The Friends date their existence from 21st May 1988, 100 years to the day after Mr Horniman threw his collection open to the public. Mike Hitchcock and Bob Pudney, representing the Museum and Gardens, hosted a meeting that led to the formal foundation of the Friends on 2nd July of that year. The first committee comprised Philip Spooner (Chair) and some fifteen others, including Liaison Officers from the Horniman. The main object would be to raise money for the Museum.
The first Newsletter appeared in September 1988, and the first sum raised was £500 for the repair of the Apostle Clock. Mr Horniman’s Conservatory was rescued from disuse and re-erected in its present position the following month. Annual Christmas Concerts also began in 1988 and charitable status was granted the following year, when at the AGM Barbara Sutcliffe, Pat Hollingshead, Margaret Spooner and Margaret Birley joined the Committee. The usefulness of the Friends, as proof that the community valued the Museum, and as a lobby, was shown when ILEA was abolished in April 1990, threatening the future of the Museum.

Over the years, projects assisted by the Friends included tiling the floor of the Conservatory, major help with the cost of refurbishing the Gardens, scale drawings of the Hoffman Baroque Lute, the Centre for Understanding the Environment (now the Library), the Aquarium, publicity materials for the Education and other Departments, maintenance of statues and sundials and numerous donations to expenditure outside the Museum’s departmental budgets: all these and many more.
In all, well over £200,000 has been raised by means of Annual Art Exhibitions (beginning in 1991), Plant Sales, Christmas Fairs and Concerts, lectures, outings and guided tours, some led by Bob Pudney and David Allen, musical events, Tim Lund’s Marathon, Michael Houlihan’s cycle-ride to Santiago de Compostela and the efforts and generosity of countless Friends.