National Army Museum

For the National Army Museum of New Zealand, see National Army Museum (New Zealand).
National Army Museum

The main entrance of the National Army Museum from Royal Hospital Road
Location within Greater London
Established 1960 (collection);
1971 (building)
Location Royal Hospital Road
London, SW3
United Kingdom
Coordinates 51°29′10″N 0°09′36″W / 51.486111°N 0.16°W / 51.486111; -0.16
Visitors 215,721 (2008, up 7.3%)[1]
Director Janice Murray
Public transit access London Underground Sloane Square
Website Official website

The National Army Museum is the British Army's central museum. It is located in the Chelsea district of central London, adjacent to the Royal Hospital Chelsea, the home of the "Chelsea Pensioners". The museum is a non-departmental public body. The National Army Museum is usually open to the public every day of the year from 10.00am to 5.30pm, except on 24–26 December and 1 January, with free admission. However, from 1 May 2014 until spring 2017 it is closed to the public for a major Heritage Lottery Fund-funded rebuilding programme.[2] [3] [4]

The collections of the National Army Museum relate 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. However, prior to the 2014 closure, the Museum's displays on the period from 1066 to 1642 were wholly via interpretation rather than objects, since its collecting remit is from the English Civil War onwards. Though the National Army Museum does hold a small number of early objects (such as a bronze saker from the 1530s),[5] acquisitions of pre-1642 military items for the national collection are usually made by the Royal Armouries. (Displays from 2016 onwards will be thematic rather than chronological.[6])

This remit for the overall history of British land forces contrasts with those of other military museums in the United Kingdom such as Firepower – The Royal Artillery Museum concentrating on 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 from all three services) but a narrower remit of time (after 1914).


Logo of the National Army Museum

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 Templer, who did most of the fundraising for it.[7] It was established by Royal Charter in 1960, with the intention of collecting, preserving, and exhibiting objects and records relating to the Regular and Auxiliary forces of the British Army and of the Commonwealth, and to encourage research into their history and traditions.[8] It was initially established in 1960 in temporary accommodation at the former No.1 Riding School at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.[9]

A new purpose-built building, designed in brutalist style by William Holford & Partners, was started in 1961 on a site which had previously formed part of the old infirmary of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. The new building was completed ten years later and opened by the Queen on 11 November 1971.[10]

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 Austin-Smith:Lord was chosen as the new museum's architect.[11] However, funding and planning issues later led to the cancellation of the plan in 2003.[12] 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 redevelopment followed from 2011 onwards.[13]


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, is administered by the Director of the Museum on behalf of the governing body, the board of trustees of the National Army Museum.[8]


† = Died in post

Galleries (pre-2014)

Prior to the 2014 closure, the National Army Museum's galleries were arranged as follows:

Main temporary exhibition space

The museum's main temporary exhibition space on the ground floor housed displays on a variety of subjects. These previously included Butterflies and Bayonets: The Soldier as Collector (in 1989, on soldiers' roles as collectors of items)[14] Helmand: The Soldiers' Story (from August 2007 to August 2009, on soldiers' current experiences in Helmand province during the current conflict in Afghanistan)[15] 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).[16] 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[17] (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.[18] The final display in the space was 'Unseen Enemy', on IEDs in Afghanistan[19]/

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.[20]

Changing the World 1784–1904

The Changing the World gallery told the story of the French Revolutionary Wars, Napoleonic Wars and British involvement in India from 1794 to 1904. It told 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 was divided into two halves. The first half covered the French Revolutionary Wars, the Napoleonic Wars, the War of 1812 and the Mysore Wars. Its exhibits included the helmet of Tipu Sultan. This half concluded 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 began 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 continued 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 concluded with a display on the Boer War on the corridor between the first and second floors.[21]

World Wars 1914–1945

The gallery showed 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 began with recruitment for the First World War and ends with a display on the Partition of India. It included 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)[22][23] and 'Faces of Battle' on early plastic surgery by Harold Gillies (2007–2008).[24]

National Service 1947–1963

The history of National Service in the United Kingdom was displayed in two galleries. The first of these was a permanent gallery dealing with the period (in the corridor between the second and third floors), which opened in October 2010. This was supported by a display between the third and fourth floors on the Korean War which opened in March 2010.[25]

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 was later redeveloped and reopened 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.[26] The campaigns it examined included the Gulf War, Kosovo the Bosnian War, the Falklands War and the current conflict in Afghanistan.[27] The Conflicts of Interest gallery opened on 12 September 2009 and was long-listed for the Art Fund Prize in 2010.[28]

The Art Gallery contained military works of international significance.

The National Army museum's permanent Art Gallery housed 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 included Oliver Cromwell, James II, George III, the Marquess of Granby and the Duke of Wellington. It also included furniture from the museum collection.[29]

Notes and references

  1. "Financial Statements" (PDF). National Army Museum. Retrieved 12 August 2016.
  2. National Army Museum Secures £11.5m Heritage Lottery Fund Grant, 30 April 2014 (NAM Press Archive)
  3. Helen Gilbert, New images of BDP's National Army Museum plans revealed, 30 April 2014 (Architects' Journal)
  4. "National Army Museum closing | Building for the Future | National Army Museum, London". 2014-04-01. Retrieved 2014-05-01.
  5. "Bronze Saker cannon, 1530 (c)". National Army Museum. Retrieved 2 August 2012.
  6. Ellis-Petersen, Hannah (2014-04-29). "National Army Museum unveils expansion plan". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-05-01.
  7. "Sir Gerald Templer". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  8. 1 2 Account, p. 3
  9. "1960: Her Majesty The Queen opening the National Army Museum at Sandhurst, formerly No.1 Riding School". Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  10. "National Army Museum, Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea, London". Royal Institute of British architects. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  11. "Designer of military museum is named". BBC News. 14 November 2002. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  12. "Shelved: Army museum for the North". Northern Echo. 31 October 2003. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  13. Account, p. 20
  14. "General William Munro, C.B., 39th Regiment". The Keep Military Museum, Dorchester, Dorset. Retrieved 20 February 2014.
  15. "Helmand Province 2006". National Army Museum. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  16. "'War Boy: The Michael Foreman Exhibition' at the National Army Museum". National Army Museum. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  17. "The Road to Kabul: British Armies in Afghanistan, 1839–1919". National Army Museum. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  18. "War Horse: Fact & Fiction". National Army Museum. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  19. "Unseen Enemy exhibition | National Army Museum, London". Retrieved 2014-05-01.
  20. "The Making of Britain". National Army Museum. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  21. "Changing the World 1784–1904". National Army Museum. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  22. "Finding the Fallen – Conservation and the First World War". University College, London. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  23. "Finding the Fallen". National Army Museum. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  24. "In pictures: Faces of Battle". BBC News. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  25. "National Service". National Army Museum. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  26. "Exhibitions and Events at the National Army Museum in 2010 | Press Releases | National Army Museum". 2011-04-21. Retrieved 2014-05-01.
  27. "Conflicts of Interest" (PDF). National Army Museum. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  28. "Short List for £100,000 Art Fund Prize 2010 announced". 13 May 2010. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  29. "Art Gallery". National Army Museum. Retrieved 21 August 2012.


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