A leading local historian has warned Southwark’s cherished collections of artefacts from all over the world could be put at risk, after it was revealed all the Cuming Museum staff have been laid off.
The collection, which was started in the 1700s and includes notable items of ‘Dickensiana’ such as the Marshalsea Prison pump, was housed for more than a century at Newington Library.
After a fire ripped through the Walworth Town Hall next door in 2013 (pictured), plans were put forward to build a new civic centre to house both the museum and the town hall in one new building.
Most of the extensive collection was thankfully not damaged by the fire, but just as it needs to be moved into storage to prepare for the new build it has been revealed all of the museum’s staff have been made redundant.
Deputy leader of the council, Cllr Ian Wingfield, confirmed the heritage service was currently being “reorganised” with a number of posts being “deleted” but added that vacant posts would be filled once this process was complete.
In the meantime, senior library, arts and heritage officers have been put in charge of overseeing the safe storage of the museum’s collections.
Local historian Stephen Humphreys, who penned a book on the Cuming collection in 2002, said his concern was the knowledge lost from the members of staff who had left.
“It does matter whether the people looking after the collection are trained to deal with such things.
“The accumulated knowledge of many years’ service on the part of those people will be enormous and couldn’t be replaced just like that – it takes years to understand a collection like this in depth.
“We need people who know what they are doing to look after a collection and put it into storage and you can’t learn all that in five minutes. I’ve lived in Southwark all my life and I am still learning things today,” he said.
Plans for the new Town Hall building, which will include a new library, a home for the archive, the registrars service and for civic and community activities as well as the Cuming collection, are in there early stages but it is hoped the facility will open in 2019.