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HLF Big Thank You

  • Sea Nettle Jelly, Ludo Des Cognets
    , Ludo Des Cognets

We are delighted to be taking part in the Heritage Lottery Fund’s ‘Big Thank You’. Between 3 and 9 December you can enjoy free entry to our popular Aquarium on presentation of a National Lottery ticket or Scratchcard.

Find out more about the ‘Big Thank You

The Horniman Aquarium is home to fifteen different aquatic environments ranging from the British pond to the Amazonian rainforest. You can get up close with amazing animals including jellyfish, clown fish and poisonous frogs. You can also learn about Project Coral, the Horniman’s pioneering research into induced coral spawning.

Find out more about the Aquarium


  • One National Lottery ticket provides free entry for one adult to the Aquarium.
  • All National Lottery games qualify for free entry, including tickets from any National Lottery draw based game or National Lottery Scratchcard. Proof of ticket can be paper or digital.
  • Only one redemption per ticket is permitted.
  • The offer is valid Monday 3 – Sunday 9 December 2018 only, during usual Aquarium opening hours: 10.30am – 5.30pm (last entry 5pm)
  • A maximum of 20 free entries will be available each day.
  • National Lottery tickets must be presented at the Ticket Desk to be granted a complimentary ticket to the Aquarium.
  • Cannot be used in conjunction with Horniman Membership or any other offer including joint tickets with the Butterfly House.

The Horniman during the Second World War

Anthropology Volunteer, Lynne Darwood, has been looking into our archives and others for information about the Horniman during World War II.

The declaration of war took place on 3 September 1939, but preparations for conflict with Germany started before this.

The Times newspaper ran an article on the 25 August 1939 under the heading ‘Precautions in Crisis.’ This article set out rules for the screening of lights, darkening of windows and the meaning of various air raid warnings signals. The piece advised that several London museums had been closed to enable the package and removal for safeguarding of works considered to be national treasures.

  • Bomb damage to Lewisham, Lewisham Road showing damage from Flying Bombs, Imperial War Museum © IWM (CH 15109)
    Lewisham Road showing damage from Flying Bombs, Imperial War Museum © IWM (CH 15109)

The Horniman was closed on the outbreak of the war and the South London Advertiser of 19 January 1940 informed its readers that “several valuable museum pieces” from the Horniman had been “removed into safety areas several months ago”.  However, the expected aerial bombardment of London did not occur and when the Victoria and Albert Museum re-opened on 11 January 1940, there was a call for other museums to follow suit.

The Horniman re-opened on 4 March 1940 with two sections of the Museum being ‘available for inspection between 10am and 6pm each day’ except Sunday. The building was restructured to house an air-raid shelter within the Museum, with space for 100 people and visitors were limited to this number.

The Horniman continued to run during the war, acquiring new items (which were mostly gifts), such as a large collection of sea shells, made by Sir William Hamer, and a Corbeille de Mariage, which is a type of wedding basket. 

During this time, the Horniman was used for patriotic exhibitions such as ‘Russia Today‘ in December 1942, and a ‘United States Exhibition’ in August 1943, which featured photographs of American industries and buildings, including the huge circular granaries built for the storage of wartime harvests, as well as native costumes and maps of the States. The latter exhibition drew many visitors, including large numbers of American servicemen.

Fundraisers were held, including an art exhibition in conjunction with the Royal Air Force ‘Wings for victory week’ in March 1943, which included an auction of art works by local Civil Defence artists in what was the Lecture Theatre, which is now The Studio.

The Gardens were also called into service as the site of a barrage balloon and spotlight. The balloon was tethered to the ground by metal cables and was intended to keep enemy planes from flying too low on bombing raids. A local resident, recorded in the Forest Hill School Oral History Project No. 2, ‘South East London in the Second World War’ describes the balloons as being like ‘great big elephants’.

  • RAF Barrage Balloons with WAAF Operating Crews CC.0 via Wiki Commons, RAF Barrage Balloons with WAAF Operating Crews, CC.0 via Wiki Commons
    RAF Barrage Balloons with WAAF Operating Crews, CC.0 via Wiki Commons

The South London newspapers reported flying bombs raids from June 1944 onwards.

These bombs had a limited range, so they had to be fired from the French and Dutch coasts. The bases were gradually overrun by the Allies following the D Day landings and the last attacks took place in October 1944. The heaviest period of bombing was referred to by the newspapers as ‘the Battle of South London’ and lasted from June to September 1944.

Lewisham was the third worst hit borough in London. It was hit by 115 flying bombs causing 275 casualties. 1,070 more were treated in hospital and 373 treated at First Aid Posts. A total of 1,129 houses were destroyed, 1,553 rendered uninhabitable, 5,305 seriously damaged and 55,335 suffered minor damage.

The Horniman was closed in August 1944 following damage caused by a flying bomb. The damage was not considered serious but the Council Architect reported in June 1945 that for the Museum building to re-open, the minimum work would entail:

  • new main entrance doors;
  • re-glazing and the repairing of lights in the Entrance Hall, Vestibule, Curator’s Room, Lecture Hall, Library and Library Stairs;
  • repairs to the doors in the lecture Hall and Library, Mummy and Aquarium corridors; the removal of all defective plaster on ceilings; and
  • flaking distemper on walls and ceilings.

In April 1945 the Education Officer, E.G. Savage, had started pressing for the re-opening of the Horniman as a matter of some urgency.

He stressed the importance of the Museum as an educational resource, and reminded the authorities of the extensive use of the Horniman by school children before its closure. The Education Officer estimated that following re-opening the Museum would be able to cater for at least 1,000 children a week.

Local people were also keen to see the Horniman open again.

In August 1946 an official who came to inspect the Horniman, was advised that applications were being received daily from the general public asking when the Museum would be available.

However, extensive damage countrywide, caused by the war, meant there were shortages of both materials and labour. Re-imbursement for the cost of the work could be claimed from the War Damages Commission, but consent for work to be carried out needed to be obtained from the Ministry of Health under the Defence (General) Requirements and licenses for timber obtained.

The work was due to start but had to be put off because priority was being given to de-bricking schools, and the work was only finally allowed to proceed after promises were made not to go to the local Employment exchange for labour.

  • The Horniman is closed due to bomb damage, Notice that the Horniman has been reopened following bomb damage
    Notice that the Horniman has been reopened following bomb damage

The Horniman re-opened on 25 September 1946 with the minimum possible repairs which made it safe for people to enter the building. The zoological and biological specimens had been repaired and reclassified. The Aquarium was ready for new specimens to be collected, but the ethnological section was in a bad way with the staff being advised to just clean up the section and open it with a large notice stating that it was under re-arrangement. The West Hall (no longer there) did not re-open until April 1947.

In the Press Notice for the re-opening, the London County Council described the Horniman as a landmark of South London whose “many friends will be glad to know of its reopening” and “a magnet for generations of schoolboys.”

The Tallgrass Prairie of the Midwest

Head of Horticulture, Wes Shaw, travelled to the US recently to learn more about prairies, following our Grasslands Garden opening in June.

Our new Grasslands Garden, which opened earlier this year, draws its inspiration from the grassland habitats of the North American Prairie and the South African Drakensburg mountain region.

It was designed by James Hitchmough, Professor of Horticultural Ecology at Sheffield University, who specialises in studying wild herbaceous plant communities to create spectacular urban planting schemes.

  • Wes grasslands trip, C Churcher
    , C Churcher

In July, I travelled to the Midwest of the USA to experience the prairie first-hand. I flew in and out of Chicago and, with the help of Marcus de la fleur, a Chicago resident and expert on the prairie, I travelled more than 2,000 miles over two weeks, to see some of his recommended locations.

  • Wes grasslands trip, Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area, Wes Shaw
    Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area, Wes Shaw

The prairie used to cover millions of square miles, from Texas all the way up into Canada.

Sadly, there is less than 1% of this amazing habitat left after early settlers began to plough the land for agriculture, using the nutrient-rich prairie soil. What little is left is now protected and managed by enthusiastic volunteers and conservation organisations, and survives in small pockets amongst corn fields and the suburbs.

  • Wes grasslands trip, Echinacea sp flowering amongst the prairie grass Big Blue Stem Andropogon gerardii, Wes Shaw
    Echinacea sp flowering amongst the prairie grass Big Blue Stem Andropogon gerardii, Wes Shaw

The types and variety of plants in a prairie depend on the geographical features and available water in each landscape, but prairie vegetation predominantly consists of a mixture of grasses and herbaceous plants. The area of the Midwest I travelled through is dominated by tallgrass prairie.

  • Wes grasslands trip, Wolf Road Prairie Reserve, Wes Shaw
    Wolf Road Prairie Reserve, Wes Shaw

I was advised by Marcus that the best locations to see a diversity of flowering plants are sites that were burned earlier in the year, as part of a management schedule.

Prescribed burning mimics natural wildfires that would have been started by lightning strikes, or by the indigenous people, as a method of herding buffalo to migrate and feed on the new growth of burnt land.

Burning is integral to the survival and health of the prairie, as it kills invasive woody plants, clears away dead vegetation, and returns nutrients to the soil.

  • Wes grasslands trip, Prairie-burning in action , M De La Fleur
    Prairie-burning in action , M De La Fleur

The prairie is an important habitat, because it provides an enormous food resource for birds, butterflies, insects and wildlife, ranging from prairie dogs to the mighty buffalo. The prairie was, and remains, very significant to the indigenous people who have a spiritual connection to the landscape, as it provided all the resources required for survival. 

  • Wes grasslands trip, Buffalo grazing in Blue Mounds State Park, Wes Shaw
    Buffalo grazing in Blue Mounds State Park, Wes Shaw

Visually, they are a truly beautiful sight. The prairie has stunning grasses and flowering perennials that bloom in succession from spring into the autumn months – compare that to our own native wildflowers that have all but finished flowering by mid-summer.

  • Wes grasslands trip, Marcus de la fleur enjoying Asclepia tuberosa in full flower, Wes Shaw
    Marcus de la fleur enjoying Asclepia tuberosa in full flower, Wes Shaw

The North American prairie has for some years been an influence on garden designers and horticulturists, with a new perennial movement starting in the 1990s that attempted to recreate the naturalistic look and qualities of the prairie.

Practitioners of this style of naturalistic planting include Piet Oudolf, James Hitchmough, Nigel Dunnett, Tom Stuart-Smith, Dan Pearson, and Beth Chatto.

Many prairie plants have made their way across the pond, and are commonly seen on sale in garden centres and plant nurseries. They make really good garden plants because many flower into late summer and are good at putting up with hot dry conditions. They also look great!

Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower), Eryngium yuccifolium (Rattlesnake Master), Liatris spicata (Blazing Star) and Aster ericoides (Heath Aster) are all plants that you will see in gardens across the UK.

  • Wes grasslands trip, Blazing Star and Rattlesnake Master flowering , Wes Shaw
    Blazing Star and Rattlesnake Master flowering , Wes Shaw

The prairie locations for the connoisseur plant hunter, are the ones that are called 'remnant', meaning they have never been ploughed. These sites give the best indication of what natural prairie habitat would have looked like when most of the Midwest was grassland, and they usually have the best diversity of flowering plants… so more bang for your buck.

Of the surviving prairie, most is restored vegetation rather than remnant. These are the areas that are undergoing work to remove unwanted woody plants and trees in an attempt to recreate the look and diversity of remnant prairie, but this is a slow and difficult long-term endeavour.

  • Wes grasslands trip, Markham Prairie Nature Preserve, remnant, Wes Shaw
    Markham Prairie Nature Preserve, remnant, Wes Shaw

Exploring the prairie isn’t for the faint-hearted: it is a harsh environment full of mosquitos, ticks and chiggers (a type of mite) and is VERY hot and humid in the summer months.

Tallgrass prairie can be over 10ft in height, and can be difficult to navigate.

A prairie explorer needs to be well-equipped in the field. The following equipment is essential: bug spray; long socks to tuck trousers into (a tactic used to avoid ticks, but not a great fashion statement); water; hat; sunglasses; and sun lotion. Finally you need a good field guide so you can recognise the huge assortment of flowering plants and grasses.

  • Wes grasslands trip, Me demonstrating just how tall, tall grass prairie is
    Me demonstrating just how tall, tall grass prairie is

My two-week exploration of the prairie was an amazing experience, and I felt incredibly privileged to be able to appreciate first-hand such an amazing habitat. I was able to see many of the plants we are growing in the Grasslands Garden in their natural habitat, which for a horticulturist is priceless to understand how they grow and relate that to our own garden display.

I was very lucky to have Marcus as my prairie guide – he gave up a lot of his time which I am very grateful for.

I also have to thank the Royal Horticultural Society for funding my travels through their fantastic bursary scheme.

I hope this blog will encourage readers to come and visit the Grasslands Garden and perhaps, if they ever travel to the Midwest, to look out for those last remaining pockets of prairie.

Reef Encounters: Dr James Guest

Marine biologist, Dr James Guest, who works at Newcastle University, tells us about his work focusing on tropical reef research, understanding how reefs regenerate and recover.

What is your typical day?

Currently, I am the lead researcher on a five year project called CoralASSIST that aims to examine the feasibility of an approach called coral assisted gene flow. I am interested to know whether it is really possible to seed areas of reef with corals that are more tolerant to thermal stress and what risks and trade-offs are involved.

My time is split between the office and the field. In the office, my day involves writing papers and grant proposals, discussing and designing experiments, ordering equipment and materials and all the mundane stuff involved in running a research project (this probably takes up 70% of my time).

The rest of the time is spent in the field - this is the fun part of my job - as it involves diving and snorkelling on reefs to set up experiments, or doing experiments in aquarium tanks, collecting coral spawn, rearing coral larvae and monitoring the results of long term studies.  

  • Brain coral, Brain coral underwater, Pixabay CC.0
    Brain coral underwater, Pixabay CC.0

When did you first know you wanted to work in this area?

I went snorkelling on holiday in Croatia when I was about 8 or 9, then I learned to dive in England when I was 17. I became completely hooked on diving from that age.

I then got a job as a photographer on a ship and I started diving on reefs in the Caribbean and taking underwater pictures. Eventually I returned to the UK and took my degree in marine biology at Newcastle University, an institution that has a long tradition of doing work on tropical coral reefs.

I was particularly fascinated by corals because they are really simple organisms, but they build these amazing, diverse and beautiful ecosystems. During my summer holidays at University I went to Central America to survey coral reefs and that was really my first step into the world of coral reef research.

What inspires you in your work?

The scientific process and finding out things about the how the world works.

What would your take-home message for the future of reefs be?

Well, things look very bad for reefs and much has been lost for ever.

There is still time to turn things around, but there has to be more action now if we want to conserve coral reefs in the future.

This has to start with further reducing greenhouse gas emissions in tandem with much better local management. There may also be some innovative techniques we could try to help corals adapt, but much research is still needed before they can be applied. 

  • Reef squid, Reef squid, Betty Wills (Atsme) Wikimedia Commons License CC-BY-SA-4.0
    Reef squid, Betty Wills (Atsme) Wikimedia Commons License CC-BY-SA-4.0

What's your favourite creature on the reef, and why?

I am particularly fond of a genus of coral called Goniopora. They have these beautiful swaying polyps that are always extended during the day. But I also love reef squid because of their amazing ability to use colour change to communicate with one and another and to camouflage themselves.

  • Goniopora, Goniopora, Peter Young Cho MD, Wikipedia Creative Commons CC-BY-3.0
    Goniopora, Peter Young Cho MD, Wikipedia Creative Commons CC-BY-3.0

What's the oddest thing you've seen at sea?

I once found a large metal combination lock safe sitting on a reef in Singapore, the type you would find in a bank. It was too heavy to lift and bring back to the boat. I wonder if it was full of money...I will never know!?

What photography kit do you use?

For work, currently I'm a fan of the Olympus Tough TG-5. It's an amazing workhorse camera and is not too bulky. 

What's the next big thing for your work?

Trying to establish whether it really is feasible to breed corals that are more resistant to higher thermal stress. If we can, then we need to see if these traits are heritable and whether lab reared corals can really be seeded to reefs at large enough scales to have a meaningful impact in terms of mitigating the impact of climate change.

Who's your 'reef hero' - someone doing great work or advocacy for the future of reefs?

There's no one person in particular, but I have a lot of respect for people around the world who work directly with local communities (often with little or no funding) to continually raise awareness about the importance of nature conservation.  

A Merman in New York

Helen Merrett, our Collections Coordinator and Loans Registrar, tells us about our now international merman and what it takes to get him from A to B.

Our famous Merman is on his travels again, having just made his debut in the new World Gallery Curiosities section of the Perspectives Wall. This time he’s gone international. The Merman has not travelled abroad since he was transferred to the Horniman in 1982 from the Wellcome Collection.

Harry Potter: A History of Magic was a hugely popular exhibition at the British Library when it opened in October 2017, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

The exhibition featured star objects from JK Rowling’s personal archive, including original drafts and drawings by JK Rowling and illustrator Jim Kay, both on display for the first time. 

The exhibition has now toured on to the New York Historical Society Museum and Library to celebrate the 20th anniversary in the USA. 

Merpeople are an important part of the exhibition story. There is focus on the authorial process and the development of Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, showing that published versions can often be different from the original draft concepts - merpeople were originally going to feature earlier then the fifth book.

When the merpeople appear in Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, rather than the classical mystical image of beautiful enchanting creatures, they have grey skin, yellow eyes and broken teeth, similar to the style of the Horniman Ningyo Merman.

  • The Horniman Merman on his travels, The gorgeous Horniman merman
    The gorgeous Horniman merman

Because the Merman has been so popular (this is his eighth time out on loan since 2011), he now travels with a mount made by our Exhibitions Team that works for different displays. For all objects going out on loan our Exhibition Technicians work 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. It is very important we sent him with a mount we know gives the right support, and this also makes the install at the borrowing venue much more straightforward. We discussed this with New York Historical Society to ensure our mount worked with the exhibition design, so accurate measuring was crucial. 

  • The Horniman Merman on his travels, The merman on his special mount
    The merman on his special mount

All objects are assessed by a Conservator before they go out on loan. The Merman required a small repair and clean to ensure he was stable for travel abroad.

Then he had the all-important photoshoot so we could capture his condition before he left the Horniman. Our Conservation Officer Charlotte put together a very detailed condition report so that we can see if there are any changes whilst he is travelling and installed elsewhere.

  • The Horniman Merman on his travels, A merman photoshoot
    A merman photoshoot

Packing is another important part of any object going out on loan. A special tray and box had previously been made by Charlotte in our Conservation Team for travelling in the UK, but this needed some slight tweaks to give extra support to the merman for travelling across to America.

  • The Horniman Merman on his travels, On the left, his old packaging, on the right, his swanky new travel arrangements
    On the left, his old packaging, on the right, his swanky new travel arrangements

I was lucky enough to escort the Merman on his travels again, ensuring that he arrived safely, and was unpacked and installed at the New York Historical Society. Naturally, the Merman was an instant hit amongst staff and the other couriers there to install the exhibition.

Everyone wanted to know the history of the Merman and a few pictures were requested of the star. He has been displayed with a beautiful book from the American Museum of Natural History and a manuscript from the British Library, showing historic illustrations of mystical creatures including mermaids. It was fantastic working with the British Library and New York Historical Society on this exciting exhibition, and that the merman has become part of the story of where magic and myth began.

  • The Horniman Merman on his travels, Helen installing the merman in New York
    Helen installing the merman in New York

Harry Potter: A History of Magic is on at the New York Historical Society from 5 October 2018 until 27 January 2019.

The merman will be back in the World Gallery in February 2019.

Celebrating the arts

Disguise. Layers. Extraordinary and ordinary. Natural and man made. These are just some of the themes that art students come to explore at the Horniman.

  • Drawings by Artsmark students, Drawings by Artsmark students
    Drawings by Artsmark students

Artsmark celebration week ran from 8 – 12 October and is a national celebration of arts and culture. Artsmark is the creative quality standard for schools, accredited by Arts Council England. Artsmark provides a framework for teachers to plan, develop and evaluate arts, culture and creativity across the curriculum.

The Horniman is an Artsmark partner, so we support schools to achieve their Artsmark status and schools can visit us as part of their award.

During Artsmark celebration week, Sacred Heart School from Camberwell brought their year 11 GCSE group to explore the theme of disguise. Luckily we have around 3,000 objects in the handling collection that pupils can touch, photograph and draw to build up their sketchbook as part of their GCSE topic.

  • Drawings by Artsmark students, Drawings by Artsmark students
    Drawings by Artsmark students

We explored camouflage in animals, looking at a zebra skin and stoats that change colour with the time of year. The pupils also looked at textiles, puppets and masks for inspiration for their final piece. As part of their visit, the students also explored the new World Gallery to look for further examples of disguise.

Pupils from Langdon Park Secondary School from Tower Hamlets also visited during this celebration week and their theme was ‘Layers’. Pupils explored clothing, seed pods, gourds and even an armadillo carapace.

We celebrate the arts all year round at the Horniman with handling sessions for schools for art, music, textiles and puppets. Find out more about Artsmark, and Horniman school sessions. Check out more artwork by schools visitors.

  • Drawings by Artsmark students, Drawings by Artsmark students
    Drawings by Artsmark students

Seeing things in Black and White

Black and white, the two most basic colours that make up our universe are also those imbued with the most symbolism to humanity.

Let there be light

Diametric opposites, the contrast between black and white has fascinated us from our earliest moments. In almost all creation myths throughout human history, gods have separated the light from the dark, the white and the black, a division that has come to represent all the dichotomies that continue to fascinate us to this day – light and darkness, day and night, order and chaos, life and death.

Even in their composition, the two could not be more different. Black is formed by either a complete absence or total absorption of all visible light, while white is composed of all visible wavelengths of light. For many centuries it was actually believed that white was the basic building block of all colours but in 1666 Isaac Newton demonstrated that in fact, the reverse is true.

  • Isaac Newton, Isaac Newton proved that white light was a composite of other wavelengths by separating it with a prism
    Isaac Newton proved that white light was a composite of other wavelengths by separating it with a prism

Not so blæc and hwīt

Etymologically, both black and white come from Old English sources, the former being derivative of blæc while white has developed from hwīt. Like most words for colours in the English language, this means that the origin of these words is Germanic as opposed to Latin as is the case with Romance languages.

While English and European languages have only one word to describe black and white, several non-European languages such as Japanese and Inuit have multiple words that can describe different hues of white. Sanskrit actually has different words for specific types of white such as the white of teeth, the white of sandalwood, and the white of cow’s milk.

Black and white all over

You would think that a black and white colouration wouldn't make much sense for animals but it's more common than you think and can help for a number of reasons.

Animals that live in snowy regions such as the Arctic or high mountains almost exclusively sport white fur as a means of blending in with their surroundings which is useful for both predator and prey. You are far less likely to come across an animal that is purely black in colouration and the most famous example, the black panther, is actually a genetic mutation of leopards and panthers. An excess of melanin leads to a darker coat which has its own advantages when it comes to stalking prey explaining the continued existence of these offshoots.

  • Black Panther, Leopards can't change their spots but panthers can hide them, Pixabay CC0
    Leopards can't change their spots but panthers can hide them, Pixabay CC0

Animals that sport a combination of black and white are some of the most well known and include pandas, zebras, and penguins. It is often asked why these animals have evolved to have such an unusual combination of colours, especially as you think it would make them stand out.

Scientists still aren't totally sure what the answer is. In some cases, it might be to help them blend with their surroundings regardless of the weather, or it may even be to help other animals identify them. Badgers, for example, may sport white stripes so that even in the darkness of a burrow, predators will recognise them and be deterred from picking a fight they may not win.

Black is the new black

Although these days it is increasingly common to wear black and white clothes casually, for generations black and white have been used to mark special occasions or to show importance.

An austere black is something we have grown accustomed to seeing sported by figures of authority since the medieval period. Judges across the world often sport black gowns, and politicians are also commonly dressed in black, suggesting to us a seriousness, solemnity, humility, and clarity is at play in their thinking. From the 14th century onwards, it even became increasingly common for monarchs in Europe to favour black garments over more ostentatious colours that had previously been favoured.

Around the world though, white is typically the colour of a bride's dress during a wedding although this only became a trend Europe and the Americas following Queen Victoria's decision to wear a white gown during her own wedding. Prior to this, brides would often simply wear their best clothing regardless of colour, now though white is ubiquitous with weddings. The reserved nature of black has also made it the colour of mourning in the Western world since the Roman period, although in Africa and Asia it is more common that white is worn when attending funerals. 

  • Queen Victoria, Although her wedding dress popularised white gowns Queen Victoria is most recognisable for the black outfits she wore during her long period of mourning for Prince Albert
    Although her wedding dress popularised white gowns Queen Victoria is most recognisable for the black outfits she wore during her long period of mourning for Prince Albert

In the 19th and 20th century, black became an increasingly fashionable choice when it came to clothing. No longer simply suggesting melancholy or seriousness, black began to be viewed as a sign of elegance and sophistication. Men's formal attire for parties or ceremonies was and remains black and white, but with the creation of her "Little Black Dress" in 1926, Coco Channel made a black dress indispensable for women's wardrobes, famously saying, "A woman needs just three things; a black dress, a black sweater, and, on her arm, a man she loves."

Throwing up the white flag

In the realm of politics, black and white are not colours that are often adopted by the mainstream. The colour black and a black flag have been the traditional symbols of anarchism since the 1880s. In the middle of the 20th century, black was also adopted by a number of fascist political parties and both the paramilitary wings of the Italian National Fascist Party and British Union of Fascists were known as the “Blackshirts”.

During the political tumult of the 19th and 20th centuries white was often associated with the cause of monarchism due to the white background of the House of Bourbon of France. The White Army which was primarily composed of monarchists and liberals opposed the socialist Red Army during the Russian Civil War.

White though is most famously associated with the cause of pacifism and peaceful resistance. White flags have been used as a symbol of surrender on the battlefield since the Roman period in Europe and the Eastern Han Dynasty in China. These connections, have seen it become the colour adopted by pacifists the world over, for example, the White Rose group, a non-violent resistance group of students who opposed the crimes of Nazi Germany.

  • anarchy-8265_1920, The austere and visible nature of black and white make them a popular choice in political movements, Pixabay CC0
    The austere and visible nature of black and white make them a popular choice in political movements, Pixabay CC0

Reef Encounters: Laura Puk

This month as part of our Reef Encounters series we spoke to Laura Puk, a PhD student at the University of Queensland, who is researching how damaging microalgae are spreading across coral reefs.

What is your typical day?

That depends a lot on whether I am in the field or working in the office. When I’m in the field - which can often be for weeks or months at a time - we’re often out on the water for the better part of the day. After coming back home, we need to clean our dive equipment, take care of samples, input the collected data, or work on all the pictures taken.

When I’m in the office my day is very different and much more computer-based. I either work on the data collected during my field trip, read papers, write, or do all the little things that come up on the side.

When did you first know you wanted to work in this area, and how did you get into your work?

I’ve wanted to be a marine biologist for as long as I can remember. My interest in coral reef research began when I took a gap year after my undergraduate degree and helped monitor coral reefs in Madagascar.

  • Laura Puk 01, "I've wanted to be a marine biologist for as long as I can remember."
    "I've wanted to be a marine biologist for as long as I can remember."

What inspires you in your work? 

The unbelievable diversity of life and intricate interactions between marine organisms. There’s still so much to discover.

What would your message for the future of reefs be?

I think coral reefs have a chance if we don’t lose hope and act now. Coral reefs are in grave danger and the coral reefs of the future may look different to what we know. However, if everyone puts in an effort we may be able to preserve these incredible ecosystems and the services they provide to people. 

  • Laura Puk 02, "I think coral reefs have a chance if we don't lose hope and act now."
    "I think coral reefs have a chance if we don't lose hope and act now."

What’s your favourite creature on the reef, and why?

That’s a difficult one. I sort of have a soft spot for rabbitfish, probably because of their ability to feed on algae and because rabbitfish pairs look out for each other.

  • Rabbitfish, "rabbitfish pairs look out for each other", Leonard Low/CCBY2.0
    "rabbitfish pairs look out for each other", Leonard Low/CCBY2.0

Sharks also still get me. When I first see them my heart rate goes up, but when you watch them calmly swimming along, it’s oddly relaxing.

What kit do you use?

Until recently I used a Sony RX 100 with an underwater housing, but I just got a housing for my Olympus om-d e-m 5 and am super excited to start playing around with it.

Who’s your ‘reef hero’ – someone doing great work or advocacy for the future of reefs?

I actually don’t have a proper ‘reef hero’. I admire Jane Goodall, even though she’s worked on chimpanzees not coral reefs. She went to Africa in the 1950s and 1960s as a young woman to become a scientist in a society where that wasn’t an easy journey to make. Since then she’s worked for decades to promote conservation in every field and inspired thousands and thousands of people around the world.

Around the World in 80 Objects Part Four

 Our Around the World in 80 objects tour has come to a close. We've travelled through Europe, Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas, and at last, we're back in Lewisham.

Every day on our Twitter for 80 days we've been posting a new object that you can see in our World Gallery as we navigated a route around the world.

Find out how our journey came to an end as we followed in the footsteps of Phileas Fogg and celebrated human creativity, imagination, and adaptability around the world.



Ask A Curator 2018

What would you ask one of our Curators?

  • Blue Morpho Butterfly specimen, Blue Morpho Butterfly specimen
    Blue Morpho Butterfly specimen

For this year's #AskACurator day, three of our staff - Emma-Louise Nicolls (Natural History), Margaret Birley (Musical Instruments) and Wesley Shaw (Gardens) - agreed to answer questions from tweeters all over the world. So, what was discussed? Their answers ranged from parasitic plants to good doggos and musical sand.

See some of the questions and responses below:

Read all their answers on our Twitter Moment.

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