Niche Museums

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Horniman Museum and Gardens

The Horniman museum in Forest Hill, south London was opened in 1901 by Frederick John Horniman, heir to the world's largest tea trading business.

Frederick was a lifelong collector, focusing on natural history, anthropology and musical instruments. His collection of 30,000 items formed the basis of the museum's collection, which has since grown to more than 350,000 items, continuing to focus on those three topics.

The most famous item in the Horniman is a stuffed walrus, first displayed at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in South Kensington in 1886. The walrus originated in eastern Canada but was stuffed in England, apparently by a taxidermist who had never seen a walrus and assumed that it should be stuffed until the wrinkles smoothed out. Today you can follow the walrus on Twitter.

Website | Wikipedia

6 photos and 2 links

100 London Road, Forest Hill, London SE23 3PQ, United Kingdom - Map

27 December 2019

Yolo Causeway Bat Colony

Every summer the Yolo Causeway between Davis and Sacramento plays host to enormous numbers of migratory Mexican free-tailed bats - the largest colony of these bats in California. The bats emerge together in spectacular long ribbons at dusk as they head out to hunt.

The current causeway was built in 1962, with expansion joints that turned out to be the perfect roosting spot for bats. Today the bat population peaks at around 250,000 individuals. They feed on insects in the nearby wetlands and give birth to baby bats in mid-June.

The Yolo Basin Foundation offers Bat Talk & Walks during bat season. This is by far the best way to see the bats as the ideal viewing spots for the flyouts are in areas of the wetlands that are not generally open to the public.

The bat talk usually features rescued bats so you can see what they look like up close!

Website | Wikipedia

4 photos and 1 link

45211 County Road 32B, Davis, CA 95618, United States - Map

26 December 2019


England's most famous Neolithic monument. Constructed between 3000 and 2000 BC, and legally protected since the Ancient Monuments Protection Act of 1882. How it was built and what it was built for remain subject to debate.

Ask the guides up by the Henge about the rooks - if you are lucky they might be feeding them. We visited the day before the winter solstice and saw an entire bus load of druids and some Morris dancers.


6 photos and 2 links

Amesbury, Wiltshire, SP4 7DE, United Kingdom - Map

25 December 2019

Jukebox London

David and Margaret Webb started restoring vintage Jukeboxes over twenty years ago. Their showroom in an Islington townhouse displays a dazzling array of Jukeboxes dating back to the 1940s, all of which are in working order.

Call them to book an appointment and they will show you around and demonstrate the Jukeboxes working for you. They sell about ten a year, but only to customers who can be trusted to look after them properly.


6 photos and 1 link

16 Colebrooke Row, Islington, London, N1 8DB, United Kingdom - Map

24 December 2019

Dennis Severs’ House

A three-dimensional historical novel. American artist Dennis Severs moved to London in 1967 and bought this Georgian terraced house in 1979. He spent the next twenty years refurbishing the ten rooms in the house to tell the story of two hundred years of occupation by an imaginary family of Huguenot immigrants.

Each room is intended to give the impression that the occupants have just left, with hidden audio tracks, scents and half-eaten bread adding to the atmosphere.

Today the house is maintained by the Spitalfields Historic Buildings Trust, who open it to the public and also run occasional candle-lit evening tours.

Website | Wikipedia

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18 Folgate Street, Spitalfields, London E1 6BX, United Kingdom - Map

23 December 2019

Buckfast Abbey

Buckfast has been home to an abbey since 1018, albeit with numerous changes in circumstance. The monastery was dissolved in 1539, then refounded by French Benedictine monks in 1882. Today’s church was completed in 1938.

The Abbey is self-supporting, most notoriously through the production of Buckfast Tonic Wine. Variously known as "Wreck the Hoose Juice", "Commotion Lotion”, "Cumbernauld Rocket Fuel” and more this fortified wine is highly caffeinated and has been widely associated with anti-social behaviour in Scotland.

The Abbey staff generally dislike questions about the wine’s violent reputation, but they do sell bottles of it in the Abbey gift shop.

Website | Wikipedia

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Buckfast Abbey, Buckfastleigh, TQ11 0EE, United Kingdom - Map

22 December 2019

Reserva Cerro AncĂłn

Where else can you take a jungle hike in the middle of a city and see a wild sloth in a tree?

Areas of Panama were placed under US jurisdiction as part of the Panama Canal Zone between 1903 and 1977. Ancon Hill is a 200m hill in the center of Panama City that was used as a US army post during that period. The area was largely undeveloped and became a reserve after being handed back to Panama - albeit with a very prominent Panamanian flag at the top of the hill.

It takes about half an hour to hike to the top - but in practice it takes longer because you will want to stop and admire the sloths. We saw sloths, toucans and coatis and apparently there are also nine-banded armadillos and Geoffroy's tamarin in the reserve as well.

Website | Wikipedia

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Reserva Cerro AncĂłn, Panama City, Panama - Map

21 December 2019

Bank of England Museum

The Bank of England really wants you to understand quantitative easing. Their museum has multiple displays on the subject, plus two interactive games - one of which sees you attempting to sail a boat through stormy financial waters, applying quantitative easing in an attempt to keep inflation to the magic level of 2%.

More importantly though: they have a real gold bar in a cage, which you can both touch and pick up to see how heavy it is!

Website | Wikipedia

Bartholomew Lane, London, EC2R 8AH, United Kingdom - Map

20 December 2019

London Mithraeum

This temple of Mithras was a sensation when it was discovered during post-WWII redevelopment in 1954, bringing widespread attention to London's Roman heritage.

The ruins were subsequently dismantled, stored in a builder's yard and then clumsily reconstructed in 1962 outdoors a hundred yards from their original site with, as the Guardian put it, "all the mystery of a suburban front garden".

In 2010 Bloomberg purchased the site that included the original location to use as their European headquarters. They decided to restore the Mithraeum to a new custom space seven metres below the surface, and attempted to recapture the atmosphere of the mystery cult of Mithras.

The Mithraeum is free to visit, and is presented with a short light and sound experience complete with Latin chants and shuffling feet. The way they recreate the original pillars using shadows is a very neat touch.

Website | Wikipedia

1 link

12 Walbrook, London, EC4N 8AA, United Kingdom - Map

19 December 2019

Museum of Funeral History

Tucked away in the basement of Thomas Treacy funeral directors in London Clerkenwell, this eclectic museum combines displays on the history of funerals in London with information about funeral traditions around the world.

The museum was opened in June 2017 by a local historian who works at the funeral home. Most of the exhibitions are text and photographs, but the written descriptions have a lot of personality and make for an entertaining half hour of exploration.

Did you know that Fred Baruch, creator of the Pringles tube, requested that some of his cremated remains should be buried in a Pringle's container? Or that the classic red telephone box was modeled after the mausoleum of John Soane in the St Pancras old churchyard?

This museum is just around the corner from the Mail Rail so we combined our visits.


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29-31 Rosebery Avenue, Clerkenwell, EC1R 4SL, London, United Kingdom - Map

18 December 2019

Mail Rail

The London Post Office Railway (rebranded Mail Rail in 1987) was conceived in 1911 in response to congestion on London’s road networks, and opened in 1927 as the world’s first electric railway with driverless trains.

At its peak the railway carried 4 million letters a day across 22 miles of narrow gauge underground track spanning a distance of 6.5 miles from Paddington in the west to Whitechapel in the east.

The railway stayed in operation for 76 years. It closed in May 2003 over cost concerns: the railway was 3-5 times more expensive than road transport for the same task.

Urban explorers published illicit photographs of the network in April 2011 showing it to be largely in good condition. In October 2013 the British Postal Museum & Archive announced plans to open parts of the network to the public, and on 5th September 2017 opened an attraction featuring new custom passenger rail cars running through the tunnels.

During its lifetime the railway was strictly for mail only. As a result the new passenger carriages are a very tight fit - bags need to be left in a locker, and if you’re claustrophobic you may have second thoughts! The ride lasts 15 minutes and includes numerous stops with well designed video presentations projected onto the walls outside the carriage.

The ride ends at the maintenance depot which exhibits historic rail cars and switching equipment. Tickets to Mail Rail also cover entrance to the nearby Postal Museum.

Website | Wikipedia

3 links

15-20 Phoenix Place, London WC1X 0DL, United Kingdom - Map

17 December 2019

Alverstone Mead Red Squirrel Hide

Red squirrels are almost extinct in the United Kingdom, due to competition from the invasive North American eastern grays. The exceptions are some areas in Scotland and the Isle of Wight, an island just off the south coast of England.

We spent a while trying to find red squirrels and eventually got lucky at this small hide near the village of Alverstone. The squirrels here are bold, inquisitive and sinusoidal. They have tufty little ears and a delightfully squirrelly nature.

Website | Wikipedia

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Burnt House Lane, Alverstone, Sandown, PO36 0HB, Isle of Wight - Map

16 December 2019

Monarch Bear Grove

This somewhat hidden circle of stones in Golden Gate Park has a history that incorporates druids, press barons, Spanish monasteries and the grizzly bear on the California state flag.

William Randolph Hearst spent several decades building the largest newspaper and magazine chain in the world, starting in the 1880s.

In 1889, Hearst sponsored an expedition to capture one of the last remaining grizzly bears in California. The mission was successful, and a bear was brought back alive and put on display in the city. A bear pit was designed by architect William Polk and the bear - named the Monarch Bear - lived in captivity for 22 years, during which time it was used as the model for the bear on the 1911 version the California state flag.

Following the First World War Hearst and other American industrialists competed to snap up as many of Europe's antiquities as they could get their hands on, taking advantage of that continent's urgent need for cash.

Hearst went as far as buying parts of two ruined Spanish monasteries, which he arranged to have disassembled and shipped over to the United States.

Then the Great Depression struck, and Hearst found himself unable to afford the reconstruction of his Spanish monasteries. One of them - Santa MarĂ­a de Ă“vila - was sold to the city of San Francisco on the condition that it be re-assembled into a museum in Golden Gate Park.

World War II intervened with those plans, and the monastery stones ended up scattered around the park for several decades.

At some point, somebody arranged some of the stones into circles, on the location of the old Monarch bear pit. The site is now known as Monarch Bear Grove and is cared for by members of OBOD - the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids.

Most of the monastery stones were moved up to northern California and used to construct a chapter house near Redding in 2005 - but the stone circles in Monarch Bear Grove remain.

Website | Wikipedia

3 links

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California - Map

15 December 2019

Aye-Aye Island

The aye-aye is an endangered species of long-fingered lemur, and the world's largest nocturnal primate.

Aye-ayes have really interesting fingers: their third finger is used for percussive foraging, where they tap on a trunk to find hollow points. Their long hooked fourth finger is then used to pull bugs out of those hollows. They are notoriously difficult to see in the wild due to their rarity, nocturnal habits and tendency to spend most of their time in trees above the 70 meter mark.

Aye-Aye Island is a small private wildlife reserve which is home to over a dozen aye-ayes, relocated from elsewhere on Madagascar to protect them from threats that sadly include killings based on superstition. Each night guides leave coconuts wedged in trees and bring small groups to the island to watch the aye-ayes enthusiastically devouring them with their long fingers.

Tours can be booked through local hotels - we got ours via the nearby Palmarium.


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Aye-Aye Island, Mananara, Madgascar - Map

14 December 2019

LA Bureau of Street Lighting Museum

Los Angeles has one of the largest and most complex street lighting networks in the world.

In 2015 the LA Bureau of Street Lighting opened a small museum in their head office dedicated to showcasing the history of street lights in the city.

The museum has examples of lighting from multiple decades throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.

It opens for 30 minutes once a month, by appointment only.


1149 South Broadway #200, Los Angeles, CA 90015 - Map

13 December 2019

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