Sunday 1 July 2007

Horniman Museum, London Road Forest Hill, South London

A quirky and sometimes charming museum set in manicured gardens perched on top of a hill providing fine views across south London. Entrance to the permanent exhibits is free. These include a large gloomy Victorian room stuffed full of stuffed animals, a full-scale model of a walrus and a couple of skinny, but living, snakes. More entertaining and interesting is the music gallery, which contains a dizzying array of instruments from all over the world and interactive screens that enable you to hear the sounds many of the exhibits make in the hands of a musician. In an adjacent room, kids can bash a jumble of unusual percussion instruments to their hearts' content. Also worth seeking out are the imaginatively decorated tanks of jellyfish, sea horses and radiant Angel fish in the recently refurbished aquarium downstairs. By comparison, a small ground-floor room containing a beehive in a transparent box seems neglected and run-down.

The temporary exhibitions, which usually involve an admission fee, are also hit and miss. Walking with Beasts, based on the BBC series of the same name, contains full-sized models of a Woolly Mammoth being attacked by a cave man, a sabre-toothed tiger and other long-gone beasts, but isn't large enough or varied enough to justify the adult admission charge of £4.50. When you have seen enough, a reasonable cafe is on hand to provide refreshments or enjoy a picnic beside one of the colourful flowerbeds that surround the museum. 7/10