Richard Cuming (1777–1870) started his collecting life when he was only five with some fossils and a coin that had been given to him by a family friend. That ignited a passion for collecting, which lasted for his lifetime. He made his first significant purchases in 1806 at the sale of the Leverian Museum. His interests covered geology, scientific equipment and animalia. The collection was bequeathed to the people of Southwark by his son, Henry Syer Cuming, in 1902, and the museum opened in 1906. As described in Cuming's will, it comprised "My Museum illustrative of Natural History, Archaeology and Ethnology with my coins and medals and... other curios".
The museum galleries were moved from the first floor of the Newington Public Library to the building next door, the former Walworth Town Hall, in 2006. That made the museum much more accessible. The former town hall is Grade 2 listed and an interesting vestry hall of the 1860s.
Also of interest is that at the end of this block of buildings, on Larcom Street, Charles Babbage, the Victorian mechanical computer pioneer, was born in 1791 although the original house has been demolished. A blue plaque records his birth.
On 25 March 2013, a fire seriously damaged the Walworth Town Hall. The collections suffered only a very small loss, but the museum galleries were very severely affected. Around 98% of objects on display at the time of the fire were recovered and are now safely stored awaiting a solution to the display of the collections and public access to them.
- Cuming Museum, Culture 24, UK.
- "History of the Cuming family collection and the Cuming Museum". Southwark Collections. Borough of Southwark. Archived from the original on 2 August 2008.
- Cuming Museum, London SE1, UK.
- Quinn, Ben (25 March 2013). "Hundreds of firefighters battle blaze at south London museum". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 March 2013.
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