The Horniman Museum and Gardens is a landmark for South London. Lots of the team had visited over the years, but do we know it as well as we think?
We’ve been appointed to create a new website for this incredible organisation. So we took a day out to immerse ourselves in all things Horniman.
As we journeyed to Forest Hill the team discussed the ways they had visited the Horniman over the years. From cheese-filled evenings to school art trips, afternoon slices of cake to gigs in the gardens, we nearly all had a Horniman moment to talk about. Having dipped in and out we now wanted to see the full range on offer.
We started by defying the wind for a picnic overlooking the panoramic view of London. The gardens alone make up a huge amount of trips to the site, and it’s easy to see why. After our sandwiches we popped over to visit Cottontail the giant rabbit (who was sadly sleeping) and his friends on the animal walk.
The Lego exhibition was our next stop. The intricate models of wonders of the world gave us lots to look at, especially the more surprising depictions of the internet, and special model of the Horniman and its walrus. It got us acting like kids again on the interactive wall. The high quality of the exhibition meant we could see why lots of visitors return. With a membership, all temporary exhibitions are free (the rest of the building is free all the time).
We split up to spend some time exploring other parts of the museum, with some people taking in the Music galleries, the new studio space, or parts of the garden.
A highlight of the afternoon was our guided tour of the world gallery, kindly given by digital manager Connie. The thinking behind the displays, and complexity of bringing together themes of what it means to be human, was hugely impressive. And with over 3000 objects on display, since its redevelopment last year, the stories behind every object were fascinating.
Interactivity had been carefully considered throughout, creating engagement for family audiences, whilst also providing fascinating stories for older visitors. My favourite objects ranged from the Swedish crayfish festival decorations (a party I now know I need to go to) to Himalayan mandalas.
After the intensity of the World Gallery we needed an intellectual rest. We headed to the playful Butterfly House, where the specimens are hidden in the foliage. We got up close with plenty of exotic species and took a look at the hatching chrysalises.
It was then onto the aquarium to view species from around the world. The fifteen different tanks included fish, frogs and jellyfish in a stunning array of colours. It was another moment for us to revert to childhood as we oohed and ahhed and knelt on the floor to get a better look.
The aquarium is in the basement, walking down the stone stairs, it felt like we were descending to find a hidden gem that lots of us hadn’t explored before.
We finished the day with walrus selfies in the Natural History Gallery. This part of the museum was probably most well known to the team and retains most of the Victorian idiosyncrasies. This room really emphasised the range of the day’s experiences; it felt so different to the newly refurbished World Gallery.
Satisfied that we’d explored every corner (if a little tired) we strolled down the hill to the pub to debrief. We all came back with facts and surprises that we hadn’t known from those visits over the years. Steph found out that all of the instruments in the outdoor garden were tuned in the key of ‘C’. Jack discovered that ring-necked parakeets help to disperse chilli seeds. Emily learned that the Alpacas are mother (Peep) and daughter (Poppy).
Claire won our prize for telling us the story of the totem pole – An eagle, Nathan Jackson’s main clan crest, is at the top of the pole and beneath are a girl with a bag and a grizzly bear, illustrating a legend from the North West Coast of America of a girl who married a bear. This is a landmark so many of us have passed many times without knowing the meaning.
Our day had shown us so many sides to the Horniman, and each of us found new favourite corners and stories which we’re sure to return to with friends and family.