Pop-up museum offers flash of English eccentricity

Thu Mar 25, 2010 11:27am EDT
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By Jane Merriman

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - When you first arrive at the house on Gellatly Road it appears to be an ordinary Victorian home...until the lady with the wig answers the door.

After that prepare to suspend your disbelief as you enter the alternative reality of the Nunhead and District Municipal Museum and Art Gallery, where the "lower catacombs" (a window into the basement under the floorboards) are too dangerous to enter and everyone has a funny name.

The lady in the wig and the blue suit at the door, a Miss Ulricke Furtwangler, is your guide into an absurd world that tells visitors more about English eccentricity than anything revelatory about the faux exhibits on display.

"The Lower Catacombs, hundreds of feet below, are not open - they are too dangerous," Furtwangler explains. "But you can visit the Upper Catacombs."

She offers you a hard hat and opens the door into what would usually be a living room.

The temporary museum in this southeast London suburb boasts a shadowy maze filled with statuary and funeral urns on dusty cardboard shelves and a full-size effigy of the "Nunhead Knight" clutching a sword. Never mind that it's made from painter's overalls, a sofa and a baby's cot.

A silver sarcophagus is a much-prized item that you later learn the museum's trustees want to sell off to raise cash.

A highlight of the visit is the pet cemetery of fictional Victorian singer Dame Sionagh Durrant, who toured the stages of Europe in the 1820s.   Continued...