One of our Volunteers, Chiara, tells us about her experience in the Horniman Library.
‘I’ve been working as a Librarian in a public library for ten years, back in Italy.
When I moved to London, I lost contact with what had meant so much to me: dealing with the public (especially kids, since I was mostly working in the library’s children section) handling books everyday (the smell of paper...and dust! How wonderful!) and being in daily touch with local communities. At the beginning of my time in London, I felt a little bit lost.
So when I had the opportunity to join the taster session for Volunteers at the Horniman, I was very excited. Somehow I felt I could be again part of something special.
Discovering books in the Horniman Library
I volunteered with Engage for some months and this reminded me of the brilliant curiosity of children. I also took part in the Half Term activities and I could breathe again the happy atmosphere of families playing and learning together. But there was still something missing for me.
Anytime I could, I started sneaking into the Library to help Helen, the librarian, mending the children’s books. When a volunteering role for a library project arose, I couldn’t resist applying. Then the magic happened, I was working again in a library in the reclassification project!
Now, anytime I go to the shelf, pick a book, browse through it and discuss with Helen the most suitable place for visitors to find it, I feel the ‘librarian thrill’ again.
When I handle the ancient books of the special collection, touching them very gently to respect their age and fragility, I feel again as if I was in one of the ancient libraries I used to attend in Rome.
Examining books in the Horniman Library
I feel a little bit homesick, but also home again, because if home is where your heart is...well, my heart has always been beating for books.
I have had experience of various different volunteering roles at the Horniman, having also spent some weeks in administration. It has been amazing to experience different and sometimes surprising opportunities, but in the end I’m so very glad that this way took me back to books.
Christmas is drawing near and we are thinking about the sounds of the festive season. Nothing says Christmas music quite like sleigh bells. We have some wonderful sleigh bells in our Musical Instrument collection that once belonged to the musician Joan Stonehewer.
The sleigh bells belonging to Joan Stonehewer, now in the Horniman Musical Instrument collection. Object number M5-1987.
Joan made her living as a ‘concert artiste’ by playing the saw and other novelty instruments including the sleigh bells. Her variety theatre performances were of a type that was very popular from the turn of the twentieth century up to WWII.
Joan Stonehewer is seen on this postcard at the height of her popularity with her sleigh bells, saw and cello bow and a zither. The inscription in black ink reads, 'with love from Joan'. The saw was specially made for her in c.1930 by Jedson, England. The sleigh bells, made at about the same time, are probably from France.
Joan appeared at the Royal Variety Hall and the BBC, performed at dinners, receptions and cabarets and her repertoire included songs such as the "Waltz" by Victor Herbert.
With Europe teetering on the brink of war, this New Year's Eve 1938 dinner party programme evokes the ambience of a passing era. Held at the Chiltern Court Restaurant NW1, Joan Stonehewer provided the entertainment together with Mahomed Ali. Lending an air of daring exoticism to the evening, he was billed as a Magician, Hypnotist, Pickpocket and the World's Fastest Act. Both Artistes highlight the fact that they have performed before Royalty. The French names for the various dishes camouflage their essential Englishness.
Joan was an extremely successful self-publicist. She had many professional business cards that she would give out to drum up her own publicity and was determined to succeed in her career.
Four of Joan Stonehewer's business cards. She lived at the given address in Wimbledon from 1939 until 1956 when she moved next door. Clearly enjoying the company of children, she had two of her own for whom she wrote stories. These were later published and read, at her suggestion, on BBC radio. On the back of one of the cards she advertises to perform at children's parties.
She made it very clear that she would not stop working when she got married – which was quite an extraordinary thing to do in the 1940s – when she had her wedding photos taken holding her musical saw.
On her wedding day, Joan Stonehewer and her husband, Henry Townsend, are surrounded by friends and relatives. She married during WWII which explains the number of men in uniform. The presence and prominence of the musical saw conveys her determination to continue in her chosen career: an aim she realised fully.
After her wedding and in the years to come, variety theatre started to become less popular. As television became more readily available and tastes changed, work was harder to come by.
In the Horniman archives, we have letters Joan received from the BBC showing that she had contacted them about future work – an offer which was politely declined.
A letter from the BBC responding to Joan's request about future work. The letter also mentions her children's stories she sent in, which were read out on BBC radio.
Joan retired from the stage in the early 1960s but she still appeared in a list of The Concert Artistes’ Association in 1968, the year before died.
Much of what we know about Joan was found in documents given to the Museum with the sleigh bells in 1987 by her son, Francis Townsend. It is wonderful to know the story behind the instrument and to learn more about this talented and engaging musician.
Listen to Joan Stonehewer play the musical saw in our Music Gallery
Visit our Music Gallery to hear a recording of Joan playing her musical saw.
This month 130 years ago, Emslie Horniman, the son of the Horniman's founder, married his sweetheart Laura Isabel Plomer. The two wed on the 16 November 1886 at St George’s, Hanover Square, held their reception at the family home Surrey Mount, and led the wedding party in an "inspection" of Surrey House Museum which was the original site of the Horniman.
We recently unearthed a scrapbook in our Archives containing photographs, press cuttings and other souvenirs recording the earliest years of the Horniman. One of the highlights of the scrapbook is a beautiful wedding programme printed for guests attending Emslie and Laura’s wedding celebrations. The programme gives us a wonderful look at how wealthy Victorian families celebrated their nuptials.
An illustrated page from the programme given to guests attending the wedding reception and banquet of Emslie Horniman and Laura Plomer on 16th November 1886 at Surrey Mount, the Horniman family home.
A sketch of Surrey Mount from the wedding programme of Emslie Horniman and Laura Plomer. Surrey Mount was the home of the Horniman family.
What is especially fascinating about this piece of Horniman history is that this wedding almost never happened at all.
Emslie Horniman was born in 1863, the second child of Frederick John Horniman and Rebekah Horniman. He studied at the Slade School of Art with dreams of becoming an artist, before later taking up a career in politics and philanthropy.
A photograph of Emslie Horniman, dated circa 1890, from the Horniman Museum Archives.
Laura Plomer was the daughter of Colonel Arthur Plomer. Our historic visitors’ books show that Laura and her family were frequent visitors to the Horniman in the early 1880s. It was there she socialised with Emslie and his older sister Annie.
A photograph of Laura Plomer, dated circa 1890, from the Horniman Museum Archives.
In his autobiography, Double Lives (published in 1944), Laura’s nephew William Plomer describes how Laura’s family disapproved of her relationship with Emslie. According to William, Laura’s parents thought of Emslie as ‘an atheist and a radical’ and considered the Horniman family to be of inadequate social status despite their extensive wealth and connections.
His autobiography goes on to tell us that Laura’s parents went so far as to lock their daughter in her room in the hope that she would ‘come to her senses’ and end their relationship. Not so easily thwarted, Laura decided to stay in contact with Emslie by letter. But there was one problem: her parents had cut her off from their money and she had no access to postage stamps.
A photograph of a young Laura Plomer, dated circa 1880, before her marriage to Emslie Horniman. The image shows her famously long head of fair hair, which she apparently cut and sold so she could afford to send letters to Emslie during their courtship.
Still determined, Laura used the one asset at her disposal: her magnificent head of fair hair. After cutting off a generous lock of her own hair, she escaped her home to sell it to a Mayfair wigmaker and used the payment to purchase stamps.
Realising their daughter would not bend to their wishes, Colonel Plomer and his wife finally consented to her union with Emslie. William Plomer writes that ‘[Laura] went off with a new name to a new life with her radical aesthete, and enjoyed, for the next half-century or so, health, wealth and much happiness’.
Laura and Emslie’s wedding programme, which survives in our Archive collection, lists the toasts and speeches made in honour of the happy couple. Also featured is a seating plan and a menu boasting delights such as ‘York Ham’ and ‘Crystal Palace puddings’.
A programme of toasts and dancing for the wedding banquet of Emslie and Laura Horniman in 1886.
The seating plan for guests to the wedding banquet of Emslie and Laura Horniman in 1886 at Surrey Mount.
A menu for the wedding banquet of Emslie and Laura Horniman in 1886.
The programme contains extraordinary sketches and meticulous descriptions of the bride’s dress and veil, which she fastened with diamond stars gifted to her by Emslie’s mother. Alongside this is a sketch of the dress worn by Emslie’s sister Annie, which Emslie had designed especially for her.
A sketch of Laura Horniman in her wedding gown. The caption describes her white silk dress and jewellery, as well as the travelling dress she wore after the wedding.
A sketch of Annie Horniman, sister of Emslie Horniman, in the dress she wore to her brother's wedding. The caption describes the dress as representing the Venetian style of the early 15th century. The dress was designed for her by her brother. The caption also describes the outfit worn by their mother Rebekah Horniman.
These celebrations were likely the first time the Horniman had hosted a wedding, but they were certainly not the last. Frederick Horniman’s great, great, great granddaughter Hilary married in the Horniman’s Conservatory in 2014 and the Museum and Gardens are still a popular wedding venue to this day.
A photograph of Laura Horniman stepping out of a carriage with her husband Emslie Horniman holding the door. Underneath is signed 'Laura J. Horniman' 'Emslie J. Horniman. MP 1906-1910'. The original photograph was digitally reproduced by the Horniman Museum with the kind permission of Michael Horniman.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cyanotype made by Eliot Bank Museum Club.
Cyanotype made by Esther and Maya from the Horniman Youth Panel.
Cyanotype made by L.G, Arts Network.
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.
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.
We take a look at some of our museum's buildings, which will be part of our Secret Late's behind the scenes tour.
Our famous clocktower and building that faces London Road was built in 1898, designed by Charles Harrison Townsend. In addition to the Horniman, Townsend also designed the Whitechapel Gallery and Bishopsgate Institute.
The clock tower's jolly yellowish colour comes from the Doulting stone used to make it. This iconic limestone comes from the Doulting Stone Quarry in Somerset and is one of the oldest quarries in England, having been used during the Roman occupation of Britain.
Our African Worlds gallery as well as the South Hall gallery with our temporary exhibitions Revisiting Romania and Project Tobong are in the original museum building, but the displays are very different from the originals.
An archive photo of Emslie's lecture theatre and the old library
In 1912, Frederick Horniman's son, Emslie, funded the building of a new lecture theatre and library at the museum which were added next to the 19th century building.
Since Emslie's additions we have gradually added to the original site, or had restoration work on our original features. The iconic Bandstand, also a Townsend design, is over 100 years old and enjoyed a renovation of its oak floor and weather vane as part of our large redevelopment of the gardens in 2012.
A band playing on our Bandstand in 1943
Now, the Bandstand hosts our summer concerts, storytelling and is a popular wedding venue location thanks to its magnificent view over South London and the South Downs.
As part of our Secret Late event in November you will be able to get behind the scenes in some of our galleries and displays. I'd love to tell you where you will be exploring, but that would ruin the Secret!
What Horniman secrets will you discover?
From exhibition layouts, to collections care, aquarium research to music, lots goes on behind the scenes here at the Horniman, so be sure to join us next Thursday for our Secret Late, but don't tell anyone...
The original Horniman Museum Buildings designed by Charles Townsend
Townsend was active throughout the 19th and early 20th century with a unique style combining Art Nouveau and the Gothic revival styles which were very popular at the time. Although Townsend was more familar with smaller scale builds, he completed three larger comissions: The Bishopsgate Institute (1892-94), The Whitechapel Gallery (1895-99) and finally our very own Horniman Museum completed in 1911.
The Horniman Museum building was especially striking for its time, The Studio magazine in 1902 commented that it featured: "a new series of frank and fearless thought expressed and co-ordinated in stone".
Although it was a cutting edge design, Townsend still featured some traiditonal motifs, such as a classical(ish) mural by Robert Bell and the Tree of Life, a popular feature of Townsend's work
, Megan Taylor
The Tree of Life motif
The Tree of Life and similar swirling floral motifs were very popular at the time with artists such as William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. The tree may link to Christian stories, such as the Garden of Eden or the garden of Gethsemane, but being an archaeologist I'm more a fan of the tree linking to 'Yggdrasil' a tree from Viking mythology.
This tree represents the cycle of life and death, as it provides the fruit the Norse gods eat to remain immortal, but its destruction marks the end of the world. This symbol is very old and can, debatably, be dated back to even before Nordic culture.
Although we don't have any trees that old, we have some beautiful oak trees which are hundreds of years old, as well as the trees on our building.
Our focus on Townsend's masterpieces is part of Open House London's event this Sunday 20th September, please feel to come along explore our buildings, gardens and collections. Why not see if you can find these two impressive trees in the gardens?
Tea Trail London is the newest page in the Horniman's tea story. Tea has been an integral part of our collections and museum, dating right back to the 19th century when Frederick Horniman's tea trade was at its height.
Frederick Horniman left his mark on the tea trade by using mechanical devices to speed the process of filling pre-sealed packages, rather than selling tea loose.
This greatly reduced the cost of production and maintained a higher quality of tea. Unsurprisingly, some of Horniman’s competitors were a little disgruntled, but by 1891 Horniman's was the largest tea trading business in the world.
The Horniman tea packaging is still very iconic, featuring the coiling dragon like in the example above. One of the great things about working on Tea Trail London was the chance to explore other collections, and we found Horniman tea in other institutions.
This tea advert is from the Museum of Brands and is a packet we hadn’t seen before, here at the Horniman. Interestingly, red seems to be the colour of choice for tea packaging, like this Typhoo example, also from the Museum of Brands and this Horniman packet in our collection:
Tea Trail London is viewable online, you can check out some of our tea collections as well as archives, objects and stories from other collections, from afternoon tea to tea packets, it’s all there!
Be sure to tweet, instagram or facebook us using #TeaTrailLondon and let us know your thoughts, or if you have any tea stories to share.
The Museum of London holds this impressive group of stone statues. It was manufactured by Eleanor Coade, stood above the entrance to the Pelican Life Insurance Office on Lombard Street - and was, for a time, displayed in our Gardens.
It's one of the Horniman's standout architectural features. So it might surprise some to learn that October 2014 marks just 25 years that the Grade II listed Coombe Cliff Conservatory has stood in our Gardens.
Of course, the Conservatory itself is a lot older than 25 years. It was originally constructed in 1894, at the Horniman family home, Coombe Cliff House, in Croydon.
Conservatories were popular additions to large houses in the 19thcentury, providing shelter and an artificial climate for sensitive plants to flourish. The Coombe Cliff conservatory was constructed Glasgow firm of MacFarlane’s, Scotland at the time a world leader in architectural cast ironwork. The company was well known for its decorative cast iron and had been awarded an International prize at the 1862 International Exhibition.
Coombe Cliffe house had been the home of our founder's parents, and Frederick Horniman's mother lived there until her death in 1900. After being sold in 1903, the house later served as a convalescent home for children, college of art, education centre and teachers' hub.
Over the years, many voices spoke out for the need for preservation of the Coombe Cliff Conservatory, as the house was eventually left abandoned and suffered from neglect. In 1977, the building suffered considerable damage in a fire.
Eventually, it was decided that the best way to preserve this listed building was to dismantle and move it to another location. This work began in 1981, although it would be a few more years before ownership was transferred to the Horniman, and the component parts spent a few years in storage in Crystal Palace Park.
The dismantled Conservatory was eventually moved to the Horniman in 1986, and its reconstruction began in June 1987.
The Coombe Cliff conservatory has impressive dimensions, being 56 ft long, 22 ft wide and 20 ft long.
The ambitious restoration project was completed in 1989, and the Conservatory officially opened in the Horniman Gardens in October of that year.
The cast-iron work-panels, friezes, roof spandrels within and the fish scales, terminals and crestings without, all show the wealth of pattern available from MacFarlane’s. The decoration is ornate but it lightens the effect of the structure and gives it an airy appearance belying the weight of the materials from which is it made.
We'd love to hear from anyone who remembers the Gardens before the addition of this fantastic building, or even remembers its reconstruction period. If that's you, and you have any memories to share with us, please get in touch on Twitter or Facebook.