National Army Museum reopens to public following £23.75 million makeover

By Jon Bauckham, 30 March 2017 - 2:52pm

The free Chelsea museum has undergone a major revamp, featuring five new permanent galleries that tell the story of the British Army from past to present

The National Army Museum has welcomed its first visitors since 2014 (Credit: Paul Raftery)

London’s National Army Museum (NAM) has reopened its doors to the public following a £23.75 million refurbishment project.

Unveiled on Thursday 30 March, the free museum boasts an array of new exhibits and state-of-the-art facilities, telling the story of the British Army over the past 400 years.

Across five thematic galleries, visitors can learn about the relationship between Army, culture and society, and how the nation’s military endeavours have affected the rest of the world.

The experience is aided by more than 2,500 historic objects from the museum’s archive collections – some on display for the first time – such as uniforms and paintings dating back to the English Civil War.

The interior of the museum has been completely redesigned, creating a light and airy atrium that offers access to five permanent galleries (Credit: Paul Raftery)

More unusual treasures include ‘Crimean Tom’, a cat adopted as a pet by soldiers during the Crimean War, as well as the Victoria Cross won by soldier James McGuire during the Indian Mutiny, which was revoked after he was convicted of stealing his uncle’s cow.

Interactive digital exhibits also provide a first-person glimpse into soldiers’ lives over the centuries, allowing visitors to try their hand at driving a tank or being drilled in marching.

“The new museum is a bright, contemporary space where visitors of all ages can learn about the British Army past and present,” said Janice Murray, director general of the NAM.

“The galleries provide a space to explore and discuss the Army and its relevance to society in ways that we may not imagine – from fashion and films to flood defences and, of course, conflict.”

The 'Insight' gallery looks at the impact the British Army has had around the world, and the nations it has fought both alongside and against (Credit: Richard Lea-Hair)

Crucially for those hoping to learn about the lives of their Army ancestors, the museum’s Templer Study Centre has also undergone extensive refurbishment.

The new, more welcoming environment with computer terminals will encourage visitors to research their military forebears and increase access to the Soldiers’ Effects Records, dating up to 1960, held by the museum. There will also be quarterly photo identification sessions.

Additionally, discovering the on-site collections has been made easier thanks to a revamped website, which incorporates an archive catalogue and millions of digitised items, including postcards, diaries, and photos.

Neon signs in the museum's 'Society' gallery reveal Army slang terms that have made their way into civilian culture (Credit: Jon Bauckham)

The redevelopment of the Chelsea museum has been made possible thanks to support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which provided nearly half (£11.5 million) of the total costs. 

By modernising the 1960s building and creating a more accessible and flexible environment, museum bosses hope to welcome at least 400,000 visitors each year by 2026.

Sir Peter Luff, chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund, said the site had been “quite literally transformed”.

“The National Army Museum has always been a great place to learn about the British Army’s role in military and civilian life, but it now has an inspiring new energy and purpose," he said.

“The clean, spacious design should please regular visitors and also attract a whole new audience.”

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