Master's Reception: Cinema Museum, Kennington

Tuesday 30th May 2017

Each Livery has its own ‘Master's event' – many go away on long weekends to exotic locations, or use their own fabulous halls to host some spectacular entertainment. We’ve yet to delve into these realms and so every year the Master organises a bit of a do at some interesting location, often a museum, and we have seen some fascinating places over the years. Indulging my personal interest in silent cinema, I chose the Cinema Museum in Kennington, a museum co-founded about 25 years ago that not only maintains a film archive and substantial library, but all the paraphernalia associated with the cinemas of yesteryear – signage, posters, uniforms, projectors etc. It’s located in the chapel of what used to be the Lambeth Work House (c.1871) a building that became a hospital when the work house closed in 1922 (yes, that late!) and which was latterly absorbed into the NHS until the early 2000s. The main problem is it’s slightly obscure location in a nest of streets about 10 minutes’ walk from Kennington tube station. The answer was to use a bus and, through a pal at the London Bus Museum, I managed to get a 1961 Routemaster to meet us at St. Lawrence Jewry. We were about fifty in total with everyone was asked to muster by 5.45 for a prompt 6pm departure and (one thing I’ve noticed about Liveries) everyone was assembled and aboard on time. Our Chaplain had kindly chilled a case of Prosecco I'd sent him for us all to enjoy aboard - and we’d nearly dispatched the lot as we arrived at the museum just 25 minutes later! We were blessed with fine evening sunshine throughout (after a very overcast day -- the Chaplain had obviously had a word..) and so were able to use the little garden adjacent to the museum for more drinks and a little ‘interval’ cigar kindly provided by Jemma Freeman. Once everyone's glass was charged and cigar lit, I introduced Martin Humphries, one of the co-founders, who gave us a potted history of the museum and the building it’s now contained in – the most famous ‘resident’ was a young Charlie Chaplain who accompanied his mother there when her funds ran out (after a glittering music hall career, she lost her voice) in a tale that really makes you realise that however bad things may seem sometimes today, we’ve no real idea of the sheer grinding poverty endured by so many at the apex of our Imperial past when we were supposed to be one of the wealthiest countries on earth. With our cigars smoked but retaining our glasses we trooped inside for a look at the exhibits before going upstairs to the impressive and very spacious chapel which has seating, tables and a bar and servery. Everyone soon settled somewhere and I introduced Martin again, and also Lillian Henley, our pianist for the evening. I'd asked Kevin Brownlow (the film historian, who was sadly called away at the last minute) and Martin to give us tobacco-related films as far as possible, but to include one Chaplin short in deference to the location. We then enjoyed two halves of about 45 minutes each which comprised:

Part 1

Admiral Cigarette advert 1897

Breathe of A Nation 1919

Cultivation of Tobacco 1909

Harold Lloyd in Among those Present 1921

Part 2

A Voyage to Jupiter 1909

Charley Bowers in There it is 1928

Chaplin in The Cure 1917

Between halves, we enjoyed a good meal of Coq au Vin followed by Eton Mess with enough time for those who wished to pop out for a puff after, and the bar had plenty of cold beer which proved popular for the second half. Lillian’s accompaniment lifted these old titles from their dusty graves and everyone was infected with the spirit of another, perhaps simpler, age - the clip I've appended has no music so you'll have to make your own! With the films done, I presented Martin and Lillian with a souvenir clay pipe to remember us by and we went and found the bus which had cleverly turned itself around and was waiting with the engine running – we were able to improvise a stop at Blackfriars on the return and all but fifteen or so disembarked there. We ended back at SLJ’s at about 10.40 which was much as anticipated. Despite a flourishing cold, I admit I enjoyed it all immensely, and thank the Livery and their guests for supporting me at my last event.

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