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Exploring (Ancient) Egypt

Lucy Maycock, Schools Learning Officer tells us how exploring archaeological sites led to the reimagining of the Ancient Egypt workshop.

Over summer, I had the fantastic opportunity to travel to Egypt and spent a fortnight exploring both famous and lesser-known archaeological sites. Like many, I have always been fascinated by the Ancient Egyptians and was completely astonished by the wealth of ancient temples, tombs, and complexes open to tourists.

As a Schools Learning Officer, I spend most of my time using our Handling Collection to teach visiting school groups about a wide range of topics. One of our most popular workshops is ‘Ancient Egypt’, in which pupils handle real Ancient Egyptian objects. Despite its popularity, the session had remained largely unchanged for many years so, inspired by my visit, we decided it was time for a revamp.

Egyptologist Samir Abbass, my tour guide and owner of Real Egypt, kindly examined photographs of our handling objects and was able to provide us with more information about them: giving us a better idea of the people who may have used them; clarifying how they were used; and was even able to translate hieroglyphics for us.

With this in-depth knowledge, we were able to create a schools session that gives pupils the chance to actively examine objects, working in teams to solve questions about the former use and meaning of one or two artefacts. The teams then join together and have the opportunity to share their conclusions, using their objects and findings to safely send someone to the Afterlife.

It’s lovely to see the enthusiasm that the new session inspires in pupils. Objects are now hidden in boxes which the children unpack, creating a real sense of curiosity and awe. It brings a new found focus that was sometimes missing from the old version of the workshop.

We’ve had brilliant feedback from teachers and pupils about the new format. One teacher commented that "the session is so much more exciting for the children, it’s really involved and it helps them to make sense of the objects." We love teaching it too, and hope to inspire some archaeologists of the future!

We’re now looking at some of our other long-standing, popular sessions and thinking about how we can encourage pupils to investigate and explore objects in a similarly active and thoughtful way. Watch this space!

Make and Take Puppet workshops reimagined

Shayna, Schools Learning Officer tells us how she put a fresh approach on the Horniman’s Make and Take a Puppet workshop.

The workshop

My name is Shayna and I’m one of the Schools Learning Officers here at the Horniman. Some 31,000 school pupils take part in taught workshops at the Museum and Gardens each year. The Make and Take a Puppet workshop is a favourite with Key Stage 1 in the colder months.

We start by looking at and trying out some of the Horniman's Sanchar rod puppets from India. Pupils are challenged to guess the secret ingredient in the papier-mâché heads – fenugreek (a curry spice). Their answers range from cinnamon to bacon crisps! Next, I tell the Indian story of Rupa the Elephant by Mickey Patel, with its morals of self-acceptance, diversity and kindness. I encourage pupils to remember these values during the craft activity – making rod puppets to take away.

  • Indian Sanchar rod puppet, Indian Sanchar rod puppet
    Indian Sanchar rod puppet

The revamp

Although the workshop was popular with schools, the team felt it was a little prescriptive and relied too heavily on unsustainable materials. So I set about a revamp. First, I found sustainable alternatives for the materials without increasing the cost – scrunched up newspaper instead of polystyrene balls for the heads; masking tape instead of sticky tape; cotton instead of synthetic felt. The sequins had to go too.

Fabric was the trickiest to source but eventually, we managed to secure a supply of used white cotton napkins (washed, of course) from textile recycling firm LMB. To jazz these up I introduced Indian block printing, which teaches pupils a new skill and links to the Indian heritage of the rod puppets at the start of the workshop.

  • Key stage 1 using stamps, Key Stage 1 using stamps
    Key Stage 1 using stamps

To make the workshop less repetitive, pupils are now given a choice between four different animal faces and feet for their puppets – tiger, leopard, elephant or peacock. To add some differentiation, the feet can be cut out in two different ways to cater for different levels of dexterity.

  • Child making paper rod puppet, Child making paper rod puppet
    Child making paper rod puppet

I wanted to add one premium item to enable pupils to personalise their puppets. I knew I’d found it when I came across some beautiful animal-print Washi tape. It’s great to see how creative the children are with just a small piece of this – fashioning it into a collar or even a bandana or bow.

As a final flourish and a nod to the fenugreek earlier, I spray some mixed spice scent onto each puppet. This fills the room with the smell of gingerbread, which is a lovely way to end the session.

  • Animal-print Washi tape, Animal-print Washi tape
    Animal-print Washi tape

The response

The revamped workshop has been well received by pupils, teachers and parents. One teacher mentioned that our shift to sustainable materials tied in with their focus on sustainability in Science. Another teacher, who had done this workshop before, remarked that the block printing has added more skill and creativity to the session. The real seal of approval for me was overhearing a pupil saying, “I can’t wait to play with it!”

Reef Encounters: Craig Humphrey

Craig Humphrey, Manager of the National Sea Simulator at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) tells us about the aims of the Reef Restoration and Adaptation program and his hopes for the future of The Great Barrier Reef.

What is your typical day?

I have one of the best jobs in the world. The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) headquarters’ is in Townsville, North Queensland right next to the Great Barrier Reef. I get to dive this incredible icon, participate in amazing research helping to ensure the health of tropical marine ecosystems, and manage the most sophisticated marine experimental aquarium facility in the world – the National Sea Simulator (SeaSim). All this as well as meeting dedicated, committed and brilliant people who are passionate about protecting marine environments around the world.

My typical day can be quite diverse and will generally involve many very different tasks. These might range from diving on the Great Barrier Reef (unfortunately far too infrequently nowadays) to sitting at my desk responding to email, working on budgets and making sure that the facility keeps running.

  • Craig Humphrey image, Craig Humphrey, Christian Miller
    Craig Humphrey, Christian Miller

Time spent in the field is mostly on-board AIMS’ 24m research vessel, the RV Cape Ferguson. I’ll spend up to a week at sea diving and snorkelling to collect reef organisms for experiments back in the SeaSim. Recently we collected a range of coral species for the annual coral spawning which will support vital research at AIMS.

I’m extremely lucky that through my job I not only get to work alongside AIMS scientists, but I get to meet a wide range of different people from around the world, discussing their research, passions and commitment to protecting our oceans. AIMS and the SeaSim attracts people from all over the globe. Some of the many amazing people I’ve met over the past years have included indigenous students, school students, an Australian Prime Minister, international royalty and my boyhood idol Sir David Attenborough. These are just a few of the people I get to share my passion for coral reefs with.

When did you first know you wanted to work in this area, and how did you get into your work?

I grew up in a small country town in Southern Australia of around 200 people, more than 2000 km from the Great Barrier Reef, completely outnumbered by dairy cows and kangaroos. At 17, after high school, I was looking for a change of scenery and ended up at James Cook University, arguably one of the world’s leading universities for coral reef studies, where I fell in love with the reef.

What inspires you in your work?

  • Craig Humphrey image 2, Craig Humphrey and water tank, Christian Miller
    Craig Humphrey and water tank, Christian Miller

I’ve spent the greater part of my life living and working on the Great Barrier Reef and visiting reefs in other parts of the Pacific. I’m continually excited by the beauty, colour and diversity of the numerous animals and plants that make up coral reefs. I’m inspired by the idea that the work I’m involved in is helping to protect these ecosystems so that my children and future generations may get the chance to see the beauty of these reefs and experience the joy that I have been so privileged to experience in my working life.

What would your take-home message for the future of reefs be?

There are many threats facing the world's reefs today, of which climate change is the most significant. If we don’t start acting to mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions now then the reefs that we know today will be irrevocably changed. There is still time but we need to act now.

What’s your favourite creature on the reef, and why?

  • Craig Humphrey image 5 - Hard Corals, Hard Coral, Craig Humphrey
    Hard Coral, Craig Humphrey

My favourite creature would be the hard corals which are the key reef-building organisms. This symbiosis between the coral host and microscopic algae continuously surprises me. In particular, their behaviour during the annual spawning event never ceases to amaze. How do these extremely simple organisms know how to synchronously release eggs and sperm at the same time across the whole breadth of the reef? Not only do they know what month and day, they also know what hour of the night. Each species of coral have a particular day and hour after the full moon in November to release eggs and sperm to ensure the survival of the next generation of corals.

What’s the oddest thing you’ve seen at sea?

  • Craig Humphrey image 3 - Sea Cucumber, Sea Cucumber, Craig Humphrey
    Sea Cucumber, Craig Humphrey

Early on in my career, I was swimming across the reef when I came across a sea cucumber standing straight up off the sand with what appeared to be smoke coming out of what might be considered its head. This was the first time I had come across the spawning behaviour of sea cucumbers.

What kit do you use?

  • Craig Humphrey image 4 - Underwater Camera, Craig Humphrey using an underwater camera
    Craig Humphrey using an underwater camera

Canon G16 in a Nauticam housing with two Sola 2500/1200 Light & Motion video lights. This provides a nice balance between functionality and compactness.

What’s the next big thing for your work?

AIMS is currently leading a consortium of organisations in developing a Reef Restoration and Adaptation program, in which SeaSim will play a significant role. This program aims to bring together leading experts from Australia and around the world to help preserve and restore the Great Barrier Reef. We’ll be continually looking at developing new systems and methods to assist in research around this theme. This may involve a significant increase in the capacity of the facility for which we’ve started the initial planning.

Who’s your ‘reef hero’ – someone doing great work or advocacy for the future of reefs?

I guess it’s a bit of a cliché but Sir David Attenborough was my initial ‘reef hero’. For a boy growing up in rural Australia, the wonder of the reef (and many other wonderful ecosystems) bought to vibrant life in my living room by Sir David provided the beginning of a lifelong passion for nature. Since I started work as a marine biologist I developed an immense respect for researchers from around the world who have dedicated their lives to studying coral reefs in order to help preserve them for future generations.

Our Youth Takeover Late

Was it a world of perfection, or a twisted reality? Did you join us for our Dystopian Paradise?

The Horniman Youth Panel took over the Museum recently, as part of Kids in Museums takeover day. 

The evening was organised by young people - our Horniman Youth Panel - for young people aged 14-19.

This year’s Youth Late featured DJs, live bands, a rap performance, several dance performances and a theatre production. In total almost fifty performers took part in the evening, all 14-19 years old.

The Horniman Youth Panel created experimental audio pieces for the Museum entrance, and which played alongside the Silent Disco in the Natural History Gallery. 

  • Musicians and performers at the Youth Late, Performer at the Youth Late
    Performer at the Youth Late

But what did the young people who came think of the takeover? 

All of the acts were so good, I want to perform next year.

The lights looked amazing!

I loved the silent disco, being among all the animals was strangely fun.

The dancers were my highlight, they were so professional.

  • Musicians and performers at the Youth Late, Musicians at the Youth Late
    Musicians at the Youth Late
 

Find out more about the Horniman Youth Panel.

Object in Focus: Arrow Vase

Edward Weech, Librarian at the Royal Asiatic Society tells us about the long running relationship between them and the Horniman. Recently they received the arrow vase as part of the Object in Focus loans programme.

The Royal Asiatic Society was founded in 1823 and exists to promote scholarly research and public interest in the histories and cultures of Asia. Over the years, it built up a collection of books, manuscripts, art works, photographs, and archives, mainly donated by its members, documenting a diverse array of Asian cultures and traditions. The Society’s collections testify to the many ways in which British people have engaged with and been inspired by Asian cultures over the last two hundred years. Our collections are available for anyone to use, and this year we launched a Digital Library, featuring some of our most important collections, which can be viewed online.  

  • Snakes and ladders, A design for the game of Snakes and Ladders, by Trivenkatacharya (ca. 1810). RAS 051.001
    A design for the game of Snakes and Ladders, by Trivenkatacharya (ca. 1810). RAS 051.001

The Society has had a number of homes around London during its lifetime, but these days its permanent home is in Euston, North London, a short walk away from the British Library. In its early years, the Society amassed a collection of museum objects, which it retained until 1869. These included coins, weapons, clothing, stuffed birds and animals, insects, and minerals and plants. The Society even had a mummy, which was eventually given to King’s College Museum. After that, and despite resolving not to accept any more “curiosities”, the Society continued to acquire obscure objects, including a human hand, three elephant’s tails, a piece of beef preserved in vegetable tar, and an enormous hairball.[1]

  • Mummy , The Egyptian mummy formerly belonging to the RAS, which was given to Kings College, London. RAS 032.002
    The Egyptian mummy formerly belonging to the RAS, which was given to Kings College, London. RAS 032.002

An article about the Society’s “Museum” was published in The Penny Magazine (21 August 1841). The article describes the museum collections, displayed across four or five rooms. The passage and hallway were full of stone inscriptions and “Oriental idol-figures”, with the staircase lined with all manner of weapons – spears, lances, bows, arrows, axes, rifles, pistols, and so on. The treasures displayed in the Society’s meeting room included precious manuscripts, as well as artworks, models of tools and machinery used in India,  bookcases, a celestial globe, and a “double sea-cocoa-nut”. By the standards of a modern museum, it would certainly seem like a confusing mixture.  

Indeed, the Society faced a problem familiar to curators everywhere: they didn’t have enough space to store their objects properly, let alone display them. The Society already had a history of lending to other institutions – some objects loaned to an exhibition at the Crystal Palace were destroyed in a fire in 1866 (more were lost in a fire at the India Museum in 1885). When the Society moved premises in 1869, most of its objects were transferred to the India Office, later going to the India Museum, South Kensington, and eventually to the Victoria and Albert Museum. In 1924, the V&A offered to purchase the jade cup of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, on loan from the Society, for £100, with the condition that other items on loan there were donated. However, the V&A didn’t want the Society’s entire museum collection, and unwanted objects were sold to other museums or auctioned off.

Some of these items were purchased in 1925 by the Horniman Museum and Gardens, including a Chinese manuscript which Dr Fiona Kerlogue, Former Deputy Keeper of Anthropology, contacted us about a few years ago, in the hope of learning more about its history. While we weren’t able to provide much new information, the renewed contact helped to inspire further collaborations between our two institutions.

The highlight of this has been two loans as part of the Arts Council England programme, Object in Focus. The first was the loan of a statue of the Daoist deity Zhenwu in late 2016, followed by the current loan of a Ming Dynasty Arrow Vase. This would have been used in the ancient Chinese game of touhu, in which the aim was for players to throw arrows into a wine vessel. Perhaps originating as a drinking game, it dates back at least to the Warring States period (5th-3rd century BC), when it was described in the Li Ji (Book of Rites). Its popularity endured for the next 2000 years, with a particular vogue in the early part of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644).

  • Arrow vase, General view of arrow vase , Horniman Museum and Gardens
    General view of arrow vase , Horniman Museum and Gardens

According to the Li Ji, the Arrow Vase would be filled with small beans, to help stop the wooden arrows from bouncing out. Mats were placed to indicate where the players should throw from, two and a half arrows’ length away from the vase. Players took it in turns to throw a set of arrows, and an elaborate system of counters was used to keep track of how many throws each player had made, and how many were successful. There were several rounds. At the end the “superintendent of archery” would tally up who was the winner. The contest was accompanied by a group of musicians playing a tune called “The Fox’s Head” on stringed instruments.

  • Arrow vase print, Arrow vase print from interpretation panel
    Arrow vase print from interpretation panel

By the 12th century the game had spread to Korea, where it is still played today, though with a rather less elaborate vase.

Although the Royal Asiatic Society has a long history of lending its treasures to other organisations, it very rarely borrows things to exhibit, and so the support of the Horniman has provided a very exciting opportunity to do something different. The Object in Focus programme also means rarely-seen objects are exposed to a new audience.

While the Horniman is much larger than the Royal Asiatic Society, there are parallels between our two institutions. We both have extensive collections about Asian history and cultures; both our histories testify to the ways British people have sought to learn about the wider world; and both of us, in our own ways, are slightly “quirky” places. The RAS is thrilled to be able to work with the Horniman to bring material culture to the attention of our audiences. Personally, having grown up in south-east London and having visited the Horniman many times as a child, it’s also a real pleasure to re-connect with a place that helped inspire my own interest in natural history and the rich variety of human culture. (Like many children, my favourite objects were two of the Horniman’s most famous: the museum’s walrus and its totem pole).

  • walrus, General view of walrus , Horniman Museum and Gardens
    General view of walrus , Horniman Museum and Gardens

The Arrow Vase is on display in the Society’s Reading Room until 2 April 2019, and it can be viewed during our Library opening hours (Tuesday and Friday 10am-5pm, and Thursday 2pm-5pm). It may also be viewed outside our opening hours, by appointment.

We were very grateful to Dr Rose Kerr (former Keeper of the East Asian Department at the Victoria and Albert Museum) for giving us a wonderful lecture about the history of the Arrow Vase game, which took place in the Society’s Lecture Theatre on Tuesday 18 September. The Society has an active lecture programme which may be of interest to those of you who attend the Horniman’s events; full details are available on our website.



[1] C.F. Beckingham, “A history of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1823-1973”, The Royal Asiatic Society, its history and treasures (Leiden: Brill, 1979), 45.

About the Art – Shauna Richardson

Crochetdermy® is a technique that you have created yourself. Can you tell us about the development process behind Crochetdermy® - how you came up with it and what it entails?

Crochetdermy® pieces are realistic life-size animals created using a freestyle crochet technique which I began to develop in 2007 when crochet was an endangered craft in this country. 

I came up with the name Crochetdermy® both to better describe what I do and as a way of holding people’s interest. Pre coming up with the name I found that people would drift off when I introduced myself as someone who crocheted animals.

Crochetdermy® is a combination of all sorts of things, I guess it’s a mash-up of me and my life.

There are childhood pastimes such as museum visits and making things, and the adult interest in art theory, particularly in what constitutes art and perhaps more interestingly, what does not. Constant throughout there is rebellion, humour and pure devilment.

I enjoy interventions and playing with preconceptions. The first piece of Crochetdermy® I created was a 7ft brown bear which I entered into the Burnham Market Flower and Produce show in the ‘One Crochet item’ category. The memory still makes me laugh.

What inspired you to create this exhibition?

This exhibition,EVOLUTION of The Artist and The Exhibited Works, was an opportunity to display not only a selection of Crochetdermy® pieces  which demonstrate surface skills, but also with the graphs and charts - a little of what makes me tick. If there was one piece in the Horniman collection that I could cite as a source of inspiration it would be the Mendelism mice.

The exhibition includes bears, lionesses, boars, and monkeys, what drew you to these animals?

The trophies form an intervention within the existing museum display, there is something intriguing about the juxtaposition. The baboon skin is a new piece created specifically for this exhibition. Although an empty skin, the baboon reveals something of the evolution of the works,  demonstrating technique and the creation process.

How long does a piece take to make? Do you use live examples or taxidermy to help you create your work (or both)?

I have made some very large pieces. The biggest - The Lionheart Project was made up of three 25ft lions, this took 18 months to create. More typically something like the baboon skin would take 6-8 weeks.

I use all sorts of sources for anatomy reference but by far the most referred to and most useful is my (live) Jack Russell - The Bean. 

Are there any other mediums that intrigue you? 

Everything intrigues me. I annoy friends, family, and not least myself with wanting to have a go at everything. One lifetime will certainly not be enough.

What impact have Natural History museums and galleries like the Horniman’s had on you and your work?

The impact that Natural History Museums have had on my work I think is plain to see. This side of my character is a bluff old traditionalist, revelling in historic hushed woody rooms full of glass cases. 

 

How do you hope people will react to your pieces? What would you like them to think about?

My job is to make and display the pieces, people will react individually and on their own terms. Within the show there is a comment upon the status of creativity within mainstream education, it is a small gesture but secretly I would be thrilled if this were to be noticed. 

What is next for you? Please let us know if you have any other shows or works coming up.

A large bear is about to be unveiled at the opening of a new MOXY hotel in Downtown New York. Also America bound is a metallic gold wolf skin which is to be exhibited in Excellence in Fibres! at the San Jose Museum until January 2019. Private commissions tend to keep me busy.

HLF Big Thank You

  • Sea Nettle Jelly, Ludo Des Cognets
    , Ludo Des Cognets

We are delighted to be taking part in the Heritage Lottery Fund’s ‘Big Thank You’. Between 3 and 9 December you can enjoy free entry to our popular Aquarium on presentation of a National Lottery ticket or Scratchcard.

Find out more about the ‘Big Thank You

The Horniman Aquarium is home to fifteen different aquatic environments ranging from the British pond to the Amazonian rainforest. You can get up close with amazing animals including jellyfish, clown fish and poisonous frogs. You can also learn about Project Coral, the Horniman’s pioneering research into induced coral spawning.

Find out more about the Aquarium

T&Cs

  • One National Lottery ticket provides free entry for one adult to the Aquarium.
  • All National Lottery games qualify for free entry, including tickets from any National Lottery draw based game or National Lottery Scratchcard. Proof of ticket can be paper or digital.
  • Only one redemption per ticket is permitted.
  • The offer is valid Monday 3 – Sunday 9 December 2018 only, during usual Aquarium opening hours: 10.30am – 5.30pm (last entry 5pm)
  • A maximum of 20 free entries will be available each day.
  • National Lottery tickets must be presented at the Ticket Desk to be granted a complimentary ticket to the Aquarium.
  • Cannot be used in conjunction with Horniman Membership or any other offer including joint tickets with the Butterfly House.

The Horniman during the Second World War

Anthropology Volunteer, Lynne Darwood, has been looking into our archives and others for information about the Horniman during World War II.

The declaration of war took place on 3 September 1939, but preparations for conflict with Germany started before this.

The Times newspaper ran an article on the 25 August 1939 under the heading ‘Precautions in Crisis.’ This article set out rules for the screening of lights, darkening of windows and the meaning of various air raid warnings signals. The piece advised that several London museums had been closed to enable the package and removal for safeguarding of works considered to be national treasures.

  • Bomb damage to Lewisham, Lewisham Road showing damage from Flying Bombs, Imperial War Museum © IWM (CH 15109)
    Lewisham Road showing damage from Flying Bombs, Imperial War Museum © IWM (CH 15109)

The Horniman was closed on the outbreak of the war and the South London Advertiser of 19 January 1940 informed its readers that “several valuable museum pieces” from the Horniman had been “removed into safety areas several months ago”.  However, the expected aerial bombardment of London did not occur and when the Victoria and Albert Museum re-opened on 11 January 1940, there was a call for other museums to follow suit.

The Horniman re-opened on 4 March 1940 with two sections of the Museum being ‘available for inspection between 10am and 6pm each day’ except Sunday. The building was restructured to house an air-raid shelter within the Museum, with space for 100 people and visitors were limited to this number.

The Horniman continued to run during the war, acquiring new items (which were mostly gifts), such as a large collection of sea shells, made by Sir William Hamer, and a Corbeille de Mariage, which is a type of wedding basket. 

During this time, the Horniman was used for patriotic exhibitions such as ‘Russia Today‘ in December 1942, and a ‘United States Exhibition’ in August 1943, which featured photographs of American industries and buildings, including the huge circular granaries built for the storage of wartime harvests, as well as native costumes and maps of the States. The latter exhibition drew many visitors, including large numbers of American servicemen.

Fundraisers were held, including an art exhibition in conjunction with the Royal Air Force ‘Wings for victory week’ in March 1943, which included an auction of art works by local Civil Defence artists in what was the Lecture Theatre, which is now The Studio.

The Gardens were also called into service as the site of a barrage balloon and spotlight. The balloon was tethered to the ground by metal cables and was intended to keep enemy planes from flying too low on bombing raids. A local resident, recorded in the Forest Hill School Oral History Project No. 2, ‘South East London in the Second World War’ describes the balloons as being like ‘great big elephants’.

  • RAF Barrage Balloons with WAAF Operating Crews CC.0 via Wiki Commons, RAF Barrage Balloons with WAAF Operating Crews, CC.0 via Wiki Commons
    RAF Barrage Balloons with WAAF Operating Crews, CC.0 via Wiki Commons

The South London newspapers reported flying bombs raids from June 1944 onwards.

These bombs had a limited range, so they had to be fired from the French and Dutch coasts. The bases were gradually overrun by the Allies following the D Day landings and the last attacks took place in October 1944. The heaviest period of bombing was referred to by the newspapers as ‘the Battle of South London’ and lasted from June to September 1944.

Lewisham was the third worst hit borough in London. It was hit by 115 flying bombs causing 275 casualties. 1,070 more were treated in hospital and 373 treated at First Aid Posts. A total of 1,129 houses were destroyed, 1,553 rendered uninhabitable, 5,305 seriously damaged and 55,335 suffered minor damage.

The Horniman was closed in August 1944 following damage caused by a flying bomb. The damage was not considered serious but the Council Architect reported in June 1945 that for the Museum building to re-open, the minimum work would entail:

  • new main entrance doors;
  • re-glazing and the repairing of lights in the Entrance Hall, Vestibule, Curator’s Room, Lecture Hall, Library and Library Stairs;
  • repairs to the doors in the lecture Hall and Library, Mummy and Aquarium corridors; the removal of all defective plaster on ceilings; and
  • flaking distemper on walls and ceilings.

In April 1945 the Education Officer, E.G. Savage, had started pressing for the re-opening of the Horniman as a matter of some urgency.

He stressed the importance of the Museum as an educational resource, and reminded the authorities of the extensive use of the Horniman by school children before its closure. The Education Officer estimated that following re-opening the Museum would be able to cater for at least 1,000 children a week.

Local people were also keen to see the Horniman open again.

In August 1946 an official who came to inspect the Horniman, was advised that applications were being received daily from the general public asking when the Museum would be available.

However, extensive damage countrywide, caused by the war, meant there were shortages of both materials and labour. Re-imbursement for the cost of the work could be claimed from the War Damages Commission, but consent for work to be carried out needed to be obtained from the Ministry of Health under the Defence (General) Requirements and licenses for timber obtained.

The work was due to start but had to be put off because priority was being given to de-bricking schools, and the work was only finally allowed to proceed after promises were made not to go to the local Employment exchange for labour.

  • The Horniman is closed due to bomb damage, Notice that the Horniman has been reopened following bomb damage
    Notice that the Horniman has been reopened following bomb damage

The Horniman re-opened on 25 September 1946 with the minimum possible repairs which made it safe for people to enter the building. The zoological and biological specimens had been repaired and reclassified. The Aquarium was ready for new specimens to be collected, but the ethnological section was in a bad way with the staff being advised to just clean up the section and open it with a large notice stating that it was under re-arrangement. The West Hall (no longer there) did not re-open until April 1947.

In the Press Notice for the re-opening, the London County Council described the Horniman as a landmark of South London whose “many friends will be glad to know of its reopening” and “a magnet for generations of schoolboys.”

The Tallgrass Prairie of the Midwest

Head of Horticulture, Wes Shaw, travelled to the US recently to learn more about prairies, following our Grasslands Garden opening in June.

Our new Grasslands Garden, which opened earlier this year, draws its inspiration from the grassland habitats of the North American Prairie and the South African Drakensburg mountain region.

It was designed by James Hitchmough, Professor of Horticultural Ecology at Sheffield University, who specialises in studying wild herbaceous plant communities to create spectacular urban planting schemes.

  • Wes grasslands trip, C Churcher
    , C Churcher

In July, I travelled to the Midwest of the USA to experience the prairie first-hand. I flew in and out of Chicago and, with the help of Marcus de la fleur, a Chicago resident and expert on the prairie, I travelled more than 2,000 miles over two weeks, to see some of his recommended locations.

  • Wes grasslands trip, Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area, Wes Shaw
    Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area, Wes Shaw

The prairie used to cover millions of square miles, from Texas all the way up into Canada.

Sadly, there is less than 1% of this amazing habitat left after early settlers began to plough the land for agriculture, using the nutrient-rich prairie soil. What little is left is now protected and managed by enthusiastic volunteers and conservation organisations, and survives in small pockets amongst corn fields and the suburbs.

  • Wes grasslands trip, Echinacea sp flowering amongst the prairie grass Big Blue Stem Andropogon gerardii, Wes Shaw
    Echinacea sp flowering amongst the prairie grass Big Blue Stem Andropogon gerardii, Wes Shaw

The types and variety of plants in a prairie depend on the geographical features and available water in each landscape, but prairie vegetation predominantly consists of a mixture of grasses and herbaceous plants. The area of the Midwest I travelled through is dominated by tallgrass prairie.

  • Wes grasslands trip, Wolf Road Prairie Reserve, Wes Shaw
    Wolf Road Prairie Reserve, Wes Shaw

I was advised by Marcus that the best locations to see a diversity of flowering plants are sites that were burned earlier in the year, as part of a management schedule.

Prescribed burning mimics natural wildfires that would have been started by lightning strikes, or by the indigenous people, as a method of herding buffalo to migrate and feed on the new growth of burnt land.

Burning is integral to the survival and health of the prairie, as it kills invasive woody plants, clears away dead vegetation, and returns nutrients to the soil.

  • Wes grasslands trip, Prairie-burning in action , M De La Fleur
    Prairie-burning in action , M De La Fleur

The prairie is an important habitat, because it provides an enormous food resource for birds, butterflies, insects and wildlife, ranging from prairie dogs to the mighty buffalo. The prairie was, and remains, very significant to the indigenous people who have a spiritual connection to the landscape, as it provided all the resources required for survival. 

  • Wes grasslands trip, Buffalo grazing in Blue Mounds State Park, Wes Shaw
    Buffalo grazing in Blue Mounds State Park, Wes Shaw
 

Visually, they are a truly beautiful sight. The prairie has stunning grasses and flowering perennials that bloom in succession from spring into the autumn months – compare that to our own native wildflowers that have all but finished flowering by mid-summer.

  • Wes grasslands trip, Marcus de la fleur enjoying Asclepia tuberosa in full flower, Wes Shaw
    Marcus de la fleur enjoying Asclepia tuberosa in full flower, Wes Shaw

The North American prairie has for some years been an influence on garden designers and horticulturists, with a new perennial movement starting in the 1990s that attempted to recreate the naturalistic look and qualities of the prairie.

Practitioners of this style of naturalistic planting include Piet Oudolf, James Hitchmough, Nigel Dunnett, Tom Stuart-Smith, Dan Pearson, and Beth Chatto.

Many prairie plants have made their way across the pond, and are commonly seen on sale in garden centres and plant nurseries. They make really good garden plants because many flower into late summer and are good at putting up with hot dry conditions. They also look great!

Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower), Eryngium yuccifolium (Rattlesnake Master), Liatris spicata (Blazing Star) and Aster ericoides (Heath Aster) are all plants that you will see in gardens across the UK.

  • Wes grasslands trip, Blazing Star and Rattlesnake Master flowering , Wes Shaw
    Blazing Star and Rattlesnake Master flowering , Wes Shaw

The prairie locations for the connoisseur plant hunter, are the ones that are called 'remnant', meaning they have never been ploughed. These sites give the best indication of what natural prairie habitat would have looked like when most of the Midwest was grassland, and they usually have the best diversity of flowering plants… so more bang for your buck.

Of the surviving prairie, most is restored vegetation rather than remnant. These are the areas that are undergoing work to remove unwanted woody plants and trees in an attempt to recreate the look and diversity of remnant prairie, but this is a slow and difficult long-term endeavour.

  • Wes grasslands trip, Markham Prairie Nature Preserve, remnant, Wes Shaw
    Markham Prairie Nature Preserve, remnant, Wes Shaw

Exploring the prairie isn’t for the faint-hearted: it is a harsh environment full of mosquitos, ticks and chiggers (a type of mite) and is VERY hot and humid in the summer months.

Tallgrass prairie can be over 10ft in height, and can be difficult to navigate.

A prairie explorer needs to be well-equipped in the field. The following equipment is essential: bug spray; long socks to tuck trousers into (a tactic used to avoid ticks, but not a great fashion statement); water; hat; sunglasses; and sun lotion. Finally you need a good field guide so you can recognise the huge assortment of flowering plants and grasses.

  • Wes grasslands trip, Me demonstrating just how tall, tall grass prairie is
    Me demonstrating just how tall, tall grass prairie is

My two-week exploration of the prairie was an amazing experience, and I felt incredibly privileged to be able to appreciate first-hand such an amazing habitat. I was able to see many of the plants we are growing in the Grasslands Garden in their natural habitat, which for a horticulturist is priceless to understand how they grow and relate that to our own garden display.

I was very lucky to have Marcus as my prairie guide – he gave up a lot of his time which I am very grateful for.

I also have to thank the Royal Horticultural Society for funding my travels through their fantastic bursary scheme.

I hope this blog will encourage readers to come and visit the Grasslands Garden and perhaps, if they ever travel to the Midwest, to look out for those last remaining pockets of prairie.

Reef Encounters: Dr James Guest

Marine biologist, Dr James Guest, who works at Newcastle University, tells us about his work focusing on tropical reef research, understanding how reefs regenerate and recover.

What is your typical day?

Currently, I am the lead researcher on a five year project called CoralASSIST that aims to examine the feasibility of an approach called coral assisted gene flow. I am interested to know whether it is really possible to seed areas of reef with corals that are more tolerant to thermal stress and what risks and trade-offs are involved.

My time is split between the office and the field. In the office, my day involves writing papers and grant proposals, discussing and designing experiments, ordering equipment and materials and all the mundane stuff involved in running a research project (this probably takes up 70% of my time).

The rest of the time is spent in the field - this is the fun part of my job - as it involves diving and snorkelling on reefs to set up experiments, or doing experiments in aquarium tanks, collecting coral spawn, rearing coral larvae and monitoring the results of long term studies.  

  • Brain coral, Brain coral underwater, Pixabay CC.0
    Brain coral underwater, Pixabay CC.0

When did you first know you wanted to work in this area?

I went snorkelling on holiday in Croatia when I was about 8 or 9, then I learned to dive in England when I was 17. I became completely hooked on diving from that age.

I then got a job as a photographer on a ship and I started diving on reefs in the Caribbean and taking underwater pictures. Eventually I returned to the UK and took my degree in marine biology at Newcastle University, an institution that has a long tradition of doing work on tropical coral reefs.

I was particularly fascinated by corals because they are really simple organisms, but they build these amazing, diverse and beautiful ecosystems. During my summer holidays at University I went to Central America to survey coral reefs and that was really my first step into the world of coral reef research.

What inspires you in your work?

The scientific process and finding out things about the how the world works.

What would your take-home message for the future of reefs be?

Well, things look very bad for reefs and much has been lost for ever.

There is still time to turn things around, but there has to be more action now if we want to conserve coral reefs in the future.

This has to start with further reducing greenhouse gas emissions in tandem with much better local management. There may also be some innovative techniques we could try to help corals adapt, but much research is still needed before they can be applied. 

  • Reef squid, Reef squid, Betty Wills (Atsme) Wikimedia Commons License CC-BY-SA-4.0
    Reef squid, Betty Wills (Atsme) Wikimedia Commons License CC-BY-SA-4.0

What's your favourite creature on the reef, and why?

I am particularly fond of a genus of coral called Goniopora. They have these beautiful swaying polyps that are always extended during the day. But I also love reef squid because of their amazing ability to use colour change to communicate with one and another and to camouflage themselves.

  • Goniopora, Goniopora, Peter Young Cho MD, Wikipedia Creative Commons CC-BY-3.0
    Goniopora, Peter Young Cho MD, Wikipedia Creative Commons CC-BY-3.0

What's the oddest thing you've seen at sea?

I once found a large metal combination lock safe sitting on a reef in Singapore, the type you would find in a bank. It was too heavy to lift and bring back to the boat. I wonder if it was full of money...I will never know!?

What photography kit do you use?

For work, currently I'm a fan of the Olympus Tough TG-5. It's an amazing workhorse camera and is not too bulky. 

What's the next big thing for your work?

Trying to establish whether it really is feasible to breed corals that are more resistant to higher thermal stress. If we can, then we need to see if these traits are heritable and whether lab reared corals can really be seeded to reefs at large enough scales to have a meaningful impact in terms of mitigating the impact of climate change.

Who's your 'reef hero' - someone doing great work or advocacy for the future of reefs?

There's no one person in particular, but I have a lot of respect for people around the world who work directly with local communities (often with little or no funding) to continually raise awareness about the importance of nature conservation.  

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