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Horniman History: Lectures given by Women

For International Women's Day, we have a look at some of women who gave lectures here in the early days of the Horniman.

Our Librarian Henry Rowsell recently uncovered an interesting fact about the Horniman as part of #NHEphemera.

The Horniman used to host lectures from visiting experts, as well as our own curators, up until the 1980s. The records show that we had a few well known women lecture, which was (according to author Kate Hill) unusual for the time.

Although women could undertake the public role of lecturing to a mixed-gender audience, they rarely did so, and those who did so had, or were in the process of developing, the professional authority to be able to speak publicly. Moreover, it may be significant that of the museums studied here, only the Horniman recorded women delivering lectures, and these were all in its Saturday afternoon popular lecture series.

In fact, the women we talk about below featured in both Saturday and Sunday lectures, in the morning and evening, repeated three times on Sunday evenings alone. Rather wonderfully, the Sunday afternoon lectures were repeated "to reduce the amount of aimless loafing in the Museum" by visitors during that time.

So who were these lecturers and why were they invited to speak?

Marie Stopes

Many will know her name from the Marie Stopes family planning clinics, but Stopes' original work focused on botany and geology.

  • Women lecturers at the Horniman, Marie Stopes in her laboratory
    Marie Stopes in her laboratory

Stopes graduated from University College, London with a first class B.Sc. after only two years by attending both day and night schools.

She continued racking up firsts, becoming one of the first women to be elected a fellow of the Linnean Society and the first female academic at the University of Manchester, as a lecturer of Palaeobotany (although they later tried to rescind the offer when they realised she was a woman). She took up postgraduate work in Munich in 1903 and became the only woman amongst 500 men, and in 1904 Stopes achieved her doctorate on cycads seed structure and function. She was the youngest person in Britain to earn a DSc in 1905.

In 1907, Stopes was sent on an 18-month expedition to Japan by the Royal Society. Charles Darwin wrote about flowers being an “an abominable mystery” as the earliest samples in the fossil record all dated back to around 100 million years ago in various forms, suggesting an explosion of diversity. This was the mystery that Stopes intended to shed light on.

In her journal she wrote:

August 24th: Really it is hard work to carry tents and everything along these rivers. Often I alone find it difficult to go, and I have nothing to carry – except my fan and hammer, both of which are in constant use.

Her work on angiosperms from Hokkaido, Japan provided vital evidence which proved to be, at the time, the oldest flowers discovered.

Stopes’ Lecture at the Horniman on 2 March in 1912 “Evolution in Plants, illustrated by Fossils” would have doubtless drawn from her experience in Hokkaido.

  • Women lecturers at the Horniman, Marie Stopes' lecture in our records
    Marie Stopes' lecture in our records

Kate Hall

Kate Hall was the Curator if the Whitechapel (or Borough of Stepney) Museum from 1895 until 1909 – the first paid female curator in the country, according to Kate Hill.

Hall was a protégé of Henrietta Barnett. Barnett who, along with her husband, established The Whitechapel Library and Toynbee Hall, as a way of educating working class people in London’ East End. A room was given on the second floor to serve as the Whitechapel Museum, which housed natural history specimens collected by Rev. Dan Greatorex.

During this time, Hall founded during this time the Nature Study Museum which opened in 1904, containing living specimens, taxidermy and insects, as well as a bee hive with glass walls, all of which sounds very similar to the Horniman today. The intention of the Nature Study Museum was to give city people the opportunity to encounter live animals, and who may have otherwise not had this opportunity. Over 100,000 people visited in two years.

The lectures Hall gave at the Horniman in January, February and March 1905 drew on her knowledge as part of the Nature Study Museum. The first two talks were, “The life of the honey bee” on 22 January and “The work of the honey bee” on 12 February, with an enigmatically titled lecture: “Trees” following on 5 March. According to St George-in-the-East Church, the bees in the Nature Study Museum had a local fame so it is little wonder that they were the subject of Hall’s lectures.

  • Women lecturers at the Horniman, Kate Hall's lecture in our records
    Kate Hall's lecture in our records

According to the Survey of London, Hall was innovative when it came to education, providing a carefully planned syllabus prior to the school visit. She also created a handling collection of natural specimens which were changed weekly and around 400 children visited for nature-study lessons at the museum each week in 1907.

Dr E M Delf-Smith

  • Women lecturers at the Horniman, A lecture by EM Delf-Smith in our records
    A lecture by EM Delf-Smith in our records

Dr Ellen Marion Delf-Smith, as she was later known, went to school down the road from the Horniman at James Allen's Girls' School in Dulwich, studied natural sciences at Girton College, Cambridge and went on to a post at Westfield College, University of London teaching botany.

According to her obituary in the British Phycological Journal, Delf-Smith had very few facilities or help when she first took up her teaching post and “if she wanted a specimen she had to go out and collect it and prepare it herself.”

She is described as having a remarkable gift for stimulating and training students, “able to discern the faintest spark of interest in a student and to fan it into a flame.” Her determination and initiative led to the University approving the Westfield laboratory for preparing students for pass degree examinations in botany in 1910 and for honours degrees in 1915.

Delf-Smith’s passion within botany lay in marine algae and the process by which plants excrete water (transpiration). It was her results in this area that lead to her award of the London DSc as well as the Gamble prize from Girton.

  • Women lecturers at the Horniman, A lecture by EM Delf-Smith in our records
    A lecture by EM Delf-Smith in our records

She returned to her old stomping ground in South London to give numerous lectures at the Horniman, and we can find listings in our records from 1912, with talks on “The Plant life of a Moor” on 9 March and “The Botany of Bread” on 2 November.

We’ll leave you with a poem she wrote for The Sportophyte, a journal edited by Marie Stopes:

A Botanical Dream

Last night as I lay dreaming

There came a dream so fair

I stood mid ancient Gymnosperms

Beside the Ginkgo rare.

 

I saw the Medullosae

With multipartite fronds,

And watched the sunset rosy

Through Calamites wands.

 

Oh Cryptogams, Pteridosperms

And Sphenophyllum cones,

Why did ye ever fossilise

To Palaeozoic stones?

E.M. Delf

 

The thoroughly modern Annie Horniman

Annie Horniman was the daughter and eldest child of Frederick John Horniman and his first wife Rebekah.

  • Annie Horniman, Annie Horniman standing on the left with her mother, father and brother
    Annie Horniman standing on the left with her mother, father and brother

A liberal start

The house she grew up in was fairly liberal and her father’s interests in the natural world, anthropology and the arts undoubtedly left an impression on Annie. When young she had heard her father’s support for Jacob Bright, a liberal who was promoting a Parliamentary Bill that would give women the vote and, according to author Shelia Gooddie, Annie “resolved that one day she would have the vote.”

Annie she was in a privileged position. The family business and the progressive attitude of the Horniman family meant that she was able to enrol in the Slade School of Art when she was 22 in 1882, along with her bother Emslie, who was 19.

It was the first fine art school to open its doors to both sexes and Slade allowed Annie Horniman an element of freedom. She cut her long hair short, smoked in public, and entered into a romantic relationship with another student, Mina Bergson.

  • Annie Horniman, Annie (standing) with Emslie and a seated woman who may be Laura Plover, Emslie's wife to be
    Annie (standing) with Emslie and a seated woman who may be Laura Plover, Emslie's wife to be

On her bike

Annie also discovered the bicycle during this time. It was an important mode of transport for women, granting them a level of independence, if they could afford one. The American suffragette Susan B Anthony said, ''I think [the bicycle] has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.’’

Annie preferred the men’s bikes over the ladies cycles according to Gooddie, saying “ladies bicycles are mere hen-roosts – the gears are so low that any serious traveling on them is ridiculous.” Her actions provoked mockery and anger from men. Unsurprising, when the ladies bikes of the day were lambasted for showing ankles and bloomers.

She remained undaunted. When Annie grew tired of hearing insults about her legs she started wearing trousers, which did not become commonplace in the UK until the early 20th century. Her bicycle opened up the world of London and surrounding counties to Annie, and she didn’t stop there. She also took her bike around Europe, journeying twice over the Alps. Her love of cycling didn’t diminish as she grew older.

When she bought her apartment in London's Portman Square she would carry the bicycle up three flights of stairs.

An artistic set

Her admission to Slade included a reader’s ticket to the British Museum and it was while she was studying art in reading room, that she met several important figures, including Bernard Shaw, WB Yeats and Florence Farr. She joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn with them in 1890, an occult society that admitted both men and women.

  • Annie Horniman, An illustration of Annie Horniman at her brother's wedding
    An illustration of Annie Horniman at her brother's wedding

Their friendships would prove important for all parties. Annie financed Farr’s first venture as a director, as well as the first plays by Yeats and Shaw. She did so anonymously, as despite their liberal leanings, the Horniman family did not approve of the theatre.

Annie worked with Yeats for years and established the Abbey Theatre in Dublin with him, running the financial and business side until she cut her ties in 1910 after a falling out with Yeats. However, she is remembered by many for her role in developing the first regional repertory theatre company in Britain at the Gaiety Theatre in Manchester.

A supporter of suffrage

Harking back perhaps to some of those earlier conversations overheard in Forest Hill, Annie supported the suffrage movement.

Annie spoke at numerous meetings. At a meeting of suffragettes in the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, Annie had been on the platform. She had spoken in London at the Queen’s Hall. She helped to raise funds for a new Women’s Union Building for Manchester University, by holding a special matinee performance at the Gaiety Theatre. The aim was to provide facilities for use by both sexes.

Her work was recognised by Emmeline Pankhurst, who told Annie, “You have done so much for dramatic art in this country that you have won our gratitude. It is an added pleasure to me that you are a woman”.

Annie thought the best way to prove the quality of the sexes was for women to show by their own achievements that they could do as well and better than men. And the money she inherited enabled her to do this, an avenue which was not available to most women.

  • Annie Horniman, A studio portrait of Annie Horniman in her Golden Dawn gown, Reproduced with the permission of Michael Horniman
    A studio portrait of Annie Horniman in her Golden Dawn gown, Reproduced with the permission of Michael Horniman

Annie was made a Companion of Honour a few years before she died in 1937 at her home in Shere, Surrey.


If you are interested in learning more about Annie Horniman you can:

World Book Day 2017

In celebration of World Book Day on 2 March 2017, Gill Poole shows us some of the fascinating books in the Horniman Library.

Our Library is an eclectic collection of books, old and new. We have some rare volumes from Frederick Horniman’s original collection as well as newer books acquired over the years to complement the Museum’s various objects and exhibitions.

Gill works in our Library and has the important task of caring for our books and all the requests from people who want to read them. Gill has picked out some of her favourite books from the collection to share with us here for World Book Day. Take it away Gill…

Japanese Fairy Tales

HASEGAWA, T. ,  THOMPSON, David ,  CHAMBERLAIN, Basil Hall  &  HEPBURN, James Curtis  (1885-1889)

These beautiful books area a joy to read because they are so gorgeous. Each volume is colourfully illustrated and the pages are made from crepe paper which makes them soft to the touch. They are story books, translated into English to share to a wider audience all the wonderful fairy tales from Japan.

  • World Book Day 2017, Japanese Fairy Tales
    Japanese Fairy Tales

  • World Book Day 2017, Japanese Fairy Tales
    Japanese Fairy Tales

The Anatomy of Horses

STUBBS, George  (1853)

I love horses and I wish I could draw like this! These are the anatomical drawings made by George Stubbs before he started painting his famous horse portraits such as ‘Whistlejacket’. You can see each picture is meticulously accurate, down to the position of each bone, which is why his later paintings are so beautifully lifelike.

  • World Book Day 2017, The Anatomy of Horses
    The Anatomy of Horses

  • World Book Day 2017, The Anatomy of Horses
    The Anatomy of Horses

Ocean Flowers and their Teachings

HOWARD, Mary Matilda  (1847)

This is a rare book and part of Frederick Horniman’s original collection. It is special because it contains 38 real specimens of seaweed pressed inside. It is amazing that is has survived for so long.

  • World Book Day 2017, Ocean Flowers and their teachings
    Ocean Flowers and their teachings

  • World Book Day 2017, Ocean Flowers and their teachings
    Ocean Flowers and their teachings

  • World Book Day 2017, Ocean Flowers and their teachings
    Ocean Flowers and their teachings

Episodes of Insect Life

 BUDGEN, L. M.  (1849-18)

This is a wonderful book. In it, the author tries to make insects seem less… yuck. By creating short stories and poems, he hopes to inspire people to overcome their initial prejudices about insects and get them interested in entomology. It is a very modern approach and makes the book very readable, unlike many dry and dusty books about entomology of the time.

  • World Book Day 2017, Episodes of Insect Life
    Episodes of Insect Life

  • World Book Day 2017, Episodes of Insect Life
    Episodes of Insect Life

  • World Book Day 2017, Episodes of Insect Life
    Episodes of Insect Life

This Sunday we are celebrating World Book Day at our Library Open Day. Come and drop in, no need to book an appointment, and see these fascinating volumes, as well as many more. 

Back to books!

One of our Volunteers, Chiara, tells us about her experience in the Horniman Library.

‘I’ve been working as a Librarian in a public library for ten years, back in Italy.

When I moved to London, I lost contact with what had meant so much to me: dealing with the public (especially kids, since I was mostly working in the library’s children section) handling books everyday (the smell of paper...and dust! How wonderful!) and being in daily touch with local communities. At the beginning of my time in London, I felt a little bit lost.

So when I had the opportunity to join the taster session for Volunteers at the Horniman, I was very excited. Somehow I felt I could be again part of something special.

  • Back to Books!, Discovering books in the Horniman Library
    Discovering books in the Horniman Library

I volunteered with Engage for some months and this reminded me of the brilliant curiosity of children. I also took part in the Half Term activities and I could breathe again the happy atmosphere of families playing and learning together. But there was still something missing for me.

Anytime I could, I started sneaking into the Library to help Helen, the librarian, mending the children’s books. When a volunteering role for a library project arose, I couldn’t resist applying. Then the magic happened, I was working again in a library in the reclassification project!

Now, anytime I go to the shelf, pick a book, browse through it and discuss with Helen the most suitable place for visitors to find it, I feel the ‘librarian thrill’ again.

When I handle the ancient books of the special collection, touching them very gently to respect their age and fragility, I feel again as if I was in one of the ancient libraries I used to attend in Rome.

  • Back to Books!, Examining books in the Horniman Library
    Examining books in the Horniman Library

I feel a little bit homesick, but also home again, because if home is where your heart is...well, my heart has always been beating for books.

I have had experience of various different volunteering roles at the Horniman, having also spent some weeks in administration. It has been amazing to experience different and sometimes surprising opportunities, but in the end I’m so very glad that this way took me back to books.

Find out more about volunteering at the Horniman.

Playing the sleigh bells: the story of Joan Stonehewer

Christmas is drawing near and we are thinking about the sounds of the festive season. Nothing says Christmas music quite like sleigh bells. We have some wonderful sleigh bells in our Musical Instrument collection that once belonged to the musician Joan Stonehewer.

  • Playing the sleigh bells: the story of Joan Stonehewer, The sleigh bells belonging to Joan Stonehewer, now in the Horniman Musical Instrument collection. Object number M5-1987.
    The sleigh bells belonging to Joan Stonehewer, now in the Horniman Musical Instrument collection. Object number M5-1987.

Joan made her living as a ‘concert artiste’ by playing the saw and other novelty instruments including the sleigh bells. Her variety theatre performances were of a type that was very popular from the turn of the twentieth century up to WWII.

  • Playing the sleigh bells: the story of Joan Stonehewer, Joan Stonehewer is seen on this postcard at the height of her popularity with her sleigh bells, saw and cello bow and a zither. The inscription in black ink reads, 'with love from Joan'. The saw was specially made for her in c.1930 by Jedson, England. The sleigh bells, made at about the same time, are probably from France.
    Joan Stonehewer is seen on this postcard at the height of her popularity with her sleigh bells, saw and cello bow and a zither. The inscription in black ink reads, 'with love from Joan'. The saw was specially made for her in c.1930 by Jedson, England. The sleigh bells, made at about the same time, are probably from France.

Joan appeared at the Royal Variety Hall and the BBC, performed at dinners, receptions and cabarets and her repertoire included songs such as the "Waltz" by Victor Herbert.

  • Playing the sleigh bells: the story of Joan Stonehewer, With Europe teetering on the brink of war, this New Year's Eve 1938 dinner party programme evokes the ambience of a passing era. Held at the Chiltern Court Restaurant NW1, Joan Stonehewer provided the entertainment together with Mahomed Ali. Lending an air of daring exoticism to the evening, he was billed as a Magician, Hypnotist, Pickpocket and the World's Fastest Act. Both Artistes highlight the fact that they have performed before Royalty. The French names for the various dishes camouflage their essential Englishness.
    With Europe teetering on the brink of war, this New Year's Eve 1938 dinner party programme evokes the ambience of a passing era. Held at the Chiltern Court Restaurant NW1, Joan Stonehewer provided the entertainment together with Mahomed Ali. Lending an air of daring exoticism to the evening, he was billed as a Magician, Hypnotist, Pickpocket and the World's Fastest Act. Both Artistes highlight the fact that they have performed before Royalty. The French names for the various dishes camouflage their essential Englishness.

Joan was an extremely successful self-publicist. She had many professional business cards that she would give out to drum up her own publicity and was determined to succeed in her career.

  • Playing the sleigh bells: the story of Joan Stonehewer, Four of Joan Stonehewer's business cards. She lived at the given address in Wimbledon from 1939 until 1956 when she moved next door. Clearly enjoying the company of children, she had two of her own for whom she wrote stories. These were later published and read, at her suggestion, on BBC radio. On the back of one of the cards she advertises to perform at children's parties.
    Four of Joan Stonehewer's business cards. She lived at the given address in Wimbledon from 1939 until 1956 when she moved next door. Clearly enjoying the company of children, she had two of her own for whom she wrote stories. These were later published and read, at her suggestion, on BBC radio. On the back of one of the cards she advertises to perform at children's parties.

She made it very clear that she would not stop working when she got married – which was quite an extraordinary thing to do in the 1940s – when she had her wedding photos taken holding her musical saw.

  • Playing the sleigh bells: the story of Joan Stonehewer, On her wedding day, Joan Stonehewer and her husband, Henry Townsend, are surrounded by friends and relatives. She married during WWII which explains the number of men in uniform. The presence and prominence of the musical saw conveys her determination to continue in her chosen career: an aim she realised fully.
    On her wedding day, Joan Stonehewer and her husband, Henry Townsend, are surrounded by friends and relatives. She married during WWII which explains the number of men in uniform. The presence and prominence of the musical saw conveys her determination to continue in her chosen career: an aim she realised fully.

After her wedding and in the years to come, variety theatre started to become less popular. As television became more readily available and tastes changed, work was harder to come by.

In the Horniman archives, we have letters Joan received from the BBC showing that she had contacted them about future work – an offer which was politely declined.

  • Playing the sleigh bells: the story of Joan Stonehewer, A letter from the BBC responding to Joan's request about future work. The letter also mentions her children's stories she sent in, which were read out on BBC radio.
    A letter from the BBC responding to Joan's request about future work. The letter also mentions her children's stories she sent in, which were read out on BBC radio.

Joan retired from the stage in the early 1960s but she still appeared in a list of The Concert Artistes’ Association in 1968, the year before died.

Much of what we know about Joan was found in documents given to the Museum with the sleigh bells in 1987 by her son, Francis Townsend. It is wonderful to know the story behind the instrument and to learn more about this talented and engaging musician.

  • Playing the sleigh bells: the story of Joan Stonehewer, Listen to Joan Stonehewer play the musical saw in our Music Gallery
    Listen to Joan Stonehewer play the musical saw in our Music Gallery

Visit our Music Gallery to hear a recording of Joan playing her musical saw.

The first wedding at the Horniman

In honour of Explore Your Archive Week, we are marking a very special wedding anniversary.

This month 130 years ago, Emslie Horniman, the son of the Horniman's founder, married his sweetheart Laura Isabel Plomer. The two wed on the 16 November 1886 at St George’s, Hanover Square, held their reception at the family home Surrey Mount, and led the wedding party in an "inspection" of Surrey House Museum which was the original site of the Horniman.

We recently unearthed a scrapbook in our Archives containing photographs, press cuttings and other souvenirs recording the earliest years of the Horniman. One of the highlights of the scrapbook is a beautiful wedding programme printed for guests attending Emslie and Laura’s wedding celebrations. The programme gives us a wonderful look at how wealthy Victorian families celebrated their nuptials.

  • The wedding of Emslie Horniman and Laura Plomer, An illustrated page from the programme given to guests attending the wedding reception and banquet of Emslie Horniman and Laura Plomer on 16th November 1886 at Surrey Mount, the Horniman family home.
    An illustrated page from the programme given to guests attending the wedding reception and banquet of Emslie Horniman and Laura Plomer on 16th November 1886 at Surrey Mount, the Horniman family home.

  • The wedding of Emslie Horniman and Laura Plomer, A sketch of Surrey Mount from the wedding programme of Emslie Horniman and Laura Plomer. Surrey Mount was the home of the Horniman family.
    A sketch of Surrey Mount from the wedding programme of Emslie Horniman and Laura Plomer. Surrey Mount was the home of the Horniman family.

What is especially fascinating about this piece of Horniman history is that this wedding almost never happened at all.

Emslie Horniman was born in 1863, the second child of Frederick John Horniman and Rebekah Horniman. He studied at the Slade School of Art with dreams of becoming an artist, before later taking up a career in politics and philanthropy.

  • Emslie Horniman, A photograph of Emslie Horniman, dated circa 1890, from the Horniman Museum Archives.
    A photograph of Emslie Horniman, dated circa 1890, from the Horniman Museum Archives.

Laura Plomer was the daughter of Colonel Arthur Plomer. Our historic visitors’ books show that Laura and her family were frequent visitors to the Horniman in the early 1880s. It was there she socialised with Emslie and his older sister Annie.

  • Laura Plomer, A photograph of Laura Plomer, dated circa 1890, from the Horniman Museum Archives.
    A photograph of Laura Plomer, dated circa 1890, from the Horniman Museum Archives.

In his autobiography, Double Lives (published in 1944), Laura’s nephew William Plomer describes how Laura’s family disapproved of her relationship with Emslie. According to William, Laura’s parents thought of Emslie as ‘an atheist and a radical’ and considered the Horniman family to be of inadequate social status despite their extensive wealth and connections.

His autobiography goes on to tell us that Laura’s parents went so far as to lock their daughter in her room in the hope that she would ‘come to her senses’ and end their relationship. Not so easily thwarted, Laura decided to stay in contact with Emslie by letter. But there was one problem: her parents had cut her off from their money and she had no access to postage stamps.

  • Laura Plomer, A photograph of a young Laura Plomer, dated circa 1880, before her marriage to Emslie Horniman. The image shows her famously long head of fair hair, which she apparently cut and sold so she could afford to send letters to Emslie during their courtship.
    A photograph of a young Laura Plomer, dated circa 1880, before her marriage to Emslie Horniman. The image shows her famously long head of fair hair, which she apparently cut and sold so she could afford to send letters to Emslie during their courtship.

Still determined, Laura used the one asset at her disposal: her magnificent head of fair hair. After cutting off a generous lock of her own hair, she escaped her home to sell it to a Mayfair wigmaker and used the payment to purchase stamps.

Realising their daughter would not bend to their wishes, Colonel Plomer and his wife finally consented to her union with Emslie. William Plomer writes that ‘[Laura] went off with a new name to a new life with her radical aesthete, and enjoyed, for the next half-century or so, health, wealth and much happiness’.

Laura and Emslie’s wedding programme, which survives in our Archive collection, lists the toasts and speeches made in honour of the happy couple. Also featured is a seating plan and a menu boasting delights such as ‘York Ham’ and ‘Crystal Palace puddings’.

  • The wedding of Emslie Horniman and Laura Plomer, A programme of toasts and dancing for the wedding banquet of Emslie and Laura Horniman in 1886.
    A programme of toasts and dancing for the wedding banquet of Emslie and Laura Horniman in 1886.

  • The wedding of Emslie Horniman and Laura Plomer, The seating plan for guests to the wedding banquet of Emslie and Laura Horniman in 1886 at Surrey Mount.
    The seating plan for guests to the wedding banquet of Emslie and Laura Horniman in 1886 at Surrey Mount.

  • The wedding of Emslie Horniman and Laura Plomer, A menu for the wedding banquet of Emslie and Laura Horniman in 1886.
    A menu for the wedding banquet of Emslie and Laura Horniman in 1886.

The programme contains extraordinary sketches and meticulous descriptions of the bride’s dress and veil, which she fastened with diamond stars gifted to her by Emslie’s mother. Alongside this is a sketch of the dress worn by Emslie’s sister Annie, which Emslie had designed especially for her.

  • The wedding of Emslie Horniman and Laura Plomer, A sketch of Laura Horniman in her wedding gown. The caption describes her white silk dress and jewellery, as well as the travelling dress she wore after the wedding.
    A sketch of Laura Horniman in her wedding gown. The caption describes her white silk dress and jewellery, as well as the travelling dress she wore after the wedding.

  • The wedding of Emslie Horniman and Laura Plomer, A sketch of Annie Horniman, sister of Emslie Horniman, in the dress she wore to her brother's wedding. The caption describes the dress as representing the Venetian style of the early 15th century. The dress was designed for her by her brother. The caption also describes the outfit worn by their mother Rebekah Horniman.
    A sketch of Annie Horniman, sister of Emslie Horniman, in the dress she wore to her brother's wedding. The caption describes the dress as representing the Venetian style of the early 15th century. The dress was designed for her by her brother. The caption also describes the outfit worn by their mother Rebekah Horniman.

These celebrations were likely the first time the Horniman had hosted a wedding, but they were certainly not the last. Frederick Horniman’s great, great, great granddaughter Hilary married in the Horniman’s Conservatory in 2014 and the Museum and Gardens are still a popular wedding venue to this day.

  • Emslie and Laura Horniman, A photograph of Laura Horniman stepping out of a carriage with her husband Emslie Horniman holding the door. Underneath is signed 'Laura J. Horniman' 'Emslie J. Horniman. MP 1906-1910'. The original photograph was digitally reproduced by the Horniman Museum with the kind permission of Michael Horniman.
    A photograph of Laura Horniman stepping out of a carriage with her husband Emslie Horniman holding the door. Underneath is signed 'Laura J. Horniman' 'Emslie J. Horniman. MP 1906-1910'. The original photograph was digitally reproduced by the Horniman Museum with the kind permission of Michael Horniman.

Inspired by Anna Atkins

Today is Ada Lovelace day when we celebrate women in science, technology, engineering and maths.

Our Librarian, Helen Williamson, is here to tell us about her work with our community partners creating beautiful cyanotypes inspired by Anna Atkins.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by Shaftesbury Clinic, Springfield Hospital.
    Cyanotype made by Shaftesbury Clinic, Springfield Hospital.

‘We have written about Anna Atkins before on Ada Lovelace day but it’s a great opportunity to talk about her again, the beautiful book we hold in the library and the wonderful process of making cyanotypes.

The cyanotype was invented by Sir John Herschel in 1842. He was a family friend of Atkins and a regular visitor at the family home in Kent. Atkins was a keen artist, as well as an enthusiastic botanist, and recognised that Herschel’s new invention, which required only a few chemicals, water and sunlight, offered an opportunity to approach botanical illustration in a different way.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by Aisling from the Horniman Youth Panel.
    Cyanotype made by Aisling from the Horniman Youth Panel.

In 1843, she started work producing the cyanotypes that would make up Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions. It is considered to be the first ever photographically illustrated book and we are very lucky to have a copy in our library which was previously owned by the museum’s founder, Frederick Horniman.

To make a cyanotype, objects are placed on a sheet of chemically treated paper and then exposed to sunlight. The length of exposure depends upon how bright a day it is. Once exposed, the paper is washed in water and dried, with the colour fully developing when dry.

The process of creating cyanotypes is almost unchanged since Anna Atkins was making her book, and it creates remarkably stable prints. Most early photographic prints have deteriorated completely by now or need to be kept in strict, environmentally-controlled storage. Cyanotypes, on the other hand, have endured amazingly well. The colours in our copy of her Photographs of British Algae are beautifully vivid and the paper is robust enough for handling and display.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by David Quan from Redstart Arts.
    Cyanotype made by David Quan from Redstart Arts.

Over the summer the library and the learning team ran an engagement project with a number of our community partners who were challenged to make cyanotypes of their own, inspired by Anna Atkins and using the botanical world around them. This is some of the beautiful work they produced.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by Eliot Bank Museum Club.
    Cyanotype made by Eliot Bank Museum Club.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by Esther and Maya from the Horniman Youth Panel.
    Cyanotype made by Esther and Maya from the Horniman Youth Panel.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by L.G, Arts Network.
    Cyanotype made by L.G, Arts Network.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by the Stroke Association.
    Cyanotype made by the Stroke Association.

A book of all of the cyanotypes made during this project is available to view in the library, alongside other material about Anna Atkins.

Visit one of our Library Open Days on the first Sunday of every month, or book an appointment.

The charming case of Alfred William Rowlett

Robin Strub, our Anthropology Volunteer, has been looking into the Horniman's collection of charms.

Have you ever wondered how the Horniman got its objects?

Who brought them here, and why? 

I’m here to help answer some of those questions! I volunteer in Anthropology’s collection of English charms and amulets, which has a lot of pieces from a man named Alfred William Rowlett. 

He came from the Cambridgeshire town of St Neots and, between 1904 and 1933, he sold the Horniman dozens of items that he had found as part of his town’s rural culture.

What do you think of when you look at the objects in the Horniman’s cases?  What do you imagine of the people who collected them?

Do you think of a Victorian, professorial man with a tweed jacket and pipe?

How about a Victorian dustman with a bin and broom? 

  • AW Rowlett by CF Tebbutt, From St. Neots The History of a Huntingdonshire Town, 1978
    From St. Neots The History of a Huntingdonshire Town, 1978

This picture is of Rowlett, who worked as a Dustman for the local government.  Bert Goodwin, a historian and local of St Neots, remembers Rowlett, and wrote about him for the St Neots Local History Magazine’s 2011-12 winter edition, including this picture of Rowlett and his dustbin making his rounds. 

When looking up Rowlett in the 1881 Census I found he was in work as a labourer by the time he was 13. He went on to become a businessman, as well as a Dustman, with an antiques shop, and worked with the Horniman in a professional capacity.  He even had his own official stationery that he used to write letters and invoices to the Horniman!  Here is how his letterhead looked:

  • Rowlett's, letterhead
    letterhead

We don’t know how Rowlett started working with the Horniman but as a local, he had specialist knowledge and access to his community. This was undoubtedly part of the benefit of the Horniman doing business with him. In a letter dated 6 May 1907, Rowlett noted that ‘my business is to find out and get all the necessary information I can get’ on objects destined for the Museum. 

His research is still important for the Horniman, as the things we know about the objects he sourced came via his connections. The information would otherwise have been lost without his detailed descriptors. 

Here is what he wrote about a ‘Spinning Jenny’ (object number 7.199) as an example, with a transcription beneath.

  • Spinning Jenny, Object description
    Object description

Spinning Jenny.

used at Easton Socon, Beds for Raffling oranges sweets & home made cakes at Holiday times & festivals with an original charm against the children in getting to high a number so as to benefit the owner of Spinning Jenny

used by Mrs Newton at home and village feasts in & Round Bedfordshire Cambs & Hunts

1856 half penny a spin

This is how the Spinning Jenny works:

You can see a piece of orange flint tied to the device - that’s the charm.

We know what that flint was for thanks to Rowlett, as well as precise details about how the Spinning Jenny is used. (I thought the owner would’ve been caught out by cheating, but my Curator figured out that if you keep the stone against your palm and hold out the Spinning Jenny, nobody can see that you have it in your hand!)

Rowlett would also make handwritten labels for artefacts that were entering the collection, and many of his labels are still stored with the objects. This is an example for number 9.41 in our collection, a wood pigeon’s foot that was used to ward off cramp.

  • Wood Pigeon, foot label
    foot label

A lot of the charms that Rowlett brought us are things from the natural world that people associated with various curative powers.

It may seem strange today, but the idea was that wood pigeons never get foot cramps. If I carry a wood pigeon’s foot, maybe that will protect me too. If you have ever heard of someone carrying a lucky rabbit’s foot, it’s not too far a leap from practices today.

Rowlett’s community of St Neots still remembers him as someone to go to for these kinds of all-natural remedies for health problems.

Local historian Rosa Young transcribed several adverts from a 1900 issue of a local paper for the St Neots Local History Magazine’s, which included an old advert that Rowlett had put in the paper for his own special patent medicine. It cured everything (naturally) but Rowlett’s neighbours did come to him seeking his medical expertise.

Bert Goodwin, the local historian who photographed Rowlett, recounts that when he was a child he had a wart on his knee cured by Rowlett,

He cut a small twig from a bush which he called ‘Joseph’s Thorn’,  which he shaped into a spatula, and then made his mark on the wart X.  “There,” he said, “it will be gone by the next full moon.”  Strangely enough, I forgot about it, but when I next looked it had gone.

Because of Rowlett’s work at St Neots, the local historical society put up a Blue Plaque for him.

  • Rowlett's blue plaque, Thanks to Eatons Community Association
    Thanks to Eatons Community Association

Like the wood pigeon’s foot above, many of the objects that Rowlett brought to the Horniman were considered to have health benefits. The charms I’m studying were used by real people who believed in them, and used them to solve a variety of different problems. Ironically, Rowlett – with his Joseph’s Thorn for curing warts – thought that some of the charms’ owners were ‘eccentric’!

I don’t know about you, but I have lucky charms. Millions of people all over the world believe in the power of objects and in 2018, the Horniman will open a new gallery where you will be able to find charms from all around the world, including those collected by Rowlett!

If you’d like to see what Rowlett brought to the Horniman, and 2018 is too long to wait, you can find all of Rowlett’s objects online

Behind closed doors...

We take a look at some of our museum's buildings, which will be part of our Secret Late's behind the scenes tour.

Our famous clocktower and building that faces London Road was built in 1898, designed by Charles Harrison Townsend. In addition to the Horniman, Townsend also designed the Whitechapel Gallery and Bishopsgate Institute.

Townsend's clocktower

The clock tower's jolly yellowish colour comes from the Doulting stone used to make it. This iconic limestone comes from the Doulting Stone Quarry in Somerset and is one of the oldest quarries in England, having been used during the Roman occupation of Britain.

Our African Worlds gallery as well as the South Hall gallery with our temporary exhibitions Revisiting Romania and Project Tobong are in the original museum building, but the displays are very different from the originals.

An archive photo of Emslie's lecture theatre and the old library

In 1912, Frederick Horniman's son, Emslie, funded the building of a new lecture theatre and library at the museum which were added next to the 19th century building.

Since Emslie's additions we have gradually added to the original site, or had restoration work on our original features. The iconic Bandstand, also a Townsend design, is over 100 years old and enjoyed a renovation of its oak floor and weather vane as part of our large redevelopment of the gardens in 2012.

A band playing on our Bandstand in 1943

Now, the Bandstand hosts our summer concerts, storytelling and is a popular wedding venue location thanks to its magnificent view over South London and the South Downs.

As part of our Secret Late event in November you will be able to get behind the scenes in some of our galleries and displays. I'd love to tell you where you will be exploring, but that would ruin the Secret!

What Horniman secrets will you discover?

From exhibition layouts, to collections care, aquarium research to music, lots goes on behind the scenes here at the Horniman, so be sure to join us next Thursday for our Secret Late, but don't tell anyone...

 

 

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.

  • Bishopsgate, www.londonarchitectureguide.com
    , www.londonarchitectureguide.com

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

  • Tree of Life, Megan Taylor
    , Megan Taylor

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? 

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