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Family backs calls to preserve Charlie Chaplin's workhouse
Still from Charlie Chaplin's 1921 film "The Kid".

LONDON (AFP).- The children of legendary British comic actor Charlie Chaplin have expressed dismay at the threatened closure of the Cinema Museum, once a workhouse for poor children where he was forced to live.

The building in Elephant and Castle, an area of south London that has been undergoing rapid redevelopment in recent years, is owned by a hospital trust which is planning to sell it early next year.

The Victorian-era building on Renfrew Road played a significant part in Chaplin's impoverished childhood, family members including his actress daughter Geraldine Chaplin wrote in an open letter.

"The workhouse is a building that played a great part in our father's early life," they said.

"He and his mother and step-brother, abandoned by their father, lived nearby, in a variety of poor lodgings, and were frequently driven to seek refuge in the workhouse."

Chaplin and his half-brother lived at the workhouse on a semi-regular basis throughout their childhoods in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Chaplin was four years old during his first stay.

Workhouses were places of last resort for destitute families during the Victorian era in Britain, as families were routinely separated from each other.

"Little Tramp", one of Chaplin's most famous characters, was inspired by Chaplin's childhood on the fringes of Victorian society.

In a clear reference to Chaplin's own childhood, "Little Tramp" adopts a young child who is forcibly taken away from him in Chaplin's 1921 film "The Kid".

"It is not a celebratory piece of family history by any means but we now recognise that this painful experience did much to mould our father's unique creative gift," the letter said.

The Museum has launched a petition against the closure by the South London and Maudsley National Health Service (NHS) Trust and a Just Giving campaign to help buy the building.

The Trust said that as a public body "it is our duty and aim to sell these properties so that we maximise the value of these assets."

© Agence France-Presse

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