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Original Building

The original building incorporating the landmark Horniman Clocktower is made of Doulting stone (shelly granular limestone as used in Wells Cathedral and Glastonbury Abbey), and was designed by Charles Harrison Townsend.

It was built from 1898-1901 at a cost of about £40,000 as a purpose built museum.

The building opened to the public in June 1901 and now has grade 2* listed status. An adjoining Emslie Horniman building, also designed by Harrison Townsend, was opened in 1912 to house a Library and Lecture Theatre. It has grade 2 listed status.

Other well-known examples of Harrison Townsend’s work include Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, E1 and Bishopsgate Institute, London, EC2. 


The mosaic on the London Road elevation of the original building was designed by Robert Anning Bell and created over 210 days by a team of (mostly) young women during the construction period (1898-1901).

The neo-classical design "Humanity in the house of circumstance" symbolises personal limitations, and the fruit and flowers glimpsed beyond it, personal aspirations. The gates at either end are birth and death, and the figures represent Arts, Poetry, Music, Endurance, Humanity, Love, Hope, Charity, Wisdom, Meditation, and Resignation.

There are more than 17,000 tiles in the panel which is 10 feet high and 32 feet long.

Totem Pole

The totem pole facing out onto London Road was London's first Alaskan totem pole, carved by Nathan Jackson, a Tingit from Alaska, at the Museum of Mankind from 15 May 1985 to 15 June 1985.

The 20 feet high structure of carved red cedar, painted with specially imported "ranch paint", was unveiled in its present position on 29 June 1985.

An eagle, Nathan Jackson's main clan crest, is at the top of the pole and beneath are a girl with a bag and a grizzly bear, illustrating a legend from the North West Coast of America of a girl who married a bear.

Apostle Clock

This large clock in the Natural History Gallery appears to have been made in Germany about the middle of the 19th Century.

A variety of odd parts and materials have being used in its construction. It is said to have been the work of a craftsman of the Black Forest (Baden), but there is no reliable record of its origin and history.

At 4pm, the moveable figures in the middle chamber below the dial enact successive scenes in the life of Christ.

There are three principal groups: the Nativity, Christ talking to the Elders in the Temple and the three Marys outside the sepulchre.

In the compartment above the dial, the Apostles pass one at a time in front of Christ, bowing their heads as they move towards Him; but Judas, the last in order, turns away from Him.

The four side chambers, containing the gongs, represent phases of man's life from childhood to old age. The figures move to the accompaniment of chimes thought to represent old German hymn tunes.

Much of the internal mechanism is new, owing to necessary replacements and repairs. The clock chimes every quarter, and the day of the month is shown on the dial. The case is walnut.


The Conservatory - originally from the Horniman family home at Coombe Cliffe in Croydon - was reconstructed at the Horniman, and opened in October 1989.

The Conservatory was ordered from the catalogue of Walter McFarlane's Saracen Foundry in Glasgow, in 1894.

This house stands at the south end of Croydon High Street to the east, in Coombe Road, further east beyond the railway line.

Nicholas Pevsner describes it as "a villa built c. 1860 by E. C. Robins for John Horniman, tea merchant. [It] stands romantically on the crest of a small wooded hill, unremarkable apart from a tower over the entrance. It had a splendid conservatory added in 1894 by his son F. J. Horniman".