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Horniman and Charles Townsend

As part of Open House London this year we are looking at some fellow institutions: The Bishop's Gate Institute and The Whitechapel Gallery as we all share a common 'ancestor', the famous architect Charles Townsend.

The original Horniman Museum Buildings designed by Charles Townsend 

Townsend was active throughout the 19th and early 20th century with a unique style combining Art Nouveau and the Gothic revival styles which were very popular at the time. Although Townsend was more familar with smaller scale builds, he completed three larger comissions: The Bishopsgate Institute (1892-94), The Whitechapel Gallery (1895-99) and finally our very own Horniman Museum completed in 1911.

The Bishopsgate Institute also by Townsend, credit: www.londonarchitectureguide.com

The Horniman Museum building was especially striking for its time, The Studio magazine in 1902 commented that it featured: "a new series of frank and fearless thought expressed and co-ordinated in stone".

Although it was a cutting edge design, Townsend still featured some traiditonal motifs, such as a classical(ish) mural by Robert Bell and the Tree of Life, a popular feature of Townsend's work

The Tree of Life motif 

The Tree of Life and similar swirling floral motifs were very popular at the time with artists such as William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. The tree may link to Christian stories, such as the Garden of Eden or the garden of Gethsemane, but being an archaeologist I'm more a fan of the tree linking to 'Yggdrasil' a tree from Viking mythology.

This tree represents the cycle of life and death, as it provides the fruit the Norse gods eat to remain immortal, but its destruction marks the end of the world. This symbol is very old and can, debatably, be dated back to even before Nordic culture.

Although we don't have any trees that old, we have some beautiful oak trees which are hundreds of years old, as well as the trees on our building. 

Our focus on Townsend's masterpieces is part of Open House London's event this Sunday 20th September, please feel to come along explore our buildings, gardens and collections. Why not see if you can find these two impressive trees in the gardens? 

A Tale of Tea Packaging

Tea Trail London is the newest page in the Horniman's tea story. Tea has been an integral part of our collections and museum, dating right back to the 19th century when Frederick Horniman's tea trade was at its height.

Frederick Horniman left his mark on the tea trade by using mechanical devices to speed the process of filling pre-sealed packages, rather than selling tea loose.

This greatly reduced the cost of production and maintained a higher quality of tea. Unsurprisingly, some of Horniman’s competitors were a little disgruntled, but by 1891 Horniman's was the largest tea trading business in the world.

The Horniman tea packaging is still very iconic, featuring the coiling dragon like in the example above. One of the great things about working on Tea Trail London was the chance to explore other collections, and we found Horniman tea in other institutions.

This tea advert is from the Museum of Brands and is a packet we hadn’t seen before, here at the Horniman. Interestingly, red seems to be the colour of choice for tea packaging, like this Typhoo example, also from the Museum of Brands and this Horniman packet in our collection:

Tea Trail London is viewable online, you can check out some of our tea collections as well as archives, objects and stories from other collections, from afternoon tea to tea packets, it’s all there!

Be sure to tweet, instagram or facebook us using #TeaTrailLondon and let us know your thoughts, or if you have any tea stories to share.


Spilling the Tea

The Horniman's Digital Team have been working with partners across Europe to develop an exciting new web-app Tea Trail London.

If you follow us on social media, you may have seen our announcement of Tea Trail London, a new web-app that explores tea drinking and history in London through 3 different trails.

On the web-app - which can be viewed on a desktop, tablet or mobile phone - you can follow each trail, illustrated with objects from our the collections here at the Horniman and discover famous and secret London sites for a fun, tea-themed day out.


Three Themed Trails

The trails are thematically arranged and feature a mix of museums, shops, heritage sites and the best places to have afternoon tea.

Our three trails are: Tea Through Time, World Tea Tastes and Taking Afternoon Tea .

Tea Trail London is our contribution to Europeana Food and Drink, which aims to co-develop digital cultural resources with an eye to creative and business development across Europe through the theme of food and drink. Based on Frederick Horniman's tea legacy we decided to pick tea as our theme.

Working with Semantika, a Slovenian company who are one of the leading Museum Applications providers in Central Europe, we decided to create a web-app that would be versatile for a wide range of users such as families, Londoners, national and international tourists.

The history and world of tea is vast! So we began by identifying three potential themes, had a hot cuppa then went out into London to find the less well-known tea story.

Tea in London

We partnered with some of our favourite London-based museums: The Geffrye, Museum of Brands, The Museum of London and National Portrait Gallery finding exciting archive images of tea drinking, portraits of famous tea folk and beautiful tea sets.

Heritage sites such as The Cutty Sark and 6 Belgrave Square tell the fantastic story of tea's arrival in London and the invention of afternoon tea.

With so many great tea-stories emerging we approached some of London's most famous afternoon venues including Brown’s Hoteland The Berkeley who serve world famous teas. Brown's HOtel is London's oldest hotel and their afternoon tea was graced by Agatha Christie and allegedly Queen Victoria, whereas The Berkeley’s fashion inspired tea is a modern re-imagining of traditional tea.

And we thought it was only fair if we gave you a few tea shops so you could enjoy tea at home. Yumchaa, Fortnum and Mason and Kusmi Teas (as well as others) all offer a broad range of teas from around the world.

We visited a lot of sites, venues, archives and collections to develop these trails to have unique and original content. Be sure to take a look!


Farewell to African Summer

Our African Summer season of events came to an end this weekend with Africarnival.

Over the summer, we've had 4 jazz picnics, around 50 groups from all around Africa performing, nearly 700 people attending Africa Late, and 73 people talking part in Africarnival's parade.

Here are a selection of tweets and photos from our visitors showing how much they enjoyed our events.

The Horniman in other museums

All this week, we've been taking part in #MuseumInstaSwap - swapping our instagram with Royal Museums Greenwich.

It got us thinking, what of the Horniman can you find in other London museums? We did some searching, and here's what we found.

This great poster for the Horniman dates from 1938, and is one of four in the London Transport Museum's collections

In the Imperial War Museum, we found two photographs of Jack Gold's Variety Orchestra playing music on our bandstand during World War 2.

The British Museum holds many objects from Mexico, which were previously displayed at the Horniman in 1977 as part of an exhibition of popular arts of Mexico. Here is one, a servilleta, and the poster of our exhibition.

The Museum of London holds this impressive group of stone statues. It was manufactured by Eleanor Coade, stood above the entrance to the Pelican Life Insurance Office on Lombard Street - and was, for a time, displayed in our Gardens.

Finally, in the V&A Museum's collections, there are many wallpaper samples donated by Frederick Horniman's son Emslie - like these two by Walter Crane, Seed and Flower and Peacock.

Africarnival: last chance to Experience African Summer.

This Sunday we are hosting our exhilarating Africarnival which marks the end of our African Summer.

Performers at our African Dance event earlier in the summer

Our season so far has featured artists, musicians, dancers and objects from across Africa and its diaspora. On Sunday, our Africarnival will be a colourful celebration with circus performers, workshops, dancing and an exuberant carnival parade.

The carnival parade features Mandinga Arts who have been working with a number of community partners and artists to create extraordinary costumes, masks and puppets inspired by the African collections, here at the Horniman.

Yabba Funk, who will be performing at Africarnival

Led by British and Colombian artists Charles Beauchamp and Julieta Rubio, Mandinga Arts creates extraordinary outdoor performance costumes, floats and processions drawing on European, Latin American and African traditions.

The parade on Sunday has come about through collaborations with six community groups. Mandinga Arts selected six artists who worked alongside the company’s Artistic Directors to collaboratively realise and create a large-scale articulated puppet drawing inspiration from the Horniman Museum.

Some of the communtiy-made masks

We are sad to see the end of African Summer, but excited for Africarnival so come along on Sunday 30 August 12pm – 6pm.

Give a Dog a Bone

As we continue to improve the storage of our natural history collections, we have been able to reunite yet another specimen with its missing elements. Today we are working on a dog skeleton.

A perfect fit! This portion of cranium and mandible belong together.

In this case we were able to unite this skeleton with its cranium.

Working through the disarticulated skeleton.

Volunter Lizzy lining up the dog's vertebrae.

All together, the specimen is now housed together in one box.

Knowing the specimen’s journey to the Horniman Museum was via Kings’ and Chelsea College, curator Paolo and volunteer Lizzy were able to reunite this dog with its cranium. Excellent detective work!

This dog is one of many happily reunited specimens. We previously featured a porpoise whose flipper was reunited on our in-the-horniman tumblr page. Be sure to follow the tumblr blog to find out more about our activities behind the scenes.


This week, on Instagram, we're taking part in #MuseumInstaSwap.

#MuseumInstaSwap is an Instagram project, championed by the Wellcome Collection, where Londonist's Best Museums To Follow on Instagram are paired together to celebrate each other's collections and spaces.

Every day this week, each of the museums in the pair will post photos from the other's venue showing what they find interesting and resonated with their own collections and themes.

We've been paired up with our South London neighbours Royal Museums Greenwich, who are the National Maritime Museum, the Queen's House, Cutty Sark and Royal Observatory.


So follow #MuseumInstaSwap on Instagram to discover what these museums found in each other's collections. We’ll be talking about the project on twitter too.


Glorious Gardens on the Small Screen

Have you seen our glorious Gardens on TV recently? If you've been watching closely, you'll have seen them appear on several TV shows.

Firstly, we were a romantic location to introduce a couple on BBC One's Don't Tell The Bride. Sadly, we weren't the venue for their actual wedding - although we do love a wedding here!

Later, we were featured on The Autistic Gardener on Channel 4. Our Gardens were part of the visual, aural and sensory inspiration for the family involved in the show's garden makeover.

A few days later, we were on Channel 4 again - this time in the final episode of drama Humans. Our Bandstand was the location for a dramatic meeting between the humans and the Synths.

And finally, just last night, we were seen in More4's Selling Homes with Amanda Lamb. Our Bandstand Terrace was the perfect place for a chat and coffee between Amanda and the show's house buyer.


Filming here is a great way to show more people our wonderful Museum and Gardens, and proceeds from filming greatly support the Horniman's extensive learning programme and maintenance of the Museum and Gardens.

Exploring our Egyptian objects

Here at the Horniman, we host a collection of Ancient Egypt objects most probably excavated by Flinders Petrie, an eminent archaeologist who Emslie Horniman acquired the objects from.

A mummy case from our collection with the protective Eye of Horus at the top

Flinders Petrie was famous, well in archaeology circles, and a bit of an eccentric, having slept in a tomb during a dig and wearing pink pyjamas to startle people away from disturbing him whilst working. His meticulous attention to detail earned him a place in the academia hall of fame.

William Matthew Flinders Petrie, UCL

Whilst still a teenager he surveyed Stonehenge, noting that he measured the stones to within 1/10th of an inch. He then applied this same forensic mind to Egypt, creating ‘Sequence Dating’, a theory that categorised Ancient Egyptian pottery into types and from these types into a chronological sequence.

 Egyptian Naqada ware that Flinders Petrie Sorted

Our Egyptian material is really beautiful, and many of the pieces are on display in our African Worlds Gallery. One of my favourites is currently not on display but is this fragmentary mummy mask:

 The moulded face is made of cartonnage, a sort of ancient papier mâché that could be shaped to make fine features of a head including, ears, eyes and lips. The mask dates from the Ptolemaic era (silent P, like Pterodactyl). The Ptolemies were a Macedonian family instated in Egypt by Alexander the Great (small chap who built a huge empire).

The Ptolemaic era is a fascinating period for Egypt, Africa and the Mediterranean. North African objects start to adopt Grecian styles and vice versa, as the movement of people around Greece, Italy, North Africa and the Levant led to a movement of ideas, art and culture.

Our African Worlds Gallery is open every day from 10:30am, and don't forget to experience African Summer at our events running until Sunday 30 August.

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