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A Very Regal Instrument: Queen Victoria and the Erard Grand Piano

Our grand piano by Erard is currently on loan to Historic Royal Palaces for their exhibition Victoria: A Royal Childhood.

  • Grand Piano by Erard, Grand Piano by Erard, London, c.1880, (Horniman Museum No. M99-1983). Acquired with the assistance of the Purchase Grant Fund. Horniman Museum and Gardens, photo by Sarah Duncan
    Grand Piano by Erard, London, c.1880, (Horniman Museum No. M99-1983). Acquired with the assistance of the Purchase Grant Fund. Horniman Museum and Gardens, photo by Sarah Duncan

Queen Victoria owned an Erard piano dating from the 1840s and used it as a child and young adult. The piano on loan to Kensington Palace is of the make that was played by Victoria, but it is a later example of the type, from around 1880. Our Erard Grand Piano in rosewood with inner rim veneered in fiddle-back maple.

Queen Victoria was a great supporter and patron of the arts and music was no exception, playing an important role in Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert’s, lives.

There are diary entries from the Queen which show her writing music, and which date back to the age of 13. Both Victoria and Albert were piano enthusiasts, and pianos would feature in every place they called home. Victoria would also be given pianos as gifts.

The Erard piano is one of Victoria’s famed instruments, and our loaned instrument acts as an example of what Queen Victoria would have had at the ball to celebrate her 17th Birthday.

While music would have also been part of Victoria’s education, Prince Albert also contributed to her repertoire. They played piano duets together, and Albert would take Victoria to recitals or the opera.

Some of the music they played together included Beethoven’s Egmont or Prometheus, as well as music by Mendelssohn, Haydn and Mozart. She is also thought to have admired Don Giovanni.

  • Grand Piano by Erard, Grand Piano by Erard, London, c.1880, (Horniman Museum No. M99-1983). Acquired with the assistance of the Purchase Grant Fund. Horniman Museum and Gardens, photo by Sarah Duncan
    Grand Piano by Erard, London, c.1880, (Horniman Museum No. M99-1983). Acquired with the assistance of the Purchase Grant Fund. Horniman Museum and Gardens, photo by Sarah Duncan

The Erard firm were piano and harp makers, as well a music publishers. They were founded in Paris in the late 18th Century by Sebastien Erard, and he began making pianos for the French nobility.

In 1821, Erard patented a new action for pianos called 'the double escapement' which, by the introduction of an intermediate lever between the key and hammer significantly improved dynamic control and repetition.

This innovation earned Erard pianos the devotion of many well-known players, including Liszt and Mendelssohn. Although Chopin preferred Parisian rival Pleyel’s pianos, he nevertheless acknowledged the beauty of the Erards and admired their consistency in touch and sound.

The Erard firm was among the first to introduce metal bracing into the piano to help improve both structural and tuning stability.

At the end of the 18th Century, the French Revolution as well as a growing UK market, prompted a move across the Channel. Erard established a factory in London's Great Marlborough Street and the British Royal Family patronised the firm.

The show which marks the 200th anniversary of Queen Victoria, born in 24 May 1819.  Each room is replicated to look as the same as when she grew up and tells stories of the young confident Queen. See it and our Grand Piano at Kensington Palace, on now.

Plastic bag charge to raise funds for Project Coral

As of today, the Horniman will be charging 5p for the use of plastic bags in our shop in a bid to reduce plastic waste, and raise funds for Project Coral.

Having committed to replacing single-use plastics in our Café earlier this year, the Horniman is now looking into other ways to reduce the amount of plastic waste we produce. 

One of our longer-term aims as an organisation is to remove plastic bags from our shop and we are currently looking into alternatives. However, in the meantime, we will be introducing a 5p charge on plastic bags to encourage people to use reuseable bags.

The 5p raised from each plastic bag sales goes directly to support Project Coral, an innovative coral reproductive research project led by the Horniman Aquarium with international partners.

Together we are conducting ground-breaking work on coral reproduction and investigating ways to help save reefs around the world.

At the Horniman, we recognise our responsibility to help lead efforts to reduce plastic waste and continue to seek ways to do so.

Museum Shop Sunday at the Horniman

On 26 November, the Horniman will be taking part in Museum Shop Sunday. Be sure to visit for some one-off bargains.

This Sunday, the Horniman will be offering 10% off the price of any Horniman branded products in our gift shops as part of a Museum Shop Sunday promotion. Museum Shop Sunday is a way for shops in cultural venues across the world to raise their profile during the busy Christmas shopping period.

The Horniman has extra reason to celebrate as ACE (Association for Cultural Enterprises) who run Museum Shop Sunday have awarded the new Butterfly House gift shop the ACE Shop of the Month award for October.

To give you a taste of what's on offer, our shop staff have picked out some of their favourite items in the shop.

Horniman Walrus Necklace

Designed exclusively for the Horniman by Just Trade, this hand-carved necklace is made from a single tagua nut by a fairtrade project in Ecuador. 

Regular Price: £25
Discounted Price: £22.50

Horniman T-Shirt

Display your love of the Walrus with pride by sporting this fetching T-Shirt.

Regular Price: £12
Discounted Price: £10.80

Horniman Kids' Handbook

The Horniman Kids' Handbook is a great way for little ones to get the most out of their visit and to help them keep learning afterwards. Full of facts, quizzes, puzzles, and stickers, it will keep the kids entertained for hours.

Regular Price: £6
Discounted Price: £5.40

Cuddly Walrus

Take the Walrus home with you with this incredibly soft cuddly walrus which makes a great gift for all ages.

Regular Price: £11
Discounted Price: £10

13 Facts About the Horniman Gardens

The Horniman Gardens have been awarded their 13th consecutive Green Flag Award – one of a record-breaking 1,797 UK parks and green spaces in 2017 to receive the prestigious award, the mark of a quality park or green space. To celebrate, we’ve gathered together our 13 favourite facts about the Gardens…

1. Frederick Horniman first opened his garden to the public in 1895, and when he gave his new museum to the people in 1901, the gift included the ‘pleasure gardens’, intended as ‘a pleasant retreat for the visitors after an inspection of the collections themselves’.

2. There have been many changes since then. Over the years there’s been a wishing chair, tennis courts, a water garden, a putting green, and of course the boating lake, the base of which remains at the bottom of Meadow Field.

3. The Horniman’s Nature Trail is the oldest in London. It runs on the site of the Crystal Palace and South London Junction Railway which closed in 1954. The area was left untended until 1972, becoming a wild woodland. Now carefully managed, the Nature Trail has just received its ninth Green Flag Community Award.

4. Two trees were planted in the Gardens in 1937 to commemorate King George VI’s coronation, as noted in the Royal Record of Tree Planting from the time (page 247). See if you can spot the Purple Beech and Double White Flowering Cherry next time you visit.

5. Our current tree-planting programme includes rare and endangered trees. The Wollemi Pine in the Prehistoric Garden and a recently planted Sapphire Dragon Tree are both Critically Endangered species.

6. The Gardens are also home to other declining or protected species of plants and wildlife – look up and see if you can spot some mistletoe, or down to keep an eye out for stag beetles (be sure to record any sightings).

7. An ecological survey of the Library building’s green roof recorded 52 insect species living there, including a rare type of ant and other unusual species. We also have a living roof on our Pavilion. And, no, we don’t mow them!

8. 97% of our Gardens’ waste is turned into compost on site, and reused for soil improving and mulching. Food waste from the Horniman Café is also composted and used in the Gardens as a liquid fertilizer. Yum.

9. 16 acres can take a lot of watering in hot weather – but 187,000 litres of waste water from the Aquarium’s water filters are reused in the Gardens each year. It has too many impurities for sensitive fish and corals but is perfect for plants.

10. The formal planting in the Sunken Gardens is changed twice a year, for spring and summer. The current design, by Apprentice Gardener Ian, features more than 5,000 salvias, marigolds, cinerarias, and cannas, and took the Gardens team seven days to prepare and plant out.

11. The Tea Clipper Rose was created by David Austin for the Horniman in 2006 to mark the centenary of founder Frederick Horniman's death. Named for his tea-trading heritage, you can see these apricot-coloured blooms beside the sundial overlooking the Sunken Garden.

12. One of the newest areas of the Gardens is the Butterfly House, which opened this summer. More than 500 plants create this tropical environment providing habitat, food for caterpillars and nectar for hundreds of free-flying butterflies.

13. Over the summer we’ve been growing 20 varieties of pumpkins and squash in the Display Gardens. They’ve just been harvested – and some of them are whoppers. Watch out for them in a seasonal display, coming soon.

New Ornamental Grass Border for Horniman Gardens

Award-winning plantsman Neil Lucas has designed a new ornamental grass border now on display in the Horniman Gardens.

Over the past few weeks, the Gardens team has been hard at work planting a new border of ornamental grasses in the Horniman Gardens.

Grasses from around the world will feature in a new design by specialist plantsman Neil Lucas, a recognised authority on ornamental grasses and owner of Dorset's Knoll Gardens

  • , New ornamental grass borders on display in the Horniman Gardens.
    New ornamental grass borders on display in the Horniman Gardens.

Neil – holder of 10 consecutive Chelsea Flower Show Gold Medals – has created a bespoke design for the Horniman that highlights 20 different varieties of grasses planted in regular-shaped blocks, for a bold visual effect.

Currently surrounding the Horniman’s seasonal pumpkin patch, the border will, in time, frame a more naturalistic central display garden, which will be linked to the opening of our World Gallery in 2018.

#LondonIsOpen and so is the Horniman!

We love the Mayor of London’s campaign to show the world that the capital is open for business, open to ideas and open to people from across the world who have chosen to live and work in London. As part of the campaign Mayor Sadiq Khan has said,

London is the best city in the world. It is creative, international, entrepreneurial and full of opportunities. I’m incredibly proud to be Mayor of a city that’s so comfortable with its diversity and so optimistic about its future. 

We don’t simply tolerate each others’ differences, we celebrate them.

Inspired by the #LondonIsOpen campaign and the Mayor's comments we thought we would share some of the ways that the Horniman is open.

Open for learning

Whether you are one of the 46,000 adults and children who visited us on a school trip last year, a member of our Youth Panel or are one of our community groups, we want you to find the Horniman friendly, fascinating and ultimately fun.

As one Year 3 pupil put it after an Ancient Egypt hands on session,

Thank you for letting me touch this amazing stuff; I never thought I could do that!

Open to the world

Just as our founder Frederick Horniman travelled the world collecting, we want to give back to all our international visitors through objects and experiences that spark off wonder and joy. We celebrate different cultures through our events and seasons, like the Festival of Brasil, which has bought Brazilian artists together with our communities to shape the Festival.

There is also a hive of international exchange going on behind the scenes. Horniman staff work with experts all over the world to exchange information and advance global knowledge on a range of topics, from examining what it means to be human to coral reproduction.

Open for sharing

Members of our communities share their thoughts, experiences, memories and stories of the Horniman with us and we love to read them.

Open to everyone

The Horniman has fantastic visitors coming through the door daily, visiting our Gardens and coming to our website from every corner of the world, from south London to Samoa.

Underpinning everything we do is a desire to use our collections and Gardens to encourage a wider appreciation of the world, its peoples, cultures and environments. This spans from pond dipping sessions at the bottom of our Gardens to working with coral specialists in Australia.

So next time you are thinking of trying something new have a look at all the amazing things the Horniman has to offer and pay us a visit.

The Horniman is open!

Homes for Bats and Birds

Jim, who works for The Conservation Volunteers, has been updating us on the latest work being done on London's oldest Nature Trail.

This January, the conservation volunteers put up the new Woodcrete Bird and Bat boxes purchased by the Gardens team.

These boxes are used by most conservation organisations as they are tough, durable and easy to clean. They are made of a mix of wood pulp and concrete, so are impervious to attacks from woodpeckers, crows, jays and magpies who will attempt to raid the nests for eggs and fledglings.

We have put up four bat boxes down around the Nature Trail meadow. This is a good area for bats (probably pipistrelle bats) as the pond is nearby, and this along with the meadow is a good source of insects - the bats main food.  The bats can roost in the boxes and come out to feed from dusk onwards.

Bats live in colonies, so the boxes are all put close together, unlike boxes for birds, which have separate territories.  

Four blue tit boxes have also been put up along the trail to join the other six great tit boxes that are already there. The difference between the two boxes is that the blue tit box has a smaller hole, thus excluding the larger great tits, who will oust the smaller blue tits given the chance.

All of these boxes will provide very useful nesting and roosting sites for birds and bats, and they will help to increase the overall biodiversity and educational value of the Nature Trail.  

Danny Boyle at the Horniman

We were very pleased to welcome Oscar-winning filmmaker Danny Boyle to the Horniman yesterday evening.

Danny and his crew filmed a pilot for a Channel 4 show Babylon in the local area last November. To thank SE23 residents, he and his team offered to hold a Q&A talk which we were delighted to host.

Questions from the audience ranged from his favourite films, his proudest moment, the show filmed here in Forest Hill and, of course, the 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony. Danny entertained and enthralled the audience with tales from his award winning film and stage career and charmed us all.

After the Storm in the Horniman Gardens

If you visited last week, you will have seen that on some days parts or all of the Gardens had to be closed. This was to allow the Gardens team, to inspect each of the trees and clear away any damage caused by the gale force winds of St. Jude.

Many of the trees suffered damage to branches in the storm, and a tree surgeon needed to make sure these were brought down and removed safely.

We also lost 4 complete trees. Two fell in the high winds and 2 more had to be felled as they were left severely damaged and unsafe. Then work began to remove some of the stumps left behind.

One of the trees which had to be felled last week was a large Ash. Gardener Andrea managed to catch the event on camera.

The tree had suffered severe damage to a large branch, and upon investigating and climbing the tree to remove this it became clear it was not safe to leave the rest of the tree standing.

It is a shame to see mature trees like this Ash come to an end, particularly since many people are familiar with the older trees in the Gardens, but in the end their removal can be vital for the safety of visitors.

The Horniman's Head of Horticulture, Wes, explains that for the Gardens team it is important to look on the positive side after an event like this, to see an opportunity to think again about plans for the space, and future replanting.

This tree's stump will be left in the ground for visitors to discover. It's the perfect chance to explore nature and perhaps even discover the age of this tree by counting the rings.

A Family Field Trip to Brixham

As you might have heard, back in September we were joint winners of the Family Friendly Museum Award 2013, along with Brixham Heritage Museum. Of course, someone had to pay visit to our fellow winner and see all their fantastic work (and perhaps even bring back a few ideas for the Horniman).
Amy from Exhibitions set off on a family fieldtrip and has sent us her report.

I recently paid Brixham a visit with my husband Jamie and son John. We got there quite late in the afternoon, and they kindly allowed us to come in for free (even though the entry fee is a very reasonable £2).

The building itself is very interesting: the museum is housed in the town's old police station and some of the exhibits are in the former police cells.

  • Historical Displays at Brixham Heritage Museum, Photo by Amy Welsh
    , Photo by Amy Welsh

The museum shows the heritage of the village of Brixham, from prehistory to the modern day. It features many stories from its maritime past, particularly during the Second World War.

  • Engaging children with maritime history, Photo by Amy Welsh
    , Photo by Amy Welsh

We learned that there is a cave under the town, which can't be visited any more but sounds fascinating. The museum even had some prehistoric animal teeth found in the Brixham caves!

We can definitely see why Brixham are joint winners of the award. The volunteers working there are very friendly, armed with rucksack quizzes for older children and a display of toys, including a train which John absolutely loved.

  • Toy Trains at Brixham, Photo by Amy Welsh
    , Photo by Amy Welsh

  • Older Toys on Display at Brixham, Photo by Amy Welsh
    , Photo by Amy Welsh

They make lots of effort to engage young children, including providing colouring-in sheets, a dressing up box and a place for kids to do their own archaeological dig.

  • Making discoveries at an archaeological dig, Photo by Amy Welsh
    , Photo by Amy Welsh

  • Dress up to discover History at Brixham, Photo by Amy Welsh
    , Photo by Amy Welsh

As we were leaving, John was given a free badge so he could remember his visit. We all loved our day out, and the staff at Brixham were really friendly, sweet and welcoming to our family.

Congratulations to Brixham on their win! It sounds like it was well-deserved.

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