Charting - 100 years of Naval Heritage at the Royal Naval Museum.

The Royal Naval Museum is celebrating 100 years of naval heritage throughout 2011. Claire Pitcher journeyed to Portsmouth's Historic Dockyard to discover what's in store for visitors from two of the museum's 'commanding officers'...

The Royal Naval Museum is celebrating 100 years of naval heritage throughout 2011. Claire Pitcher journeyed to Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard to discover what’s in store for visitors from two of the museum’s ‘commanding officers’

Can you imagine what life as a sailor onboard a Royal Navy ship was like? Sleeping in a hammock below deck; being subjected to food and beer rations and the threat of possibly contracting scurvy – and that’s just a snippet of what the men had to endure. Discovering the stories of the Navy’s missions at sea is a fascinating journey, and one that must be embarked upon at Portsmouth’s Royal Naval Museum and Dockyards.

This year, the museum is celebrating its centenary year in Portsmouth with special exhibitions and interactive activities to take part in, school parties, veterans, families and students can spend the day delving into the history of our naval heritage. Matthew Sheldon is Head of Collections and has been working at the museum for 17 years.

“The location is great, the buildings are amazing and the people are great too. Although we’re in Portsmouth we are at the heart of a big national story. Whenever there is a national commemoration, whether it’s the abolition of the slave trade or of Darwin going round the world, the Navy is there somewhere – we’re right at the centre of things.’

Ship shape

Since 1911 the museum has evolved almost beyond recognition. With the 1990s came a huge expansion when they grew to take over the entire building they’re in now which meant offices, control stores and all the archives being moved upstairs and most of the displays on the ground floors having to be overhauled. “It’s incredible to see how far we have come in 100 years,” says Graham Dobbin, Chief Operating Officer. “And more is going to change over the next couple of years, such as the opening of the new Mary Rose Museum next year and the launch of our new gallery – which will be spread over the entire ground floor next door. At the moment we only occupy about a third of the space and it will expand the modern Navy displays by about 400 per cent!”

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Voyage of discovery

As you can imagine, there are quite a few items that have been on display at the museum for the past 100 years and staff have recently created a Centenary Trail which flag them up for visitors to enjoy. Also planned for October this year is a photographic exhibition portraying images of the museum through the ages, from 1911 until now. “Then there is our New Found Treasures exhibition that’s on to celebrate the centenary,” explains Graham. “For the first time in my memory we’ve commissioned artists and craftspeople to create works of art based on our collections. There are six new pieces coming in, plus we’ll also be displaying items that have been lost for years in the stores that are suddenly new found treasures again.” For Matthew, it has been eye-opening in a “geeky curatorial way” to uncover what was in the museum back in 1911.

“Museums were so different in those days and to look back and see how people actually visited museums and to see what was being collected is fascinating.”

Hop on board

Whether you plan to visit the museum for one of the many centenary events or to explore everything that the Historic Dockyards have to offer there is something to capture everyone’s imagination, as Matthew so accurately describes, “There can be a perception that the museum is just for the Navy enthusiasts interested in ships and things that go bang, but actually if you come here it really isn’t like that. Our new 20th century project is really going to be about people’s history – that’s not the history of great admirals – it’s about your father, your grandfather, your great grandfather and how they were affected by the war, and how communities were affected. It’s a real people’s history.”

A potted history

The Royal Naval Museum was founded in 1911 as the Dockyard Museum by Mr Pescott-Frost, the Secretary to the Admiral Superintendent of Portsmouth Royal Dockyard.In 1922 HMS Victory was brought into dry dock and after major restoration was opened to the public in 1928.The Society of Nautical Research built a new museum ashore in the dockyard to house the exhibits in 1938.In 1972, Mrs Lily McCarthy, from America, offered the McCarthy collection of Nelson commemorative items to the museum. It was then decided it should join the Victory and so the Royal Naval Museum was founded as a Ministry of Defence (MOD) funded museum, with the addition of further galleries covering the modern Navy.In 1985 the museum was devolved under the National Heritage Act and became a Trustee-run Museum, assisted by grant-in-aid from the MOD.In October 2009, Trustees took the step of creating the National Museum of the Royal Navy the Sole Corporate Trustee of the Museum. In 2011 the Museum integrated with the National Museum, which incorporates the Royal Marines Museum in Southsea, the Submarine Museum in Gosport and Fleet Air Arm Museum.

Plan your visit

Getting there: Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is located within Portsmouth Naval Base with entry through Victory Gate at the corner of Queen Street and the Hard.

Sat Nav postcode PO1 3LJ.

Opening times:

April to October – Open 10am, last tickets to the attractions are sold at 4.30pm and the Dockyard gates are

closed at 6pm.

November to March – Open 10am, last tickets to the attractions are sold at 4pm and the Dockyard gates are closed at 5.30pm.


Prices include all six attractions at the Dockyard. Adult �19.90, senior �16.85, child and student �14.30, family �56.15

Telephone: 02392 728060


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