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The Zoomorphic Figures of Awadh

There are 14 extraordinary painted clay zoomorphic figures in the Horniman collections which have piqued the curiosity of visitors. Curatorial volunteer Alison South has been researching these figures to find out something about their origins.

  • Composite of the zoomorphic figures, The zoomorphic figures
    The zoomorphic figures

These are 3D artworks, with animals and humans comprised of numerous smaller animals. The fine quality of the figures and their unusual form has been a source of interest, particularly since four of the figures have been put on display in the World Gallery, while two more featured in the recent Lore of the Land exhibition.

The creatures depicted are so diverse there is no obvious link to any particular geographical region.

The 14 models consist of the following 21 figures:

  • 4 humans standing, 3 seated
  • 2 rhinos
  • 2 gazelles
  • 2 monkeys seated
  • 1 donkey
  • 1 owl
  • 1 ostrich
  • 2 goat/goat-like animals
  • 1 cow, 1 calf
  • 1 kangaroo

Whilst paintings of zoomorphic creatures are well-known in Indian art, we have not so far been able to trace any other similar ceramic figures.

  • zoomorphic art, Pari holding a unique animal. 19th cent. Rajput style. Bhopal museum, Ismoon via CC license on Wikicommons
    Pari holding a unique animal. 19th cent. Rajput style. Bhopal museum, Ismoon via CC license on Wikicommons

How did the Horniman acquire them?

The 14 figures were transferred to the Horniman from the Wellcome Collection in 1982. We wanted to know more about the origins of these figures – where had they been made and how had they come to be in the Wellcome Collection?

As with most of our research projects, we began with our own records: the Horniman’s historical file relating to the transfer from the Wellcome in 1982.

The file also includes copies of the Wellcome’s descriptions and index cards, which pointed us to two sources.

12 figures (Wellcome A19174 / Horniman 1982.126i- xii) came from a sale at Easton Park on 25 June 1919, lot 243.

The two human figures (Wellcome R753/1937 and R754/1937 / Horniman 1982.127i – ii) were bought from a Mr H R Maggs, who lived at 118 Long Acre in Covent Garden, London in 1937.

Although the objects came to the Wellcome from two separate sources, they are so similar that they are considered to have come from the same origin. The figures currently on display at the Horniman all come from the Easton Park source, the remaining figures are in store at our Study Collections Centre.

The Easton Park figures

The next step was to identify Easton Park. Online searches brought us to Easton in Suffolk and their excellent local history website revealed that the Easton Park estate formed part of the Dukes of Hamilton’s holdings. The Hamilton’s were (and are) the most senior peers in Scotland, and Easton was the main base of the 12th Duke of Hamilton.

  • The 12th Duke with a gun boy, The 12th Duke with a gun boy, Courtesy of Mr Brian Boon
    The 12th Duke with a gun boy, Courtesy of Mr Brian Boon

It was well established that the whole estate, 4,833 acres, was put up for sale in 1919 and a large proportion of the estate was sold at that time. However no sale of artefacts taking place in June 1919 (as referred to in the Wellcome documentation) was known about locally.

  • Easton Park, Easton Park, Courtesy of Mr Brian Boon
    Easton Park, Courtesy of Mr Brian Boon

Local historian Mr Brian Boon suggested contacting Dr Godfrey Evans, Principal Curator of European Decorative Arts at the National Museums Scotland, as a researcher of the Dukes of Hamilton, and the Hamilton Palace collection and dispersal. We’re very much indebted to both these individuals for sharing their knowledge on this with us.

Following our enquiry, the archivists in the Wellcome Library helpfully located an uncatalogued sale catalogue in their archives for an auction by Moore Garrard & Son for five days at Easton Park starting on 25 June 1919.

Almost simultaneously, Dr Evans confirmed that this was the sale at which the 12th Duke of Hamilton’s collections were disposed of by the Marchioness of Graham, his daughter and only child. The 12th Duke had died some years previously, aged 50 in 1895.

  • Lady Mary Graham daughter of 12th Duke, Lady Mary Graham daughter of 12th Duke, Courtesy of Mr Brian Boon
    Lady Mary Graham daughter of 12th Duke, Courtesy of Mr Brian Boon

Lot 243 from the first day of the sale is described as ‘Eleven quaint Russian figures and animals, under glass.’

The annotated copy of the sale catalogue confirms that Lot 243 was purchased by ‘Stow’ for £9, 15sh. Dr Ruth Horry at the Wellcome Collection explained Mr Harry Stow was one of the longest-serving of the Wellcome’s employees and acted as a regular purchasing agent at auctions and sales.

The Wellcome index card for the Easton Park acquisition indicates there were 12 figures rather than 11 and that the origin was thought to be Indian rather than Russian. The glass coverings referred to in the sale catalogue have not survived.

So how did William, 12th Duke of Hamilton come into possession of these 12 exquisite figures? This is where the trail goes cold.

They may have come to him directly from India or from some more circuitous route. He is not thought to have visited India himself though family members and friends may well have. The figures could possibly have been a gift from someone who knew of his interest in amusing, bizarre and exotic representations of animals of which there are many examples within his collections.

The Maggs figures

The next task was to investigate Mr Maggs of Covent Garden. The Wellcome has now digitised their correspondence files so it’s possible to read the exchanges from 1937.

When offering the two figures to the Wellcome, Mr Maggs said, “I feel sure” that the figures were made in Lucknow for the Nawab (or ruler) of Oudh (the anglicised spelling of Awadh) and were in his collection about 100 years ago.

He added that the king was a great lover of wild animals and had a “wonderful collection.” After some correspondence, the price of 8 Guineas was agreed for the purchase.

So, who was Mr Maggs?

Harry Reginald Maggs is listed at the Long Acre address between 1935 and 1939 on the Electoral Register, as is Sarah Lewis Maggs. They are also linked to a property at 50 Great Russell Street, which is probably a business address, located opposite the British Museum.

By 1939, the flat at 118 Long Acre was vacant, and the census confirms Harry and Sarah Maggs were living in Hove. Harry’s occupation is given as General Export Agent and his date of birth as 8 June 1880. Sarah, born on 17 September 1888, was a Master Antique Dealer.

  • 118 Long Acre, Covent Garden, 118 Long Acre, Covent Garden, Spudgun67 under CC license via Wikicommons
    118 Long Acre, Covent Garden, Spudgun67 under CC license via Wikicommons

No details of Sarah’s business activities are known at present, but it’s interesting that she dealt in antiques, which adds to the validity of the explanation of the origin of the figures mentioned in Harry’s letter to the Wellcome. From the Wellcome correspondence files, we know that in 1936 Harry also offered them sets of drug jars and glass bottles from a chemist’s shop which he said were 150 years old, though these were not purchased by the Wellcome. He does not appear to have offered or sold any other objects to the Wellcome, apart from the 2 figures.

We have not been able to find any evidence so far that Harry was involved in trade with India, though this is a possibility, or that the figures were acquired through Sarah’s business dealings.

The King of Awadh Connection

Based on the information in Harry Maggs’ letter, the figurines date from around 1837 and were made in Lucknow for the Nawab of Awadh. There are four rulers of Awadh who ruled within the likely time-frame:

  • four-shahs---all-wikicommons-public-domain, From top left clockwise - Muhammad Ali Shah, Nasir-ud-Din-Haidar Shah, Amjad Ali Shah, Washah Ali Shah., Wikicommons - public domain
    From top left clockwise - Muhammad Ali Shah, Nasir-ud-Din-Haidar Shah, Amjad Ali Shah, Washah Ali Shah., Wikicommons - public domain

King Wajid Ali Shah was the last Nawab of Awadh and a great patron of the arts. He also possessed a large menagerie of animals.

In 1856, his kingdom was annexed by the British and Nawab Wajid Ali Shah eventually settled in Metiabruz, a suburb of Calcutta, following stints under house arrest. His mother and brother came to England in 1856 to plead his case with Queen Victoria. The first great revolt of Indian Independence started in Awadh in 1857 and Lucknow was besieged.

Accordingly, there would seem to be very many routes by which these figurines could have come from Awadh to England - either during or following the annexation by the British.

Can you shed any light on these figures, or have you seen others like them?

Get in touch and tell us.

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.

A trip to a Nigerian street market

Anthropology curator, Johanna Zetterstrom-Sharp, tells us about her research trip to Eko Market in Lagos, Nigeria.

‘In November 2016 I travelled to Lagos, Nigeria, to work with a talented photographer, Jide Odukoya.

Part of the Horniman’s new World Gallery will focus on Lagos – Nigeria’s largest city. We wanted to capture the vibrancy and energy of the markets on Lagos Island through photography and film.

  • A Nigerian street market, Jide Odukoya in Eko Market − © Johanna Zetterstrom-Sharp
    Jide Odukoya in Eko Market

Lagos is without a doubt the most incredible city I have ever been to. It’s noisy, sticky, busy and frantic, but also exciting and beautiful. There is never a dull moment.

Clambering off the back of a motorbike on my first day, I looked up to see four enormous white concrete horses galloping over the podiums lining the entrance to Tafawa Belawa Square. The monument is named after the first Prime Minister of independent Nigeria who took over from British rule in 1960.

  • A Nigerian street market, Tafawa Belawa Square − © Johanna Zetterstrom-Sharp
    Tafawa Belawa Square

The square is also a major transport junction. From here you can pick-up another bike that takes you into the financial heart of the city.

Steel and glass high-rise office blocks owned by global banks tower over a vast network of street markets.

You soon realise that what may first appear as a chaotic throng of shoppers, buses, and market stalls is meticulously organised. Whether you need shoes, a new tablet, a watch, a blender, nappies, pineapples or a new pair of pants, there will be an area designated for it.

  • A Nigerian street market, Eko Market - the place to find handbags, clothes, belts and shoes. − © Jide Odukoya
    Eko Market - the place to find handbags, clothes, belts and shoes.

My favourite street was jam-packed with toy stalls and school stationery; squeaky children’s shoes, little neon plastic cars, and row-upon-row of Frozen backpacks.

We will try to recreate a stall from this street in the new gallery.

  • A Nigerian street market, Toy Street − © Johanna Zetterstrom-Sharp
    Toy Street

As I followed it up a hill, the street turned into a Lagosian winter wonderland – piles of bright tinsel and great bundles of colourful flashing lights, Christmas trees with fibre-optic pine-needles and mechanical Santas that sang Jingle Bells.

Jide chose to photograph and film Eko market – the place to buy handbags, sunglasses and clothes. His images capture the Lagos hustle.

  • A Nigerian street market, A trader selling denim dungarees− © Jide Odukoya
    A trader selling denim dungarees

Whether you want replica Prada sunglasses, leather belts, denim dungarees, or a crisp white shirt, you can find it here.

His photographs show a meticulously dressed shopper cast a discerning eye over bright patterned dresses and two women sharing a joke after a deal has been struck.

They are vivid and playful – both terms which we hope will be reflected in our exciting new gallery.

  • A Nigerian street market, Two women share a joke− © Jide Odukoya
    Two women share a joke

  • A Nigerian street market, Eko market is the place to buy replica designer sunglasses− © Jide Odukoya
    Eko market is the place to buy replica designer sunglasses

This trip was generously funded by an ICOM WIRP travel grant.’

Find out more about the development of the World Gallery

The charming case of Alfred William Rowlett

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? 

  • AW Rowlett by CF Tebbutt, From St. Neots The History of a Huntingdonshire Town, 1978
    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:

  • Rowlett's, letterhead

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.

  • Spinning Jenny, Object description
    Object description

Spinning Jenny.

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.

  • Wood Pigeon, foot label
    foot label

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.

  • Rowlett's blue plaque, Thanks to Eatons Community Association
    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

Saving Coral Reefs

Did you know we are doing ground-breaking coral research behind-the-scenes? Our Aquarium Curator, Jamie Craggs, tells us about the threat to coral reefs around the world and how we are working to solve it.

‘Coral reefs are incredibly diverse habitats. One square metre of coral reef contains as many different types of animals (genera) as a whole hectare of Amazon rainforest.

They also support millions of people through food security, coastal protection and income through tourism.

But coral reefs are under threat. Human activities like pollution, overfishing and climate change mean we are losing coral reefs at an alarming rate.

How do we stop this?

The only way to understand how to recover the coral reefs is to understand coral reproduction. We need to look at the way reefs naturally rebuild themselves, so that we can help the process.

In their natural habitat, most corals reproduce over one or two nights a year during a mass spawning event. All coral in one area spawn at once and the event is dependent on the right climatic conditions, temperature and phases of the moon. 

But once or twice a year is a very short time to study coral reproduction!

That’s where Project Coral comes in.

What is Project Coral?

Project Coral is a research project looking at coral reproduction led by the Horniman Museum and Gardens along with international partners. The main aims of Project Coral are:

1. To understand reproduction.
Coral have occasionally spawned in aquariums, but it has always been accidental. By understanding what makes coral tick in the wild, we have created a research system which mimics their natural environment. This allowed us to produce the first planned spawning event in an aquarium in 2013. We are now developing protocols so that corals can be spawned at different times of the year.

2. To share our knowledge.
If the research community has access to the same set up as ours then we could potentially be looking at far more spawning events every year then we currently have. This would give us more chance to study how coral reproduction will be affected by future ocean conditions as a result of climate change.

3. To help restore the coral reefs.
Once we have more opportunity to study coral we, along with the international scientific community, will have more of a chance to produce baby coral which can be used to reseed dying reefs.

4. To supplement the hobby trade.
If we get to a point where we can produce baby coral, we might also be able to produce them for the aquarium trade, a practise that will provide alternative sustainable income for people that rely on coral reefs.’

Read more about Project Coral.

You can help save the coral reefs by supporting Project Coral research.

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