Location within Greater London
|Established||1960 (collection); |
|Location||Royal Hospital Road|
|Visitors||215,721 (2008, up 7.3%)|
|Public transit access||Sloane Square|
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. It is usually open to the public from 10:00am to 5:30pm, except on 25–26 December and 1 January. Admission is free.
Having reopened in March 2017 following a major £23.75 million re-development project including £11.5m from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the museum houses five galleries that cover British military history from the English Civil War up to modern day.
This remit for the overall history of British land forces contrasts with those of other military museums in the United Kingdom 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).
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. 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. It was initially established in 1960 in temporary accommodation at the former No.1 Riding School at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.
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.
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. 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 redevelopment followed from 2011 onwards.
From 1 May 2014 until 30 March 2017 the museum was closed to the public for a major Heritage Lottery Fund-funded rebuilding programme. The rebuilding was overseen by BDP architects, and specialist museum design company, Event Communications.
Esther Dugdale from Event Communications noted that "The new museum aims to create a dialogue about the army – not to promote it, but bring the discussion of it into the public domain", and "The displays express its multi-layered history and relationship with the public. It does not shy away from some of the more difficult issues, but also gives a voice to the many who have served and what they have experienced". Dugdale also stated that the new design would be an "immersive experience", allowing visitors to ride simulated tanks, load rifles and understand war tactics in a technology-driven 3D environment.
In early March 2017, the Queen reopened the Museum, marking the completion of the three-year renovation.
The museum has five new galleries – Soldier, Army, Battle, Society and Insight.
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.
† = Died in post