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Potty about Pots

There's been a fantastic discovery for the archaeology world today in Cambridgeshire of a Bronze Age house. Many of the finds may not seem that stunning, there's not really any gold nor even any bronze (that's a whole other blog post), but some of the most important finds were pottery.

Pots are essential for many archaeologists as ceramic can survive millennia (unlike materials like wood and textiles) and are less subject to looting if they do not contain precious stones, although this isn't always the case as the recent Red Lists from Syria show.

Pots can help with our dating of history, civilisations and ultimately how we have developed as human societies.

They come in a melange of shapes and sizes from the Ancient World, and we have a few gems in the Horniman Collection.


One of the most famous Mediterranean pot types, this vase was used to mix wine and water in the Ancient World. This one comes from Sicily, but was made in Greece. Pots like this help us map the movement of people around the Mediterranean, suggesting trade links between places such as Sicily and Greece.


Another Greek made pot, they are characteristically flattish with two handles either side to facilitate lifting, or perhaps to be hung in somewhere (bit unlikely as there's a stand, but you never know). The function of these pots isn't entirely certain, usually they have designs showing marriage scenes or women at their toilette. However our one just has a figureless repeating pattern, perhaps this had a more generic use?


Amphora come in a range of sizes from large Panathenic to the smaller Type B, like this one here. Type B amphora (archaeologists aren't especially original with names) have a smooth 'echinus' foot, that means the base of it slopes down without a lip. This pot could have been made between 7th and 5th century, oddly it's listed as 'Ptolemaic' online, which is a bit misleading as that is an Egyptian period and this pot is Greek, but you get the idea.

I am also not sure this depicts the Judgement of Paris, as there are supposed to be 3 goddesses, one hero (Paris) and Hermes (male God), the other two males (on the right) are a mystery...

Oenchoe or Oinochoe

Another wine drinking vessel, these are staple of the pottery corpus and some are very old. The name means Wine (oinos) I Pour (Cheo), and they are found across the Mediterranean. I really love this object, it is decorated with two large water birds, perhaps geese or swans, in brown and black paint.

So never snub the humble pot, they have lots of different uses and designs, helping us make new discoveries every day.

London's Urban Jungle

Co-curator and researcher of London's Urban Jungle, Elle, describes our new exhibition.

Curating London’s Urban Jungle together with the Horniman has been a fantastic experience. I hope that visitors take away as much from viewing the exhibit as I have from the process of putting it together.

My research began with asking how zoological and natural history collections grew so rapidly during the nineteenth century and I could not have anticipated what I would uncover once I delved into the world of the exotic animal trade and its weird and fascinating history.

The exhibit focuses on one of the most renowned animal dealers of the Victorian period, Charles Jamrach, and his business on the Ratcliffe Highway in London’s East End.

Jamrach sold animals to a range of customers - as pets, as scientific specimens, as exhibits for zoological gardens and private collections, while those who sadly did not survive, may have become skeletons and taxidermy mounts sold to museums and collectors of a different kind. The taste for zoomorphic furniture springs to mind here - not your normal taxidermy that adorned Victorian homes, but more bizarre items such as monkey candlesticks and chairs made from giraffes and elephants.

There was a huge demand for exotic animals – both dead and alive.


My research has involved examining correspondence sent between Jamrach and his customers as well as periodicals and articles from the time. However the majority of the stories featured in the exhibit are taken from newspaper reports published online by the British Newspaper Archive.

I had great fun scanning through the reports and there are many more that didn’t make the cut – but I think my particular favourite is the one that involves talking parrot Sarah and her theft, which unravels once she’s sold to Jamrach by the thief and later identified by her owner when he goes to buy a replacement!

London's Urban Jungle is on display in the Natural History Gallery until 21st February 2016.

The Horniman and Pepys

The Horniman has loaned three musical instruments to a major new exhibition celebrating the life and times of Samuel Pepys at the National Maritime Museum.

Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution has brought together a wealth of paintings, manuscripts and artefacts to explore the period from the execution of King Charles I in 1649 to the Glorious Revolution in 1688.

They are exploring a formative era which saw the repositioning of the monarchy and the consolidation of Britain’s place as a maritime, economic and political force on the world stage. It coincides with the 400th anniversary of the Queen’s House, one of London’s most important buildings sitting at the heart of Stuart Greenwich and now the Royal Museums Greenwich.

The exhibition uses the voice and experiences of Pepys, one of the most colourful and appealing personalities of the age. Pepys is well known as a passionate diarist and prolific correspondent, but the exhibition also looks at his character as a master naval administrator, a well-connected socialite, gossip, and lover of music, theatre and fine living.

Music is very important to his story as one of his abiding passions – he played, composed and was an amateur teacher. He is known to have played the played the flageolet, guitar and lute – the three artefacts we have loaned to the exhibition. The Horniman’s instruments play an important role illustrating the types of instruments from this period he may have played.

Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution is on at the National Maritime Museum until the 28th March 2016.

The trees in our gardens

We are getting in the festive spirit on twitter looking at Christmas decorations and trees in our collection, which got us thinking about the trees we have growing in our gardens.

A Horniman Christmas tree currently in Gallery Square

We are very proud of our tree collection here at the Horniman, we have a few specimens that date back to before the site became a Museum, including a number of oaks  that are estimated to be over 300 years old. Oaks are our most important native tree, they are often called ‘keystone’ species because it has a disproportionately large effect on its environment relative to its abundance.

It is thought that one oak tree is home to 500+ species compared to the weedy sycamore that supports just 15 or so!

We have some beautiful cedars in our Gardens.  They are native to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and Algeria and  are now common to many  UK gardens and  parks as they are stunning evergreen trees that provide a regal feel.

Near to the London Road main entrance we have a magnificent copper beech tree (my favourite incidentally) which looks equally magnificent in the summer or when it loses it leaves in the autumn/winter. Along with the oak the beech is one of our native trees in the UK.

One of the best features of the Horniman Gardens are the horse chestnut trees that line the Avenue and main entrance to the Museum.

In recent years horse chestnuts have received some bad press as they get ravaged by the horse chestnut leaf miner every year which results in leaves going brown and dropping from trees during the summer.

I hope visitors this year will have noticed that our beautiful avenue of tree has stayed completely free of this pest and leaves have fallen naturally when they were supposed to during the autumn. This is due to some rather nifty cutting edge technology for treating tree pest problems that involves injecting pesticide directly into the vascular system of the tree that acts as a systemic pesticide killing the pests when they feed on the leaves.

Over the last couple of years, we have lost a number of our mature specimens due to pest and disease problems and health and safety concerns.  However, we are very keen to see this as an opportunity to plant new species that will add to the legacy of trees in the Gardens - trees planted this year include the Tulip tree, Chinese Pistachio tree, and the very rare and unusual Paulownia kawakamii.

We are recycling felled trees by splitting the wood into fire wood and selling it every Saturday morning at the Horniman Farmers’ Market. A bargain at £5 for as much as you can carry.

We are offering people the opportunity to sponsor a new tree  to help support the work of the Museum and Gardens, for more information visit our website.

So next time you visit the Gardens, please take some time to appreciate our wonderful trees.

About the Art: Mark Fairnington, Collected and Possessed

We caught up with Mark Fairnington to discuss his new exhibiton Collected and Possessed which contains the piece Nest.

How did you decide which pieces would go in the exhibition?

The central focus of this exhibition is museums and storage, so in addition to the Horniman I worked with the Wellcome and Natural History Museum, London. I wanted to create links, for Natural History Museum and the Horniman there is an animal theme, whereas the Wellcome Collection introduced human pieces as well. I was also inspired by the idea of 'a collection', for example my series of bulls are a collection that I have made.

I am interested in the idea of the museum as a repository of knowledge and a jumping off point for the imagination

One of my favourites is 'Nest', how did you find this object and what inspired you to paint this?

I like that there is something very caring in the way the dog has been packed, there's no sense of death and it is then animated by being painted. Some of the objects are more disturbing.

Mark Fairnington's 'Nest'

The detail is extraordinary, do you prefer to use a certain type of paint or brush to achieve this?

I prefer to use very fine brushes, spotter brushes and rigger brushes, which have very thin, long bristles to make fine lines. I like the obsessive attention to detail across the whole portrait, it's uncanny and slightly strange. It has a surreal effect, like something that has been heightened, similar to HD.

The taxidermy terrier that inspired 'Nest' is also on display in the exhibition

Unlike some of the other pieces, 'Nest' has a background, for example the bulls don't, why did you adopt this style?

Once I pick a specimen I would like to work with, I set up a photography day so there are photos of it from different angles, in this case in and out of the box; photography is a way of imagining all the possibilities. He looked awkward out of his box, and I was very aware he was stuffed, I didn't want that, I wanted a comfortable feel.

The title of the exhibition, 'Possessed' also responds to the idea of the spirit of the object that is released by the imagination of the people looking at it

Do you have a favourite piece or a piece that you felt particularly inspired by in the exhibition?

From the Horniman, I found the monkey face covered in plastic received lots of comments from viewers. I like to then go and look at it again, the creative process can be a bit dispassionate so it is good to revisit a work.


Museums and Wellbeing

An important focus of the work we do in the Community Learning Team is working in partnership with local services that provide mental health support for people. We do this in a whole range of ways - this might be taking objects out into hospital wards, running projects with partners such as the GLYOT 'Whatever' Project and offering training for professionals who work in mental health settings.

We also want people visiting the museum to find out about the work of these vital support organisations and to have an opportunity to have conversations with people who use these services.

So on a busy Thursday in October half term, we worked with Lewish Mental Health Connection to run an event that approached the idea of how culture and creativity can help improve mental wellbeing.

Exploring objects as part of our Wellbeing event.

It was brilliant day with over 600 people taking part. In Gallery Square LMHC had an information stall and a Time to Change Champion was there to have conversations with visitors about mental health.

Arts Network ran a ‘wellbeing’ trail around the museum. They asked people to find ‘wellbeing checkpoints’ in the museum and do an activity there that could help them reach their ‘5 ways to wellbeing’.

These included ‘Take Notice’ – where people had to explore a museum object and find out more and ‘Give’ – where visitors pledged to do something to help another person or improve their wellbeing.

A snap of our sand mandala workshop.

Quo Vadis Trust ran a sand mandala making workshop where visitors created a mandala together then swept it away.

Some pledges from our tree.

Each participant left with a small amount of sand in these beautiful envelopes hand drawn by Sarah from QVT.

An envelope featuring a mandala.

Equinox Care ran a workshop for families about playing games together – or as described by one of the children who took part:

“we played a fun game, we split into groups and made a moving vehicle and we made up stories – it was so fun”.

To finish the day Hexagon Housing Association ran a wonderfully calm Mindfulness Session in the Hands on Base. We spent time holding museum objects, relaxing and noticing the sensations that happen as you connect with an object in your hands.


Project Coral at Charterhouse Aquatics

On Saturday 14 November, Charterhouse Aquatics hosted a fundraising event at their showroom in Haggerston to raise awareness and support for the ground-breaking Project Coral.

A couple of years ago, the Horniman Aquarium became the first institution globally to purposefully reproduce broadcast coral in captivity. This significant achievement led to Project Coral, an innovative coral sexual reproductive research project, run by the Horniman Aquarium with international partners.

The current phase of the project is mirroring in the Horniman laboratory the conditions of the wild reefs, to predictably spawn broadcast coral. We do this using microprocessor technologies to explore the influences of the lunar cycle, diurnal changes, seasonal temperature changes, solar irradiation patterns and nutritional input on gamete (egg and sperm) production and release.

In time, the aim is to push the laboratory reef into a future environmental state. This will allow the team to investigate the effects of climate change on coral reproduction before it happens in the wild; and to understand what is needed to preserve this vital element of the world’s ecology and economy.

The Charterhouse Aquatics event was a great success in generating public awareness for Project Coral and raising vital funds. Customers, hobbyists and the general public met with Jamie and there were three fascinating presentations throughout the day and evening, a DJ spinning tunes, a raffle and a chance to see a stunning Project Coral tank display now on show at Charterhouse Aquatics.


Collected and Possessed, a new exhibition

Last night the Horniman was a hive of activity as we held the private view of our beautiful new exhibition with artist Mark Fairnington, 'Collected and Possessed'.

It was a great chance for art lovers, funders and Benefactors of the Horniman to get up close to the vast canvases that Mark has produced.

The exhibition is a wonderful collaboration between an artist and a museum, and Mark has managed to bring objects from our stores, many of which are rarely seen even by our behind-the-scenes staff, and present them in breath-taking detail.

One of my favourite pieces is Prodigy, which is displayed opposite two life-size paintings of imposing bulls. Unlike the bovine counterparts, Prodigy is an intimate snapshot of an eye, rendered in hyper-realism, with very fine detail that highlights each individual hair.

My favourite piece, Prodigy

The painting is so detailed even the eye reflects a figure back at the viewer, encouraging you to evaluate and reconsider the idea of looking at an object, and it looking back.

This exhibition is also a first for the Horniman, as it was a generously crowd funded by our fans with the support of the Art Fund. The exhibition opens November 28th until January 24th, so be sure not to miss it, whether you love art, the Horniman, or both, this exhibition is a must see.

To help support our future exhibitions, why not become a member or donate to the Horniman, information here

West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song

The British Library has put together a new exhibition on the power of the word – written, spoken and sung – in West Africa, and the Horniman has contributed by lending items from both the Anthropology and Musical Instruments collections.

The exhibition opened to coincide with Black History month earlier this year, and is exploring a range of fascinating stories from the region’s 17 nations. Focusing on West African history, life and culture over the last three centuries, it covers from the great African empires of the Middle Ages to the cultural dynamism of West Africa today.


Using a range of collections they have looked at text, story and writing and how words can be used to build and change societies, to challenge and resist, and sustain life and dignity. The exhibition highlights the rich manuscript heritage of West Africa and the coming of printing, as well as oral genres, past and modern.

The Horniman has loaned a talking drum and lamellaphone from our Musical Instruments collection and a Bwa plank mask, Gelede mask and divination board from our Anthropology collection to help bring the printed and written works to life.

West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song is on at the British Library until Tue 16 Feb 2016

Peoplescape Theatre at the Horniman Museum and Gardens

This week at the Horniman we saw the final performance of Tom’s Ship of Stories by Peoplescape Theatre. This interactive theatre show is the culmination of a project which has been running for over a year. 

Peoplescape Theatre, in conjunction with the Horniman, Cutty Sark and National Maritime Museum have worked with SEN Primary Schools local to each museum to create a story inspired by their collections. 

Outreach workshops in Brent Knoll, Willowdene & Stephen Hawkins schools, gave pupils the opportunity to create the story, decide on the characters and develop the plot.  Peoplescape then helped develop this into an interactive performance. 

There were opportunities for all to take part; scrubbing the decks and singing shanties, helping Tom overcome some troubles on his travels and multi-sensory experiences for the audience to enjoy; such as smelling tea leaves and feeling cherry blossom petals fall from the sky!

Local SEN Primary Schools had the opportunity to come and enjoy one of 5 free performances at the Horniman. The legacy of this partnership will be the creation of a new facilitated schools session for SEN schools.

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