Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Long John Silver Cumbers

This rather dapper looking gentleman is Sydney Cumbers, affectionately known as Long John Silver due to his distinctive eye patch and nautical attire.

Sydney Cumbers had a boyhood dream to go to sea but sadly the loss of his left eye at an early age ended that ambition and instead he went into the family business in the City of London.

Due to the success of the business, in the 1930's he was able to afford a weekend river front retreat in Gravesend (not far from the Mission House where General Gordon had taught Sunday School).

He named his house "The Lookout" and set about redecorating it with all manner of nautical paraphernalia from ship's wheel to models.

Different parts of the house were named after parts of a ship such as the bridge and the forecastle and it was described by some visitors as being "like a ship laid out ready for sea"

In particular he amassed what was thought to be the world's largest private collection of ship's figure heads. In total over one hundred with the oldest carved in 1663.

When staying in Gravesend, Cumbers would practically have an open door. Anyone with an interest in ships and the sea was welcome to call into "The Lookout" for a chat.

In 1953, the lease on "The Lookout" came to an end and due to his advancing years, Cumbers reluctantly decided to move to a smaller more practical residence.

The move of course meant that a suitable home had to be found for his burgeoning collection which apart from the figure heads included another thousand plus items.

Fortunately the famous tea clipper Cutty Sark had recently returned to the UK for preservation at Greenwich.

The Cutty Sark Preservation Trust gratefully accepted the donation of Cumbers collection which would eventually be displayed aboard the clipper.

Here is an interesting 1951 vintage Pathe news clip I found which will give you a better idea of the inside of "The Lookout".

Sydney Cumbers died in 1959.

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  1. Only the English can do this kind of eccentricity properly! What a fascinating old chap, Glen.

  2. Definitely a colorful character. I love when someone has a private passion like this and follows it to the hilt.

  3. I love reading stuff like this.... someday it will help me with Buzztime Trivia (which I participate in every Tuesday night.) Good stuff!