National Army Museum in London
The National Army Museum is the British Army's central museum. It is located in the Chelsea district of central London, England adjacent to the Royal Hospital Chelsea, the home of the "Chelsea Pensioners". The National Army Museum is open to the public every day of the year from 10.00am to 5.30pm, except on 24 - 26 December and 1 January. Admission is free. The museum is a non-departmental public body.
The National Army Museum relates the overall history of the British Army, British colonial, imperial and commonwealth forces and the British Indian Army as a whole from 1066 to the present and its effects on national and international history. This is in contrast to other military museums in the United Kingdom such as Firepower – The Royal Artillery Museum, which relate the history of individual corps and regiments of the British Army. It also differs from the subject matter of the Imperial War Museum, another national museum in London, which has a wider remit of theme (war experiences of British civilians and military personnel) but a narrower remit of time (after 1914).
The National Army Museum was first conceived in the late 1950s, and owes its existence to the persistent hard work of Field Marshal Sir Gerald Walter Robert Templer, who was its first director and after whom the Museum's study centre is named. The National Army Museum was established by Royal Charter in 1960, with the intention of preserving and exhibiting items related to the history of the forces of British Army, and Commonwealth nations prior to their independence. Its displays were originally housed at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, only moving into its present building in 1971.
One director, Ian Robertson, initiated a programme to establish an outpost of the Museum in the garrison town of Catterick, North Yorkshire, to be known as National Army Museum North, on the model of Imperial War Museum's establishment of the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester. A large site was chosen near Marne Barracks, beside the A1, and in 2002 Simon Pierce of was chosen as the new museum's architect. However, funding and planning issues later led to the cancellation of the plan in 2003. The National Army Museum instead underwent a major redevelopment of its gallery and corridor displays at Chelsea from 2006 onwards, establishing new displays in existing permanent display areas, converting the corridors from oil-painting displays to permanent-exhibition spaces, and producing new temporary and permanent display areas on the third floor. This redisplay concluded with the opening of the new permanent National Service gallery in October 2010, though a further phase of redisplay is planned from 2011 onwards.
Originally the museum was housed in the old riding school of the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, but since 1971 the museum has been housed in a purpose built site on Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea. The site that was chosen was previously part of the old infirmary of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, and prior to that, had been the location of Walpole House, the residence of Robert Walpole, widely regarded as having been the first Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The site had been badly damaged during the war, and had remained unoccupied prior to being selected as the new location for the National Army Museum. The building, designed in brutalist style by William Holford & Partners, was started in 1961 and completed ten years later, when it was opened by Queen Elizabeth II on November 11, 1971. Most of the fund-raising to pay for its construction was done personally by Templer. An extension, including a new foyer, is planned in 2011-12.
The National Army Museum achieved devolved status as a non-departmental public body in 1983 under terms of the National Heritage Act. The annual Grant-in-Aid from the Ministry of Defence (MOD), is administered by the Director of the Museum on behalf of the governing body, the board of trustees of the National Army Museum.
- Field Marshal Gerald Templer 1960-196?
- Lieutenant-Colonel Bartleby 196?-1971
- Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Bernard Appleby 1971-1975
- John Paris 1975-1982
- William Reid 1982-1988
- Ian Robertson 1988-2003†
- Dr Alan Guy 2003-2010
- Janice Murray 2010-
† = Died in post
The museum's collections are organised into four departments:
- Archives, Photographs, Film and Sound (APFS).
- Fine and Decorative Art (FDA)
- Printed Books
- Exhibits (formed by merging the Uniforms, Badges and Medals department and the Weapons, Equipment and Vehicles department)
In 1992, the Museum of the Middlesex Regiment (the Buffs) was forced to close, and the trustees of the board decided to donate the entire collection to the National Army Museum. A similar fate befell the Museum of Army Transport in 2005, and its collection was also transferred to the National Army Museum. The NAM also owns and stores the collection of the regimental museum of the East Kent Buffs, displaying some items from that collection in Canterbury rather than Chelsea (apart from 2008 to 2011, when its gallery at the Royal Museum and Art Gallery is being refurbished).
The National Army Museum's galleries are arranged as follows:
- Main temporary exhibition space (ground floor)
- Making of Britain 1066-1783 (corridor from ground to 1st floor)
- Changing The World 1784-1904 (1st floor)
- World Wars 1905-1945 (corridor from 1st to 2nd floor; 2nd floor)
- National Service 1947-1963 (permanent display - corridor from 2nd to 3rd floor; temporary display - corridor from 3rd to 4th floor)
- Conflicts of Interest (3rd floor)
- Art Gallery (3rd floor)
- The White Space (temporary displays - 3rd floor)
Making of Britain 1066-1783
The Museum's Making of Britain 1066-1783 gallery (previously located on the lower ground floor and on the corridor ramp from the lower ground floor to the ground floor) closed on 21 February 2011, as did Money and Might, a corridor gallery between the ground and first floors introducing the Changing the World gallery. These were replaced in May 2011 by a new gallery, again entitled Making of Britain 1066-1783, in the corridor between the ground floor and the first floor.
Main temporary exhibition space
The museum's main temporary exhibition space on the ground floor houses displays on a variety of subjects. These have included Helmand: The Soldiers' Story (from August 2007 to August 2009, on soldiers' current experiences in Helmand province during the current conflict in Afghanistan) and War Boy: The Michael Foreman Exhibition (from September 2009 to August 2010, showing original artwork by Michael Foreman on themes from the First and Second World Wars alongside medals won by Foreman's family and objects from the Museum's own collection). The 2010-2011 exhibition in this space was The Road to Kabul: British Armies in Afghanistan, 1838 - 1919 about the First, Second and Third Afghan Wars (as well as a display of watercolours of the current conflict in Afghanistan by Matthew Cook). This was followed from October 2011 to August 2012 by an exhibition entitled War Horse: Fact & Fiction, exploring the Michael Morpurgo novel of that name alongside real-life stories of horses involved in war and the men who depended on them, also drawing on the play and film adaptations of the novel.
Changing the World 1784-1904
The Changing the World gallery tells the story of the French Revolutionary Wars, Napoleonic Wars and British involvement in India from 1794 to 1904. It tells the story of the rivalry with other European Imperial powers, the expansion and defence of British trade and political interests, and the creation of the British Empire, including the Indian Mutiny.
This gallery is divided into two halves. The first half covers similar ground to Money and Might, with the French Revolutionary Wars, the Napoleonic Wars, the War of 1812 and the Mysore Wars. Its exhibits include the helmet of Tipu Sultan. This half concludes with the Battle of Waterloo, illustrated by the Siborne model, the skeleton of Marengo and a diorama figure of Charles Ewart capturing a French eagle. The second half begins with a Victorian Soldier Action Zone, a hands-on, interactive area for children, dealing with weapons and conditions of service for soldiers in the Victorian era. It then continues onto the British Army and British Indian Army's involvement in the Crimean War (including exhibits relating to Florence Nightingale and a diorama figure of Mary Seacole), the Indian Mutiny, the Zulu War and the Boer War, among other conflicts of that era. The display then concludes with a display on the Boer War on the corridor between the first and second floors.
World Wars 1914-1945
The gallery shows the part played in the First World War and Second World War by the armies of the United Kingdom and her empire and commonwealth. It begins with recruitment for the First World War and ends with a display on the Partition of India. It includes a central area for special exhibitions on the two World Wars, such as Finding the Fallen on the identification of soldiers' remains by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (2005 to 2006) and Faces of Battle on early plastic surgery by Harold Gillies (2007-2008).
National Service 1947-1963
The history of National Service in the United Kingdom is displayed in two galleries. The first of these is a permanent gallery dealing with the period (in the corridor between the second and third floors), which opened in October 2010. This is supported by the second gallery, which is a rotating display on different campaigns during the National Service period in the corridor between the third and fourth floors - the campaign currently examined is the Korean War, in a display which opened in March 2010.
Conflicts of Interest
The Museum's third floor display area was previously divided into a gallery on National Service and a gallery on the modern army. This has recently been redeveloped and re-opened as the White Space (a temporary display space for art exhibitions) and the Conflicts of Interest gallery, dealing with the modern army from the Troubles to the present day. The Conflicts of Interest opened on 12 September 2009 and was long-listed for the Art Fund Prize in 2010. The other campaigns it examines are the Gulf War, Kosovo the Bosnian War, the Falklands War and the current conflict in Afghanistan. It also looks at themes in modern soldiers' lives, such as homelessness, healthcare, mental health and home life.
The National Army museum's permanent Art Gallery houses a large number of the oil paintings in museum's collections from the 16th century to the 20th century, including works by Jan Wyck, John Wootton, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, Benjamin West, Sir Henry Raeburn, Francis Cotes, George Jones, Lady Butler, Richard Caton Woodville, Rex Whistler and John Keane. Those portrayed include Oliver Cromwell, James II, George III, the Marquess of Granby and the Duke of Wellington. It also includes furniture from the museum collection.
The White Space
Launched in June 2009, the White Space is a temporary exhibition space housing a rolling programme of exhibitions throughout the year. Its first exhibition, 'Caught on Canvas' was about the history of military portraiture. It was followed in late 2009 by 'First Shots', focused on early war photography from 1848- 60. The next exhibition, 'Indian Art, Indian Armies: Soldiers, collectors and artists 1780 - 1880' (May 2010-January 2011) explored the cultural exchange between the British and India in the 18th and 19th centuries. From January to July 2011 this space housed 'Wives and Sweethearts', exploring the impact of war and military service on soldiers and their loved ones, followed from 2011 to 2012 by 'Draw Your Weapons', themed around Commando Comics.
Making of Britain 1066-1783
This gallery was designed to explain the story of the making of Britain, and explores foreign invasions, internal conflicts and rebellions, early conflicts with European powers, the first standing Army, the relationship between England, Ireland and Scotland, and the creation of Great Britain as a political entity, as well as the development of the British Army. This gallery also explored Britain's first colonial enterprises, and the role the British Army played in them.
It began with a small display on the history of British land-forces from the Battle of Hastings to just prior to the English Civil War (including the Hundred Years' War and War of the Roses). The main display in this gallery, however, traced the history of the British Army's rise in the English Civil Wars, the Glorious Revolution and the other European wars of the 17th and 18th century. These conflicts included the War of the Austrian Succession, the Jacobite Rebellion and the Seven Years' War. It also included early British involvement in India, such as the Black Hole of Calcutta, and ends with a treatment of conditions of service. It contained an oil painting by JSC Schaak of General James Wolfe, whose export the Museum managed to prevent in April 2008 through the Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest. It ended with a major display on the American Revolutionary War on the ramp between the lower ground and ground floors.
Templer Study Centre
The National Army Museum also provides research facilities through its Templer Study Centre, open three days a week on the Lower Ground Floor. Researchers can utilise the facilities and collections of the National Army Museum for private research on campaigns, regiments, personalities and social history of the British Army.
The National Army Museum provides a Kids' Zone on the ground floor to provide a break for children whilst exploring the museum. It is an interactive learning area with a variety of activities including: a baby play area, dressing up, board games and a construction zone.
Shop and cafe
The Museum also houses a shop and cafe, both on the ground floor.
London Bus Route 170.
Notes and references