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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This includes everything from this witch’s bottle from Padstow in Cornwall, which was an antidote to supposed witchcraft…
Witch's bottle from the Horniman's English charm collection
…to this mole’s foot, which was believed to cure cramp.
A mole's foot from the Horniman's English charm collection
Our Anthropology Curator, Tom Crowley, will be on hand to answer any questions you might have about these fascinating objects.
We also want to explore charms that are still used today.
That’s where you come in!
Do you carry a charm around with you? You might not think of it as a charm – it could be a lucky pair of socks, a friendship bracelet, a ring that reminds you of a loved one, a special photograph, or a teddy bear.
This teddy bear charm was brought in during a Lewisham Young Carers visit to the Museum.
If you have an object which has memories or special feelings attached to it, we would love to see it! Bring your ‘charms’ along to the museum. We will have a photographer on site, so you will be able to add a photo or description of your charm to the Horniman collection.
The Horniman Youth Panel set out to explore how Egyptian culture and history is represented in Hollywood Movies.
We learned to think critically about the film props in these movies while having a chance to experiment with script writing, directing voice acting and basic filmmaking techniques with the video artist Patrick Hough.
The workshop began with a brief introduction to Patrick’s artistic practice, looking at early photography on Hollywood film sets in Morocco, to newer video works that use film props and green screen backdrops. We then briefly looked at a range of short clips from films depicting Egypt, ranging from the fantastical to the historically accurate and discussed the visual elements from the sets, costumes and props, lighting while comparing and contrasting the different ways Egypt has been shown on film.
Later on, we worked with real physical film props loaned from a London prop house that are used in Egyptian movies. We explored their different material qualities – comparing them to the amazing Ancient Egyptian objects in our Hands on Base. We also discussed the varying degrees of accuracy these objects have in portraying cultures.
Finally, we broke up into two groups to develop a short script together. We were given a chance to create our own short film scene that gave a voice to the film prop and placed it in a theatrical context.
Participants directed the voice acting, choose the camera angles, light the scene and create direction notes for the editor.
Here are the final results – we hope you like them!
Find out how you can get involved with our Youth Panel.
Robin Strub, our Anthropology Volunteer, has been looking into the Horniman's collection of charms.
Have you ever wondered how the Horniman got its objects?
Who brought them here, and why?
I’m here to help answer some of those questions! I volunteer in Anthropology’s collection of English charms and amulets, which has a lot of pieces from a man named Alfred William Rowlett.
He came from the Cambridgeshire town of St Neots and, between 1904 and 1933, he sold the Horniman dozens of items that he had found as part of his town’s rural culture.
What do you think of when you look at the objects in the Horniman’s cases? What do you imagine of the people who collected them?
Do you think of a Victorian, professorial man with a tweed jacket and pipe?
How about a Victorian dustman with a bin and broom?
From St. Neots The History of a Huntingdonshire Town, 1978
This picture is of Rowlett, who worked as a Dustman for the local government. Bert Goodwin, a historian and local of St Neots, remembers Rowlett, and wrote about him for the St Neots Local History Magazine’s 2011-12 winter edition, including this picture of Rowlett and his dustbin making his rounds.
When looking up Rowlett in the 1881 Census I found he was in work as a labourer by the time he was 13. He went on to become a businessman, as well as a Dustman, with an antiques shop, and worked with the Horniman in a professional capacity. He even had his own official stationery that he used to write letters and invoices to the Horniman! Here is how his letterhead looked:
We don’t know how Rowlett started working with the Horniman but as a local, he had specialist knowledge and access to his community. This was undoubtedly part of the benefit of the Horniman doing business with him. In a letter dated 6 May 1907, Rowlett noted that ‘my business is to find out and get all the necessary information I can get’ on objects destined for the Museum.
His research is still important for the Horniman, as the things we know about the objects he sourced came via his connections. The information would otherwise have been lost without his detailed descriptors.
Here is what he wrote about a ‘Spinning Jenny’ (object number 7.199) as an example, with a transcription beneath.
used at Easton Socon, Beds for Raffling oranges sweets & home made cakes at Holiday times & festivals with an original charm against the children in getting to high a number so as to benefit the owner of Spinning Jenny
used by Mrs Newton at home and village feasts in & Round Bedfordshire Cambs & Hunts
1856 half penny a spin
This is how the Spinning Jenny works:
You can see a piece of orange flint tied to the device - that’s the charm.
We know what that flint was for thanks to Rowlett, as well as precise details about how the Spinning Jenny is used. (I thought the owner would’ve been caught out by cheating, but my Curator figured out that if you keep the stone against your palm and hold out the Spinning Jenny, nobody can see that you have it in your hand!)
Rowlett would also make handwritten labels for artefacts that were entering the collection, and many of his labels are still stored with the objects. This is an example for number 9.41 in our collection, a wood pigeon’s foot that was used to ward off cramp.
A lot of the charms that Rowlett brought us are things from the natural world that people associated with various curative powers.
It may seem strange today, but the idea was that wood pigeons never get foot cramps. If I carry a wood pigeon’s foot, maybe that will protect me too. If you have ever heard of someone carrying a lucky rabbit’s foot, it’s not too far a leap from practices today.
Rowlett’s community of St Neots still remembers him as someone to go to for these kinds of all-natural remedies for health problems.
Local historian Rosa Young transcribed several adverts from a 1900 issue of a local paper for the St Neots Local History Magazine’s, which included an old advert that Rowlett had put in the paper for his own special patent medicine. It cured everything (naturally) but Rowlett’s neighbours did come to him seeking his medical expertise.
Bert Goodwin, the local historian who photographed Rowlett, recounts that when he was a child he had a wart on his knee cured by Rowlett,
He cut a small twig from a bush which he called ‘Joseph’s Thorn’, which he shaped into a spatula, and then made his mark on the wart X. “There,” he said, “it will be gone by the next full moon.” Strangely enough, I forgot about it, but when I next looked it had gone.
Because of Rowlett’s work at St Neots, the local historical society put up a Blue Plaque for him.
Thanks to Eatons Community Association
Like the wood pigeon’s foot above, many of the objects that Rowlett brought to the Horniman were considered to have health benefits. The charms I’m studying were used by real people who believed in them, and used them to solve a variety of different problems. Ironically, Rowlett – with his Joseph’s Thorn for curing warts – thought that some of the charms’ owners were ‘eccentric’!
I don’t know about you, but I have lucky charms. Millions of people all over the world believe in the power of objects and in 2018, the Horniman will open a new gallery where you will be able to find charms from all around the world, including those collected by Rowlett!
If you’d like to see what Rowlett brought to the Horniman, and 2018 is too long to wait, you can find all of Rowlett’s objects online.
One of our Volunteers, Holly, picks her top five favourite objects from the African Worlds and Centenary Galleries.
‘Exciting changes are afoot at the Horniman. The African Worlds and Centenary galleries are going to be transformed into an exciting new World Gallery and Studio Space. I can’t wait to see the new displays and the thousands of extra objects that will go into them in 2018. Until then, here are my personal favourite objects from the African Worlds and Centenary Galleries:
The expression on this lion's face never fails to make me smile. It looks quizzical and humorously attentive with its protruding eyes, arched tail and large ears. Its tight grip on its prey, mouth pinched closed, makes me think it must be especially satisfied with what it has caught.
With its lolling tongue, large teeth and disconcerting lack of eyes, this double headed dog is an imposing creature, and that’s before you start counting the nails covering its body.
Nkisi were used to contain and summon spiritual forces during rituals designed to control, change or correct the world around you. They were used for sealing oaths, alleviating illness, protecting against sorcery and punishment of crimes. Each of the nails in this nkisi represents an instance this object was activated. Imagine what type of problem or request each nail represents!
The Benin Plaques
These commemorative plaques depict Benin’s Obas (rulers) and social elite. I love how the figures were skilfully cast in such a high relief, making them stand out far from the patterned backgrounds.
Removed from Benin’s royal palace as part of a punitive expedition by the British in 1897 and sold to museums around the world, the plaques challenged contemporary views of African culture when they were first brought to Europe. Today they remain challenging objects, instead reminding us how different museum collection practices used to be.
With its demanding eyes, tilted head, poised limbs and protruding tongue the hei tiki is an iconic symbol of New Zealand. You don't need to go to a museum or marae (Maori greeting area) to see pendants like these. Lots of people wear pounamu (greenstone) in a variety of designs, although most pendants are smaller than these fine examples.
In Maori culture greenstone is a taonga (treasure). Traditionally, greenstone could only be received as a gift and it would increase in mana (prestige) as it was passed from generation to generation.
With hollow eye sockets, reaching claws, sinewy tendons, emaciated torso and forbidding spikes along its spine, it’s certainly not the beautiful mythical creature I imagine when I think of mermaids.
Mesmerizingly grotesque, the merman is a good example of the craftsmanship required to make a convincing fake. While you logically know it’s not real, it's hard not to be captivated. I wouldn’t even be surprised if some sceptical viewers in the 19th century wanted to believe it was real. After all it would be a fascinating creature to discover… but big and scary enough that you probably won't want to meet it in real life.'
In preparation for our Queer Late event on 12 May, we have been exploring our collections, searching for objects that have connections to queer culture. Here we look at the dandy figure of Baron Samedi.
Have you ever noticed the Vodou shrine in our African Worlds gallery? We often get asked about the objects inside the shrine. What do the objects represent? What is the connection to Vodou faith? Why is the head of the baby from the Dinosaurs TV show in the shrine?
In the shrine you can see four objects placed here for ‘Baron Samedi’ – a Loa (or spirit) of Haitian Vodou faith associated with death and resurrection.
Baron Samedi is the leader of the Barons. He is often shown as a bisexual dandy or occasionally as being transgendered. He wears a top-hat and frock coat along with a women's skirts and shoes. Much of the time he is drinking rum and smoking a large cigar. He has been described as having ‘lascivious movements’ that cross gender boundaries. This is not unusual in Haitian Vodou, as the faith is very open to people of all sexual orientations.
These two flags are made from different-coloured beads and sequins and represent Baron Samedi. The left flag shows a crucifix sitting on top of a coffin with a skull and cross bones in the centre. On one side is a bottle and on the other, a candle. The second flag shows some of the other symbols Baron Samedi is often associated with, such as the playing cards shapes (heart, spade, diamond, and club) and anthropomorphised faces.
Beliefs, mythology and customs brought to Haiti from Africa mixed and fused with Catholic imagery to form the distinctive characteristics of Haitian Vodou we can see on these two crosses made for Baron Samedi. Also, more recent Vodou altars use imagery from the West including Barbie dolls and figures from TV culture to honour the spirits being represented – which might explain the baby dinosaur’s head.
You can see the Vodou shrine in our African Worlds gallery during our Queer Late event.
Objects from the Horniman's collection are on display now in a new major exhibition at Bucks County Museum in Aylesbury.
The exhibition, running from March 26 until September 24 2016, is part of the Art of Islam Festival and reflects Islamic culture and its links with Western Europe,
Treasures on display will include carpets, paintings, furniture, metalwork, jewellery and splendid calligraphy from across the Middle East.
Among the objects from the Horniman's collection are this ewer, seal and baby cover.
This Bidri ware ewer is from India and dates from the late 19th century, when it was sold to Frederick Horniman.
This seal, dating from 1776, is engraved in Persian with a floral border. It belonged to James Peter Auriol of the Bengal civil service, who was secretary to the government of Warren Hastings in India in the late 18th century.
This cover from Sumatra is placed on the forehead of a baby (along with another cover for the baby's body) when visitors come to see it during the first forty days of life.