The Horniman Museum

Yesterday was such a lovely day here in London, we didn’t want to spend it indoors doing laundry and cleaning (yuck!) so instead we ventured forth to explore the Horniman Museum in Forert Hill, south London.

Frederick Horniman was a Victorian tea-trader who apparently had a bit too much time and money, because he began collectiong stuff, and more stuff, and more stuff … (he wasn’t quite a Collyer brother, but the hoarding was definitely an issue!).  Eventually he had to move out of his house, which was then torn down and replaced with the larger building that became the museum.

Horniman collected bits of natural history, cultural artefacts, and musical instruments. This collection of stuffed birds is one of the best in the world, and while I do understand the scientific imperatives behind exhibitions like this, it still made me a little sad. This was definitely and old-fashioned, traditional kind of natural history museum.

There are live animals in the aquarium in the basement, including fish, crabs, jellyfish, and frogs. The space for the aquarium is very intimate, and it was nice seeing so many families there. But wouldn’t those fish be so much happier swimming in the sea?  Surely with modern technologies we can find ways to educate and illustrate without capturing wildlife like this.

The musical instruments were quite impressive, and that you could listen to (a few) of them on high-quality recordings was nice. But I have to admit that I was a little bit troubled, because I believe that instruments should be played!  If you lock them away in a museum, they no longer serve their original purpose, which is to make music and entertain. Now, maybe in some circumstances it makes sense to preserve a particularly rare example, but this collection has 20 of everything — not just one or two!  Oh well, it’s just my own particular strangeness. I have a love/hate relationship with museums sometimes. I did get to hear a serpent played for the first time, which was pretty neat. And a sackbut too!

The Horniman Museum also has 16 acres of gardens, which we briefly explored. The sky looked a bit threatening, so we didn’t venture too far.  Even though we didn’t get as much laundry done as we should have, I’m glad we dropped by. It was nice to see a museum that is patronised largely by locals rather than tourists!

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Posted on 14/06/2010, in Exploring the UK, Within London and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I have two dead bumble bees in a glass which I used for an illustration, and now I don’t want to just toss them aside – can I start the ‘Stel’s Folley Museum? I mean: I have all the stuff !

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