In 1997 I went to London with a friend. We stayed with a pen pal of mine, who was eager to show us the sights around his place. Since he lived somewhere in the suburbs, there wasn’t really a lot to be seen, but one thing he did tell us about was the Horniman Museum. Being rather far from the City, in Forest Hill, this is not a place you’re likely to run into by accident. And if you’re in London for only a few days, I’m sure there are more interesting things to see… but if you’re looking for a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon, the Horniman might be just the thing. It has a varied collection and if the weather is good you can also spend some time in the gardens.

Some history
The Horniman Museum was founded by Frederick John Horniman. He was a Victorian tea trader, who began collecting specimens and artefacts from around the world in the 1860's. In a quest to bring the world to Forest Hill, he opened part of his family house to the public. As time progressed and the collection increased, the family house grew too small. At length Frederick’s wife is supposed to have said, "Either the collection goes or we do". Thus, in 1898, Horniman commissioned Charles Harrison Townsend to design a new museum.
This museum opened in 1901. Frederick Horniman dedicated it forever to the people of London, together with the surrounding land, for their recreation, instruction and enjoyment.
Since the museum opened, the collection has increased significantly, so that the original collection is now only 10% of the current holdings.
Over the years, new buildings have been added. A new building was donated in 1911 by the son of Frederick Horniman, Emslie. In 1999 some of the later additions were demolished, and a new extension was created. This new development opened in 2002.

The Collection
The Horniman Museum holds in total some 350,000 objects and related items.They are divided into three main collections: World Cultures (Ethnography), Natural History, and Music. There is also an Aquarium and a library collection with texts and related items covering the main collection areas.

The World Cultures collection comprises approximately 80,000 objects from around the world. The Horniman Museum has he third most significant ethnographic collection in the United Kingdom, after the British Museum (London) and the Pitt-Rivers Museum (Oxford.). The specimens come from Africa, Asia, America, Europe and the Pacific. The collection consists of archeological and historical objects, as well as new ones that are commissioned by the museum, rather than existing ones that would be removed form circulation. A large part of the African objects are displayed in an exhibition of their own, "African Worlds".

The Natural History collections cover the entire range of natural science areas: zoology, botany, physical anthropology, palaeontology and physical geology: a total of over 250,000 specimens. There is a wide range of birds, butterflies, minerals and all kinds of other stuff. For kids there is an exhibition on dinosaurs.

The Music Collection was to me the most interesting. When I was in the museum, it was all crammed into one room, the Music Room, I have been unable to find out whether the collection was moved into a bigger space after the extension was built. The Music Room was lots of fun, full of old cupboards with drawers you were allowed to open to view the instruments inside.
The Musical Instruments collection consists of wind instruments, string instruments, percussion instruments and keyboard instruments from all over the world, as well as some instruments that defy those categories. There are historical instruments as well as modern ones. The best part is that the museum tries hard to have recordings of all instruments available for the public, so that although you cannot play them, you can hear what they sound like.

The Aquarium at the Horniman is one of London's oldest surviving aquaria. It was founded in 1901 under the supervision of eminent zoologist & ethnographer Alfred Cort Haddon. The mission for the aquarium is to inspire people to respect the natural world. The current 250 metre facility houses a rich diversity of organisms: fish, invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians and plants, many of which have been bred in captivity.

Apart from the regular collection, there are also changing exhibitions. The time I was there, there was an exhibition on nomad peoples. In a large room, several tents were put up, each filled with the appropriate furnishings. There was a Tuareg tent, a yurt, a wigwam and several others, as well as clothing and the stuff that is needed to haul your home and everything in it from one location to another. Very interesting, so if this was exemplary for their exhibitions, they must all be good.

You want to visit?
You can find the Horniman Museum at 100 London Road, Forest Hill, London SE23 3PQ, in south London on the South Circular Road (A205). It’s five minute walk up from Forest Hill station. Entrance to the museum and the gardens is free, although you might have to pay admission for major exhibitions. The museum is open daily from 10.30am to 5.30pm.

For more information on the history, collections, current exhibitions and how to get there, visit the Horniman virtually at, which is also where I got my information from.

This writeup was created for Everything Quests: Places to visit in Ireland and the UK!

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