The Horniman Museum

Situated in Forest Hill in South London, the Horniman Museum offers plenty of exhibits and attractions to amuse and bewilder the whole family, and what’s more, it’s free.  Though you may never have heard of it the museum has actually been in existence since the reign of Queen Victoria.  It was a gentleman by the name of Frederick John Horniman who allowed visitors to view his strange and eclectic collection of objects, and since he first opened his doors the collection has grown to at least ten times its original size.

Photo by Russell James Smith
Photo by Russell James Smith

Visitors can now view important anthropological specimens and a range of musical instruments as well as enjoying the natural history section and the aquarium.  A lot of the exhibits here are very hands on and you can handle them for yourselves, which makes it a really great experience for children.

A Victorian Obsession

Horniman was a tea trader which was big business at the time and as a philanthropist he began collecting specimens on his many travels.  His desire was to bring the world and all of its wonders back to Forest Hill for everyone to see.  It was a noble mission but unfortunately there were a few hiccups.  When you bring specimens back from your travels and hand them over to a taxidermist, it would help if that taxidermist had some idea of what the animal he was stuffing looked like.

When presented with a walrus to stuff to go on display in Horniman’s collection they had no idea at all what the animal should look like, and so continued to stuff, and stuff and fill out every wrinkle of skin and fold of flesh that they could find.  The resulting exhibit is probably the fattest and most unrealistic walrus that you will ever see!

Some Horniman Highlights

As well as the stuffed, taxidermed to the extreme exhibits there are many living exhibits to view, with some incredible marine life on display in the aquarium.  As a word of warning though, you may find you are presented with questions to answer from the children when they see not only the usual range of mounted animal heads, but also those of some domestic dogs.  There are some incredible objects on display in the musical instrument section, from ancient Lyres to modern synthesisers and a whole host of bizarreness in between.

The hands on galleries are probably going to be the biggest hit with the kids and there are literally thousands of exhibits that they can touch and feel for themselves.  With objects like masks from Mexico, Indian musical instruments and animals on the verge of extinction there will be something in the hands on galleries to inspire you.  These are practically all genuine exhibits too, not reproductions like you may have experienced elsewhere.  The hands on areas are booked throughout the week by schools and educational groups, but should be available to access at weekends.  A quick check online should be able to tell you when the best times are to access this amazing facility.

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