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Surprising Facts About the Horniman

Do you love the Horniman? Then you might be interested in a few of these curious facts about us.

1. The first wedding at the Horniman happened 130 years ago when our founders’ son Emslie Horniman married his sweetheart Laura Isabel Plomer. Laura’s parents didn’t approve of the match however and locked Laura in her room. Determined to keep in touch with Emslie, Laura cut and sold her hair so that she could afford stamps to send him love letters.

2. The Horniman family still have close ties to the Museum and Gardens, not only as benefactors but more recently Frederick Horniman’s great, great, great granddaughter got married here too in 2014.

  • Emslie and Laura Horniman, 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.
    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.

3. One of our Victorian collectors was a dustman and “cunning man” of St Neots, Alfred William Rowlett. He was the collector behind a large number of our charms collection and is still remembered in St Neots as a healer. The community referred to him as "Doc Rowlett".

4. Staff in our Animal Walk have created their own mini-allotment from recycled materials, where they grow fresh food for the animals.

5. We have the figurehead of a ship that saw action at the Battle of Trafalgar. It belonged to HMS Mars which was built at Deptford.

6. Some of the paving slabs in our Sunken Gardens seem to be gravestones.

  • Summer bedding in the Sunken Garden, Connie Churcher
    , Connie Churcher

7. The Horniman helped to inspire the making of Siouxsie and the Banshee's album 'Juju'. Featured prominently on the album's cover is an African statue that was once displayed at the Horniman, and Steven Severin of the band says the statue was the "starting point for a lot of the imagery" behind the album.

8. The Conservatory came from the Horniman family home at Coombe Cliff in Croydon and is based on the Crystal Palace.

  • Crystal_Palace_General_view_from_Water_Temple, The Crystal Palace was built to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. Originally it was to be found in Hyde Park but was later relocated to Crystal Palace Park., Philip Henry Delamotte, 1854. Smithsonian Libraries via wikicommons
    The Crystal Palace was built to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. Originally it was to be found in Hyde Park but was later relocated to Crystal Palace Park., Philip Henry Delamotte, 1854. Smithsonian Libraries via wikicommons

9. Our founder, Frederick John Horniman, is buried in Camberwell Old Cemetery and our staff still maintain his grave.

10. We used to have a lot more large taxidermy, including a polar bear and a moose, as you can see below. Unfortunately, these were sold in the 1940s and now only the walrus remains. We've been trying to track down the polar bear, so tell us if you have had any sightings.

  • The North Hall in past days, The Natural History Gallery in past days
    The Natural History Gallery in past days

11. Each year around 187,000 litres of water from the Aquarium is reused for watering the Gardens. This water is a waste product which can no longer be used in the Aquarium due to impurities and the sensitivities of the fish and corals. It is, however, perfect for the plants.

12. This may be more Horniman folklore than fact. We used to have a vivarium alongside our Aquarium back when the Horniman first opened, which included reptiles, amphibians and even a caiman. According to some, the space for the caimen did not afford it much exercise, so one of the gallery attendants had the job of walking the caimen around the Natural History Gallery after members of the public had gone home.

  • Our vivarium, The Horniman vivarium from our early days
    The Horniman vivarium from our early days