Museum #24. The Cinema Museum

The Cinema Museum is housed in an old workhouse in Elephant and Castle.

Charlie Chaplin and his mother actually lived at the workhouse for some time, so it’s the perfect building to house this cinematic collection.


The first room you enter proudly displays old cinema signage.


It’s dripping in elegant art deco, like the below:

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This ticket machine below operated with a beautifully designed system.

It issued metal tokens (rather than paper tickets) in three different shapes – circle, square and ridged.

When you entered the dark cinema, ushers simply had to feel the shape of your ticket to seat you in the correct area – a beautiful lo-fi solution to a lighting problem.


The museum houses lots of old usher paraphernalia – torches, badges etc.

The red container on the left originally carried floral room deodorant – used to mask the smells of smoke and unwashed overcoats.

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It was pretty upsetting to see the demise of the smart usher uniform. The two shots below highlight the difference pretty well..

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I love the King Kong teapot below. Very cool.


We saw plenty of film advertising too. The letterpress ‘Regal’ piece on the left is especially nice.

(Note the ‘most fantastic science shocker ever filmed’ on the right too…)

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We heard about the introduction of Vitophone by Warner Bros – the first widely-accepted system to play sound with film. Films with sound became known as talkies and were hugely popular.

Vitophone involved sounds being recorded onto separate discs, rather than onto the film itself.

This brought with it a number of issues – as the discs got old, they would slow the needle and the sound would often shift out of sync with the images. But perhaps worse was the fact that sometimes films were dispatched to cinemas with the wrong accompanying disc. On several occasions, a romantic film played out with a horror soundtrack etc… With film cinema nowadays, the sound is printed down the side of the film itself – it can never go out of sync, it can never get mixed up.


After walking through a Chaplin themed corridor, with a massive Granada sign adorning the upper walls, we reached the museum’s main auditorium.

It’s a beautiful space – would be great to hear a talk there one day.



I loved this art piece – projection lenses all glued together to make a sculpture.


And with that, the 24 niche museums challenge is over. A full run-down of the best and the worst will follow shortly.


#1. We all know that the ‘U’ rating stands for Universal. Some might remember that the old ‘A’ rating stood for Adult. But most people forget there was a third rating, ‘H’, for Horrific, which included horror, violence and sex.

#2. Charlie Chaplin’s mother never really believed quite how famous her son was – even after he whisked her out of the workhouse to live in his LA mansion.

#3. Around the dawn of cinema, you would have to train for 5 years before you became a projectionist. With the introduction of digital cinema, that process now only takes 3 weeks.

#4. Cinemas used to operate under ‘continuous performance’ – where two films, shorts and trailers ran in a continuous loop for the entire day. People would simply sit down and watch the screen until it circled back to the point when they joined.

#5. The Odeon chain has got rid of almost all of its film projectors, and now has a mostly digital inventory. The only cinema that still holds film capability is its Leicester Square cinema.

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