03.04.2015
11:38

National Army Museum

Address:

Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea, SW3 4HT

Phone:

020-7730 0717

Website:

www.nam.ac.uk

Opening times:

Daily 10:30–17:00

How to get there:

Tube: Sloane Square

Entry fee:

Free

Additional information:

Café and shop

Founded at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, in 1960, the official museum of the British Army moved to these purpose-built premises in 1971. The museum illustrates, celebrates and records the history of the army from 1415 to the present day, with particular emphasis on important engagements and soldiers’ day-to-day lives, employing a wide range of artefacts, especially paintings, prints and uniforms, but also models, reconstructed scenes, antique weapons and archive film.

 

Lower ground floor: Redcoats: The British Soldier 1415–1792

The display introduces the story with the museum’s oldest artefact, a bronze cannon or ‘saker’ mounted on a replica gun carriage, as it might have been at the siege of Boulogne in 1544. Early artillery pieces were often named after birds of prey, in this case a large falcon. Nearby there’s the opportunity to feel the weight of the chain mail worn at the time.

Displays on the Civil War dispel some of the myths surrounding Cavaliers and Roundheads: neither in fact wore uniform, so distinguishing their allegiance was often difficult. Sometimes nothing more obvious than a hat ribbon denoted it, with predictably disastrous consequences. Two paintings by Jan Wyck hang here: King William and his Army at the Siege of Namur (1695) and The Battle of the Boyne (1690), as well as an eye-witness record of one of the earliest formal musterings of the British Army, a detailed sepia pen-and-ink wash by Willem van der Velde the Elder from 1687–89. Contemporary prints and portraits continue the story, alongside uniforms, including one worn by an officer at the Battle of Blenheim, the pivotal engagement of the War of the Spanish Succession (1704), and a collection of hand-embroidered British Grenadier caps. Others illustrate the Seven Years War of 1756–63. A scale model towards the end of the displays depicts the siege of Yorktown in October 1781. The surrender of General Charles Lord Cornwallis’ 8,000-strong army to 20,000 American and French troops under George Washington and the Comte de Rochambeau marked the effective end of the American War of Independence, 1775–83.

 

First floor: The Road to Waterloo 1793–1815

This charts the army’s role in the struggle against Revolutionary and Napoleonic France. Paintings include A Rifleman in the 95th Regiment, demonstrating this new type of soldier’s dressed-down khaki uniform during the Peninsular War, and a portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence of Lt Gen. Sir John Moore (1805). Commissioned into the 51st regiment in 1776, John Moore saw service in the American Revolution, spent six years as a Whig MP, served in Corsica, the West Indies, Ireland, Holland and Egypt, and established a training camp at Shorncliffe for Light Infantry. In 1808 he was given command of the army in Portugal. The next year his defensive action at Corunna (La Coruña, northwest Spain) cost him his own life along with that of many of his men, but allowed an army of more than 25,000 to be safely evacuated from the Peninsula. He lives on in the lines of the famous poem: ‘Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note, as his corse to the rampart we hurried’. Also here is a tattered Regimental colour from the bloody Battle of Albuera in 1811.

The highlights of the gallery are the skeleton of Napoleon’s horse, Marengo, and Captain Siborne’s scale model of the battle of Waterloo. The model was completed in 1838 after eight years of research, and shows the battle at its crisis point, at around 7pm, using some 70,000 figures, one for every two men present on the day. Some controversy surrounded the model’s first exhibition, with government support having been withdrawn and the Duke of Wellington staying away, although not actually condemning Siborne’s efforts. He had originally approved of the scheme, with the caveat that the model was unlikely to be accurate, observing that ‘After all, a battle is like a ball: they keep footing it all the day’. His comments undermine the suggestion that he was offended by the fact that the model portrays the moment that the Prussians saved the day. Mild controversy has also attached itself to the gallery’s other highlight, with an article displayed here suggesting that Marengo was a generic name for several of Napoleon’s horses and that there can be no certainty that the skeleton displayed here is that of his favourite. The skeleton does without doubt belong to one of the Emperor’s horses; nevertheless its true provenance is likely to remain as mysterious as the snuffboxes displayed alongside it, which claim to be made from Marengo’s hooves.

On the same floor, The Victorian Soldier 1816–1914 charts the history of the army’s role in expanding and defending the British Empire. A magnificent Sudanese helmet of Persian inspiration can be seen, recovered from the terrible slaughter at the Battle of Omdurman in 1898. Several paintings dramatise the wars against the Zulus.

 

Second floor: From World War to Cold War

This section is introduced by a diorama showing an episode during the Battle of Mons in 1914, called ‘15 rounds a minute’. There are displays on the Christmas Truce of 1914, Ypres, the Gallipoli campaign, and the Battle of the Somme, illustrated by a Vickers machine gun. Reconstructed walk-through scenes include a First World War trench and dug-out, and a Malayan jungle patrol, which introduces the Second World War galleries. A Russian PPSH 41 submachine gun recovered from North Korea can be seen, the standard weapon of the Red Army infantryman after 1942.

 

Third floor: The Modern Army

The display covers operations in Africa, Aden and Cyprus, the Falklands, Northern Ireland and Bosnia among other centres of operations, and features a variety of interactive exhibits illustrating soldiering skills such as range-finding, the daily lives of a contemporary tank crew, and photographs from the recent war in Iraq.

In one large room beyond, the Art Gallery displays the museum’s collection of portraits and oil paintings, most illustrating celebrated soldiers or important engagements. They are arranged in broadly chronological order, beginning to the left of the entrance with portraits of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, and King James II. A portrait by Benjamin West depicts the Honourable Robert Monckton at the taking of the Martinique (1762). Monckton was Wolfe’s second-in-command at Quebec in 1759. While Governor of New York from 1761 to 1763, he chose the young American artist to record this pinnacle of his career for posterity. The painting launched West’s career in England, with such success that in 1792 he succeeded Joshua Reynolds as President of Royal Academy. John Wootton’s King George II at the Battle of Dettingen 1743 celebrates the last occasion when a reigning British monarch led his troops into battle. Francis Rawdon Hastings, created 2nd Earl of Moira, Governor General in chief of the Forces in India, in 1813, was painted by Sir Henry Raeburn. Hastings left the bizarre instructions in his will that his right hand should be amputated and preserved after his death to be laid in his wife’s coffin. The Reception of the Mysorean Hostage Princes by Marquis Cornwallis, 25 February 1792 is a large oil painting by Robert Home. It depicts a decisive moment in the conquest of India, when Governor General Lord Cornwallis received as hostages the sons of Tipu Sultan as part of the peace settlement following the Third Mysore War (1790–92). The artist, who accompanied Cornwallis on his campaigns, making numerous sketches, was probably actually present at the occasion, and indeed included himself in the painting, in the crowd on the extreme left. The large portrait of George III by George Beechey, 1798, showing the king on his favourite horse, Adonis, is a smaller version of the one commissioned by George III that was lost in the Windsor Castle fire in 1992.

Several paintings also illustrate military misfortunes. The striking Captain Colin Mackenzie of the Madras Army lately taken hostage in Caubool in his Affghan dress (1842), by James Sant, depicts the Assistant Political Agent at Peshawar sent to Kabul in 1840, during the First Afghan War, and taken hostage by Akbar Khan. One of the most popular paintings in the gallery is the Battle of Isandlwana (1885) by Charles Fripp, illustrating one of the worst disasters to befall the army in the late 19th century, when the 24th regiment was massacred by some 20,000 Zulus. On a more positive note, the dramatic Buller’s Final Crossing of the Tugela depicts a key moment in February 1900 during the relief of Ladysmith. The Relief of Ladysmith on 27th February 1900, by John H. Bacon, is known as the ‘Bovril War Picture’, because photogravures of the painting were offered free in 1901 to purchasers of 21 shillings-worth of Bovril.

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Gravatar: MuseumMuseum
14.04.2015
09:48
Update from National Army Museum

The National Army Museum in London is currently closed for refurbishment until approximately Autumn 2016.

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MUSEUMS & GALLERIES OF LONDON

Details below are taken from our Blue Guide Museums and Galleries of London.  This is a 2005 title, here generally updated for website address and opening times, with useful comments from some of the museums themselves.  More recent information is given in Emily Barber's magisterial new Blue Guide London, "Exceptional update to a classic and useful guide to this amazing city" (Amazon reader review).

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