen heritage in the UK will have even more to thank Lambeth for.

  • The museum has a full range of events planned, including screenings, music, workshops and a Halloween spectacular. Visit their events page for full listings and booking details.

More pictures from the museum:

A photo of film posters
Played from a projector box stationed on the top floor of its former Workhouse home, the museum lends a spooky and atmospheric edge to its regular film screenings
A photo of the inside of a cinema museum full of chairs
The former Victorian workhouse has survived despite some of the surrounding buildings being lost to demolition
A photo of shelves full of pictures, books, film and movie memorabilia
Researchers help to fund the running costs of the venue, but organisers are hopefully of winning public funding
A photo of t-shirts and old posters inside a film museum
Highlights on display include a wide range of artefacts salvaged from doomed picturehouses in Stonehaven and the surrounding areas of Scotland
A photo of a cut-out of a heroine and a wall full of camera lenses at a cinema museum
Enthusiasts at the museum are full of good ideas when it comes to winning support for the building and putting on an imaginative programme of events
More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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