I’ve loved the Horniman Museum since I was a small child. We would make the long and slightly awkward bus journey there from our home in Victoria, over the Thames at Vauxhall Bridge, through dingy Brixton and elegant and well-heeled Dulwich to spend the day at this special place.
I can’t remember those visits in detail really. I’ve got memories of awe-inspiring and crowded cabinets of strange birds and unfamiliar animals, collected and stuffed many years before: of colourful displays of traditional costumes and artefacts from Africa. Somewhere or another I probably still have the odd sepia-and-white postcard, bought as a souvenir of our day out.
And now it’s set to be a go-to destination for new grandson William. He too will be able to enjoy the bus journey there and back, and a Grand Day Out, as we all did last Sunday.
The museum is so much more than I remember from those days in the 1950s. Those collections – and more – are still there. They’re still arranged, particularly the Natural History collection, with a nod to the days when simply everything was displayed, all the better to fascinate you. There’s that wonderful walrus, stuffed by a Victorian taxidermist who hadn’t had the benefit of watching David Attenborough’s wildlife programmes. He filled out the creature full to bursting, not a wrinkle in sight. Everyone loves him.
But the African Worlds gallery reflects more modern ideas of interpretation. You’ll find, alongside objects from traditional African cultures, more modern artefacts from countries strongly influenced by the African populations that arrived there during the years of slavery, such as Brazil and Trinidad.
Surely that aquarium wasn’t there 50 years ago? And all those wonderful things happening in the gardens – I can’t even remember any gardens. I can’t remember the spectacular views across London. Even if I could, I wouldn’t remember this view. Look.
I’m sure there wasn’t an Animal Walk. This is where William got the chance to come face to face with an extremely short-legged goat, a large and very industrious white rabbit, a couple of hens and an alpaca. Now there are flower beds showing plants that give us dyes for cloth. There’s an exciting space full of – are they sculptures? No, we can all go and make music there, strumming, pounding, plucking, experimenting. And so much more …. so much more. I’d happily go and explore this wonderful outdoor and indoor site every time we go and visit… and I know William will want to come too, when he’s old enough to have an opinion.