Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Horniman Museum & Gardens

100 London Road
Forest Hill
London SE23 3PQ
Friday August 3 2018      
                                                                                                                                                                   The  more alert amongst you will have noticed that
  1. We have not blogged for a while due to  holidays and hosting overseas visitors various and
  2. We have visited here before

However today’s visit was to look at a new feature in the Gardens – the Butterfly House – and the newly restored/re-opened World Gallery. 

The Butterfly House is  near the top exit and where the head groundsman’s house and garden used to be is now a glasshouse filled with temperate and tropical plants.  As you can imagine entering this when the outside temperature is already in the low thirties was just short of madness so we would advise a visit when the weather cools down. Brightness is helpful in order to see some of the more camouflaging species. There is a cost which can be combined with other attractions, such the Aquarium in the main building (also highly recommended), and a family ticket is the best value at £13-50.

For much of the visit we had the space to ourselves plus a few hundred butterflies – there is   always a very friendly and knowledgeable staff member on duty; today they were working in hourly shifts because of the heat but it is well worth speaking with them. While it was quiet we enjoyed the gentle sweep of the butterflies who seem unafraid of the human presence. These of course are tropical species and both larger and often more colourful than our own – there are plates of succulent fruit and they often pause to draw nourishment. Obviously – because they flit – it is quite hard to capture with a standard camera (not helped by the fact that my camera was reacting to the heat by going on periodic strike action).

Information boards explain the metamorphosis process – caterpillar to pupa to butterfly – and identify the dozen or so different varieties.  There is also an open cupboard where the ‘imported’ pupae hang.  Some of them (mainly the browner species) look a little 'moth-eaten' round the edges (nibbled) and do fall victim to both ants and an intruder mouse. Apparently they have no pain receptors so are not distressed by losing the edge of their wings but of course would die if they can no longer fly. The life-span is about three weeks (as a butterfly).  The staff keep a rough count by the number of corpses which they rescue before the public come in. Also they were able to indicate which caterpillars prefer which species of trees and we could see by the nibbled leaves what was popular – the butterflies are also quite tribal so keep to their own 
This was a strangely soothing yet interesting experience and one can but wonder at nature’s ingenuity and range. Among others we saw some Red Postmen, Blue Morphos, Owls (so aptly named) and Malachites – unsurprisingly the greeny ones.

We emerged through the double doors and headed downhill to the Main Museum. Since our last visit the World Gallery, which has been in the Victorian era main hall since Mr Horniman opened his ethnographic objects and stuffed animals to the public, there has been a makeover. To my best knowledge this is the third remodelling of these particular exhibits; when we first came to this area in the Seventies they were , I suspect, very much as he had left them, slightly dusty and lacking much context.  The Millennium saw the museum being extended and there was an emphasis on the African exhibits which were displayed more sympathetically and attractively.

The World Gallery only re-opened last month and to much acclaim and now brings together these African artefacts and others from round the World – the cases, which reach to the ground  so even crawling babies (and we tripped over one)  can see, are arranged both by continent and by theme accompanied by film variously of the objects in use, people speaking of their memories  of them, the personal significance of them plus films of the modern cultures which continue to use them. In short you can absorb as little or as much information as you wish. It was also reassuring to see some old familiar objects masks/puppets/ scrimshank  spruced up and given a fresh angle for the visitor to contemplate. Though not as famous as the overstuffed walrus, who at one time had his own website, there are several significant items that long time visitors to the Horniman would miss if not on display.

The Museum likes to emphasize the creativity and adaptability of  people round the world  and we particularly liked the old tins re-purposed as oil lamps,  and the advice not to worry too much….
However whether you are a regular or a first-time visitor you are sure to find something to entrance and interest you. 

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