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Surprising Facts About the Horniman

Do you love the Horniman? Then you might be interested in a few of these curious facts about us.

1. The first wedding at the Horniman happened 130 years ago when our founders’ son Emslie Horniman married his sweetheart Laura Isabel Plomer. Laura’s parents didn’t approve of the match however and locked Laura in her room. Determined to keep in touch with Emslie, Laura cut and sold her hair so that she could afford stamps to send him love letters.

2. The Horniman family still have close ties to the Museum and Gardens, not only as benefactors but more recently Frederick Horniman’s great, great, great granddaughter got married here too in 2014.

  • 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.

3. One of our Victorian collectors was a dustman and “cunning man” of St Neots, Alfred William Rowlett. He was the collector behind a large number of our charms collection and is still remembered in St Neots as a healer. The community referred to him as "Doc Rowlett".

4. Staff in our Animal Walk have created their own mini-allotment from recycled materials, where they grow fresh food for the animals.

5. We have the figurehead of a ship that saw action at the Battle of Trafalgar. It belonged to HMS Mars which was built at Deptford.

6. Some of the paving slabs in our Sunken Gardens seem to be gravestones.

  • Summer bedding in the Sunken Garden, Connie Churcher
    , Connie Churcher

7. The Horniman helped to inspire the making of Siouxsie and the Banshee's album 'Juju'. Featured prominently on the album's cover is an African statue that was once displayed at the Horniman, and Steven Severin of the band says the statue was the "starting point for a lot of the imagery" behind the album.

8. The Conservatory came from the Horniman family home at Coombe Cliff in Croydon and is based on the Crystal Palace.

  • Crystal_Palace_General_view_from_Water_Temple, The Crystal Palace was built to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. Originally it was to be found in Hyde Park but was later relocated to Crystal Palace Park., Philip Henry Delamotte, 1854. Smithsonian Libraries via wikicommons
    The Crystal Palace was built to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. Originally it was to be found in Hyde Park but was later relocated to Crystal Palace Park., Philip Henry Delamotte, 1854. Smithsonian Libraries via wikicommons

9. Our founder, Frederick John Horniman, is buried in Camberwell Old Cemetery and our staff still maintain his grave.

10. We used to have a lot more large taxidermy, including a polar bear and a moose, as you can see below. Unfortunately, these were sold in the 1940s and now only the walrus remains. We've been trying to track down the polar bear, so tell us if you have had any sightings.

  • The North Hall in past days, The Natural History Gallery in past days
    The Natural History Gallery in past days

11. Each year around 187,000 litres of water from the Aquarium is reused for watering the Gardens. This water is a waste product which can no longer be used in the Aquarium due to impurities and the sensitivities of the fish and corals. It is, however, perfect for the plants.

12. This may be more Horniman folklore than fact. We used to have a vivarium alongside our Aquarium back when the Horniman first opened, which included reptiles, amphibians and even a caiman. According to some, the space for the caimen did not afford it much exercise, so one of the gallery attendants had the job of walking the caimen around the Natural History Gallery after members of the public had gone home.

  • Our vivarium, The Horniman vivarium from our early days
    The Horniman vivarium from our early days

Horniman History: Charles Harrison Townsend

As we celebrate what would have been Charles Harrison Townsend's birthday this weekend, we took a look at the life and work of the architect behind the Horniman's unique style.

For over a century, the Horniman Museum and Gardens has proudly stood atop Forest Hill welcoming visitors through our doors. Over the years millions of visitors have been amazed by our collections and exhibitions, as well as the incredible buildings that house them.

The Horniman owes our existence and vision to our founder Frederick Horniman, but the building’s unique and distinctive style that has made the Horniman a landmark is owed to the mind of the architect Charles Harrison Townsend.

Townsend was born on 13 May 1851 in Birkenhead across the River Mersey from Liverpool on the Wirral Peninsula. He was educated at the Birkenhead School, which opened in 1860 and during Townsend’s time there only had 30 pupils.

  • Birkenhead, By the middle of the 19th century, Birkenhead was developing into an important shipbuilding centre and saw a flourishing of public works such as Birkenhead Park, the first civic funded park in the world.
    By the middle of the 19th century, Birkenhead was developing into an important shipbuilding centre and saw a flourishing of public works such as Birkenhead Park, the first civic funded park in the world.

Townsend's career as an architect began in 1870 when he found himself training under the tutelage of Walter Scott, an architect based in Liverpool. Within a few years, Townsend was working as a draughtsman in the office of Charles Barry, the architect behind the modern Palace of Westminster, the remodelling of Trafalgar Square and Highclere Castle, before he joining E.R. Robson at the London School Board to design hundreds of state-funded schools across London.

  • London School Board School, The London School Board were responsible for the construction of hundreds of new schools in the latter half of the 19th century and many of their designs will be familiar sights for Londoners, Stephen Craven (cc-by-sa/2.0)
    The London School Board were responsible for the construction of hundreds of new schools in the latter half of the 19th century and many of their designs will be familiar sights for Londoners, Stephen Craven (cc-by-sa/2.0)

By 1877, Townsend had struck out on his own and in 1888 he joined the Royal Institute of British Architects as a Fellow. That same year Townsend would also become a member of the Art Worker’s Guild, a group associated with the ideas of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement that would have a huge impact on both Townsend’s personal and professional life.

As a member of the Guild, Townsend designed furniture and wallpaper alongside his work as an architect, and developed an interest in mosaics which no doubt influenced the inclusion of Robert Anning Bell’s "Humanity in the house of circumstance" on the façade of the Horniman. It likely helped that Bell was also a member of the Guild and a close friend of Townsend.

Throughout the 1890s, Townsend was busy designing houses and churches in nearby Blackheath but at the end of the decade, he would receive the three commissions that would cement his legacy as an architect.

  • Bishopsgate Institute, Although the city around it has radically altered the Bishopsgate Institute remains, Ewan Munro (cc-by-sa/2.0)
    Although the city around it has radically altered the Bishopsgate Institute remains, Ewan Munro (cc-by-sa/2.0)

The first commission was to design the Bishopsgate Institute, which opened to the public in 1895. The Institute was built by Reverend William Rogers, the rector of the parish of St Boloph’s using funds the parish had been raising for over five centuries. Rogers was an educational reformer and a champion of public libraries, and he brought Townsend on board to design the Institute as a centre for culture and learning in London’s East End.

The Institute remains standing today continuing its mission and, even as the city around it has changed beyond recognition, Townsend’s original design including a sprawling tree relief and Romanesque archway remains unchanged.

  • Whitechapel Gallery, Although the Whitechapel Gallery has had a number of extensions over the year, the initial design by Charles Townsend still shines brightly on Whitechapel High Steet, G Jackson/Arcaid  (cc-by-sa/3.0)
    Although the Whitechapel Gallery has had a number of extensions over the year, the initial design by Charles Townsend still shines brightly on Whitechapel High Steet, G Jackson/Arcaid (cc-by-sa/3.0)

As the 19th century came to a close, Townsend was approached to design two more public buildings. Frederick Horniman was looking to build an entirely new museum to house his ever-growing collections and the Whitechapel Gallery sought to bring a publicly funded art gallery to the East End. Townsend accepted both commissions, both buildings would open in 1901, and both have remarkably similar designs.

  • Horniman Museum building, The Horniman is a Grade II listed building highlighting the importance and uniqueness of Townsend's design, James Veysey
    The Horniman is a Grade II listed building highlighting the importance and uniqueness of Townsend's design, James Veysey

The Horniman was built from 1898-1901 at a cost of about £40,000, using Doulting stone as used in the construction of Wells Cathedral and Glastonbury Abbey. As with the Bishopsgate Institute, both the Horniman and the Whitechapel Gallery incorporate a tree motif and Romanesque arches, but unique to the Horniman is Bell’s mosaic and our wonderful Clocktower.

With its rounded edges, the clock tower is meant to evoke the natural world to reflect Frederick Horniman’s desire that the Horniman’s collections, Gardens and buildings be unified in one theme.

Most importantly though, its unique style has made the Horniman a landmark in South London, so thanks for that Charles.

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

 

Friends of the walrus

Visitor Host Vicky King spends a lot of time with the big guy. She gives us her unique insights on what people think of our walrus.

Working at the Horniman as a Visitor Host, I see countless children walk into the Natural History Gallery - eyes wide and transfixed while their jaw is ajar, one arm stretched out pointing, amazed and slowly saying, “Wallllrus!”

The walrus is everyone’s favourite celebrity at the Horniman, including mine. Growing up visiting the Horniman means it has a special place in my heart. Since working here and finding out more about the collections my appreciation for the Horniman has increased.

What is it about the walrus that makes it so loveable? It’s hardly something cute and familiar like a cat or dog. I’ve asked some of the visitors why they like the walrus to find out.

“Because it’s fat!” shouted one little boy on a school trip, “He was here for a long, long time.”

“When I was little I was really scared of the walrus,” a little girl told me and also proudly said how she wasn’t scared anymore and liked him now.

Regular families to the Horniman always come to say hello to the walrus, but it’s not only children that are fond of him.

“I love that story that the Victorians over stuffed him,” a lady told me.

“I guess it’s that all the other animals are real representations of what they are but the walrus is just funny looking because it’s too big. Also walruses look a bit funny with their tusks,” one of our volunteers said while we chatted about the Museum.

This seems to be a popular theme adults like. I also love that one of our most popular exhibits is so popular because it's not actually correct.

A question we get asked a lot in the Natural History Gallery about everything is, “Is it real?”

Visitors particularly ask this about the walrus. People know it’s wrong but they can't always put their finger on why. When told the story of it being over stretched (because the people who stuffed it didn’t know what a walrus looked like) always gets a positive reaction.

For me one thing that really made me love the walrus was a story Jo Hatton our Keeper of Natural History told us while she gave a tour of the Gallery.

The walrus wasn’t always the focal point of the Natural History Gallery. You can see in photos of the museum years ago that we had much more larger animals on display including a polar bear.

However, the larger animals were sold to a dealers in Deptford in 1948 who, in turn, sold them on to a photography studio near the Kursaal in Southend-on-Sea as amusements for people to have their photos taken with. The walrus was spared this fate probably because he was so heavy and funny looking. They most likely ran out of room in their truck and decided to leave the walrus behind.

I think this story is so sweet, like The Ugly Duckling, but in the walrus' story he didn’t turn into a beautiful swan, people just learned to love him for being funny looking.

Why do you love the walrus?

Tell us online using #Horniman.

Our Conservatory under wraps

We are carrying out some essential conservation and improvements to our Grade II listed Conservatory.

We host a range of events in our Conservatory, especially weddings and civil ceremonies, and the work will include the installation of heating beneath a beautiful tiled floor, interior lighting and better drainage.

The work is due to be completed in March 2017.  

Did you know?

The conservatory was originally built at the Horniman family house at Coombe Cliffe, Croydon, in 1894.

Coombe Cliffe house had been the home of our founder's parents, and Frederick Horniman's mother lived there until her death in 1900. After being sold in 1903, the house later served as a convalescent home for children, college of art, education centre and teachers' hub.

Over the years, many voices spoke out for the need for preservation of the Coombe Cliff Conservatory, as the house was eventually left abandoned and suffered from neglect. In 1977, the building suffered considerable damage in a fire.

Eventually, it was decided that the best way to preserve this listed building was to dismantle and move it to another location.

The dismantled Conservatory was eventually moved to the Horniman in 1986, and its reconstruction began in June 1987. The ambitious restoration project was completed in 1989.

We hope, with these restoration works, we can keep the Conservatory in use for many years to come.

Find out how you can hire the Conservatory for your wedding or event. 

Nares Hornimani

Artist in residence Joshua Sofaer describes some of the work he has been doing at the Horniman.

‘For the last quarter of 2016, I have been lucky enough to be artist in residence at the Horniman Museum and Gardens.

I have been exploring the Horniman collections as inspiration to create a series of false noses. There are many places to look.

The most obvious is perhaps the Anthropology collection: dance, devil, carnival, and ‘ugly’ masks. Equally, I could turn to the Natural History collection: the spoonbill’s beak, the paleomastodon’s nascent trunk, the nine-banded armadillo’s curled protective shell. Less obvious, but no less inspirational, is the collection of instruments: an orchestral horn false nose, a concertina false nose, of course the nose flute already exists.

I collect false noses. I have hundreds of them. Most are human noses, but I also have witches noses, clown noses, animal noses, and other oddities. I even have a plug nose and a socket nose.

In 2013, I showed a series of 452 self-portraits wearing my false noses at the Wellcome Collection in London.

The thing about this collection is that there is a rapidly decreasing pool of noses to collect. As cosplay becomes more popular and affordable, people are dressing-up more ‘authentically’. The false nose, alas, has probably seen its day.

In an effort to try and add to my own collection, I have started making false noses myself. I have made painted noses, papier maché noses, brass noses, clay noses, cardboard noses, crochet noses, and gold noses. I have recently started a digital Nose Museum on Instagram.

Bang slap in the middle of our faces, the nose is often overlooked. There are odes to beautiful eyes, sonnets on the perfect shape of lips, hair practically has a strand of literature to itself. The nose, however, is often cut off. The nose has a rich narrative potential for the absurd, the comic, the mysterious and at the same time, the entirely knowable. We all have a nose after all. As Dr Seuss reminds us, ‘They grow on every kind of head’.

My personal opinion is that all people can be divided into two categories, those who collect, and those who do not. As a collector myself I am interested in people who collect. Frederick John Horniman (1835-1906) was a collector in the Victorian tradition and on an epic scale. It is, of course, his collection that forms the bedrock of the Horniman collection.

In what used to be the main reception of the Museum, but is now the staff and goods entrance, perched on a pedestal, is a bronze bust of Horniman.

  • Nares Hornimani, The bust of Frederick Horniman, Joshua Sofaer
    The bust of Frederick Horniman, Joshua Sofaer

Nobody seems to know much about it. My hunch is that it was created at the same time as the building, which opened to the public in 1901. It fits too perfectly into its nook to be a later addition. One option is that it is the work of sculptor Frederick William Pomeroy (1856-1924). Pomeroy made a bronze bust of Horniman’s daughter-in-law in 1898, and also a memorial tablet for the Museum. I’m still in pursuit of some solid evidence that confirms or contradicts this theory. (If you know something, get in touch!)

  • Nares Hornimani, A close up of Horniman's nose, Joshua Sofaer
    A close up of Horniman's nose, Joshua Sofaer

In tribute to the man that endowed this fantastic Museum, I want to create a Horniman false nose. And what could be a more fitting material for a tribute, than gold?

After discussing my plans with the conservation team, writing method statements, and making patch tests, I was given the go ahead to make a cast of the nose and moustache area of the bronze bust.

  • Nares Hornimani, Ready for your trim sir?, Joshua Sofaer
    Ready for your trim sir?, Joshua Sofaer

Despite having used the alginate and plaster bandage technique literally hundreds of times to successfully cast faces (most recently on the life mask of another Victorian and Edwardian collector, Henry Wellcome) the process failed. Perhaps I had been over cautious about what materials to use, not wanting to affect the patina of the bronze, but still, I thought it would work. The alginate can sometimes ‘go off’ but the batch seemed fine to me. Anyway, for whatever reason, possibly the cold temperature of the bronze, it wouldn’t release without tearing.

  • Nares Hornimani, A first attempt, Joshua Sofaer
    A first attempt, Joshua Sofaer

I don’t mind admitting that I was pretty embarrassed. After all the efforts to secure the permission and cordon off the area, I felt a bit incompetent. Luckily for me Lindsey Bruce, Exhibitions Officer, and my main point of contact at the Museum, was unperturbed. “We will make it happen,” was her refrain.

It was back to the 4D model shop in Whitechapel to see what other casting agents I could safely use. Armed with a pack of Gedeo Siligum, a silicone based moulding paste, I returned to the Museum to run a test on a bronze scrap. It seemed fine, and Julia Gresson from the conservation team, gave me the go ahead for a second attempt.

Poor Frederick looks a bit miserable having his nose cast.

  • Nares Hornimani, Horniman having his nose cast, Joshua Sofaer
    Horniman having his nose cast, Joshua Sofaer

This time, success! A very good cast that also picked up some dirt, which must have gathered up his nose over the years. Once the cast was off, Julia gave him a good clean.

  • Nares Hornimani, A good cast, Joshua Sofaer
    A good cast, Joshua Sofaer

Taking the mould back to my studio, the next step is to make a wax template. Yes, I know this looks like a school project gone wrong, and yes, that yellow stuff really is Play-Doh. Play-Doh is a great way to build up the sides of a wax mould. It’s cheap, washes off easily, and can form a tight seal.

  • Nares Hornimani, Play-Doh, Joshua Sofaer
    Play-Doh, Joshua Sofaer

After a couple of hours leaving the wax to cool and harden, I stripped back the Play-Doh, and removed the mould. The Horniman nose and moustache wax template stands proudly before me.

  • Nares Hornimani, Horniman's nose template, Joshua Sofaer
    Horniman's nose template, Joshua Sofaer

Now that I had at least one good wax copy, I made a plastic polymer version from the same mould as an insurance.

  • Nares Hornimani, Plastic polymer versions of the nose, Joshua Sofaer
    Plastic polymer versions of the nose, Joshua Sofaer

The next step was to take the template to a metal workshop to have it copper electroformed. Electroforming is a process that builds up a metal surface through electrodeposition. Because wax is not conductive, the area to be electroformed has to be treated chemically with a conductive layer, something like a metal paint. The technical term for the template is ‘mandrel’. The mandrel is then put into an electrolytic bath with a copper solution in it and the copper crystals slowly form around the conductive pattern.

  • Nares Hornimani, The electrolytic bath, Joshua Sofaer
    The electrolytic bath, Joshua Sofaer

A couple of days later I returned to the metal workshop to collect the mandrel. The wax is now covered with a beautiful layer of copper.

  • Nares Hornimani, The copper nose, Joshua Sofaer
    The copper nose, Joshua Sofaer

To get rid of the wax, I simply popped the thing into the oven (130 degrees Celsius for 40 minutes) and let the wax melt out through a wire grid into an aluminium take-away carton.

  • Nares Hornimani, Melting the wax, Joshua Sofaer
    Melting the wax, Joshua Sofaer

Back in the studio, I cut out the shape I wanted, following the natural line of the moustache, punched out the nostrils, and drilled some holes for the thread ties.

  • Nares Hornimani, Cutting out the final shape, Joshua Sofaer
    Cutting out the final shape, Joshua Sofaer

This is the final shape.

  • Nares Hornimani, The final copper nose, Joshua Sofaer
    The final copper nose, Joshua Sofaer

Then it’s back to the metal workshop for the golden jacket. The copper nose-moustache-combo has to be polished and thoroughly cleaned. The first bath is just washing-up liquid and water; the second running water; the third acid, in which you can see the dirt fizz away!

  • Nares Hornimani, The washing-up liquid and water bath, Joshua Sofaer
    The washing-up liquid and water bath, Joshua Sofaer

  • Nares Hornimani, The acid bath, Joshua Sofaer
    The acid bath, Joshua Sofaer

Then Mr Horniman’s nose is plunged into a bath of gold. In fact, it is just gold dust in a solution, and the process of gold plating is similar to that of electroforming, only much quicker. I tried to distract the technician, asking questions for as long as possible, so that an extra thick layer of gold would make its way onto the surface (only joking). In reality, it’s only a few microns deep. If you rough handle gold plate, you will see what’s underneath.

  • Nares Hornimani, Coating the nose, Joshua Sofaer
    Coating the nose, Joshua Sofaer

And there we have it. One gold Horniman nose and moustache.

  • Nares Hornimani, Gold Horniman nose, Joshua Sofaer
    Gold Horniman nose, Joshua Sofaer

However, I’m not sure it’s quite finished yet. I want to give this nose some kind of totem. One that makes it an object worthy of the taxonomic principles that form Horniman’s collection and which that collection helped to create.

There are several species to which Horniman lent his name. This happened when entomologists were invited to survey Horniman’s collections. Although Horniman did go on big world travels later in his life and brought crate loads of stuff back to the UK, most of his early collections were purchased through intermediaries. Someone goes off to Africa and collects a bunch of specimens, brings them back to London, and Horniman buys them at auction, for example. He would then welcome experts to look at what he had amassed. Specimens include a moth, Eusemia hornimani, (now Heraclia hornimani), a true bug, Tesserotoma hornimani, and the ‘Horniman beetle’, Ceratorhina hornimani (now Cyprolais hornimani), from Cameroon, described by naturalist and explorer Henry Walter Bates in 1877.

  • Nares Hornimani, Species to which Horniman gave his name, Joshua Sofaer
    Species to which Horniman gave his name, Joshua Sofaer

Perhaps the most beautiful species named after Horniman is the ‘Horniman Swallowtail’, Papilio hornimani, known only from the northern forests of Tanzania and the southern hills of Kenya. As Jo Hatton, Keeper of Natural explained to me, it was identified by Victorian entomologist W L Distant in 1879, when he was looking through Horniman’s vast collection of butterflies.

  • Nares Hornimani, This is the original specimen that Distant 'discovered', Joshua Sofaer
    This is the original specimen that Distant 'discovered', Joshua Sofaer

As an aside, if you’ve ever wondered how all those Victorian insects were pinned at just the right height, Jo showed me the entomologist’s ‘Pinning Stage’, a metal block that is used to set the specimens and their labels at a consistent height on the mounting pin. You pin the specimen, pick which height you want, and push the pin into the stage. By using the same hole each time, the specimens will always be at the same height.

  • Nares Hornimani, Pinning stage, Joshua Sofaer
    Pinning stage, Joshua Sofaer

Here is the defining Papilio hornimani on its original pin, with two labels beneath the butterfly.

  • Nares Hornimani, Papilio hornimani, Joshua Sofaer
    Papilio hornimani, Joshua Sofaer

It is almost always the open wings of the butterfly that we see pinned up, because they are traditionally seen as the most pretty, the reverse side, which is, I suppose, more commonly seen in nature as the butterfly sits on vegetation, have their own muted beauty. The Papilio hornimani is made up of soft dusty browns, greys and creams.

  • Nares Hornimani, Papilio hornimani, Joshua Sofaer
    Papilio hornimani, Joshua Sofaer

As you might expect, over the years, the Horniman Museum has acquired many examples of its lepidopterous namesake.

  • Nares Hornimani, Papilio hornimani, Joshua Sofaer
    Papilio hornimani, Joshua Sofaer

Where does all this fit into Horniman’s gold nose? Well, I’m thinking of giving him a Swallowtail nose ring, in the spirit of anthropology. I have drawn out the shape and will soon laser cut a piece of 0.5mm steel, which I will then have plated in gold, to match the nose.

  • Nares Hornimani, Drawing of a Swallowtail, Joshua Sofaer
    Drawing of a Swallowtail, Joshua Sofaer

Horniman fell in love with Japan (as in fact, have I) and so I have ordered a length of ‘kiki himo’ (literally 'gathered threads'), 100% silk braid made by craftsmen in Uji, Kyoto, which is being sent over from Japan, as the string to tie on the nose.

Soon I will be able to reveal Nares hornimani. Watch this space.’

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.

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

The Horniman in other museums

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

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

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

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

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

  • Servilleta from Mexico, Displayed at the Horniman in 1977− © British Museum
    Displayed at the Horniman in 1977



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

  • Group of stone sculptures, This was previously displayed in our Gardens.− © Museum of London
    This was previously displayed in our Gardens.

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

  • Seed and Flower wallpaper , By Walter Crane− © V&A Museum
    By Walter Crane

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