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Animal in Focus: Flymo and Gizmo

Every month, the Animal Keepers introduce you to a member of their extended family. This month its double trouble as it’s all about Flymo and Gizmo, our pygmy goats.

The terrible twosome are a miniature breed of domestic goat, originating from the Cameroon Valley of West Africa. The breed was created by cross breeding West African Dwarf Goats and Nigerian Dwarf Goats.

  • Animal in Focus: Flymo and Gizmo, Flymo and Gizmo, the Animal Walk pygmy goats.
    Flymo and Gizmo, the Animal Walk pygmy goats.

Pygmy goats are classified as a multi-purpose animal, as they have a variety of uses. They were originally imported for use in petting zoos, and quickly gained popularity as pets and companion animals for hobbyists and are very popular as show animals. Pygmy goats are also used for meat, milk and skin.

Goats have long held a reputation for being animal garbage disposals, but there is much more to them than just bottomless stomachs. New research has shown that goats are just as intelligent as dogs, with the ability to solve simple puzzles and challenges.

Don’t believe us? Come up to the Animal Walk and watch Flymo work out how to get the willow branch that is just out of reach. He has been known to go into his house, take out his feed bucket, flip it over and use it as a step ladder!

  • Animal in Focus: Flymo and Gizmo, This is Flymo, our male pygmy goat who is light grey and black.
    This is Flymo, our male pygmy goat who is light grey and black.

Flymo and Gizmo’s diet includes hay, browse (such as twigs, sticks and hedgerow material), muesli mix and, very occasionally, fruit and veggies as treats. Although humorously named Flymo, ironically pygmy goats rarely graze and act as ‘lawn mowers’. However, pygmy goats are excellent at clearing hedge and scrub as part of conservation grazing management programmes in the UK.

  • Animal in Focus: Flymo and Gizmo, This is Gizmo,our female pygmy goat who is mostly black-coloured.
    This is Gizmo,our female pygmy goat who is mostly black-coloured.

Pygmy goats love fun activities to do, they are superb climbers and will jump and play on obstacles. They are often seen balancing on the wooden stumps and on the sleepers inside their paddocks. As part of their natural behaviour, they head butt each other, the fences, objects and very occasionally their keepers.

Come visit the Animal Walk to meet the twins and the rest of Animal Walk residents.

The Animal Walk is open each day from 12.30pm to 4pm and entry is free.

Birds: myth, lore & legend

As Halloween approaches, we explore the myths and legends surrounding some of the birds in our Natural History collection.

Humans have always seen birds as having mysterious and magical powers. Maybe because their colours, songs and the way they fly can be so beautiful and intriguing.

We've been speaking to Rachel Warren Chadd and Marianne Taylor, authors of Birds: myth, lore & legend to look at three of the most magical birds, and the different qualities and beliefs humans have associated with them.


  • Birds: myth, lore & legend, Raven on display in the Natural History Gallery
    Raven on display in the Natural History Gallery

For many people in Britain, their first encounters with ravens are at the Tower of London. It is said that if ravens ever fly away from the Tower the crown will fall. Folklore says that wild ravens have always lived at the Tower, and fed on the bodies of those executed as enemies of the Crown.

Ravens pop up in mythology and legend all over the world. The god Odin, from Norse mythology, was accompanied by a pair of ravens called Huginn and Muninn. The birds, representing reflection/thought and memory, flew over the world each morning and on their return would settle on the god’s shoulders and whisper to him all that they had seen. Thanks to this Odin became renowned as the wisest of the gods. Norse sailors exploring the northern seas also used ravens but as navigators, sending them out from ships in search of land.

In the Bible, Noah first sends out a raven to look for dry land. It is when the raven does not return that he sends out a dove.

In North American folklore, the raven is seen as both creator and amoral prankster, and as such are often a central figure in Native American and Inuit creation stories.


  • Birds: myth, lore & legend, Magpie from our Handling Collection
    Magpie from our Handling Collection

In Britain, the magpie is the bearer of both good and bad luck – depending on how many are seen. Many are familiar with this old rhymes, differing according to region:

One for sorrow, two for mirth,

Three for a wedding, four for a birth,

Five for silver, six for gold,

Seven for a secret not to be told,

Eight for Heaven, nine for Hell,

And ten for the Devil’s own sell [self].

In ancient Rome, the magpie was associated with magic and fortune telling, while in Scandinavia some witches rode magpies or turned into them. In Germany, the bird was considered a bird of the underworld and in Scotland it was said that magpies had a drop of the devil’s blood on their tongues.

Outside of Europe, the magpie has a much more positive image. In Native American legends, the magpie was considered a friend of hunter-gatherer tribes. In Korea, the magpie is thought to bring good news and in China it is a symbol of happiness, foretelling and good fortune.


  • Birds: myth, lore & legend, Snowy owl on display in our Natural History Collection
    Snowy owl on display in our Natural History Collection

Across the world, few birds are as culturally symbolic – and contradictory – as owls. The sights and sound of an owl was linked to death in ancient Egypt and desolation in the Bible. In ancient Rome, owls were said to have predicted the passing of several Caesars. Fear and dread of the birds is similarly deep-rooted in Native American, African and several Asian cultures.

Yet in ancient Greece, subverting this trend, the Little Owl represented or accompanied Athene, the goddess of wisdom. The owl is also presented as a wise character in popular fiction, like Hedwig in Harry Potter or Archimedes in The Once and Future King, even when they are actually less smart, like Owl in the Winnie-the-Pooh stories.

Owls are often associated with magic. An owl can fly without sounds, find its prey in near total darkness and rotate its head almost a full circle. Human attempts to harness this otherworldliness in magic is widespread. In Japan, owl images were used to guard against famine and epidemics, while in central Asia, owl-feather amulets were worn to ward off evil spirits. For some Native American tribes, wearing owl feathers signified bravery and brought good fortune. European owls were often the familiars of witches and wizards, such as Merlin's companion in the Arthurian legends and Harry Potter.

You can visit the raven and owls in our Natural History Gallery.

You can see our magpie in the Hands on Base.

How to make felt animals

One of our Volunteers, Genevieve, has been inspired by the Horniman collections to make her own animals. Her tiny harvest mouse has stolen our hearts. Find out how she went about making them look realistic. 

'Being part of the engage volunteer team, I have been able to encourage children to look more carefully at animals though the handling collection. I’ve also helped them learn by asking them questions and encouraging them to feel and experience the animal. I have seen the wonder and excitement at being able to touch the soft fur of a wild rabbit and the hard sharp teeth of a lion amongst other treasures.

I have also been learning myself about the animals in the Natural History Gallery and the Nature Base. From day one of my Volunteering, I fell in love with the live harvest mice in the Nature Base and rushed home to try and make one of my own.

  • Felt harvest mouse, The inspiration for this felt creation is the harvest mouse in the Horniman Nature Base
    The inspiration for this felt creation is the harvest mouse in the Horniman Nature Base

I learnt about their prehensile tails which curl around the straw or grass they live in. They make spherical nests which they weave out of dry grass. The lucky Horniman mice have a fantastic home with a couple of tennis balls to hide in, which you can see in their glass case.

I made my own mouse using a wire, felting wool and even some bits of an old brush for whiskers. I wanted him to look like the taxidermy examples in the Museum so I mounted him on some pieces of wheat!

  • Felt harvest mouse, By attaching the felt mouse to straw it makes it look like it is in its natural habitat
    By attaching the felt mouse to straw it makes it look like it is in its natural habitat

One of my favourite animals is the gecko. This is a picture of a family pet, a leopard geko, which I tried to copy.

  • leopard gecko, The pet family leopard gecko
    The pet family leopard gecko

I started with a frame made out of wire to get the general shape of the animal. Then, I wrapped it up with string to make a “bind” just as a taxidermist does. Wool is then wrapped around to build up the body then the process of needle felting helps to add details and definition to the limbs. The needle felting needle has tiny notches along it to help tangle and mesh the wool fibres together.

  • How to make felt animals, A wire 'skeleton' lies at the heart of the animal and is covered in felt
    A wire 'skeleton' lies at the heart of the animal and is covered in felt

I used glass beads as eyes. I tried to get all the spot patterns to match the photograph of the real gecko. I also used the exhibits in the gallery to check to see that I had the gecko leg shapes correct and found out about a gecko which can fly!

  • Felt geko, The finished felt geko
    The finished felt geko

  • Felt polar bear, Another felt creation - a polar bear
    Another felt creation - a polar bear

I have just been given a full fleece of Jacob’s sheep wool and will try to copy some of the skills of the nomadic people by wet felting the wool to make some slippers for winter! You can see some Inuit socks on the Horniman website which are made by wet felting. This fabric is still made into objects such as hats, clothing, tents, bags and rugs.'

  • Felt elephant, A felt elephant with a lovely long trunk
    A felt elephant with a lovely long trunk

Mysterious matters at the Magic Late

On 13 October 2016, we opened our doors after hours for an evening of magic, sorcery and folklore. 

We had our whole English charm collection on display in the Hands On Base where visitors could see them up close and talk to Tom, our Anthropology Curator about them. 

We were also taking photos of the modern charms our visitors brought with them. We plan on using these charms for a specially-curated display in our new World Gallery

Also in the Hands On Base, we had a fantastic talk about Magic Wands from Philip Carr Gomm, Chosen Chief of The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. We learnt about A.W. Rowlett, the old English wizard or ‘cunning man’ who collected many of our charms. We also experienced a specially commissioned work by artist Martha McGuinn and sound installation by artist and researcher Rachel Emily Taylor

In Gallery Square, we had a moving performance of 'She Who Walks' by Denise Rowe which paid honor to the women connected to the land who were persecuted during the witch hunts of the Middle Ages. 

We enjoyed watching the short film 'The Kingdom of Paul Nash' with live music to accompany it in our Conservatory, which was organised by the Cabinet of Living Cinema.

Our Museum was overrun by a wandering pigeon who led people to the Natural History Gallery where there was a specially-comissioned opera installation by Gestalt Arts called 'Feet', written from the point of view of a rock dove who's feet are one of the charms in our collection. 

The Natural History Gallery also saw our Deputy Natural History Keeper Emma-Louise Nicholls take visitors on a tour of the Gallery, pointing out links our specimens have with all things mysterious and magical.

Outside in the Gardens, Annie Horniman (aka Oliva Armstrong) was leading candlelit tours to the Bandstand where she told the tale of her life, the history of the Horniman and the occult. 

See some of the pictures our visitors' shared from the night

The Horniman Harvest Mice

If you visit the Nature Base today you might be able to spot some of our tiny residents – the harvest mice.

  • The Horniman Harvest Mice, The Horniman Harvest Mice eating some seeds
    The Horniman Harvest Mice eating some seeds

We have had harvest mice at the Horniman since 2009 and at the moment we have five of these furry creatures living with us.

Harvest mice are fascinating animals as they are very small – between five and seven centimetres long. The male mice are a grey colour, but when the females are having their babies they will turn a beautiful russet brown colour. The female mice are very territorial and mate for life with their partners. At the Horniman we only keep male harvest mice.

Harvest mice are natural climbers as they are the only mouse in the world to have a prehensile tail, which means it has adapted to be able to grasp or hold objects. The harvest mice use their tails to climb up tall stems of wheat, grasses and reeds. They live in hedgerows and fields, and are often found near water.

The harvest mice make a distinctive nest for their babies that they build above the ground attached to tall grasses, stems and small branches. They weave together grass to make a hollow circular shape where they live with their young for two to three weeks until they are weaned. 

They don’t hibernate and are most often seen in the morning and in the evening. Harvest mice eat a mixture of things including seeds, berries and sometimes insects. They love to eat fallen seed from the fields where they live but they won’t ever burrow for their food – they only pick their food from the surface of the ground.

Visit the harvest mice in our Nature Base.

Life after death: about ethical taxidermy

Memorial. A Tribute to Taxidermy’ is currently on display in our Natural History Gallery. Here, ethical taxidermist and artist, Jazmine Miles-Long, tells us about the process of taxidermy.

  • About ethical taxidermy, Jazmine Miles-Long painting a taxidermy stoat ,  Ali Graham
    Jazmine Miles-Long painting a taxidermy stoat ,  Ali Graham

How do you create taxidermy?

Taxidermy involves a lot of processes and skills. The first thing that must be done is to collect all of the details about the specimen – how, when and where it died. There are many laws to protect wildlife in the UK that taxidermists must adhere to. So it is important to check if the species you are working with needs specific legal paperwork.

Then comes the skinning, which I think many presume will be very messy but it’s not that bad. Underneath the skin is a membrane that acts like a second skin keeping the body together in one piece. Working carefully between these layers means the skin can be simply peeled away. If all goes well not much blood is actually present. If I am working on a mammal, the skin must be pickled and tanned in a similar process to leather. Whereas with birds, all of the fat must be cleaned away from the feather tracts where the quills poke through on the inside of the skin.

Then the form replacing the muscular structure of the animal has to be created using measurements taken from the actual animal's body to recreate the same shape and size. Taxidermists use a variety of materials to make this form, I use carved balsa wood for birds and a bind-up for the mammals. A bind-up is made by wrapping wood-wool (fine, soft wood-shavings, typically used as a packing material) tightly around wire using cotton thread to hold the structure together. In both birds and mammals the skull is cleaned and used within the head. Some of the wing and leg bones are kept attached to the bird skin with all the flesh cleaned away.

The skin is then mounted onto the form, the facial expression is sculpted under the skin often with clay and the eyes are made from glass or acrylic. Once the piece has dried, any skin not covered by fur or feathers loses its colour turning a dark yellow or grey. Such as around the eyes, within ears, on pads of the feet of mammals and legs and bills of birds. Finally the last stage is to paint these areas using acrylic paints. 

See a video of this process below. Please be aware that this video shows scenes of animals being skinned and flesh being removed from bones.

How long will an artwork take to complete from start to finish?

It depends on the size and type of the animal. For instance larger mammals take longer as there is simply more body to build and skin to sew, also a longer time is needed to pickle a larger skin and for the piece to then dry once finished. On the other hand a smaller specimen such as a tiny bird, needs a far more delicate approach working slowly so not to rip the skin. I would work on a larger mammal over the period of a month while the skin pickles and dries. And although I can complete a small bird in one day, I prefer to break up the stages over a few days so I can take my time and get the piece right. Alongside making the taxidermy I create the cases and groundwork to accompany them and often will be working on several pieces at once.

Do you have to know a lot about zoology and natural history?

To be a good taxidermist you must have a keen love of animals and the natural world to understand the way they live and move. I did not study Zoology or Natural History but have always been fascinated by nature and learnt a lot through physically making taxidermy. I have discovered so much about the individuality of species through working closely with the animals in a way I’m not sure I could have from a distance.

How did you get into Taxidermy as a career?

When I finished university in 2007 I wanted to work in museum conservation and so volunteered at the Booth Museum of Natural History in Brighton. While I was there my focus turned to the taxidermy and I decided to give it go with the help of the museum's Curator. After that I wanted to be a taxidermist and spent the years that followed practicing and learning about the craft. I now work with the Booth Museum often and am grateful that they helped point me in the direction I have taken. Museums are amazing places that can truly inspire.

'Memorial. A Tribute to Taxidermy' is on display from 22 October 2016 to 1 May 2017.

What's your favourite 60s Rock song?

The Museu da Imigração in São Paulo Brazil have been inspired to put on an English-themed music concert in their Gardens.

  • Museum of Immigration, Music in the Garden concert at the Museum of Immigration − ©  Museu da Imigracao
    Music in the Garden concert at the Museum of Immigration

This summer we had a Brazilian theme to our events and exhibitions. Our Festival of Brasil celebrated the South American country in all its many colours and diversities.

We met and worked with many Brazilian partners – artists, musicians, dancers and other museums. One museum we worked with is the Museu da Imigração (Museum of Immigration) in São Paulo in Brazil. We discovered that we have similar events to the Museu da Imigração.

Throughout July and August we put on Jazz Picnics and Sunday Bandstand concerts where we celebrated the diversity of Brazilian music, from Samba to Forró, Tropicália to MPB, and Bossa Nova to Choro.

The Museu da Imigração have similar events in their Gardens. Their Música no Jardim (Music in the Gardens) concerts happen once a month and focus on a different theme or place each time. We love seeing the similarities and differences between our events!

As a way of connecting with us, they are going to use one of their Music in the Gardens concerts to focus on English Music – much like our summer concerts focused on Brazilian music.

Their band, Vitroux, will be playing 60s British Rock songs. Their set list will include:

1. Heart Full of Soul - Yardbirds

2. We've Gotta Get Out of this Place - The Animals

3. Ask Me Why - The Beatles

4. Please Please Me - The Beatles

5. Waterloo Sunset - The kinks

6. Afternoon Tea - The Kinks

7. Worksong  - The Animals

8. Blue Feeling - The Animals

9. Wild Thing - The Troogs  

10. Under my Thumb - The Rolling Stones

11. Cool Calm and Collected - The Rolling Stones

12. Chains - The Beatles

13. Tattoo - The Who

14. Our Love Was - The Who

15. My Generation - The Who

We want you to have your say and vote for your favourite song from their list. Which song do you think sums up British music from the 60s? Do you think there are any vital songs they have forgotten?

You can vote by writing your comments on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. We will then share your comments with the Museu da Imigração.

Moving the Merman

You may have noticed that our famous Merman now has a new home. You can find him in his own case at the back of our Natural History Gallery.

The Merman used to be displayed in our Centenary Gallery. The Centenary Gallery closed last month as we began our exciting anthropology redisplay project. We have been decanting all the objects on display in the Centenary Gallery and taking them to our stores, where they will be processed by our Collections Team.

You can see a video of some of the team decanting some of the objects from our Centenary Gallery here.

Our Senior Workshop Technician, Alistair MacKillop, tells us how they created a new case for the Merman.

‘The Workshop were asked by the Learning Team to place objects from the Centenary and African Worlds Galleries in cases around the Museum so that schools could still follow trails and find these objects.

We thought the old vivarium case, at the back of the Natural History Gallery, would be a good place to house the Egyptian artefacts, as it had lighting already installed.

  • Moving the Merman, Artefacts from Ancient Egypt, including this mummified crocodile, can be found in their temporary home at the end of the Natural History Gallery near the Merman.
    Artefacts from Ancient Egypt, including this mummified crocodile, can be found in their temporary home at the end of the Natural History Gallery near the Merman.

  • Moving the Merman, This mummy mask is also on display in the Ancient Egyptian case.
    This mummy mask is also on display in the Ancient Egyptian case.

The problem was, it was still full of tanks and pipes where our lizards and snakes use to live. So we set to work clearing the case and building an insert case in the same style as the cases we had already designed for the Natural History entrance redisplay.

  • Moving the Merman, The redisplay at the entrance to the Natural History Gallery was the inspiration for the new case display for the Merman.
    The redisplay at the entrance to the Natural History Gallery was the inspiration for the new case display for the Merman.

It was such a success that when we were asked to think about the relocation of the Merman, it seemed a great opportunity to use the other end of that case. We wanted to make sure the Merman looked special, and by creating an aperture into a small case in a matching style to the Egyptian end, I think we achieved our goal.

The Merman had been out with our ‘Object in Focus’ outreach scheme not so long ago, so it seemed like a good idea to use the mount created by my former colleague Rebecca Ash. The mount consists of brass bar that has been brazed together with silver solder, the mountmaker works directly with a conservator to determine the best shape to give support to the object. The Merman has a very unusual balance point and is also very fragile. Of course, the mountmaker’s art is to then design a way for the mount not to be seen or be too obvious to the viewer.

This mount was filed and sand-blasted to remove any sharp edges. Then sprayed grey, we apply a sticky backed conservation felt that we call ‘Fluffy’, to any surface of the mount that touches the object, this prevents any rubbing and gives a comfy fit to the object.

I attached the mount to a painted plinth which can be moved on top of the case plinth, so we could find the best spot for the lighting and the balance of the finished look of the case.’

Our Exhibitions Officer, Lindsey, gathered together information and research about the Merman and edited the text for our graphic panel, which was then designed and produced by our Graphic Designer, Stew.

We think the Merman looks great in his new temporary home at the end of the Natural History Gallery. Pop by for a visit and say hello.

Music and the State in Latin America


The Latin American Music Seminar is being hosted this autumn by the Horniman. 

LAMS is a twice-yearly forum, hosted by the Institute of Latin American Studies and Institute of Musical Research, which usually consists of a day of 5 papers/presentations, followed by some form of live performance.

It aims to bring together scholars, students, musicians and interested members of the public to share interest, knowledge, and critical perspectives on Latin American music. 

As part of its special Brazil focus this year, the Horniman will be hosting the next LAMS on 19th November.

The Museum is home to an outstanding collection of musical instruments, which includes the new display of a set of samba drums - as played by the celebrated Brazilian bloco Monobloco.

You can view, download or print the full programme below:

Tickets are £8. Book now

Places are limited so please book by 11 November 2016.

Inspired by Anna Atkins

Today is Ada Lovelace day when we celebrate women in science, technology, engineering and maths.

Our Librarian, Helen Williamson, is here to tell us about her work with our community partners creating beautiful cyanotypes inspired by Anna Atkins.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by Shaftesbury Clinic, Springfield Hospital.
    Cyanotype made by Shaftesbury Clinic, Springfield Hospital.

‘We have written about Anna Atkins before on Ada Lovelace day but it’s a great opportunity to talk about her again, the beautiful book we hold in the library and the wonderful process of making cyanotypes.

The cyanotype was invented by Sir John Herschel in 1842. He was a family friend of Atkins and a regular visitor at the family home in Kent. Atkins was a keen artist, as well as an enthusiastic botanist, and recognised that Herschel’s new invention, which required only a few chemicals, water and sunlight, offered an opportunity to approach botanical illustration in a different way.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by Aisling from the Horniman Youth Panel.
    Cyanotype made by Aisling from the Horniman Youth Panel.

In 1843, she started work producing the cyanotypes that would make up Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions. It is considered to be the first ever photographically illustrated book and we are very lucky to have a copy in our library which was previously owned by the museum’s founder, Frederick Horniman.

To make a cyanotype, objects are placed on a sheet of chemically treated paper and then exposed to sunlight. The length of exposure depends upon how bright a day it is. Once exposed, the paper is washed in water and dried, with the colour fully developing when dry.

The process of creating cyanotypes is almost unchanged since Anna Atkins was making her book, and it creates remarkably stable prints. Most early photographic prints have deteriorated completely by now or need to be kept in strict, environmentally-controlled storage. Cyanotypes, on the other hand, have endured amazingly well. The colours in our copy of her Photographs of British Algae are beautifully vivid and the paper is robust enough for handling and display.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by David Quan from Redstart Arts.
    Cyanotype made by David Quan from Redstart Arts.

Over the summer the library and the learning team ran an engagement project with a number of our community partners who were challenged to make cyanotypes of their own, inspired by Anna Atkins and using the botanical world around them. This is some of the beautiful work they produced.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by Eliot Bank Museum Club.
    Cyanotype made by Eliot Bank Museum Club.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by Esther and Maya from the Horniman Youth Panel.
    Cyanotype made by Esther and Maya from the Horniman Youth Panel.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by L.G, Arts Network.
    Cyanotype made by L.G, Arts Network.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by the Stroke Association.
    Cyanotype made by the Stroke Association.

A book of all of the cyanotypes made during this project is available to view in the library, alongside other material about Anna Atkins.

Visit one of our Library Open Days on the first Sunday of every month, or book an appointment.

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