December 6, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

Jamie Brown reviews the Secret late event at London's little-known Horniman Museum.

Tucked away in Forrest Hill, the Horniman is a hidden gem. The theme of this month’s late event, secrets, leant an added mystery to an already curious little museum. With that slightly scruffy South East London charm which is so endearing, the Horniman put on a cracking evening that was enjoyed by all.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo get us into the spirit of secrecy the organisers had brought in all manner of entertainment, from story-tellers to circus performers. Throwing in a prohibition themed bar, live music and a local swing-dance troop suggested that they meant business. The exact objective of that business wasn’t always clear, but sod it they fitted the theme and people seemed to like them.

Without a doubt, the most popular of the activities was the Secret Trail of clues and interactions throughout the museum. This was brilliant. If anything it was probably too good and perhaps became a victim of its own success. From scouring galleries for hints scrawled in invisible ink to discovering additional objects and meeting the curators, it really got the audience engaged.

At the risk of sounding critical, however, towards the end the queue time became a joke and threatened to put a downer on the evening as a whole. When we finally reached the last instalment we were faced with a line of ~30 fellow trailers and a twenty minute wait. Slightly frustrated, we decided to sack it off and go home. The following day it emerged that the last room had featured a prized object whose mystery is matched only by its awesomeness: a ningyo (Japanese taxidermy mermaid). As much as I hate queuing, I cannot deny that I was gutted to have missed it.

Horniman_Museum_interiorTo their credit, the organizers managed to make the most of the space available and a well-structured program meant there was always something going on. That said, there was no pressure to participate so if you just wanted to wander round the natural history wing playing a game of “what’s your favourite crab?” no one would bat an eye.

On a side note, the number of young couples who appeared to have come on dates was startling. As I attempted to wade my way through their insufferable affection, it struck me that the events team had done a really great job. The Horniman is a lovely collection with a lot of stuff presented in a very traditional style. It’s gracious and unassuming, but any other day of the week it would not be many people’s first choice date venue. That it should be swamped with young, virile people with disposable income for an evening is certainly to be commended.

In fact as I scanned the galleries full of happy people – right up ‘til closing time – I was pleased to see such an eclectic demographic. Successfully catering to a mix of Goldsmith’s hipsters and diehard Horniman veterans is quite some feat. Whilst the theme and activities hadn’t always leant themselves to engagement with existing exhibits, the evening as a whole had left a definite impact on those in attendance. It didn’t matter that they hadn’t learnt anything, they’d had a great time and might tell their friends all about it.

View from the Horniman Gardens

Want to visit future events at the Horniman Museum and Gardens? Check out their events calendar.


Jamie Brown is studying for an MSc in Science Communication.

Images: Museum front by I M Chengappa, Museum interior by , Garden view by  Tomline43