A Roaring Good Time At The Museum


A marker with the museum at the top of the hill

We like museums, and we like Lego, so Faith and Dylan were kind enough to take Heather and I to the Horniman Museum, to see some ancient Lego creations.

The Horniman is one of those museums I’d heard of but never been to, located in Forest Hill so not part of the central London scheme. It’s one of those that grew out the Victorian obsessions with collecting, Frederick Horniman (who’s father had made a fortune through the tea trade)—originally opening his collection to the public in his own house before that got demolished to make way for a purpose built museum. It’s been extended a couple of times, and has large, pleasant grounds associated with it. My first glimpse was the clock tower looming near the top of the hill as we approached.

There’s a bit of a climb up to the museum entrance, no longer directly off the main road but now via the newest extension. First stop was the cafe, accessible only from outside, not through the museum, and with very confusing signage to the doors, and a ridiculous and potentially dangerous cross over of the queue and staff bringing hot food from the kitchen. Glasses next to the tap water jug also looked like they hadn’t been well washed. The museum was boasting of being the art fund museum of the year but it’s difficult to see the cafe winning any awards (though the drink and cake I had were actually nice)—a rather off putting start to the visit.

Dwarf Whistle

Funny little man

Inside we headed for the lower floor, and found ourselves killing a bit of time wandering the music gallery. This is actually one of the better spaces, a huge array of instruments (the museum’s collection is of international importance) well displayed, with interactive screens to give more information about some of the highlights. There’s also an interactive space, though that seemed a little disappointingly bare, and was cacophonous thanks to the children milling around. A chance to actually hear recordings of some of the instruments might have been nice.

Seeing The Dino

Once a familiar NHM scene

We had toured that gallery by the time it came to visit what we were really in the museum for, Brick Dinos. A large space with a series of Lego build diorama (mostly minifig scale), depicting a variety of long extinct great lizards, interspersed with the occasional set piece large model (though the publicity probably led to the impression that there were more large models than in reality, with very little mention of the majority being smaller scenes). Heather and I found ourselves releasing our inner Brickman, finding ourselves criticising some of the pieces while praising others for such things as their nice parts usage. Technical ability, aesthetics, and story telling indeed.


Easy for you to say

To be honest, though the large models were certainly impressive, they weren’t that big, and nothing we hadn’t really seen the likes of before. Possibly the most likeable model was actually not anything to do with dinosaurs but the Lego model of the museum itself, complete with wonderful walrus (something of a museum icon). Still, the whole thing was enjoyable enough.

Nice Chess Set

Shame about the missing pawn

Emerging from the dinos the rest of the party decided to visit the aquarium (a slightly strange fit for the museum) but I didn’t fancy that particularly that so went off to look round the rest of the museum. It turned out to be a bit of a strange mix. My tour started on a gallery running around one of the main spaces at high level, which was a bit confusing as I hadn’t gone upstairs! It was here that the strange mix made itself first known, encountering a “torture chair” (I wasn’t expecting the Spanish Inquisition!) and, at the far end of the gallery, a couple of cases with eclectic mixes of items. Items, religious, playful, useful, from a seemingly random selection of the world jostled for space. From Gods to drinking bowls to ferocious faces. They guidebook states that the museum looks to contextualise it’s collection, but there seemed to be little of that in evidence here. A number and two or three lines on what the item is and where from were the extent of the information on display for each.

He's A Big fellow

And he likes his food

Scared off by the faces I headed for the other side of the museum, which is about as scary. Case after case of taxidermy, with seemingly every conceivable animal smaller than a bear. In prominent position, sitting on an unconvincing fake iceberg, the walrus, sagging skin pulled taut by a stuffer who’d quite probably never actually seen a living version. Everywhere glassy eyes staring out of the too perfect still lifes of death.

Upstairs, on another encircling gallery, things had even more of a feel of the Victorian gentleman’s museum this once was. Beyond an interesting looking but sadly not working clock, case after unbroken case of small little insects, and creatures, and frankly I don’t know what because I was too bored to continue looking. I’m sure that sort of thing is fascinating to someone, but it’s certainly not me.

Is It A Horse

Funny looking helmet thing

So back down it was, and down some more to the gallery I’d seen from above earlier. This turned out to be a true wander round the world and collection, feeling a bit like going around the British Museum in miniature, and without the quality. Still, there were a few good bits. Some teddy bears looking down on the entrance, near a doll’s house with rather disturbing dolls. There was a medal collection belonging to someone, but I’ve no idea who or what because nowhere seemed to give more than cursory information still. I’ve no idea what the “tree” with bits of paper attached was about either. Still, there were the idols and a merman (described as fake but surely real!) and some really funny hats that made up for the strangeness of it all. There was also a rotary telephone which just goes to show your childhood will end up in a museum.


Interesting double deck design

Having exhausted the galleries, and with little sign of people emerging from looking at fish, I went outside to wander the grounds (keeping half an eye out for the evidently missing child—he was found still within the museum building confines). There were some good views over to the City of London on reaching the top of the hill, though that’s about all the view offered, the other sides being hemmed in. The animal walk and butterfly house had closed for the day, so I didn’t get to explore them. Walking further down the bandstand had an interesting double story nature—presumably lots of storage underneath the main level. There was lots of work going on to the grounds (small diggers and dumpers passing up and down the hill), so let’s hope they get to what I think was a play area with a couple of rusting goalposts that looked more like a dilapidated pool.

Finishing the walk around the grounds I headed back to the main building and finally found everyone emerged from the aquarium. A bit more wandering of the galleries followed (though I mainly sat and waited) before touring more of the grounds, including the fun little music area where we tunefully hit things. And then it was home again, to attempt lunch in the pub before giving up in favour of takeaway. I wouldn’t exactly give it museum of the year, but despite the criticisms it was a nice enough place, a bit dry and dull sometimes but the variety and grounds make up for it. Solid three out of five territory, but I’ve no urge to rush back soon (unless there’s more Lego of course).

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