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Walking the Horniman

Walking is one of the simplest exercises we can do; even 10-minute brisk walks can have great benefits to our overall health. We’ve put together a walking guide to the Horniman, its architecture and some of the surprises in the Museum.

The architectural walk

  • Clock Tower, Sophia Spring
    , Sophia Spring

The impressive Clocktower, made from Doutling Stone has become an iconic feature of the Horniman Museum and Gardens. Originally built in 1901, it’s a glowing beacon on top of Forest Hill. The clock tower was further extended in 1911 by Emslie Horniman, son of our founder Frederick Horniman.

Both the original building and the Emslie Horniman extension were designed by Charles Harrison Townsend.

Once you have admired the front of the building, take a walk around it to the left and you’ll find the green-roofed CUE building, which houses our Library and some offices.

The CUE building opened in 1996 and was designed by local architects Architype using methods developed by Walter Segal. The grass roof has been constructed with sustainable materials and CUE stands for Centre for Understanding the Environment.

An ecological survey of the Library building’s green roof recorded 52 insect species living there, including a rare type of ant and other unusual species. We also have a living roof on our Pavilion. They are self-sustaining and, no, we don’t mow them!

Past the Museum entrance and the Café is the Conservatory on the right.

Originally built in 1894, the grade ll Victorian Conservatory was an extension of the Horniman family house at Coombe Cliffe, Croydon. Having been abandoned for many years and in a derelict state, the Conservatory was moved to the Horniman in the 1980s and opened in 1987. The Conservatory today holds some beautiful events and even weddings, and is occasionally used by the Café as a pop-up tea room. It’s even been featured in magazines such as Vogue.

Read in more detail about the conservatory’s reconstruction and history.

Continue up the avenue and you will reach the Bandstand terrace with the beautiful views over London behind it.

The Bandstand dates from 1912 and was also designed by Charles Harrison Townsend. It was renovated in 2012 with new floorboards, its original weather vane was restored, and screens which blocked the windows for decades were replaced with glass. The Bandstand and the modern Pavilion (built in 2012) both offer beautiful views of the Meadow Field below, Dawson’s Heights and London’s skyline.

Behind you is the Dutch Barn. Frederick Horniman brought this small building back from Holland and it dates from around 1895. It now provides a useful indoor shelter for picnics in inclement weather.

Read more about Horniman’s architecture.

The interactive walk

Play a tune and tap a beat on the musical sculptures in the Sound Garden, the sounds echo throughout the acres connecting the Gardens to the music collections in the Museum.

Visit the Animal Walk to meet the rabbits, alpacas and sheep, as well as goats and guinea pigs. These living specimens connect us to Fredrick Horniman’s vision of linking the outside to the inside of the Horniman. Linking to the Museum’s Natural History collections, it looks at the connection between domesticated animals and their wild relations, and why people live alongside domesticated animals.

Stop by the Butterfly House, which is a warming comfort in the colder months and full of delightful creatures and plants all year round. Learn about the different species and life-cycles of these beautiful creatures from around the world, in a tropical habitat with over 500 plants.

Step into the Museum and head to the Nature Base, where you can learn about the behaviours of the wildlife living in the city. View insects close up, touch a taxidermy fox or badger, and see the harvest mice scurry. The honey bees are busy in their transparent home, making honey in their special hive.

Down the stairs and in the World Gallery you can leave your thoughts and wishes on the Cloutie tree. In the British Isles people have tied scraps of fabric to trees that grow near sacred wells or springs for thousands of years, to wish for wellbeing or thanks. Look at the wishes of others, and leave your thoughts on the tree or in our feedback area for others to ponder over.

Through to The Studio and The Lore of the Land exhibition by artist Serena Korda and the Horniman Collective. After viewing the exhibition, taking in the sounds and smells coming from the artworks, add your thoughts about how plants feel about humans to the feedback wall.

Downstairs we have our Aquarium, where you can watch all manner of aquatic life, from hopping frogs to floating jellyfish.

  • Child at aquarium tank with Jellyfish, Laura Mtungwazi Beaullah
    , Laura Mtungwazi Beaullah

Gardens Walk

Wander through the Grasslands Garden, with wild landscapes featuring spectacular plants from North American prairie and South African grasslands. Its naturalistic planting scheme was devised by Olympic Park designer James Hitchmough and made to complement the World Gallery.

Our Sunken Gardens are a hive for botanical plants.

Admire the old olive trees before taking in the Medicine Garden. Planted in ten ‘body part’ sections, the Medicine Garden features a range of plants used to treat illness in different areas of our body. Some are local remedies that have persisted through time while others have formed the basis of modern medicines.

Next to this is the Dye Garden. Read about natural dyes and the processes used draw the dye from the plants, with different colours grouped between coloured yarn.

Admire the planting in the display around the pond. Built in 1936, the Arts and Crafts style Sunken Garden has spectacular floral displays which area planted for spring and late summer.

Behind this is the Materials Garden, featuring plants used by people around the world to make products as diverse as building materials to textiles and musical instruments.

Take a stroll up towards the Bandstand and you will pass the Pollinator bed. This border opposite the Bandstand contains about 50 different species of plants and has been designed to be attractive to pollinating insects. Pollinating insects like bees, hoverflies, moths and butterflies transfer pollen from one flower to another, helping the plants to fruit and set seed.

Follow the path higher and you will reach the Prehistoric Garden, complete with velociraptor. Prehistoric plants and living fossils are planted with information to tell you about which dinosaurs they appealed to.

Walk past the Prehistoric Garden to the South Downs meadow. This is a secluded and peaceful spot that is often quieter, featuring Canadian maple trees and spring flowers, like snowdrops and crocuses. Offering views of Kent on the eastern edge of the site, it’s a perfect spot for a little picnic.

The Sundial Trail

Have you spotted any sundials whilst walking the Gardens? There actually 12 of them and some may be read differently from what you may think. 

Solar time is a bit different from clock time. We use clock time, day to day, based on 24 hours of equal length. However, solar time changes slightly day to day due to the tilt of the earth and its elliptical orbit around the sun. Have a go at finding them all, or cheat a little and use this handy little guide.

This is just a small slice of the walks around the Horniman. Have an adventure and see what wonders you can find. 

New year, new resolutions

It’s a brand new year and usually, that means we say goodbye to our old ways and give ourselves new goals to aspire to. Setting New Year’s resolutions is a tradition around the world, so what resolutions have you made? To give you some ideas, we have rounded up some resolutions to help you get your year off to a great start. 

Be more active


You may not want to sweat out in the gym and purchase that expensive gym membership. So how about a run, walk or even a stroll in our Gardens?

Apart from the health benefits from exercise, a walk in our Gardens is free and, no matter the season, there are always new blooms of life flourishing across our 16 acres of land. Have a play in the interactive sound garden, walk your dogs or discover quiet corners for contemplation.

There are also proven mental health benefits to spending time in nature, helping to alleviate stress and anxiety. So discover what our gardeners and curators have developed outdoors, to coincide with the Museum’s collections

Read a few more books

Did you know that every 1st Sunday of the month our library opens its doors to the public without any need for an appointment? The collection contains books covering anthropology to illustrated monographs and now has over 30,000 volumes.

The library is also staffed on Mondays and Tuesdays, and open to researchers on these days by appointment (please email enquiry@horniman.ac.uk).

Or, if you want to read more with your children, you can find books on our Natural History Gallery Balcony and a reading corner on our World Gallery Balcony.

Spend more time with family and friends

The Horniman offers many free activities, whether you are visiting alone, with a friend or with family.

From photographic displays on our World Gallery Balcony to our permanent collections, from exhibitions like The Lore of the Land to displays like EVOLUTION of The Artist and The Exhibited Works, there is always something to see and to think about.

In the Hands on Base, you can get closer to artefacts and objects. Whether you are interested in Mexican masks or want to learn more about endangered animals, who knows what you will discover in our free object-handling sessions.

Culture has a positive impact on wellness, so making some time for yourself in places like the Horniman, really can help you feel better.

View our Whats On calendar to see current and upcoming events and exhibitions.

Give something back to your community

  • Youth Panel , Balistic
    , Balistic

Volunteering gives an opportunity to give back to your local community, which has social benefits for groups like the over 40s.

Keep an eye on our website for ways to get involved or follow us on LinkedIn to hear about new opportunities.

If you’re aged between 14 and 19 and are interested in making a difference at the Horniman, why don’t you join the Horniman Youth Panel?

Whether it’s new year, new you or new year, same you, we hope you have a happy 2019 at the Horniman.

Learning Team's Top 5 Curiosity Countdown

Rose Want, Schools Learning Officer, tells us about her favourite discoveries from the Learning Team’s end of year clean of the Hands on Base.

The end of the year means only two things for the Learning Team. One: even more cake than usual. Two: the annual Hands on Base clean up.

On the last Friday of term, the whole team got together to give the space a spruce up.

Since joining the Horniman back in September as a School’s Learning Officer, I have spent most of my time getting to grips with our learning sessions and familiarising myself with their associated objects. The Hands on Base clean gave me the chance to explore some of the 3,000-plus items in the handling collection. My colleagues managed to dig out often-overlooked favourites.

So, without further ado, here is the rundown of our top five curiosities from this years’ clean…

Number five

Some objects in the handling collection are so beautiful, they can’t go unmentioned. This frame holds 44 small samples of treated wood from all over the world.

The original use of this piece is unknown, yet it stands as a testament to the incredible diversity and beauty of natural materials.

Number four

Ever heard of a Cricket Tickler? Me neither.

It’s something like a feather duster in miniature and is part of a toolkit used to hand-rear crickets. It's meant to make unsuspecting insect buzz in surprise when tickled.

Number three

I absolutely did not expect to find an English grammer practice toy, amongst the Ancient Egyptian artefacts, Chinese drawing tools and taxidermy birds. The toy from Tamil Nadu proclaims, “Know your English tenses!” using a handy rotation system to help you perfect your passive simple tense.”

If you didn’t want to know this before, you will now. All together then, “I ate rice, you ate rice, he ate rice, she ate rice…”

Number two

I like things that make a lot of noise. The next two items will attest to that.

This Jew’s harp all the way from Borneo actually has nothing to do with Judaism or harps.

Its name comes from Jaw Harp in English, although it’s also known as a mouth harp.

These instruments are found all over the world. Usually they feature a flexible tongue made from bamboo or metal, attached to a frame. The mouth, teeth and tongue of the player change the volume and pitch to produce the most fantastic “boing” sounds you’ll hear today. Skip to around 8.55 of this TED talk to hear it for yourself.

Number one

Flying into first place is Squeaky Bird (not its official name), a beautiful little toy from India.

We were all enchanted by the sound she makes – somewhere between a squeak, a hoot and a wheeze.

The noise is produced when the tongs at the back are squeezed. This causes the bellows under her wings to fill with air, and the wind to rush through little holes in the metalwork.

Ingenious toys made from recycled materials like this are a fixture of the handling collection.

Keep your eyes peeled for them next time you visit!

So, that concludes our Top 5 Curiosity New Year Countdown. Since they have all had a nice clean – why not swing by the Hands on Base and discover your own favourites?

What is important to you?

At the Horniman there are several ways to interact with our collections and exhibits. We asked visitors what objects were important to their lives and what plants would think of humans.

We asked visitors what they thought was important to them. Some people drew special gifts given to them and others drew family members and objects from the museum.

One visitor said that their items gain more sentiment with experience and some are important because of where they came from.

They listed:

  • Old hiking boots
  • A violin played for 22 years 
  • A pair of trousers that are always worn
  • Their grandma’s wallet
  • A hat from a sporting event.
  • A good luck note from a friend.

Another visitor drew their teddy bear necklace from Grandma Phyllis

For thousands of years, people have tied scraps of fabric to trees that grow near sacred wells or springs. In the British Isles, they are sometimes called cloutie wells. Each piece of fabric is a wish for well-being or says thank you for something good that has happened. In the World Gallery, we have a cloutie tree for visitors to write their thoughts.

Here are a few thoughts some of our visitors left on the tree.

Hanifa asked for a comfy husky dog.

Another visitor was thankful for their body that allows them to run.

When you visit the World Gallery, be sure to leave your wishes and thoughts on our cloutie tree.

The Lore of the Land exhibition by Serena Korda and the Collective asks us to question our relationship with our natural environment. We asked visitors what they thought plants would think of us.

Ellie wrote a poem titled Beautiful, over-complicated Messes

If plants could see

I feel you would agree

They say we’d miss the point entirely.

If we were they

And they were we

It won’t seem such a mystery.

Slow down, be present, enjoy now.

Amelia wrote:

Plants would think we are unique and special because we’re not like them. We don’t have stems or petals.

I don’t think they would be happy whilst we’d be taking up the spotlight and they would look up at us.

Be sure to keep sharing your thoughts with us or tag #Horniman to share your images.

The Movement of People

Rachael Minott, the Horniman's Anthropology Curator (Social Practice), writes about migration and how the movement of people is represented in the World Gallery.

Our world is the way it is today because of the movement of people.

Last week on 10 December, the first international pact on the movement of people was signed by 164 members of the UN to try to encourage safe and legal border crossing, and find an alternative to children’s detention centres for illegal immigrants.

The history of migration is as old as time. Land occupied today is occupied because people moved there, nations emerged, grew and developed. Most major faiths have a grounding in the survival of the mass movement of people, and many families will have stories of migration that brought us, or our ancestors, together.

Whether through forced migration or by choice, migrants and international migration, have changed the world.

The World Gallery at the Horniman is a celebration of the variety and beauty of world cultures. While it celebrates cultural difference, it also aims to understand the common threads of humanity that are shared globally.

The exhibition text panels state that travel, trade and interest in other cultures have always influenced European cultures. And yet, while this interest celebrates the diversity of Europe today, the violence of that exchange is also acknowledged.

Geographic regions are introduced with an acknowledgement of the impact of European colonialism. The Gallery holds memorials created for the bicentenary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, in 2007.

This migration - not of choice nor hope, is not to be celebrated, but remembered. The survival of this migration, a testament to strength and resilience.

The World Gallery also explores non-European exploration, through the voyaging history of the Oceania region. Advocates for the term Oceania Pacific Islands, like Epeli Hau’ofa, describe the region as a sea of islands, in which the water is as much the territory as the land. This highlights that the sea both connects and separates approximately 40 million people.

Living with the sea as a territory, movement between islands was as natural as travelling along a road, and so migration, voyaging and exploration were a natural part of the regions culture.

[Fun fact: did you know that Madagascar was only settled about 1000 years ago? Many of the Malagasy are of Polynesian descent, sharing linguistic and cultural characteristics of southern Borneo, 7,000km away. This led many to assume that it was first settled by oceanic voyagers despite being a part of the African continent]. 

In the section of the Gallery dedicated to Asia, you will see a celebration of Nomadic peoples in Tibet, who today embrace the same nomadic lifestyle practiced for thousands of years in that region.

Exploring the constant migration and movement of peoples, this display showcases the importance of smart phones as a part of nomadic existence, showing them alongside essential material culture that dates back over 400 years.

  • Installing the Bedouin camel furniture, Phil from our Exhibitions Team, installing camel furniture in the Tuareg section of the World Gallery. The Tuareg are a nomadic people., Tania Dolvers
    Phil from our Exhibitions Team, installing camel furniture in the Tuareg section of the World Gallery. The Tuareg are a nomadic people., Tania Dolvers

There is much that can be said about physical movement, but a retention of culture that will ring true to many migrants who live in a diaspora – when a group of people spread from one country to other countries – connect to their home through people and practices, like food, dance, faith etc.

And while migration has had undoubtedly positive effects, there is a lot of trauma associated with its process. It can be a difficult decision, disrupting connections to place, space and families. But there is hope in migration, hope that you move to something new and worthwhile, that will make your life better.

  • Boat 195, The prow of boat 195, Dani Tegan
    The prow of boat 195, Dani Tegan

The World Gallery also talks of forced migration. You can see in the European area, a piece of Boat 195 which set off from Libya in 2013 carrying 253 people. Those on board Boat 195 were rescued near the coat of Sicily on 17 August 2013.

Its presence in the Gallery reminds us that forced migration is a perennial issue, with lives risked daily with the hope that the journey will be worthwhile; will eventually bring a safety not possible in the lands left behind.

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.

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