Summer finally decided to grace London with its presence in August. For almost three weeks we enjoyed on and off sunny days, paired with weather that could actually be described as “hot”.
Somehow, the stars aligned and I had a day off from work, where I was in London and nothing written on my calendar. So, I decided to finally venture twenty minutes down my road, to visit the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill.
Why the strange name? Well, the museum is named after its founder, Frederick John Horniman. Horniman was a tea trader and avid traveller, who had a penchant for collecting souvenirs while exploring. These were notably related to natural history, cultural artefacts and musical instruments.
Over time, he realised that his possessions were taking up more than their fair share of space within the family abode. So, he moved his family out of the Horniman house and opened it up to the public.
The original house was demolished in 1898, with architect Charles Harrison Townsend designing the museum that stands in its place today.
Like most big museums in London, the Horniman is free to enter, as are the surrounding gardens (which are well worth a poke around, in their own right). Patrons can choose to pay to see any temporary exhibits, or walk through the adjoining aquarium. The aquarium is small, but sweet. With a price of £2.20 for children and £4.40 for adults, it won’t break the bank.
The Horniman is best known for its collection of taxidermy. I do prefer my viewing of animals to feature live specimens, but if there is an opportunity to see any kind of taxidermy then I’m usually there. What can I say, I’m a sucker for natural history.
The exhibit is delightfully old school in its presentation. Where they failed to acquire a particular creature, they simply had a stab at crafting their own.
The star of the show is this gigantic stuffed Walrus, which has been on display at the museum for over a century. It’s said to have originally come from the Hudson Bay area of Canada and was part of a collection of animals displayed by Canadian hunter and explorer James Henry Hubbard.
Frederick Horniman was enamoured with the Walrus and bought it from Hubbard, to install it within his own museum.
Walrus sightings within the Victorian era were rare and as a result, no one had a clear idea of what a Walrus actually looked like. Not realising that the animal’s skin featured natural folds or wrinkles, the Horniman Walrus was overstuffed by the taxidermists.
This has only helped to increase his popularity. People journey to the museum just to see the Walrus and and he even tweets from his own twitter account.
Once you’ve had your fill of stuffed animals, you do have the option of seeing some in their live state. Along with the aforementioned aquarium, the Horniman Gardens are home to a small zoo. This features farm animals such as sheep, goats and alpacas, along with guinea pigs and England’s own brown rabbit.
The museum has several other permanent installations, remnants of Horniman’s world travels. The “African Worlds” section features artefacts from the continent, feature art and cultural relics. There’s also the “Music Gallery”, which houses Horniman’s 1300 strong collection of instruments from around the world.
Unlike the better known Natural History, British and London Museum, the Horniman is rarely filled to capacity. Although I went there during school holidays, I was still able to see all the exhibits that I wanted, without any dramas.
I’m essentially kicking myself for taking this long to visit the Horniman Museum. It truly is a jewel of South East London – an area of the city that rarely gets the recognition it deserves.