Horniman Museum

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London, England
Horniman Museum - Probably the Museum's most famous exhibit, this walrus was stuffed in about 1870 and has been in the collection since 1893
Horniman Museum - A very small part of the wonderful array of musical instruments
Horniman Museum - A view of the natural history hall, from the gallery, showing the traditional presentation and display
Horniman Museum - Part of the World Cultures collection
Horniman Museum - A typical cabinet in the natural history hall

Horniman Museum London Reviews

londonstudent londonst…
31 reviews
Nov 29, 2006
The Horniman Museum has its origins in the collection of Sir Frederick Horniman, the Victorian tea merchant who died in 1906. He was an inveterate collector both of cultural artefacts from all over the world, and also of butterflies, moths and beetles, of which he had over 16,000 specimens arranged in 500 drawers. Eventually his collection took over his family home, a spacious Victorian villa called Surrey House, in South London. There were 24 exhibition rooms, which he opened to the public, and the villa was described in the 1890s as a "veritable cabinet of curiosities". Eventually, however, he decided to house the collection in a purpose-built museum, which, with the surrounding land, he presented to the people of London in 1901, granting them free access in perpetuity. It is that building, with some recent additions, that forms the present Horniman Museum, and Horniman's original collection forms the nucleus of the current holdings, most of which are kept in storage. The Museum has displays of cultural artefacts and natural history, as well as a brand-new aquarium and over 7,000 musical instruments, including the Boosey & Hawkes collection which it acquired when that company closed a few years ago. Most of the natural history collection is in the original building, which consists of a large hall with gallery. It has an agreeably old-fashioned air, the collection being housed in wooden cabinets and arranged along taxonomic lines. There are few concessions to modern ideas of presentation and display; or, for that matter, to the needs of children, which is quite refreshing. The whole enterprise is pursued with unrelenting earnestness, and the displays consist mostly of stuffed animals and models. Sometimes these are arranged as charming tableaux in which wildlife is shown in naturalistic settings. The gallery, in particular, is clearly pedagogic in intent, and while worth walking around is unlikely to yield anything of detailed interest to anyone other than a specialist. The new aquarium was opened in the summer of 2006, and will come as a pleasant surprise for anyone only acquainted with an old-fashioned example such as the seriously creepy Sea-Life Centre at Brighton. There are several tanks, and the display is bright and cheeful, arranged so as to maximise the view of the marine life. As was to be expected, an especial effort has been made to make it attractive to children. There is, however, a problem with the restricted space that the aquarium occupies; when I was there it was by no means particularly busy, yet around the tanks it felt crowded, and it was not possible to linger. The cultural artefacts are arranged in new exhibition halls, items from Africa and South America being particularly well represented. Here there are special exhibitions that change from time to time, and the whole system of presentation and display is a world away from that of the natural history hall. When the museum was first opened the idea was to suggest an "Evolution of Culture", with that of the Western world at the pinnacle, and the artefacts from the rest of the world providing satisfying evidence of the extent to which their cultures were in a more primitive evolutionary state. That idea is now, of course, completely outmoded, and the display is instead ordered by the types of object and their functions. For me, the best display of all was of musical instruments. For a non-musician such as myself, it was fascinating to be able to examine so many, ancient and modern, at such close quarters - to be astonished, for example, at the complexity of a saxophone, or to see all the individual parts, over a hundred of them, from which a tuba is constructed. From the reactions of other people's children, I would say that this is also the part of the museum that is most likely to appeal to them, not least because, judging from some conversations that I overheard, the children knew a lot more about some of the instruments than did their parents! The only part of the museum that gets a black mark is the catering facility, which simply did not have sufficient room. Twice I started to queue for refreshment, and twice gave it up as a bad job, because the queue was moving so slowly, and because there was nowhere to sit. I was there on a Sunday; perhaps it would have been better on a weekday! On the whole, though, this is a comparatively small museum that is well worth a visit: it can be completely explored in a morning or afternoon, and the natural history hall is a welcome reminder of how museums used to be when learning was a serious business. The Museum is set in pleasant gardens, which include an animal pen with chickens, goats and so forth, and from which there are extensive views over London. On a fine day this would be a good place to have lunch, if you have brought your own.
Probably the Museum's most famous …
A view of the natural history hall…
A typical cabinet in the natural h…
Part of the World Cultures collect…
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Eric says:
Wow I think this is the most thorough, comprehensive and informative review I have read on the site! Thanks for the info! I'll have to check this place out the next time I'm in London.
Posted on: Jan 17, 2007
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