[Skip to content] [Skip to main navigation] [Skip to user navigation] [Skip to global search] [Accessibility information] [Contact us]

Previous Next
of 360 items

Crocodile Conservation

Charlotte, our Conservation Officer, tells us about her work on a crocodile skull in preparation for its installation in Dinosaurs: Monster Families.

The skull and jaw (lower mandible) were incredibly dirty and were covered in an extremely thick layer of soot and dust. I removed the loose dust with a museum vacuum and soft brush and then gave the bones a further clean with alcohol on cotton wool swabs to remove the thicker layer of dirt.


Charlotte's cleaning a very dirty #crocodile #skull #conservator #conservation #dirt #museum #naturalhistory #london #swabswabswab #teeth

A video posted by Horniman Museum and Gardens (@hornimanmuseumgardens) on

You can see from the photos that the recesses in the skull that the teeth sit in are generally wider and deeper than the actual teeth causing the teeth to be loose in the skull. Originally, the teeth would have been held in place by periodontal ligaments but this tissue was removed during its preparation as a skeletal specimen.

Our curator wanted the skull to be displayed in a “life-like” open jaw pose and that meant I would need to secure the teeth back into the skull to prevent them from falling out.

To do this I used Japanese tissue paper which is a type of tissue made from the inner bark of the paper mulberry tree. Conservators use this tissue for all sorts of repairs and fills. In this case I created twists of tissue which I inserted between the teeth and bone. This filled the “void” space and created a contact area between the teeth and bone.

I soaked the tissue with a solvent based adhesive and once the adhesive dried the teeth were firmly secured in place.

The adhesive I used is reversible and that means that I can reactivate the adhesive and easily remove the Japanese tissue if a curator wants to analyse individual teeth in the future.

Now the skull and jaw can be displayed the correct way up without the loss of any teeth.

You can see our cleaned crocodile alongside dinosaur remains, eggs  and more in our new exhibition Dinosaurs: Monster Families that opens Saturday 13 February.

Jamrach's Legacy

Elle Larsson, curator and researcher of 'London's Urban Jungle' tells us her closing thoughts on the display and the exotic animal trade.


I wanted to create London's Urban Jungle to answer a question I think few of us actually think about – just why did zoological and natural history collections begin and grow so rapidly, and what facilitated that growth, particularly during the 19th century?

Also, and perhaps this is a more subtle message in the exhibition itself, I wanted to draw attention to the legacy of the animal trade and the fact that it still continues.

During the nineteenth century the exotic animal trade was closely associated with imperial and economic expansion. It was a branch of informal empire which helped project an image of imperial supremacy and individual wealth and led to the creation of the majority of collections we are familiar with today.

Since the turn of the 20th century, regulations have been introduced which aim to prevent and have largely made illegal a lot of the animal trade, however it does still go on around the world.

This is what I would most like people to take away - that actually this type of trading hasn’t entirely disappeared and that it remains detrimental to animal welfare.

Knowing the history behind such collections and being open about how and where they originated is one thing that we can do. Another is to continue working towards protecting the world’s wildlife in a way that animal dealers like Jamrach failed to do.

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

You can find out more about the exotic animal trade and its legacy in our new Collections Story.

Horniman Dinosaurs

With our new exhibition Dinosaurs: Monster Families opening in a few weeks, we're taking a look at the dinosaurs already on display here.
What actually is a dinosaur?

We all probably have a pretty good image of what a dinosaur should be: big, scales, teeth, tendency to not adhere to theme park regulations.

Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Dinosaurs could be small, much smaller than a human, through to the titan sauropods that are measured in buses. Also, some dinosaurs had feathers and beaks.

In general, a dinosaur lives during the Mesozoic era (started about 250 million years ago) and they must have either lizard or bird like hips and live on land.

That means creatures like Pteordactyl, although from a similar time are actually pterosaurs, not technically a dinosaur.

Also, it is a misconception that dinosaurs are the 'terrible lizards' that their name means. Our new exhibition shows a new side to their family lives, how they hatched their eggs and raised their young. You still wouldn't cross a Tarbosaurus though...

The exhibition will welcome a whole host of new dinosaurs to the Horniman, so we had a look at the dinosaur models in our Natural History Gallery.


A family favourite, this herbivore lived about 150 million years ago in the Jurassic period. The spikey tail could have been used as a defense against attacking carnivores, and the spines along the back may have acted as defensive armour, or helped a stegasaurus manage it's body temperature.

Despite looking pretty formidable, stegasurus had a very small brain to body ratio meaning whilst it may have been good in a fight, it probably couldn't complete a sudoku.


Another defense heavy dino, but is far more recent than stegosaurus, being about 75 million years old. Scolosaurus remains are found across North America where it would have frolicked in a lush environment, with soil kept fertile by occasional vocanic activity.


A Cretaceous dinosaur, triceratops lived about 68 million years ago. Triceratops has a distinctive neck frill and three horns making it quite a recognizable specimen. These may have been used as defences but the discovery of blood vessels in the frill suggest they may have been able to flush them with blood and make vivid courtship displays.


Scelidosaurus is one of the earliest complete dinosaur finds, and fossils have been found in the UK down in Dorset. Perhaps our small model doesn't do this dinosaur justice, they would have grown to about 4 metres long with a series of plate like armour running along it's body.

This is just a brief glimpse at the dinosaurs in our collection. Dinosaurs: Monster Families runs from 13 February until 30 October 2016 with a new family of dinosaurs for you to meet, as well as a discovery pit and the chance to touch a real dinosaur leg bone.

Tickets are on sale online now, with members enjoying free and unlimited visits to the exhibition.

What we did on our holidays…Helping Heritage Survive

Helen Merrett, our Collections Officer, writes about our work on a Regional Restoration Camp in Kosovo.

For a second year, myself and Alex took a few weeks away from the Horniman to volunteer with Heritage Without Borders (HwB) working in partnership with Cultural Heritage Without Borders (CHwB), on one of their award winning Regional Restoration Camps.

HwB is a charity organisation based at UCL and CHwB is an independent non-governmental organisation. Both are dedicated to rescuing and preserving cultural heritage affected by conflict, neglect or human and natural disaster.

For the last three-years CHwB have run a Regional Restoration Camp in Mitrovica, a town in Kosovo divided by the Ibar River. It is still an area of recent contention and the camps aim to bring communities together, as well as preserving cultural heritage.

Alex demonstrating using a microscope to investigate damage and how best to treat an object

Based in the Museum of the City of Mitrovica, the camp provides lectures on the theory of preventative conservation, collections management, remedial conservation and interpretation, as well as a lot of hands on practical work - including working with the museum’s own collections. The participants ranged from university students to local museum professionals and international heritage workers, largely from the Balkan region.

Two participants cleaning a leather miner’s bag from the museum’s collection

Alex was our fantastic Team Leader and made sure there was a brilliant range of content for the course, and also had to organise sourcing local supplies to make sure that there was real value in what we were demonstrating. The course is very practical, with sessions on marking artefacts, basic conservation cleaning and repairs, sewing covers for costumes, packing artefacts for storage and transport, and the ever popular egg packing challenge! In the mornings we would start with lectures to inform on all these subjects, and Alex led a number of sessions on ethics in conservation, pest monitoring, object drawing and material experimentation where the students got to try out a selection of conservation tools on some sacrificial materials which had had a few 'little accidents'.

Alex showing participants how to make Paraloid for marking objects

My role was focused on the importance of documenting collections – to truly understand what you have, how best to work with it and preserve it for future generations. I also discussed the ethical side of collecting, documenting and storing collections, taking in to consideration legal and sector guidelines, but also a variety of cultural factors. Along with this I was able to teach and assist with a variety of packing and handling techniques, practical documentation tasks and preventative conservation.

Creating London's Urban Jungle

Curator and researcher for London's Urban Jungle, Elle Larson, tells about her experience creating the display.


I’ve always been inquisitive about nature and researching the history of the exotic animal trade has allowed me to understand more about the history behind zoological institutions and museums, as well as our changing relationships with nature and the legacies of Empire.

It was really a chance discovery, but it has completely changed the focus of my work as a historian. I have been visiting archives ever since to try and complete the difficult task of piecing together Jamrach’s extraordinary life and his own involvement in the Victorian exotic animal trade.

At first, I started with a sweep of newspaper articles, primarily via The Times Digital Archive, to get more of an idea about what Jamrach did and how far reaching his reputation was. It soon became clear that he was somewhat of a household name and a well-known figure in animal trading networks. So the next step was to review the online archive catalogues of institutions that I thought might have traded with Jamrach.

The Times Digital Archive

I began with the Natural History Museum, South Kensington and the Zoological Society of London, later expanding this search to the Horniman Museum and Gardens, Bristol Zoological Gardens and Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archive. This is only the tip of the iceberg, but my research is an ongoing process – so watch this space.

Unfortunately from what I can tell, no purchase ledgers or other business records for Jamrach’s have survived, so I spent time visiting archives for small traces of Charles and his business dealings, mainly piecing together information based on inward bound correspondence from Jamrach to these particular institutions.

Preparing the case for London's Urban Jungle

I also began combing through digital archives such as those on Ancestry.Com and the British Newspaper Archive online which revealed more personal details about Jamrach and his family. For example, one report recalls how Jamrach’s wife disliked him keeping snakes under the bed, even in winter. Another recalls a law case brought against Jamrach for breaching his contract in regard to selling a Portuguese dealer a crocodile.

Looked at together, these sources all began to bring Charles to life and gave me insight into him as a person as well as a businessman, which hopefully London’s Urban Jungle is now able to share with you.

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.

Previous Next
of 360 items