A Sensory Delight - The Horniman Museum & Gardens

Introducing…

It's perhaps not what you expect to find nestled on the South Circular, a busy road surrounding England's capital, but when you do find it, you'll be pleased you did. Founded by Frederick Horniman in 1901, the Horniman Museum and Gardens is a place of calm and harmony within a busy urban backdrop.

Unusual and fun, the experiences available here are a combination you're unlikely to find in many other museums – and we really mean that! Originally focused on anthropology, natural history and musical instruments, the collection has expanded throughout the years to include a world gallery, aquarium and even a butterfly house. And when the weather behaves you can enjoy the Sunday farmers’ market, explore the gardens (all 16.5 acres of them) or in the warmer months, try the crazy golf course (check the website for opening times). Temporary exhibitions are hosted every year on a range of diverse topics – dinosaurs, a photography showcase and the history of tea were all on offer during our latest visit. Most things are free for everyone, but some carry a fee and others are ticketed to manage capacity. Membership is reasonably priced and provides some excellent benefits.

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PHOTOGRAPH BY Laura & Caroline
Decorated art tree
PHOTOGRAPH BY Laura & Caroline

Building Community & Educating the Future

In 2022 the Horniman was named "Art Fund Museum of the Year", winning the largest museum prize in the world. A quick scan of the headline reasons for its success gives you an idea of how it contributes:

- Engaging people in addressing the climate change emergency;

- Re-orienting its activity to reach diverse audiences, more representative of London;

- Focus on educational opportunities.

Taking the last on the list, it's evident that education is a priority. The museum hosts a Youth Panel for 14–19 year olds, offers work experience and Kickstart apprenticeships as well as running workshops for all ages (including options for the home-schooled). There's also another lovely way learning is being supported - via the role of the Engage Volunteer. We talked to one young man who was offering his time, unpaid, before starting a paleontology degree. He explained that part of his role is to rotate between exhibitions, interacting with visitors to help them enjoy and understand. As a visitor it was great to speak to someone knowledgeable and enthusiastic, who was there primarily to help you get the most from your visit - not preoccupied with safeguarding or checking tickets.

The museum has a reputation as a cultural hub, a place that celebrates different societies, people and histories but also brings them together in a shared community, not only through the exhibits but also via its events programme. It’s heart-warming to experience and something to be proud of. You don’t just come here to learn about the past, you come here to learn how we can make a better future.

A Treat for the Senses…

As our specialism is sensory history, we simply had to throw in a few sensory snippets to be experienced...

🎶Music Gallery - packed with instruments from all over the world, try a few for yourself in the music room, or listen to sound samples via the interactive information points.

🦋 Butterfly House - great to visit in winter as it's lovely and warm. P.S Did you know that butterflies taste through their feet?

Butterflies and fruit
PHOTOGRAPH BY Laura & Caroline

🧏🏽‍♀️♀️ Accessibility – visual, aural and interactive exhibits abound, so that as many people as possible can enjoy the museum.

🐟 Aquarium – amazing colours, and the jellyfish are beautiful and ethereal to watch.

Aquarium
PHOTOGRAPH BY Laura & Caroline

Finale

Of course no museum trip would be complete without refreshments and a browse in the gift shop, and the Horniman doesn't disappoint here either. But you're not obliged to purchase their foodstuffs if you'd rather freestyle. You can picnic in the gardens as long as you're respectful of others and clean up after yourselves. And we should all be doing that anyway!

In summary? You can have an excellent day out for minimal (if no) expense, and there's so much to explore that you can make every visit different. This gem of a museum really does tick all the boxes, even ones you didn't know were available to tick!

Visit

Horniman Museum & Gardens

100 London Road

Forest Hill (Forest Hill Station – London Overground & Southern)

London

SE23 3PQ

All you need to know before you go: Homepage - Horniman Museum and Gardens

Become a member: Membership - Horniman Museum and Gardens

Laura & Caroline
PHOTOGRAPH BY Laura & Caroline

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Sistory History

We’re two sisters (Laura & Caroline), who love history and have a particular passion for sensory history. Via our podcast and travel blogs we want to share this love, and hopefully make history more available to, and enjoyable for, more people… Join us!

https://www.sistoryhistory.co.uk/

Sistory History | Podcast on Spotify