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Horniman Museum plans New World Gallery of 3,000 objects

a black and white photo of tow Edwardian sailor suit and straw boater children riding a stuffed polar bear

Richard Quick junior and Louise Quick (age 4 and 5) – children of Richard Quick (Horniman’s first curator 1891 to 1901) riding the stuffed polar bear circa 1898.

The Horniman Museum is planning a revamp of its anthropology collection with a new World Gallery that chimes with Frederick Horniman’s vision of a museum that connects people with the world around them

In the 19th Century, Frederick Horniman’s vision for his new museum was to ‘bring the world to Forest Hill’. Here curious Victorians would be amazed by the tea trader and philanthropist’s wondrous collection of ethnographic objects, natural history specimens and even an aquarium of exotic fish and crustaceans.

The Victorians and Edwardians (it opened in 1901) were suitably impressed by Charles Harrison Townsend-designed Arts and Crafts building and during its first year, the museum was open for 110 days and attracted 42,808 visitors who marveled at its treasures collected on Horniman’s travels as a tea trader from right across the globe.

Today the world is a much smaller place and although Horniman’s collection of 350,000 objects, specimens and artefacts continues to amaze, it also has different meanings and connotations – and speaks to an audience that is ethnographically and demographically much changed since Horniman’s day.

So it’s apt that over 100 years later, the Museum’s new World Gallery, promises an enriching addition to the diverse and global capital that will invite visitors to consider their own place among the world’s many cultures.

Over 3,000 objects are set to go on display in June 2018 in the new 600 square-metre gallery, which will showcase the Horniman’s internationally important anthropology collection – courtesy of a £3.3m Heritage Lottery Fund grant boosted by a £30,000 global crowdfunding campaign.

Developed by the Horniman’s anthropology curators in collaboration with established community networks – including local people from the communities that made and used many of the objects in the collections – the gallery includes stories about contemporary peoples and shows some of the challenges they face today from climate breakdown and migration.

a photo of a crowd of top hatted and frock'd Edwardian men and women in a crowd

A photo taken at the Horniman’s opening ceremony on 29 June 1901.


At the heart of the new gallery are a series of ‘encounters’ presenting slices of life from the Americas, Africa, Oceania, Europe and Asia. Originating from communities across the globe, the objects celebrate human creativity, imagination and adaptability from the past to the present-day:

The Living and the Dead

a photo of a box of wrapped Chinese goods

Chinese paper offerings representing things the ancestors will need in the afterlife such as paper money and more recently credit cards and phones.

Paper offerings reveal one aspect of continuity and change in Chinese culture. In order to support the dead in the afterlife, pottery replicas of the necessities of existence were once buried with the dead. Today, paper representations of food, clothing and money are burnt to ensure their essence will reach the next world. You can now buy a computer, a fast-food meal set, credit cards and passports – modern-day necessities made from paper for use in the afterlife.


a photo of a heart shaped piece of metal

Heart-shaped charm made of sheet metal designed to protect the wearer from harm during the First World War.


Making and using charms to protect or to bring luck is more or less universal. From witch repellents to relief from nightmares, charms have helped English people for centuries. When their lives hung in the balance the soldiers of the First World War made charms. Everyday objects like a button or a playing card were repurposed to give hope in the face of unimaginable terror. Each of the English charms on display demonstrate how creative and optimistic people are in dealing with life’s problems, no matter how insurmountable they appear to be.

Cultural Exchange

a photo of a carved wooden mask with horns

A wooden mask from Sardinia, made to resemble an ox head.

For thousands of years the Mediterranean has been a cultural crossroads for people, objects and ideas. On display will be objects ranging from ancient Cypriot pottery and Phoenician glassware to modern Sardinian festival costumes. The prow of a Libyan boat, salvaged off the coast of Sicily in the summer of 2013, will provide a stark contemporary portrayal of ongoing human movement and displacement in the Mediterranean basin.

Climate Change and Tradition

a photo of a long, slim canoe

A traditional wooden canoe from the Solomon Islands decorated with nautilus shells cassowary feathers and a fretwork image of a Bonito fish.

For many Pacific Islanders, the sea is not a boundary but an opening into the world. In the past, knowledge of the elements and how to make a seaworthy canoe allowed communities to settle on even the remotest of islands. Models of traditional canoes from the Cook Islands, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands are displayed alongside a video showing traditional canoes during a climate change protest in Australia in 2014. The challenges facing many Pacific Islanders as a result of climate change, has reignited an interest in the value and meaning of traditional canoes.

Respecting the environment

Model of a totem pole, from the Northwest Coast of the USA, depicting a number of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures.

Model of a totem pole from the Nortwest Coast of the USA. Photographer © Heini Schneebeli

The encounters in this section are all related to respecting the environment. From the extreme cold of the Arctic in the north to the lush, tropical forests of South America, four encounters with different indigenous peoples will reveal an understanding and respect for the interconnectedness of all life, shared by many cultures across the Americas.

Global contact

a photo of a carved plaque showing African figures

Brass plaques from Benin telling stories about some of the greatest leaders and heroes of Nigeria’s past were taken by force by British officers in the late 1900s.

Africa’s busy coastlines have a long history of global contact, which continues to influence life today. This is the focus of three important stories from southern Nigeria relating to: the
great kingdom of Benin City, fast paced trade in Lagos, and an exciting world of contemporary art and design. Children will be able to immerse themselves in an interactive market stall, transporting them from Forest Hill to the vibrant markets of Lagos Island. Fifteenth-century bronze casting using both locally smelted and imported metals will be exhibited, as well as an incredible piece of contemporary global design, incorporating chicken feathers, leather petals and knitted mohair silk.

The World Gallery is part of the Horniman’s wider anthropology project, which also includes development of The Studio – a new, co-curated, contemporary arts space responding to the Horniman’s anthropology collection opening later in 2018. Find out more about the project at www.horniman.ac.uk/about/anthropology-redisplay. Stay up to date with the World Gallery project at www.horniman.ac.uk/worldgallery Back the crowdfunding campaign at www.crowdfunder.co.uk/worldgallery


Horniman Museum and Gardens

London, Greater London

The Horniman has a unique range of exhibitions, events and activities which illustrate the cultural and natural world. Our collections of anthropology, natural history and musical instruments provide the inspiration for our programme of permanent and temporary exhibitions and events and activities. A full range of events and activities take…

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