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.
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), 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.)
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. In early March 2017, the Queen reopened the Museum, marking the completion of the three-year renovation.
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.Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Bernard Appleby 1971–1975
John Paris 1975–1982
William Reid 1982–1988
Ian Robertson 1988–2003†
Dr Alan Guy 2003–2010
Janice Murray 2010–
† = Died in post
Prior to the 2014 closure, the National Army Museum's galleries were arranged as follows:Main temporary exhibition space (ground floor)
Making of Britain 1066–1783 (corridor from ground to 1st floor)
Changing The World 1784–1904 (1st floor)
World Wars 1905–1945 (corridor from 1st to 2nd floor; 2nd floor)
National Service 1947–1963 (permanent display – corridor from 2nd to 3rd floor; temporary display – corridor from 3rd to 4th floor)
Conflicts of Interest (3rd floor)
Art Gallery (3rd floor)
The White Space (temporary displays – 3rd floor)
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) Helmand: The Soldiers' Story (from August 2007 to August 2009, on soldiers' current experiences in Helmand province during the current conflict in Afghanistan) 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). 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 (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. The final display in the space was 'Unseen Enemy', on IEDs in Afghanistan/
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.
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.
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) and 'Faces of Battle' on early plastic surgery by Harold Gillies (2007–2008).
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.
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. The campaigns it examined included the Gulf War, Kosovo the Bosnian War, the Falklands War and the current conflict in Afghanistan. The Conflicts of Interest gallery opened on 12 September 2009 and was long-listed for the Art Fund Prize in 2010.
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.