Horniman Museum & Gardens

23 January 2014

Tuesday, my London Museums classmates and I visited the Horniman Museum & Gardens in Forest Hill, South East London (zone 3). The trek from Hammersmith, West London, was approximately an hour and ten minutes taking both tube and train (or overground).
I met up with a few of my classmates at the train station in Forest Hill and we walked up to the Horniman Museum and Gardens (approximately seven minutes) admiring the countryside village feel and the beauty of the museum and gardens. The view truly is mesmerising and it is no wonder the locals see the Horniman as a community and lifestyle "family-friendly free attraction" (see here). If I lived closer, I could see myself wanting to wander their gardens and admire the view on a warm day.
During our visit, we looked at the Natural History, African Worlds and Centenary galleries before meeting with Abigail and Georgina Pope (head of learning) in their Hands On Base. My favourite was African Worlds whilst my least favourite was decidedly Natural History which apparently is the most popular gallery amongst visitors and schools.

Mr. Horniman was a collector of insects and specimen hence the emphasis on natural history. The collection was first laid out in 1901 and has retained the Victorian facade and design which might seem foreign to many modern day museum visitors.  The taxidermy, skeletons and fossils are all lined up against the walls of glass showcases which creates distance and an impersonal wall between artefact and visitor, in my opinion. 
Another reason I am no fan of this particular gallery is for a more personal reason -- that being that I am  a creationist and a significant focus in the Natural History gallery covered evolution.  I am no stranger to exhibits on evolution but there was no room for dialogue about the possibilities of evolution vs. creation. It was laid out in a matter-of-fact way when it could have been a great conversation piece.
Moving on, I was excited to see the African Worlds gallery which is the first permanent exhibit of its kind in Britain.  The gallery was laid out with showcases being made to look like homes and a ramp to represent a village road -- very creative.  There was quite a bit about North America in the exhibit that I could relate to and helped me better understand the overall theme of African culture and labels on numerous items have both African and English translations. This exhibit was much more (in my opinion) user friendly and inviting/welcoming.
 The Centenary gallery meanwhile told the story of the Horniman collection and what has been displayed over the last 100 years as the title might suggest. For me, the layout was distracting and a bit confusion unlike the other two galleries where you followed a circular pathway throughout the rooms. There was a primary display in the centre of the room and several additional displays in the corners of the room. Also, unlike in the other two rooms where children ran freely laughing and shouting their joy, in this room a hush seemed to cover the crowd and a sense of reverence prevailed.

Finally, my classmates and tutors and I joined Ms. Georgina Pope (head of learning at the Horniman Museum & Gardens) in the Hands-On Base where we learned more about the museum and Mr. Horniman himself whose mission was to "bring the world to Forest Hill through recreation, instruction and enjoyment." Georgina also helped us better understand the continuous grant-in-aid cuts every year happening in museums throughout Britain and their acquisitions & disposal policy. Interestingly, for all of Mr. Horniman's desires to bring the world to Forest Hill, Georgina said that their visitors primarily come from the six surrounding boroughs and they receive very few tourists despite their being internationally recognised. In fact even Georgina expressed a preference for repeat local visitors versus tourists and we all sensed a local pride and ownership of the museum and gardens. It is truly a lifestyle locale with children running through the galleries, mums pushing prams, packed cafes on the premises and large school groups everywhere you turned.
Yours truly with classmate/friend Amanda S
After a very informative and education afternoon, several of us went to the gardens and explored the views before a piece of carrot cake and tea in the cafe before finding our way home with our minds full of thoughts and questions leading to further discussion on-line.

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Thanks so much for sharing with me! Your thoughts and comments are always appreciated!
x Joy

 

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