I visited the Cockney Museum in Surrey and left with a big smile – and a cup of tea
East London is synonymous with Cockneys accent, slang and lore, but a trip to the Surrey Museum showed me that there seems to be a new home for the capital’s most iconic lore.
The Original Cockney Museum, owned by George Major, 83, is one of the most unique days Surrey, or Londoners crossing the border, can hope for.
Museums have been allowed to reopen since May 17, including the original Stoneleigh Museum, just outside of Epsom and a short walk from Stoneleigh station.
Its quirk is clear from the start – the signs say ‘you haven’t seen London before you’ve been to the Cockney Museum’ and the first thing the owner and founder, Mr. Major, asks me is where I am. parked my “jam jar” (Cockney rhyming slang for “car”).
SurreyLive spoke to Mr Major on the phone last year when the museum opened, but he and the museum itself have to be seen in person to be believed.
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At the end of my visit he said, “As I tell everyone, you just made my 64 year dream come true.”
He’s quite the good-humored eccentric Englishman you’d expect from a museum like this. It opened in August 2020, as Mr. Major’s long-term dream since his late teens.
Mr. Major put his savings into the project after realizing that people were not carrying on the traditions of his Cockney ancestors.
Some might wonder why a Cockney Museum is in a place like Surrey, which you might be more inclined to associate with Pronunciation received English.
That’s because London’s East End is no longer the cockney hub it once was – late actress and Cockney favorite Dame Barbara Windsor once said you were more likely to find an accent. Cockney in Essex than in East London today, added Mr Major. you would be surprised at the number of Cockneys in Surrey.
But anyone living in East London who wants to experience this Cockney culture would be well advised to take a day trip to this museum.
Mr. Major is a bit hard of hearing, but his sense of humor is evident as he tells us how positive the reactions at the museum have been.
“Everyone writes in our guestbook. Some of the women say ‘I want to bring George back with me.’
Everything is on display: thousands of photographs, reconstructions of costermongers (street vendors) markets, a tribute to Cockney icon Henry Croft (the original Pearly King) and the museum’s centerpiece – the costumes of the Pearly Kings and Queens, some 170 years old.
One of the best things about the museum is its sense of escape – its dimly lit streetlight interiors are a world away from the mid-morning light outside, its depiction of the dirty world of chimney sweeps is l opposite of the heavily sanitized world. we live in 2021.
And it’s unlikely that anything on offer for Eurovision this weekend will sound quite like Cockney’s songs playing in the background, from ‘I love being by the seaside’ to ‘The Lambeth. Walk ”.
Granted, Cockney culture isn’t really something that crossed my mind much since a high school music production in Me and my daughter over ten years ago, except for the odd use of Cockney’s rhyming slang or viewing a Bill Bailey comedy sketch about Cockney’s music.
But that’s what makes this museum such a surprising joy. You learn about Cockney’s rhyming slang – the famous (meat plates = feet) to the less famous (garden gate = magistrate), Cockney’s ties to the region (Epsom Derby once had a great Cockney following) and even the saddest sides of Cockney’s life, like poverty and child mortality.
Sadly, Mr Major’s wife who he lost in 2018 was never able to see the museum, but he says she would have been delighted with how it turned out.
“She knew my dream and she supported it. She was my right arm, my everything. I think that’s why I work everyday to stand up. People say I don’t look my age.
A look around the small to medium-sized but informative and exhibiting-rich museum, and it’s clear how much of a labor of love it is for Mr. Major.
If anything, it’s just a shame that my mid-morning visit was too early to enjoy one of their pie and mash breakfasts – but I had a “Rosie Lee” (tea) mug at the gift shop.
All in all a great tour and a must visit for tourists who want to know what the old London lifestyle was like.
Customers are advised to book in advance. At £ 6 for adults, £ 3 off or ‘free for retirees accompanying their parents’, for such a genuinely nostalgic experience, as a popular post-Cockney slang would do, you can’t use “Pete Tong “with a visit here.