The Horniman Museum provides authentic habitats for over 150 species of aquatic wildlife.© Laura Mtungwazi
The voting for the 2007 Readers' Poll for the Gulbenkian Prize is now closed
24 Hour Museum continues its alphabetical roundup of the museums on this year's longlist for the Gulbenkian Prize with a look at an aquatic extravaganza in south London.
The Horniman Museum and Gardens in south London has sought to widen the public’s appreciation of the cultural and natural world for over a century. Exhibiting collections relating to anthropology, music and natural history, the museum can also boast Britain’s oldest free aquarium.
In 2006 the original aquarium underwent a £1.5 million transformation to solve access problems and bring the museum’s popular feature into the 21st century. The Horniman’s aquatic project has not gone unnoticed and has just earned a place on the longlist for the much coveted Gulbenkian Prize.
The Horniman was founded by Victorian tea trader and art collector Frederick John Horniman in 1901. A keen collector of specimens and artefacts in the 1860s, he opened the doors of his family home so that the public could share in his interesting mass of findings.
The £1.5 million Aquarium is aimed at young visitors.© Laura Mtungwazi
In 1898, when the collection outgrew his house, Horniman commissioned Charles Harrison Townsend to design the museum. In 1901 The Horniman was opened, alongside 16 acres of adjoining gardens, as a gift to the people of London for their recreation, instruction and enjoyment.
Over the last century further buildings and collections have been added. The Aquarium was developed with the support of major donations from the Millennium Commission, the Wolfson Foundation and the Welcome Trust, amongst others.
It took a focused group of curators, architects, project designers, educators, vets, audience advocates and specialists from all over the world to create the innovative and educational underwater worlds that have been visited by over 110,000 guests since the Aquarium opened.
Tank viewing dens and interactive displays give children the chance to get involved. © Laura Mtungwazi
The aquatic feature is split into seven distinct zones that provide authentic settlements for over 150 different species of plants and wildlife. These delicate environments and ecosystems are inhabited by animals from both home and away. British pond life can be inspected alongside crabs in the Rock Pools, while jellyfish are housed in one of Europe’s largest specialist tanks that simulates the current of the ocean.
Other tank-viewing dens and interactive displays show an array of marine life from around the world. Leopard catfish, seahorses and tropical monkey frogs can be spotted amongst the reconstructions of mangrove swamps, South American rainforests and a Fijian coral reef (one of the most bio-diverse hotspots in the world).
The Horniman is run by 162 staff and volunteers. It was one of the first to showcase living collections through an Aquarium that first opened in 1903. Gone are the days when the Victorians brought in salt water by train, though - the largest tank in the Aquarium contains 14,000 litres of water and ways over 14 tons.
Should the Horniman Museum win the 2007 Gulbenkian Prize? Go to the 24 Hour Museum's vote page to vote for the Horniman or any of the other longlisted museums in the 24 Hour Museum's Gulbenkian 2007 People's Vote.