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Natural History Gallery

Our Natural History Gallery first opened in 1901, the design influenced by the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau movements of the time. Many of the original showcases remain, packed full of taxidermy, skeletons and specimens preserved in fluid, giving the gallery a unique historic feel.

Most of the specimens, including our taxidermy mount of a walrus were collected over 100 years ago during the Victorian and Edwardian periods. This was a time when naturalists and collectors were exploring the globe.

Read more about the collections displayed in this gallery.

Guide to the Gallery

The gallery is split into two levels. In the main hall, on the ground floor, you will find displays covering evolution and adaptation in the natural world, including cases looking specifically at the evolution of the horse and elephant species. Collections of domestic dog a pigeon breeds look at the effects of domestication and selective breeding. Many of the gallery themes have changed little in 100 years.

At the centre of the room is the Horniman Walrus, perhaps Forest Hill's most famous resident, who sits proudly on his iceberg.

On the first floor, you will find a geological timeline of mostly British fossils, as well as the start of a display about classification in the animal kingdom. Moving anti-clockwise around the balcony, you can discover the different groups of animals which have evolved over time, and how they are organised by taxonomy. This display continues downstairs among the larger cases.

The balcony also houses the Apostle Clock and a children's reading space. 

Inspired by nature

You can explore our fascination with nature through regularly changing displays featuring star specimens from our Natural History collections at the entrance to the Natural History Gallery. Visit the Natural History Gallery to see:

  • the origins of Frederick Horniman's natural history collecting and the formation of his founding collection
  • how the collecting and discovery of new species fuelled a thirst for knowledge and an ongoing passion for nature amongst collectors and the general public alike
  • how the practice of taxidermy thrived in the 19th century and how it was increasingly used in home décor and incorporated into fashionable dress, with catastrophic consequences for many species.

How to get to the Gallery

Watch this short film to see how to find the Natural History Gallery and routes to the Balcony, as well the lighting and noise levels on an average day: