Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads


#SciFri: Visiting the Horniman Museum

Those of you that follow my blog and read last week’s #SciFri will know that I recently visited the Horniman Museum with an entourage of palaeontologists/dinosaur enthusiasts to visit the new exhibition, Dinosaur rEvolution. I first visited the Museum as a child and have some hazy memories of it, but thought I’d share my experiences in the hope that you may visit one day in the near future. Nestled in the leafy suburb of Forest Hill, London, the Horniman Museum in my mind stands as a beacon of cultural heritage and natural history (which is a rare commodity south of the Thames). With its eclectic collections, immersive exhibits (such as Dinosaur rEvolution) and stunning gardens, the Museum offers visitors a journey through both time and continents.

I should probably cover some of the history of the Museum, before we take a deep dive into the collections. The Museum was founded by Victorian tea trader Frederick John Horniman in 1901, the museum began as a private collection housed in his family home. This is quite evident in some parts of the natural history gallery, as it is laid out exactly how I would expect a Victorian gentleman to arrange his collection. Over the years, the collection outgrew its confines, prompting Horniman to commission the construction of a purpose-built museum to house his treasures. The architectural style reflects the tastes of the era while providing a fitting backdrop for the diverse exhibits within.

To me, one of the most striking features of the Horniman Museum is the breadth and depth of its collections. From anthropology to natural history, musical instruments to fine art, the museum spans a vast array of disciplines, offering something to captivate visitors of all ages and interests. The anthropology galleries transport visitors across the globe, showcasing artefacts from Africa, Asia, the Americas, and beyond. From ceremonial masks to everyday tools, each object tells a story of human culture and creativity. Notable highlights include the extensive African collection, which features intricately carved sculptures and textiles, providing insights into the continent’s rich cultural tapestry.

For nature enthusiasts, the natural history galleries offer a glimpse into the wonders of the natural world. From taxidermy specimens to interactive exhibits on ecology and conservation, visitors can explore the diversity of life on Earth and learn about the interconnectedness of ecosystems. It isn’t all extant species (or recently extinct) thought, there are a number of fossils throughout as well as some geological specimens. This demonstrates that there is a little bit of something for everyone within the galleries, which always keeps you guessing. There is also a corner of the gallery that acts as a discovery centre, educating visitors about native British species which they may not have seen or heard before if they’ve not left the confines of central London before. Good work there Horniman, I enjoyed it!

Music aficionados will find much to admire in the museum’s music galleries, which house an impressive array of instruments from around the world. From ancient flutes to modern synthesizers, the collection showcases the universal language of music and its role in human society. I was also happy to see a Gibson Les Paul (my favourite guitar) on display too. The age of the musical instruments ranged from the medieval period up to the 1990s, covering everything you could imagine. There wasn’t an instrument that I could think of that wasn’t represented within the collection. Another mark for the Horniman Museum there. On another note, I have never seen so many brass instruments in all of my life!

In addition to its permanent exhibits, the Horniman Museum hosts a rotating series of temporary exhibitions, covering a wide range of topics from contemporary art to scientific discoveries. These exhibitions add an element of freshness and dynamism to the museum, enticing visitors to return time and again. Dinosaur rEvolution is just one of those, but there was also an exhibition on tea that I didn’t manage to visit due to time constraints. But I shall be back to enjoy it in all of it’s glory!

Beyond its indoor exhibits, the Horniman Museum is renowned for its picturesque gardens, which encompass 16 acres of landscaped grounds. The gardens feature a diverse array of plant species, including exotic specimens from around the world. Visitors can wander through themed gardens, such as the Mediterranean Garden and the Sundial Garden, or relax in the tranquil surroundings of the Japanese Garden. The gardens also serve as a venue for outdoor concerts, family events, and community gatherings, further enhancing the museum’s role as a cultural hub within the community. There is also a Butterfly House, which again I didn’t get time to visit but I shall try to in a future visit.

The Museum also has an aquarium which was extremely busy at our time of visit, which is always a good sign. Apart from exhibits on native fish and tropical species, there were also a few species of frog such as the green-and-black poison dart frog (Dendrobates auratus), such as the one photographed above. In conclusion, the Horniman Museum stands as a testament to the power of curiosity and exploration. Through its diverse collections and immersive exhibits, the museum invites visitors to embark on a journey of discovery, uncovering the wonders of the natural world and the richness of human culture. Whether strolling through its gardens (when the weather allows), marvelling at its artefacts, or engaging in hands-on activities, visitors to the Horniman Museum are sure to find inspiration and enlightenment at every turn.

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