National Army Museum
The main entrance of the National Army Museum from Royal Hospital Road
National Army Museum is located in Greater London
National Army Museum
Location within Greater London
Established1960 (collection);
1971 (building)
LocationRoyal Hospital Road
London, SW3
United Kingdom
Coordinates51°29′10″N 0°09′36″W / 51.486111°N 0.16°W / 51.486111; -0.16
Visitors215,721 (2008, up 7.3%)[1]
DirectorJustin Maciejewski
Public transit accessLondon Underground 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 10:00 to 17:30, except on 25–26 December and 1 January. Admission is free.

Its 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). It also covers the pre-independence history of the East India Company Army, the British Indian Army and other colonial units as well as housing the regimental or corps collections of the East Kent Regiment,[2] the Middlesex Regiment[3] the Women's Royal Army Corps,[4] and the Irish regiments disbanded in 1922,[4] part of that of the former Museum of Army Transport and the archives of the Coldstream Guards and Grenadier Guards.[4]



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.[5] 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.[6] It was initially established in 1960 in temporary accommodation at the former No.1 Riding School at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.[7]

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.[8]

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.[9] However, funding and planning issues later led to the cancellation of the plan in 2003.[10] 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.[11]


From 1 May 2014 until 30 March 2017, the museum was closed to the public for a major rebuilding programme.[12][13][14] These refurbishment cost £23.75 million, of which £11.5 million was financed by the Heritage Lottery Fund: the works created five galleries that cover British military history from the English Civil War up to modern day.[15][16][17] The rebuilding was overseen by BDP architects, and specialist museum design company, Event Communications.[18]

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".[18] 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.[18]

In early March 2017, the Queen reopened the Museum, marking the completion of a three-year renovation.[19] Whilst much public response to the revamp was positive, in an article in The Spectator, historian and Museum trustee Andrew Roberts severely criticised the new displays, stating: "Instead of seeing artefacts in a historical context, as part of a chronological narrative, the visitor is forced to explore themes, and as ever this has provided an opening for guilt, apology and political correctness"; he also pointed to incorrect statements, and suggested a generalised dumbing-down, writing of medal displays: "we are not told in very many cases what they are or even who they were awarded to."[20] In 2022, in a follow-up article, Roberts announced that under new director Brigadier Justin Maciejewski, (the first leader of the museum to have first-hand experience of soldiering), the museum had "returned to the aims of its Royal Charter, anchored itself to historical facts rather than contemporary politicised fashions," and telling the Army's story from "an evidence-based, objective perspective."[21] Maciejewski has explicitly rolled back on decolonisation and other attempts in the 2017 redisplay to deal with controversial aspects of the army's history,[22] despite concerns raised earlier in his tenure about a focus on improving gender diversity in the Museum's staff whilst the real issue lay in other kinds of diversity,[23] and about his January 2021 staff restructure, with concerns that it showed a "lack of consideration of professionalism and understanding of the core role of the museum as a public institution ensuring the preservation of history and exhibitions".[23]


The 2017 redisplay had a temporary display space (later split into a smaller and a larger space, the latter housing 'Foe to Friend', a 2020 exhibition on the BAOR now running until 2024) and five new permanent galleries: Soldier, Army, Battle and Society.[24] By April 2023 Empire and Army had been replaced by Formation and Global respectively, with Battle replaced by Conflict in Europe on 7 April 2023 and Society due to be replaced by Army At Home in September 2023.[22]


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.[6]


† = Died in post

Notes and references

  1. ^ "Financial Statements" (PDF). National Army Museum. Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 December 2010. Retrieved 12 August 2016.
  2. ^ "Case Contents - The Buffs". Canterbury Museums.
  3. ^ "Victoria Cross - The Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge's Own)".
  4. ^ a b c "What the Museum holds". National Army Museum.
  5. ^ "Sir Gerald Templer". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  6. ^ a b Account, p. 3
  7. ^ "1960: Her Majesty The Queen opening the National Army Museum at Sandhurst, formerly No.1 Riding School". Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  8. ^ "National Army Museum, Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea, London". Royal Institute of British architects. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  9. ^ "Designer of military museum is named". BBC News. 14 November 2002. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  10. ^ "Shelved: Army museum for the North". Northern Echo. 31 October 2003. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  11. ^ Account, p. 20
  12. ^ National Army Museum Secures £11.5m Heritage Lottery Fund Grant Archived 2 May 2014 at the Wayback Machine, 30 April 2014 (NAM Press Archive)
  13. ^ Helen Gilbert, New images of BDP's National Army Museum plans revealed, 30 April 2014 (Architects' Journal)
  14. ^ "National Army Museum closing | Building for the Future | National Army Museum, London". 1 April 2014. Archived from the original on 17 April 2014. Retrieved 1 May 2014.
  15. ^ Ben Macintyre (30 March 2017). "Attention! Forward march to a light-filled museum of army life". Retrieved 2 June 2017.
  16. ^ Ione Bingley. "National Army Museum re-opens after three years". KCW Today. Retrieved 2 June 2017.
  17. ^ "National Army Museum refreshed by BDP | netMAGmedia Ltd". Retrieved 2 June 2017.
  18. ^ a b c Sarah Dawood (15 April 2017). "New National Army Museum will "discuss, not promote" British Army". Design Week. Retrieved 6 October 2019.
  19. ^ Simpson, Fiona (16 March 2017). "Queen reopens National Army Museum in Chelsea". Evening Standard. Archived from the original on 17 March 2017. Retrieved 17 March 2017.
  20. ^ Andrew Roberts, National Army Museum, The Spectator, 3 June 2017
  21. ^ Andrew Roberts, The triumph of the National Army Museum, The Spectator, 25 June 2022
  22. ^ a b Edgington, Steve (14 April 2023). "National Army Museum will not be decolonised, vows its head". Daily Telegraph.
  23. ^ a b Adams, Geraldine Kendall (18 May 2021). "Concerns raised over National Army Museum restructure". Museums Association.
  24. ^ "National Army Museum reopens following three-year £23m development". 30 March 2017. Retrieved 6 June 2017.


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