Maritime and Naval Museums in Britain and Ireland
Compiled by Martin H. Evans and Janet West. © 2013.

 

Introduction, explanations and general information.
Contents:

Introduction Non-museum historic vessels Authentication and valuations
Telephone number formats Museums' web-site access Opening days
Admission costs and access Shops and catering Reference and guide books
Abbreviations explained Disclaimer and Copyright

 

Our web-site is not a detailed guide to collections. It is primarily a check-list with location and contact addresses, web links and terse summaries of the exhibits and facilities. It just presents information, primarily in text form, without unnecessary decoration. Images are deliberately avoided, except in the map pages, to minimize downloading time. The site does not use audio, frames or javascript and should be accessible to any browser capable of handling xhtml files.

The main list includes museums and museum-ships, listed in alphabetical order of their usual name. "The Museum of Xyz" is indexed under "Xyz" and not under "Museum" or "The". Naval or ex-naval vessels are given the prefix HMS but are indexed under the vessel's name and not under "HMS". At present, HMS VICTORY is the only museum ship properly entitled to the HMS prefix, as she is still a commissioned Royal Naval vessel. Other vessels that were once RN vessels are given a courtesy prefix of 'HMS' to indicate their past history, although they are now decommissioned.

Note on usage: it is a grammatical error to prefix "HMS" with the definite article ("The"). "HMS" is an abbreviation for "His/Her Majesty's Ship" and it would be a solecism to write or say, for example: "Nelson's flagship was the His Majesty's Ship VICTORY". If the acronym HMS is omitted, in informal use, then it is acceptable to write or say: "The Victory was Nelson's flagship". Current RN personnel often refer to ships by main name only, eg: "Kent" for HMS KENT. However, with so many current warships named after cities (EDINBURGH, ST ALBANS, MONTROSE, etc) this could lead to misunderstandings if used generally.

Note on dimensions: most of the measurements given in this web-site are in standard British units. There are 12 inches in one foot, and one foot is approximately equal to 0.3048 metres. The British land mile equals 1760 yards (5280 feet) or about 1.6093 kilometres.

If you know the name of the museum you want, you can jump to its initial letter in the main list and scroll down from there. If you want the names of museums in specific regions of the British Isles, then go to the regional index or to the map pages, from where you can jump to the appropriate museum entry. In some addresses the County or Shire name is given in brackets. This indicates that the museum is located within a Unitary Authority, created relatively recently from part of the named county, but now independent of it. The old county name is included here as an aid to locating the region on a map of Britain.

This website lists over 290 Naval and Maritime Museums in Britain, Ireland and the adjacent islands. Naval museums include Royal Marines (RM) and Fleet Air Arm (FAA) collections. Civil maritime sites include Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), local and national museums with collections related to fisheries, trade, shipbuilding, inland waterways, Customs and Excise, marine biology, maritime exploration and other nautical interests. The list is not exhaustive: many coastal towns have museums with some material related to fishing and the sea. This web-site is intended primarily to offer contact addresses, telephone numbers etc. and links to other web-sites with more detailed information. We include an indication of which days a museum is likely to be open, and give a terse outline of the museum's displays and related facilities.

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NMV: Not a Museum Vessel. This is a category that includes privately owned classic vessels that either belong to preservation trusts, or are still earning their keep by being actively used for charter, hire, corporate hospitality, etc. We used to maintain a separate list of some of these vessels, but this list has been discontinued, with effect from February 2013.

Historic Vessels:

The National Historic Ships Committee was set up in 1992 to create a database of the historic vessels existing in Britain and to assess and evaluate preservation efforts. It was able to advise government departments and other relevant organizations. At the time, the database was restricted to British-built or British-owned vessels that had been built before 1945 and which were at least 40 tons displacement or 40 feet in length.
The work begun by the NHSC has now been continued by the National Historic Ships organization, with a somewhat wider remit. There are now about 1000 vessels on the National Register of Historic Vessels and there is a parallel National Archive of Historic Vessels. The criteria for inclusion have been extended: vessels must be at least 50 years old, more than 33 feet (10.07 m) LOA and there is also a National Small Boat Register. The vessels are now grouped into sub-classes. The National Historic Fleet lists over 200 significant vessels and within this category there is a Core Collection of the most important heritage vessels - at present about 60 ships and boats.
The majority of the vessels on the National Register are privately or commercially owned and are not necessarily accessible to the public. They are not to be regarded as museum vessels. These latter comprise only a small fraction of the Register.
The National Small Boat Register is maintained by the National Maritime Museum Cornwall.

People who might like to sail on a classic vessel may find useful information in periodicals such as the British monthly magazines Classic Boat (Leon House, 233 High Street, Croydon, Surrey CR9 1HZ, England), and Traditional Boats and Tall Ships (Wild Publishing, 22a Iliffe Yard, London SE17 3QA, England). There is a useful list of web-sites for classic boat societies and magazines at the web-site for the Essex smack "Pioneer"

A new organisation, the Maritime Heritage Trust, has been formed from the merger of "Heritage Afloat" and the Maritime Trust. Its primary purpose is to extend support for owners of operational historic vessels in the UK, helping them to lobby for support from British national and regional Government departments, heritage bodies, tourism and educational groups. It will work closely with the National Historic Ships organisation (see above). It will continue to belong to The Heritage Alliance and the Domestic Passenger Ship Steering Group. It will be the UK representative on the board of European Maritime Heritage (see below).

European Maritime Heritage is an organization that works to coordinate practical considerations, especially in the sailing of classic vessels, within the different national regulations of European countries. Differing Health and Safety regulations in the countries of the European Community pose problems for those who might wish to sail a classic vessel from one country to another. The web-site is at: http://www.european-maritime-heritage.org/

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Authentication and Valuations:

We are not in any position to offer even vague guesses about the value of maritime art or artefacts. Anyone who wants expert opinion on the authenticity of some item in their possession should in the first instance take the item to a suitable museum, after making an appointment. Photographs, however good, are seldom sufficient to make a judgement. An experienced curator would probably be able to authenticate (or otherwise) a 'collectible' object, but could not be expected to offer a valuation.

An auction house that has experience of maritime and naval art and antiques will usually be prepared to suggest a range of values within which an object might sell for. In Britain, regular sales of marine art (and in some cases maritime collectibles) are held at the following London auction houses (in alphabetical order):

Bonhams: 101 New Bond Street, London, W1S 1SR
web-site: http://www.bonhams.com/
email: info@bonhams.com
Tel: +44 (0)20 7447 7447
Fax: +44 (0)20 7447 7400
That is the head saleroom address. Bonhams has other locations in Britain and abroad.

Charles Miller Ltd: Suite 6 Imperial Studios, 3/11 Imperial Road, London SW6 2AG
web-site: http://www.charlesmillerltd.com/
email: enquiries@charlesmillerltd.com
Tel: +44 (0)207 806 5530
Fax: +44 (0)207 806 5531
Charles Miller Ltd specialise in the sale of maritime and scientific antiques and art. The sales are normally at 25 Blythe Road, London W14 0PD.

Christie's: 8 King Street, St James's, London SW1Y 6QT
web-site: http://www.christies.com/about/
email: info@christies.com
Tel: +44 (0)20 7839 9060
That is Christie's main saleroom address. The marine paintings sales are often held at their South Kensington saleroom.

Sotheby's: 34-35 New Bond Street, London W1A 2AA
web-site: http://www.sothebys.com/en.html
Tel: +44 (0)20 7293 5000
That is the main auctionroom address. Marine paintings are included in fine art sales; 'collectibles' are not catered for. Sotheby's has many other locations in the British Isles and worldwide for auction rooms and agents.

The Barnebys web-site usefully lists many auction houses and sale-rooms in Britain, with current details.

There are also very many provincial and smaller auction houses, who might be able to give valuations and advise on sales or purchases.

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Telephone and Fax numbers:

AH: Telephone number for after-hours 'phone calls.
GV/SE: ditto for information on Group Visits/Special Events.

Note: some Special Event 'hotline' numbers (eg: those UK ones beginning with 015230, 0331, 0336, 0338, 0660, 08364, 0839, 0870, 0890 to 0898, 0930, 0991 and a few others) are charged at premium-rates and might not be accessible to callers outside the UK. Details of the charges for special numbers are available from BT (British Telecom) as a downloadable PDF document:
http://www.productsandservices.bt.com/consumer/consumerProducts/pdf/SpecialisedNos.pdf

All main telephone and fax numbers are now given in the international format of:

For the UK: +44 (0) AreaCodeNumber PhoneNumber
For Eire: +353 (0) AreaCodeNumber PhoneNumber

In this format the (0) indicates a zero that is ignored when calling to (code)44 or (code)353 from outside the British Isles, but must be prefixed to the area code number when dialling within Britain or the Republic of Ireland respectively. (The local area code number format may still be found for incidental phone numbers in other fields).

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Museum and unofficial Internet URLs, and e-mail access:

Web sites with information about individual museums have their web addresses listed under the name of the museum. Many are official sites, with e-mail access to the museum; others are unofficial ones maintained by tourist organisations or enthusiasts, that allow no electronic access to the museum. Sites with less information about a museum than is included in the present list are not mentioned, unless they have a useful total amount of information about other related matters. If you find a new and better link or if you find that one of our links has 'died' we would be grateful if you could let us know.

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Opening days: Sometimes we only indicate which days a museum opens. Some museums have different opening hours for each day of the week, and sometimes opening hours are changed at short notice. In some cases we give the opening times recently quoted but these cannot be guaranteed. If a museum has a regularly updated web-site, look to see if the current opening hours and admission charges are given there, and telephone for confirmation if there might be any doubt and you are planning to make a significant journey. Many museums cease admitting visitors 30 - 60 minutes before closing time.

Even museums listed as opening "Daily" will normally close over the Christmas holiday period, and maybe other public holidays, such as New Year and Easter. Museums manned by volunteers may open for only about 2 hours on the days listed, and opening may be curtailed or cancelled if a local volunteer cannot turn up. In some museums "Health and Safety at Work" regulations require a minimum of two attendants, and if one fails to turn up the museum may have to close without notice. If a museum opens on Sundays it will often be in the afternoon only. Never make a long journey to any museum without first confirming its precise opening hours for the time you wish to visit.

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Admission charges: These are not given because they change too often. The old British cultural tradition of free entry to all museums became impossible to maintain, through chronic under-funding and government economic policies that began in the 1970s. Many little village museums now charge about 50 pence to 2 pounds. Larger museums charge several pounds for a multiple-entry ticket to a major site with several separate attractions. There are usually cheaper concessions for students, the retired and others with no earned income. New government policies now allow many major museums in England and Wales to open free of charge. Some other museums allow free access, but depend upon generous voluntary donations at the door to keep going. Please donate a minimum of one pound per visitor to a small museum: this is the least that they need to cover overhead costs even with unpaid volunteer attendants. A larger one will need more. The situation, including official policy, is constantly changing. If a museum has its own web-site the admission charges will usually be given there.

Access for the disabled: More and more museums are adapting their structures to improve access for those in wheelchairs, etc. In some cases (eg: lighthouses, old buildings and some museum vessels) it is not possible for disabled visitors to have full access. Please enquire from the museum what facilities there are for disabled visitors if this is important to you, as it is not something that we record. Many museums now include this information in their web-sites.

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Shops and catering: Most museums sell booklets and souvenirs; the larger ones often have an on-site shop selling books, art reproductions, models, etc, and the income generated helps the museum. Many also have a cafeteria or catering facility for light meals, or there may be a restaurant nearby. We have not listed this information; enquire from the museum if it is important to you.

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Reference and Guide Books:

By the nature of book publishing, all guide books are liable to be slightly out of date in a few details by the time they are on sale. At present, "Maritime Britain: a celebration of Britain's maritime heritage" by Paul Heiney (Adlard Coles Nautical, London, 2005; ISBN 10:0-7136-7091-6 or ISBN 13:978-0-7136-7091-2) seems to be the most recent guidebook. It covers in excellent detail the coastal museums of England, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man, and is very well illustrated. It does not cover most of the inland waterway collections, nor the Irish museums.

Anthony Burton's "The Daily Telegraph Guide to Britain's Maritime Past" (Aurum Press: London: 2003. ISBN 185410909X or 1854109200) now seems to be out of print, though some bookshops have copies. It is a comprehensive guide to maritime collections and museum vessels in the UK (Ireland is not covered and some inland waterway museums are omitted). The museum entries are interspersed with general historical information and it is well illustrated. Christine Redington's "A Guide to the Small Museums of Britain" (Tauris: London and New York: 2002. ISBN 1860646239) is also useful, with directions for access. It includes several small maritime museums in the UK, but is not at all comprehensive.

Older guides, including Keith Wheatley's "The National Maritime Museum Guide to Maritime Britain" (1990), the volumes in the HMSO series: "Exploring Museums" and a printed version of our list published by Chatham Publishing in 1998, are now out of date.

David Saunders' "Britain's maritime memorials and mementoes" (Patrick Stephens: Sparkford: 1996. ISBN 1852604662) is an extensive illustrated compilation of over 1400 assorted naval and maritime memorials in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.

"A Guide to Military Museums and other places of military interest" by Terence and Shirley Wise (Terence Wise/Imperial Press: Knighton: 2001) was a very useful book with its details about admission, travelling directions and other places of interest in the area. The 10th edition (2001) seems to have been the last revision, and copies are now hard to find.

The current "Museums and Galleries Yearbook" (The Museums Association, 24 Calvin Street, London E1 6NW; www.museumsassociation.org) is invaluable for administrative details, but it gives little information about the collections and is not a guide book. A few museums in this list are not in the Yearbook.

Shire Publications have a series of inexpensive small books that serve as good introductions to many topics. They usually have suggestions for places to visit and a bibliography. There are now about 17 maritime and inland-waterway titles in their list. A few are getting a bit out of date, but they reissue revisions from time to time. Shire are now part of Osprey Publishing, Midland House, West Way, Botley, Oxford OX2 0PH. You can see their list at: http://www.shirebooks.co.uk

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Abbreviations:

ARC: Archives and/or Reserve Collection held for research.
AV: Audio-Visual Displays used.
BA: By appointment, or by prior arrangement.
BH: Bank Holidays (ie Public Holidays).
DB: Database of information on site.
Edu: Educational facilities. (maybe BA)
GV: Group Visits can be arranged. (maybe BA)
Lib: Library on site. (maybe BA)
LOA: Length Overall. Usually excludes bowsprit and other spars.
MM/IMM: Multimedia/Interactive Multimedia displays.
NHF: In the National Historic Fleet, National Register of Historic Vessels.
NHF-CC: In the Core Collection of the National Historic Fleet, National Register of Historic Vessels.
NMV: Not Museum Vessel (see note above).
NT: The National Trust Organization.
PoW: Prisoner of War (usually Napoleonic period).
RML: Rifled Muzzle Loader (cannon).

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Although much effort has been made to achieve accuracy, there is no guarantee that this list is free from errors, and details may change at short notice. The information on these pages is for general guidance only and we cannot be held responsible for disappointments or wasted expenses because of changes or circumstances not noted in the entries. Please keep us informed of any corrections, additions or other necessary changes. We are always grateful for information. All the data listed here are believed to be in the public domain.

We maintain these pages as a voluntary, part-time, academic activity and we cannot undertake any paid or unpaid research. While we will try to answer straightforward queries concerning the maritime collections in the British Isles, we cannot give any guidance on questions related to nautical aspects of family history research. Family genealogists should direct their enquiries to the discussion lists Mariners-L and TheShipsList-L, mentioned near the end of the list of links to other maritime web-sites.

The material on this page carries no approval by or official sanction from the University of Cambridge or any of its Colleges, Departments or other Institutions, who have no responsibility for its contents or any inaccuracies.

Copyright 2013 by Martin H. Evans and Janet West. Permission is hereby granted to copy or print this list for non-profit personal or educational use. Permission is also given to copy or link to this list on World-Wide Web servers, if the list is used in full, including this copyright notice, and if the URL is given in full. You may use or redistribute shorter sections for non-profit personal or educational purposes, provided that this copyright notice and acknowledgement of the source is included. Any other use is prohibited without the explicit permission of Martin H. Evans and Janet West.

This page revised by Dr. Martin H. Evans on 9th December 2013.

Dr Janet West.
Scott Polar Research Institute,
University of Cambridge,
Lensfield Road,
Cambridge CB2 1ER,
England


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