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Horniman Museum and Gardens

Walking through the Natural History Gallery, it feels like 4,000 pairs of eyes are bearing down on us, frozen in a state of alarm. The hall is stuffed with cabinets of curiosities: chimp skeletons, jars of snakes in formaldehyde, Eurasian eagle owls with their wings spread and seahorse specimens. The comic relief comes from the gallery’s centrepiece: a late 19th-century bloated Hudson Bay walrus that, according to the plaque on the plinth, was stuffed beyond its natural size by Victorian taxidermists who had never seen a live walrus (and didn’t know they were supposed to have wrinkles). Despite the cautionary sign, it’s almost impossible – even for us big kids – not to touch his taut, mottled skin.

Horniman Museum and GardensPhoto: Horniman Museum and Gardens

Frederick John Horniman, the English tea trader/philanthropist/collector who bequeathed these breathtaking specimens to the public after the museum opened in 1901, was the sort of eccentric you’d want at your fantasy dinner party. But you really have to see his legacy to believe it. We continue on to the Music Gallery, decorated wall to wall with Austrian organs, Asian harps and medieval lutes, and form an impromptu percussion circle with drums hauled from Africa. We linger in the African Worlds Gallery hung with tribal masks, get spooked and escape to the museum’s aquarium to count jellyfish.

It’s a whirlwind. Our kids cycle through the gamut of emotions: awe, empathy and terror. Eventually, we drag them out to the Bandstand, where a Latin band is shaking up the crowd near a palatial glass conservatory. When the band quiets down, the children discover a music-making playground with drainpipe drums, bat pipes and a spiral scraper. As they pick out do-re-mi on a two-metre xylophone, we look out over a skyline poking up from the London fog, just like Horniman might have done from his old house on this hill.

100 London Rd., 44-20-8699-1872

Horniman Museum and GardensPhoto: Horniman Museum and Gardens

Fun Fact
The Horniman walrus has achieved celebrity status with its Twitter handle and a Pinterest board called “Selfies with the walrus.”

Lunch Break
Canvas & Cream doubles as an art studio and performance space, but it feels like a restaurant first. Saturday brunch is modern British food with a Mediterranean influence, give or take a kedgeree. A classic roast is served on Sunday.

18 London Rd., 44-20-8699-9589

Souvenir
Anatomical scale-model skeleton, £7.50 (about $14).

 

Tags

CHILDREN     FAMILY TRAVEL     LONDON     MUSEUMS    

Getting There

Air Canada offers the most daily non-stop flights from Canada to London, with service from Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Halifax and St. John’s. Premium Economy service is available on flights from Vancouver and Montreal.

Comments… or add another

NELSON CHEY

Friday, July 11th 2014 01:52
I would like to visit every museum in London, England.
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