When the Horniman Museum and Gardens was announced as Art Fund Museum of the Year 2022, Jenny Waldman, director of Art Fund, described it as ‘in many ways… the perfect museum’.
The Horniman, in south-east London, holds a collection of 350,000 objects, specimens and artefacts from around the world, with galleries devoted to natural history, music and anthropology; flexible arts and exhibition spaces; living collections spanning an aquarium, Butterfly House and an animal walk, and award-winning display gardens and parkland with spectacular views across London.
Each year the Horniman has nearly 1 million visitors across the Museum and Gardens. With so many visitors to the site, and a packed programme of events and exhibitions, it’s important not to lose sight of the need to protect the historic buildings, maintaining them and ensuring they remain fit for purpose.
When the Horniman Museum building was opened to the public in 1901 – by founder Frederick Horniman, to house and share his collections and ‘bring the world to Forest Hill’ – it consisted of the landmark Clocktower and two double-storey vaulted galleries, built in the Arts and Crafts style to a design by Charles Harrison Townsend.
In the 120 or so years since, the Horniman has grown considerably – with a lecture hall building added in 1911 by Frederick’s son Emslie, and a centenary extension doubling the Museum’s footprint in 2001. So too have the Gardens grown, now encompassing 16.5 acres at the edge of one of London’s busiest and most diverse boroughs – Lewisham. The building has, since 1973, held Grade II* Listed status, along with Grade II listings for the terraces and railings in front of the Museum, and for the Gardens.
The most recent major upgrade to the interior of the original building was in 2018, as part of a National Lottery Heritage Fund-supported redevelopment. The historic gallery closest to the Clocktower was transformed into the World Gallery of anthropology. Underpinning the redisplay of objects and artefacts was a suite of upgrades and maintenance to the fabric of the building, including reintroducing natural light to the gallery by means of an innovative ceiling baffle – designed by MICA (then known as Rick Mather Architects) and with works carried out by CBRE.
More recently, the Horniman’s attention has turned to the exterior. In the early part of this year, some much needed renovations were undertaken to the stone frontage of the 1901 building, by Capital Stone. Over the course of three months, they stabilised the stonework: carrying out structural repairs to steel beams, repairing spalling and cracks to external stonework and mortar joints and replacing leadwork to the cornices and flashings. They also repainted all the existing metal work on the front façade.
The past several months have also seen some further major restoration works to another key historic part of the Horniman estate. Nestled between the museum building and the Gardens is the much loved – and much photographed – Horniman Conservatory.