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Horniman Museum and Gardens

Home > London > Exhibitions | Escape the City | Antiques | Free | Fun Things To Do | Museums
by Claire Chambers (subscribe)
Applied Linguistics graduate and freelance writer. Visit my twitter: @heyclairemarie
Published July 1st 2012

Sometimes you can get fed up visiting the same old places. The usual museums and tourist traps can get a bit tiresome. That is why, if you want to visit somewhere in London a little different, a trip to Horniman Museum could be just your thing.

Let's get the major negative out of the way first. The museum is very far off the beaten track. By that I mean it's a bit of a journey outside of central London, all the way out in darkest Lewisham. It is also in an area where there is not much to do besides visit the museum. In addition, there is an uphill walk from Forest Hill train station, the closest tube station. However, if you don't mind walking, it's not too far and it makes it all the more satisfying when you arrive at your destination.

John Horniman was a Victorian tea trader and keen amateur collector who set up the museum in the 1860s in order to house the artefacts he brought home from his travels. They were originally kept in his home but his collection became too vast, so hence the need for a museum. Horniman is quoted as saying: "Those who use their eyes obtain the most enjoyment and knowledge. Those who look but do not see go away no wiser than when they came".

Stepping into the Horniman Museum is like stepping back into the past. Not because of the exhibits, but because a lot of the museum looks as if it hasn't been updated for quite a few years. At some points during our visit, we almost felt like we had to dust the cabinets to see the exhibits. But that is part of the Horniman Museum's charm; it is endearingly different to the big London museums and galleries. There are no touch- screens to be seen in this museum and a lot of the information provided about the exhibits have clearly been typed by a typewriter.

Amongst the stuffed animals, you'll find the famous Horniman Victorian walrus, which has been on display since the museum first opened. The walrus was brought back from Hudson Bay in Canada and was mounted by taxidermists around 1870. Not much was known at this time about the anatomy of walruses and the taxidermists were not aware that the walrus would have little flaps of skin around its neck, so they stuffed it in such a way that the flaps did not show.

The Natural History Gallery showcases all kind of weird Victorian exhibits such as vultures and tapeworms. As well, as this the museum has a fascinating display of African artefacts in the African Worlds Gallery, which are absorbing and interesting. We could see why they were intriguing to a Victorian audience. There is also an aquarium that children can enjoy. You have to pay a small fee for entry but as there were quite a lot of coral and fish from different habitats, it was not too much to pay.

As well as all this, it is worth exploring the Horniman Gardens, surrounding the museum. They are great for a stroll after you have finished exploring the museum's exhibits. They are also perfect for enjoying your lunch when the weather is good. If you go in the spring, the Gardens are particularly beautiful.


The Horniman Museum and its gardens are a charming and enjoyable day out, and testament to Frederick Horniman's belief in improving education for those who are less fortunate than himself. It also holds steadfast to his quotation earlier in this article, as it encourages those who visit to open their eyes and truly see the world around them.
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Why? For a day out that's a bit different
Where: South London
Cost: Free
Your Comment
Surely lewisham is not that remote :)
by Dave Walsh (score: 4|11291) 2739 days ago
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