Emslie Horniman, the son of Frederick John Horniman our founder, married Laura Plomer in 1886 but their relationship had not always been plain sailing.
Laura’s family disapproved of her relationship with Emslie, deeming the Horniman’s social status as inadequate. They thought of Emslie as an ‘atheist and a radical’. Laura’s parents even locked her in her room in the hope that she would come to her senses and forget about Emslie.
With no money to buy stamps, she couldn’t even write to her love. But, undeterred, Laura cut off her hair, sold it to a wigmaker in Mayfair, and bought stamps so that she could continue writing to Emslie.
It didn’t work, and the couple married in 1886.
Horniman’s Vision display, above the World Gallery
Bows for stringed instruments throughout the world are mostly strung with horsehair, and examples of this can be found throughout the Music Gallery.
Usually between 160 and 180 hairs are used to create bows, but the bow for this spike fiddle is made with a single horsehair string. The fiddle is made from a gourd, and the instrument was made in Nigeria.
Music Gallery, Listening to Order case
The buhai is traditionally played at New Year’s celebrations in Romania.
A hank of horse hair is attached to the centre of the membrane (rabbit skin). The drum is played by wet hands being pulled alternately along the strange of horse hair.
Buhai means bull, the noise the drum makes is thought to resemble a bull.
Hair tubes are worn by men and boys in Waiwai culture to draw attention to their hair. Strong, beautiful hair is considered masculine and so highlighting it is important. The real bird feathers signal the importance of birds. The Waiwai believe they are like birds and that the human spirit can fly to other worlds in what they call kapu, the layered universe.
On display in World Gallery, in the American encounter
Hair is great for compost, and for plants in general. You can see our compost heap in the Gardens beyond the Grasslands Garden (by the farthest London Road exit), but all of the plants and flowers in the Gardens are grown using it. Hair contains a lot of nitrogen, and helps compost to retain rainwater.
Huacaya alpacas – like Eva and Poppy in the Animal Walk – have fur that is quite similar to sheep wool in texture. It’s dense, soft, and crimpy.
Alpaca fleece, regularly shorn in the spring, has many qualities that make it really useful. It’s hypoallergenic, water repellent, wind resistant, breathable and insulating. This makes it a really good material for clothes, particularly outside wear like hiking gear. It’s also lightweight, meaning it won’t weigh you down as you’re trekking up a mountain.
Eva and Poppy are shorn annually at the Horniman, and in the past their fur has even been used by Horniman staff for knitting. Because huacaya alpaca wool is stretchy, it makes great yarn!
See Eva and Poppy daily in the Animal Walk
The Natural History Gallery is host to many animals that appear hairy, but did you know that only mammals have true hair? Mammals use their hair in a huge variety of ways. For dogs, their top coat of hair protects them from dirt and repels water, whilst their undercoat keeps them warm. Some dogs (like poodles) only have an undercoat.
Cut dog hair has many other uses. Like human hair it can be used for compost, and to knit with.
Artist Erwan Fichou’s photographic series, Dogwool, documents dog’s owners who have used their dog’s hair to make jumpers for themselves.
Maybe when next you look at the dog heads in the Natural History Gallery, try to imagine what kind of cardigans their fur would make.
See the dog heads in the Natural History Gallery and Erwan Fichou’s Dogwool series in Hair: Untold Stories