Making an Exhibition of Themselves

A stiletto umbrella for defensive purposes, a pen knife with 80 blades and an envelope folding machine – just three of the items unveiled at the Great Exhibition of 1851, the greatest show and tell session the world had ever seen...

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Lewis Carroll said the Great Exhibition was “like a sort of fairyland”, while essayist Walter Bagehot wrote that it was “a great fair under a cucumber frame”. The Crystal Palace was built especially for the show – over 30 metres high and the size of 15 football pitches, with over 10 miles of aisles. 

The exhibition was the brainchild of Prince Albert and was opened by Queen Victoria on 1 May 1851. During the six months its doors were unlatched, visitors consumed 28,046 sausage rolls, 1,000 gallons of pickles and 37 tons of salt. Six million people paid entry to walk among its exhibits from all over the world, including a piano that could be played by four people at once, papier mâché furniture, and a dressing table that doubled as a fire escape. 

Visitor Mary Smith was recorded marvelling over an invention that may have inspired Wallace and Gromit: a bedstead fitted with an alarm that on the set hour would fold itself up, hurling the sleeper out of slumber. Another display was a glass case holding 200,000 live bees, which brings to mind Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde installations. But what other Great Exhibits left their mark? 

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The Tempest Prognosticator
By Dr George Merryweather, museum curator
Whitby, England

This elaborate apparatus was developed by Dr George Merryweather after he observed that leeches became agitated when there was a storm approaching. To harness this phenomenon, Merryweather placed 12 glass bottles around the base of a circular stand, at the top of which was a bell surrounded by 12 hammers. He placed a leech in each bottle, and as the leeches became agitated by an approaching storm, they would crawl up the bottle, dislodging a piece of whalebone, which would make the bell ring. Merryweather explained the reason for the bottles’ positioning was so the leeches could see their fellow inmates and “not endure the affliction of solitary confinement”.

This invention may have had an unpredictable influence, not just on natural barometers that followed, but also on subsequent studies into human barometers that looked at how approaching weather formations affect mental health.

You can see a replica of the Tempest Prognosticator on display at Whitby Museum. 

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The Yacht Piano
By William Jenkins, inventor and manufacturer
London, England

What does every gentleman’s yacht need but a piano? And with William Jenkins’ clever design displayed at the Great Exhibition, a collapsible keyboard meant the notoriously cumbersome instrument could, when folded, measure just 131⁄2 inches from front to back. Made from walnut – and carved and ornamented in the Elizabethan style – Jenkins exhibited it as an “Expanding and Collapsing Pianoforte for gentlemen’s yachts, the saloons of steam-vessels, ladies’ cabins, etc.”

Various companies went on to make yacht pianos, including Chappell & Co and Crammer & Co, as well as London department stores like John Barker and Whiteleys. Some models were elaborately decorated for the most wealthy yacht owners.

Jenkins’ Yacht Piano may even have influenced later designs. In 1866, Charles Hess filed a patent for a ‘convertible bedroom piano’, which, as well as being a fully functioning instrument, came complete with a hidden couch, a closet for bedclothes, a wash basin and a music stool containing a writing desk and looking glass. 

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The Comical Creatures
By Hermann Ploucquet
Stuttgart, Germany

Besides the Koh-i-Noor diamond from India, one other exhibit that was said to really capture the attention of the crowds was that of taxidermist Hermann Ploucquet. Even Queen Victoria herself described Ploucquet’s display as “really marvellous”.

Ploucquet’s tableaux featured a large number of stuffed animals in human scenarios. Among the scenes were duelling dormice, ice-skating hedgehogs, a frog carrying an umbrella, and six kittens serenading a piglet underneath her window.

A reviewer from the Morning Chronicle wrote,“The animals borrow exaggerated expression without losing their brute looks and the rationale of the irresistible risibility which they excite is the wondrous union of brute face with human expression.”

Plouquet’s exhibit was so popular, his book The Comical Creatures of Wurtenburg was rushed out in the same year. His work is thought to have had a great deal of influence on subsequent artists, such as taxidermist Walter Potter, as well as on a fair few greetings cards since. 

Words: Lela Tredwell, Illustrations: Johnathan Montelongo

Read the full feature in issue 6 of Ernest Journal, on sale now.

Issue 6
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Your TrailFit guide to Hampstead Heath

Running up Parliament Hill, stumbling upon a secret garden and taking a dip in the famous ponds: British adventure athlete and TrailFit ambassador Laura Kennington steps out in her KEEN Terradora to craft her own fitness routine in this iconic London park

Images by Conor Beary

Images by Conor Beary

The red buses, distinctive skyline and constant humming of movement, London can feel exhilarating and exhausting all at once. However, amid the chaos is an unmistakable charm. If you know where to look, London has some real hidden gems, pockets of wilderness that can be a sanctuary for those too busy to escape the city. Hampstead Heath is one such sanctuary. Surrounded by quirky coffee shops, characterful houses and historic buildings, it’s also home to 791 acres of ancient woodland and swimming ponds.

I’m between adventures at the moment, living nomadically, so I adapt my fitness routines to wherever I am so I don't need to go to the gym. This is the essence of TrailFit for me – making the most of wherever you are and being outside, even if you find yourself in a huge city like London. It's all about carving your own path to fitness. For me, the key to being active regularly is to make it easy, so it fits into your routine (such as your commute) and to make it fun.

My go-to shoe for when I know I'm going to be on my feet all day, even it's walking to and from meetings in London, is the Terradora. Its versatility means it works well in different environments, whether wild or urban.

Running up that hill

Even on a busy day, allowing a bit of extra time to walk, run or cycle not only keeps me fit, but it means I soak up, rather than insulate against, my surroundings. I’m constantly on the lookout for obstacles I can incorporate into my fitness routine: hills in the countryside and steps in the city. In Hampstead Heath I like to warm up against one of the ancient trees (below) before a run up Parliament Hill. At the top you’re rewarded to that quintessential London skyline – Canary Wharf, the Gherkin, the Shard and St Paul’s Cathedral – and feel a sense of almost smug contentment viewing frenetic city life from a peaceful park bench.

Laura makes use of natural features  , such as trees, for stretching and warming up against

Laura makes use of natural features, such as trees, for stretching and warming up against

A walk in the park

Roaming the ancient woodland trails of Hampstead Heath is akin to stepping foot into Narnia. You can walk for hours through undulating terrain and quickly forget that this small oasis lies within Zone 2 of the Tube network. I'm always on the lookout for natural obstacles that I can incorporate into my ever-changing fitness routine. Trees such as these (below) are ideal for a body weight workout and I can clamber along fallen trunks to improve my balance. This is what TrailFit is all about – making the most of your surroundings and seeing the city as your playground. It really helps you to explore more and unlock your creativity – so much better than a stifling gym.

Who needs a gym when you've got the park as your playground?

Who needs a gym when you've got the park as your playground?

Secrets to be shared

Stroll through Hampstead Heath’s 791 acres of ancient woodland and you might happen upon the hidden Hill Garden and Pergola (below) – an Edwardian paradise built by landscape architect Thomas Mawson for Lord Leverhulme, who hosted many a summer party here. It was built around the same time as the Northern Line – in fact the spoil from digging the tunnels was used to landscape the gardens. The Pergola, with its classical stone columns creeping with vines and flowers, is a fine place to meander and pretend you're in a period drama. The Terradora boot is the ideal companion for spontaneous rambles such as this. They're so lightweight and comfortable, I barely feel them on my feet.

Spontaneous rambles in your city can reveal hidden gems, such as London's Hill Garden & Pergola

Spontaneous rambles in your city can reveal hidden gems, such as London's Hill Garden & Pergola

Space to stretch and be you

Seek out the sculptures in Golders Hill Park (below) and the nearby stumpery – a quirky Victorian garden craze in which ferns and woodland plants are arranged around tree stumps. There's even a free zoo to explore and get up close to rare and exotic birds and mammals, such as laughing kookaburras, ring-tailed lemurs and ring-tailed coatis.

There are plenty of wide open spaces in the park to lay out a yoga mat, or go barefoot! I’m doing more yoga at the moment; I love that you can just rock up and do it anywhere. This is TrailFit at its core – redefining fitness in a way that gives you confidence and a sense of freedom. It gives you permission to be you – you don't have to mirror what the media dictates about how you should look or dress or keep fit.

Yoga is the essence of TrailFit: you can do it anywhere, even barefoot in the park

Yoga is the essence of TrailFit: you can do it anywhere, even barefoot in the park

The ponds and a well-earned coffee

We’re not designed to live our lives in a temperature-controlled environment, cushioned against the natural world. Take a detour and change the pace. Sometimes, that change of scene you’re craving is much closer than you think.

Instead of competing for lane space and counting laps, dive into any number of outdoor pools London has to offer and revel in bird song as you glide through the water. At Hampstead Heath Swimming Ponds (below) it’s just £2 for a day pass. After a bracing dip, you’ll feel your senses enlivened, and a flat white and a spot of brunch in one of the independent cafés in Hampstead Village, such as local haunt Ginger & White, is guaranteed to taste better. 


The Terradora: embracing the TrailFit movement

The Terradora is a robust, lightweight andwaterproof boot designed especially for women that combines the support of hiking footwear with the flexibility and vigour of a trail runner. 

  • Specifically designed for women’s feet 
  • Cushioned panels reduce pressure on the Achilles tendon
  • Low-density EVA midsole provides lightweight support for high intensity workouts and steep descents
  • KEEN all-terrain rubber outsole for high traction grip
  • Dual-density PU foam footbed
  • Lightweight mesh upper
  • KEEN.DRY Waterproof breathable membrane. 
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KEEN’s Terradora comes in a mid (£109.99) and low (£99.99) style. Head to for more information, watch the Terradora video at and check our online directory for more stories from KEEN.

Follow on Instagram and Facebook @KEENEUROPE. Tag your pics #Terradora and #TrailFit to join the TrailFit movement. 

Winter adventures

Make the most of starry skies and frosty mornings this winter and get out into the wild. Wynnchester is your guide to three essential elements of adventure kit: your bed, your shelter and your pack 

Patrol Pack, £150

Patrol Pack, £150

Wynnchester was born out of a passion for beautiful design, a respect for simplicity and a love of nature. Today, they design heritage-inspired outdoors equipment for modern-day adventurers. Their customers include former and serving military, professional cowboys, scout masters and bushcraft instructors. Let's take a look at their expedition inventory:

Adventurer Bedroll


The bedroll is a simple solo shelter that sets up in seconds. Fully enclosable, it requires no ground sheet, no guy ropes and no pegs. Built to last, the bedroll is manufactured in the UK using only the finest, military-spec materials. The all-canvas construction is robust and durable, pre-treated for water, rot and fire resistance. Wynnchester’s bedrolls are used by hundreds of professionals and recreational campers the world over. £525

Adventure Tarp


Made from the same material as the bedroll, this tough canvas tarp won’t catch fire or be ruined by flying embers from your campfire or cooking stove. Measuring 3m x 1.85m, it is the perfect size for a one-man shelter. With a total of 10 reinforced attachment points, the setups are limited only by your imagination. £225

Patrol Pack


After many years restoring vintage Norwegian Army patrol packs in their workshops, the design was a natural choice for Wynnchester’s line of new-made bags. Their modern version, the 18L PATROL, remains true to the original and is constructed from military-spec canvas and 100% cowhide top grade leather.  Each bag in the limited edition run is individually numbered and available in a choice of a fully waterproof, modern dry finish or a traditional hand-waxed finish using Wynnchester’s own all-natural wax formula. £150

Get 10% off these items using code ERNEST10 online at

The Atomic Gardener

Welcome to the astonishing world of Muriel Howorth, Britain's very own botanical particle physicist. 

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Far away from the cares of Britain’s Atomic Weapons Establishment, a pantomime cow was eating a radioactive lunch. A Geiger counter flashed and clicked as the cow stood up on her hind legs, rubbed her stomach and smiled. Moments later, a balletic Atom Man pirouetted, glided across the stage then squatted before Knowledge, a figure draped in parachute silk. “The cow should soon be a perfectly healthy animal”, Knowledge said.

It’s not clear if the ballet Isotopia: an Exposition in Atomic Structure was ever seen again after its debut in the Waldorf Hotel, in the heart of London’s theatre district. Writing in October 1950, a Time magazine journalist recalled 13 members of the Ladies Atomic Energy Club gyrating across the stage in long evening gowns, as they danced and mimed the peaceful uses of the atom to a rapt crowd of 250 other women. Isotopia was one of many creations of the club’s visionary founder Muriel Howorth: script writer, choreographer, wardrobe advisor, poet, science fiction novelist, former employee of  The Ministry of Information and atomic evangelist. “To lead women out of the kitchen and into the Atomic Age” was Howorth’s aim. “Not to know all about atomic energy and the wonderful things it can do is like living in the Dark Ages”.

Howorth wanted to take Isotopia to the Royal Albert Hall. She’d always been a fearless schemer, someone who knew how to marshall others’ efforts. Despite having no formal science training, she taught herself the rudiments of nuclear physics at her home in the English seaside town of Eastbourne. By 1948, she’d set up her Ladies Atomic Energy Club and was already writing to the great physicists of the time, asking them to endorse her efforts. Einstein graciously sent some encouraging words.

As early as 1949, when she presented a model of a lithium atom to a surprised mayor of Eastbourne, Howorth was staging atomic stunts in public. There was a Sunday lunch that she ate in 1959, even though the potatoes and onions were three years old. They’d been stored in the labs of Harwell, Oxfordshire, with a few grains of radioactive sodium – enough to kill any germs (and all the taste).

In 1960, Howorth embarked on her most ambitious venture. Her intentions became public when she posed for the local papers, tickling an extraordinary plant that was growing on her window sill. “Yesterday I held in my hand the most sensational plant in Britain,” wrote Beverly Nichols, gardening correspondent for The Sunday Dispatch. “To me it had all the romance of something from outer space. It is the first ‘atomic’ peanut.”

This plant had itself been grown from a remarkable peanut – a gift from Oak Ridge Tennessee (home of the Manhattan Project). Like Howorth’s onions and potatoes, this peanut had been irradiated. In this instance, all that atom blasting had done something extraordinary: it had disrupted the DNA of the peanut to create a mutant – a peanut that would grow into a giant plant, one with nuts as big as almonds. The plant itself wasn’t radioactive – its crop tasted good and was perfectly safe to eat, just like any other peanut.

In praise of the mutant vegetables 

With food rationing in Britain still a recent memory, it’s no wonder Howorth was drawn to the implications: take a large batch of seeds of wheat, barley, tomatoes or another foodcrop – irradiate them and, if you’re lucky, you will make some mutants. Some of those mutants might grow in odd colours, some might grow tall or twisted, others will wither and die. But if you’re lucky, you may find that one in a billion mutation: a plant that grows large enough to end world hunger. With her leadership, Howorth was sure the gardeners of Britain could work together to find this golden mutant.

Howorth instructed her husband Major Howard to set himself up as the sole European distributor of atom-blasted seeds from Van Hage Company, Holland. She also persuaded Harold Wootton to exhibit her specimens in his Wonder Gardens, a pleasure garden in Wannock, a few miles outside Eastbourne. Thus her experimental, atom-blasted allotment was visited by thousands of families on Sunday afternoons on their way to the model village and tearooms. 

Howorth opened the doors of her Atomic Gardening Society and asked for willing amateur gardeners to join her. This was citizen science on a grand scale, all handled through the Post Office. All you had to do was request some atom-blasted seeds from The Major and buy Howorth’s book, Atomic Gardening for the Layman, to jump into the atomic age. 

Seeds were posted to volunteers, along with instructions on how to nurture them, log their growth and report back on any interesting mutants. Finding the golden mutant was a game of chance. Every volunteer and every new planting improved the odds of finding the plant that could, in Howorth’s eyes, save humankind. The odds, however, were stacked against her. Howorth managed to recruit around 300 gardeners – but a thousand times that number would be needed to have any likelihood of creating even a handful of mutations, let alone the giant plant she longed for. To encourage the gardeners’ competitive spirit, Howorth announced the most promising mutant each year would be awarded the “Muriel Howorth Peanut Prize”. We don’t know if anyone ever took home the trophy. Despite her optimism, by the mid-1960s, the volunteers had little to show for their efforts. The Atomic Gardening Society quietly fizzled out. 

By this time, many plant scientists had abandoned atom-blasting, seeing it as a haphazard way to find useful mutants. They turned their attention to chemical methods of splicing the gene - techniques behind the GM crops of today. As atomic gardening historian Paige Johnson said to “If you think of genetic modification today as slicing the genome with a scalpel, in the 1960s they were hitting it with a hammer”. Howorth never reconciled herself to this, clinging to the romance of the atom until her death in 1971.

As an atomic pioneer, Howorth was a visionary. Although she never found her giant mutant, in many other ways, her work was a triumph. Decades before the era of crowd sourcing, she demonstrated that anyone could set up and run their own scientific experiments, following their own interests rather than the agenda of established laboratories. Long before anyone had ever spoken about open source culture, she was already sharing scientific knowhow for the price of a few first class stamps.

Howorth would be delighted to know that atomic gardening is making a comeback. In tightly controlled experiments, crop scientists are growing plants in circular fields that are continually bathed in radiation. This comes from highly radioactive cobalt-60 – a source so deadly, it has to be dropped into a lead-lined sarcophagus before anyone can enter the field. Rapid genome testing lets them sift through thousands of results. In Atomic Gardening for the Layman, Howorth hinted at plans for her own cobalt-60 garden, something she never had the funds to bring to fruition. 

Howorth didn’t have the chance to study atomic science formally, yet she came up with experiments that were rationally designed and breathtaking in their ambition. She achieved so much on that windowsill in Eastbourne, in Slaymaker’s Wondergarden and in the pots of atomic gardening pioneers around the UK. Just think how much more she could have done if she’d been given the keys to the lab. 

Words: Sarah Angliss

This story is featured in our book The Odditorium: The tricksters, eccentrics, deviants and inventors whose obsessions changed the world (Hodder & Stoughton, Oct 2016). Pick up a copy today.

Our Christmas store is now open

We’ve teamed up with some of our favourite brands to bring you six limited edition gift bundles – for explorers, botanists, campfire gatherers and all those in search of a bit of mystery 

The apothecary bundle

We’re delighted to team up with Kindred + Wild to offer a rejuvenating selection of balms and oils to keep the winter chills at bay. This bundle includes two copies of Ernest, a healing lemon + lavender balm, lavender + chamomile oil and one piece of ‘Holy Wood’, an incense stick derived from the Frankincense tree. £30

The lost explorer's bundle

For the intrepid at heart. We’ve teamed up withYorkshire leather crafters HÔRD to bring you a gift bundle inspired by the rugged topography of the Three Peaks. The bundle includes two copies of Ernest and a leather key fob with an etching of the contours of Ben Nevis, Snowdon or Scafell Pike. £35

The botanist's bundle

The perfect gift for an aspiring botanist, this gift set includes a copy of Ernest, an Art of Instruction paperback notebook (based on ‘Jung-Koch-Quentell’ charts, originally illustrated in the late 1800s) and Green Tea soap courtesy of our friends at Eastern Biological. £17.50

The Firepot bundle

Ernest is proud to present a gift bundle for those who love to peer down a misty mountain summit, raft through icy cold rapids or spend starry nights by a crackling fire. This bundle comprises two copies of Ernest and two pouches of slow-cooked grub courtesy of FIREPOT by Outdoorfood. (Meat, veggie or vegan options available). £25

The Mysterium bundle

Add a touch of the unknown to your Christmas stocking with a copy of Ernest and our brand new book The Mysterium: Unexplained and extraordinary stories for a post-Nessie generation. £20



The completish bundle

The perfect way to introduce your friends to Ernest this Christmas, this gift set contains issues 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, plus our first book The Odditorium and our latest book The Mysterium plus an Ernest gift card. £75 



The slow adventure calendar 2018

Plan a whole year of adventure with this A5 clipboard calendar, featuring 12 remarkable images taken for Ernest over the past year. The calendar comprises of a clipboard and hook for hanging on the wall, plus 12 sheets of recycled, uncoated paper. At the end of each month, you can cut out the  picture postcard and write home to share your adventures. £10

The slow adventure calendar bundle

A 2018 slow adventure calendar plus an Ernest Journal issue of your choice. £20