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"National Army Museum, London" Topic

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1,242 hits since 4 Jan 2018
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP04 Jan 2018 5:10 a.m. PST

I was very critical of the decision to close the National Army Museum for a two year refurbishment, especially as it coincided with plans to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.

Worse, we learnt that it was going to be more "inter-active", "hands on", "socially aware" etc.

Well it was pouring down in London yesterday and Mrs F could be persuaded to jump into a taxi and go anywhere to escape the rain. So Chelsea we headed.

Humble Pie. I admit when I get something wrong. The new look museum is different and, indeed, the impression is that there is less on display, but far better shown. The stuff for the kids is really good and, when no one was working, I got a chance to play with a simulation of a bolt-action rifle. OK, not quite up to the Old Contemptibles standard and modesty forbids………

But the Napoleonic section has gained much. I do not recall the ensign from Albuera, I have never ever before seen anything claiming to be the very cloak that DoW wore at Waterloo (that I still wonder about). The eagle of 105th is still there, but now you also get the accompanying banner and cravats…..faded to white. A Light cavalry dolman and waistcoat from Waterloo is new and Siborne's model is much easier to view now. OK, we have lost the striking mannequins of the Rifleman, of Ewart and (the best I recall) the Zulu warrior.

The new NAM is far better than I expected and I suspect the displays will be constantly changing. It is a great family day out now.

Red358404 Jan 2018 7:44 a.m. PST

I've still never been there despite living in London for 30 years…must go this year.

RudyNelson04 Jan 2018 8:18 a.m. PST

Back in 1981, that was my main visitation location while I visited London. I greatly enjoyed it then. Especially the souvenir shop.
Glad they updated it. Sad I will never see it again.

wrgmr104 Jan 2018 9:03 a.m. PST

Just added to the bucket list, thanks Liam!

JARROVIAN Supporting Member of TMP04 Jan 2018 9:05 a.m. PST

I you're going there, then go next door, to The Royal Hospital, and view the Chelsea Pensioners museum. Best collection of badges, helmet plates and medals that I have seen for a long while, plus other paintings and artifacts.

von Winterfeldt04 Jan 2018 9:45 a.m. PST

Also see at Chelsea Pensioners the captured French guns.

foxweasel04 Jan 2018 9:52 a.m. PST

I went last year and combined it with the Salute weekend, I enjoyed it so much I'm going to do the same again this year.

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP04 Jan 2018 10:49 a.m. PST

Oh yes, next door and the display of French eagles…impressive but cheating. They were not taken in battle and they are not regimental as I recall…but that was quite some time ago.

The new NAM is far, far, better for families and for someone with only a passing interest in things military….to suddenly be really entertained. I get the impression it will be far more "dynamic" with constantly changing features. The regimental flag from Albuera got me…seventysomething of foot…..

DoW's cloak……HMMM. I did see his Waterloo sword (convincingly plain black with simple brass fittings) displayed in the small Wellington Arch exhibition in 2015….and that surprised me +++.

I must stop being so cynical about modern trends and media……maybe this Facebook thing revisit I should.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP04 Jan 2018 11:16 a.m. PST

Promising "dynamic" is relatively low-cost. Actually changing exhibits requires money, and didn't we just give you a big chunk for the renovation?

But if I ever make it back to London, I'll certainly have a look. It was always fun before.

Deadhead, cynicism is the only honest way to view "modern trends." Yeah, you'll be wrong now and then--about one time in twenty is my guess. But an abundance of buzzwords usually denotes a lack of thought. I get cold chills down my spine every time someone offers to make something I like more "relevant."

Duc de Brouilly04 Jan 2018 11:40 a.m. PST

Hate to be the party pooper but I was appalled by what I saw on my visit to the re-opened museum last year.

To my eyes it looked like a café, shop and children's play area with a few temporary exhibitions tacked on. Café, shop and play area really are central to the new museum: both in terms of the amount of floor space they take up and where they've been placed: the café is literally in the heart of the museum. Yet they've stuck the wonderful Siborne model in a corner, so you can't even walk around it and seen the battlefield from each side!

All the galleries are now arranged according to the ‘thematic' trend. Fine for a temporary exhibition but it's no longer possible to trace the history and development of the British army through the collection (something which, for all is faults, you could do with the old museum).

Alas, the designers, marketing managers and management consultants have triumphed, and the victim is a great national collection.

I've been going to the NAM for some 40 years now, since I was first taken there as a schoolboy by my Dad. I'm afraid I'm not planning on visiting again, any time soon. Won't be taking the kids there either: they deserve better too!

MaggieC7004 Jan 2018 1:34 p.m. PST

My only visit to the NAM was in 1992, where an enormous banner trumpeting "The Road to Waterloo" floated over the entrance. I was underwhelmed. The best thing in the entire museum was Crimean Tom.

On the other hand, I've been to the Imperial War Museum half a dozen times or more, and adore it. Can't top the experiences of climbing in WWI tanks and biplanes, and the trench warfare and blitz experiences are first-rate. Nothing like that on this side on the Atlantic.

Fred Mills04 Jan 2018 3:20 p.m. PST

Thank you all for the interesting field reports. I have not revisited yet, since the re-opening, but have been there maybe half a dozen times over the years. I enjoyed every visit immensely, and my conversations with the superb staff and docents. I especially loved the Napoleonic material. But I also thought it was a sad, neglected, under-funded attic – over-stuffed with material (much of it second-rate) and poorly displayed to boot. There was virtually nothing to engage anyone who accompanied me that wasn't a complete history nerd, and therefore it was a virtual write-off as a family or group visit. Finally, aside from books, I had never found anything of interest in the shop. Many modern military museums have vastly exceeded that level of unidirectional service – the USMC in Virginia, the AWM in Canberra, the CWM in Ottawa, the German army museum, not to mention Péronne, Ypres, Stockholm, Berlin, the Royal Armouries, the new IWM London, Bovington, and many, many others. I loved the former NAM and visited every time I could, regardless of what I took to be its many faults. I hope the new version does even better and presents even more reasons for me not to miss it on my next trip.

I'll be especially interested in seeing how they balance theme with chronology: the former can be very attractive as an organizing principle, but the latter is tough to beat as a clear and accessible way of explaining complex human events to visitors. Each has its adherents, and each is better for some things than for others. Thanks again for the information.

dibble Supporting Member of TMP04 Jan 2018 9:00 p.m. PST

Here's my response after visiting on May 23rd 2017:

"Well I can tell you that for all the £23.75 GBPm ($30m) in redevelopment spent on it, the N.A.M has taken a turn for the worse. as I feared, P.C, Pop and TV culture has taken centre stage, very few exhibits on show and you can walk round the entire museum in twenty minutes.

The museum shop has very little to offer (Though I brought a copy of Nigel Sale's 'The Lie at the Heart of the Battle of Waterloo)

There are exhibits which are not labeled or not informative enough, for instance, the grand portrait of the Marquis of Grandby is devoid of any accompanying information, and for anyone to find out who the picture is of, one has to look to a display case to it's right where they will see a porcelain figure of the same person with his name. The Napoleonic uniforms and relics number about a couple of dozen and even here they label William Polhill's dress jacket worn at the battle without stating what regiment he belonged to. As for the rest of the relics before 1700, there are very few.

But what makes this revamp doubly disappointing as far as I'm concerned, is that the Time Machine exhibits are no longer on display. These were the full-life Gerry Embleton figures which were both fantastic and so lifelike. Here is a link to the work that they do. What a loss they are! The Corunna vignette of a wife struggling through the snow, bent double with her husband on her back. The heavy dragoon K.G.L in his long foul-weather, oil-cloth lined coat and covered bi-corn. The 95th Rifleman taking aim from behind a tree trunk. (now housed in the R.G.J museum in Winchester) The recruiting sergeant in his finery, rosettes and streamers in his shako and a cane in the hand of his out-stretched arm. And an excellent depiction of a WWI tommy…

The Museum has missed a trick with the Siborne Waterloo battlefield diorama model too. OK, It's in as good a condition as it has ever been but why oh why did they not display it in a manner where it could be walked completely around instead of being shoved in a corner as they have decided to do here.

If anyone is planning a visit, (I used to recommend it to anyone visiting but I can't any longer) I hope you enjoy the couple of dozen neon pub-sign type displays on one of the walls, the huge, empty entrance and reception area (and boy do I mean Huge). Oh! I asked for a Museum brochure and was politely told that they hadn't got one at the moment due to problems with the publishers

I thought that when I got there I would be pleasantly surprised; I was surprised but the pleasant part was non-existant, infact I was disgusted.

So If you happen to be caught out in the rain in passing the Museum, you should have a look around, if the weather is anything else…..Walk on by.

I used to love this Museum, I can't now!

I give it 1/5"


JARROVIAN Supporting Member of TMP05 Jan 2018 2:32 a.m. PST

Unfortunately this seems to be the trend for all 'modern' museums.
Newcastle upon Tyne used to boast the Hancock Museum, a large Victorian pile. It was a place of wonder as a child, stuffed full of natural history collections of stuffed birds, fish and animals, huge collections of geology samples, shells, insects and fauna, fossils, some paleontological and world tribal exhibits. In addition there was some quirky Egyptology exhibits.
Again in Newcastle was the Kings College Museum of Antiquities in the university, devoted to the ancient history of the area, particularly the Roman Wall and associated Roman sites, free to all, and the Greek Museum, quite small, and accessed by prior appointment with the curator, but containing some excellent exhibits including a Sarissa butt spike and two sets of early Oscan armour.
Now all of this has been moved to the Hancock, renamed, The Great North Museum, and completely butchered in my opinion.
Most of the old museum has been dumbed down and exhibits thinned out. Where every piece of floor and wall space was utilised previously, there are now large areas of free space and bare walls. Many exhibits have been replaced with interactive exhibits aimed at younger children, such as 'feel this, count this' types. The core of the Roman museum has survived but many exhibits appear to have gone adrift. Labelling is poor, and often there are no translations of Latin inscriptions. Chronology is almost non existent.
The Egyptian and Greek sections have come out of it slightly better, being more openly displayed.
In all, the current museum is a huge disappointment.

arthur181505 Jan 2018 2:52 a.m. PST

I'm horrified to learn that so many of the Embleton figures are no longer there! And has old Crimean Tom been spared?
I used to love visiting NAM with my son and my history pupils.
Such is 'progress'…

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP05 Jan 2018 3:44 a.m. PST

Fascinating extremes of response, but I agree with both!

The canteen does excellent coffee and croissants, but is vast. Its price, in Chelsea, seems to attract quite a trade outwith museum visitors. The reception area I would also agree is a huge open empty space and I must admit overall NAM could indeed be described as dumbed down.

As an enthusiast, I do miss the old set up, but did welcome some new exhibits. Old Tom is still there (let's face it, if you want to appeal to kids…….) I am so sorry to hear the Rifleman is gone for good. I still recall Ewart on foot and above all the Zulu whose eyes followed you. Siborne's model…a good point re the Prussian side being less accessible (Duke of W's doing surely)but the exhibit is far easier to view overall. Esp the glass has far less internal reflection now.

The Museum shop carries far, far, fewer books. The museum, far fewer exhibits.

and yet, my wife found it fascinating, having only come with me due to the rain. Sociology is not my thing, the "compleat (sic) soldier experience" I can leave, the plethora of hands on activities could annoy. It is worth an hour for a TMP member, but the younger family will love it.

Anyone ever visited the tiny Household Cavalry Museum on HGP? A real little treasure still

foxweasel05 Jan 2018 7:21 a.m. PST

That's the thing with museums, if you want people to visit they have to be interesting to all. To wargamers and history buffs the IWM and NAM have to a degree been "dumbed down" But they are now far more attractive to families and the type of person who probably wouldn't have gone in before, my daughter would have been bored rigid with the old NAM but she enjoyed her visit. The biggest issue is that if they only attract the old and bold, there will soon be no museums and the youngsters won't care as they never knew.

Vallerotonda05 Jan 2018 8:16 a.m. PST

I'm afraid that I am one of those who feel that the new Army Museum has lost its charm with the changes . I felt the same about the Imperial war Museum . There is much less on show to catch the imaginación of those ( of all ages ) who are interested in history . I suppose that is the price I pay for being politically incorrect .

Windy Miller05 Jan 2018 8:27 a.m. PST

I really must pay a visit next time I'm in London, haven't been for years! All those bemoaning the loss of the Rifleman by the way, fear not. He's moved to a new home, or rather to his spiritual home – the Rifles Museum in Winchester.

Northern Monkey06 Jan 2018 3:37 a.m. PST

Museums in the UK are, almost universally, in the grip of management who feel the need to modernise them by making them attractive to children. In doing so they utterly dumb down the contents to the point of making them trivial. However, they don't care as the coffee shop is making them more money than ever and that balances the books.

The idea that adults would visit seeking serious information is an anathema to the management and the PC brigade have been very successful in removing anything military or "warlike" from the displays. This is historical vandalism on a national scale.

dibble Supporting Member of TMP06 Jan 2018 12:40 p.m. PST

Northern Monkey

I agree!

I also said this on another site before the visit:

"I see that the P.C correct, liberal-lefty post-graduates finally got their 'project' for the all new National Army Museum up and running.

I have been to this museum many times and thought it the (along with Des Invalides in Paris) the best there is.

I was worried when the powers that be decided to close the museum for a three year refurbishment from 2014 to 2017, seeing as the closure coincided with huge significant centenary, bicentenary and Sexcentenary dates, namely the outbreak of WWI, the battle of the Somme, battle of Waterloo/end of the Napoleonic Wars. and Agincourt. But it seems that 'afaiac' my fears have been born out.

I'm going there tomorrow so will report back with my thoughts, but going by what I've seen in the link above, I may be fuming!"

Paul :(

Cuirassier06 Jan 2018 12:55 p.m. PST

Two relics mentioned by deadhead…


This is the sword carried at the Battle of Waterloo by the Duke of Wellington.




Wellington's cloak




Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP06 Jan 2018 12:55 p.m. PST

Oh this was never remotely like La Musee de l'Armee at Les Invalides…NAM even at its best. Some of us recall trips to Paris to find the bits we most wanted to see closed for years, for renovation, but reopening genuinely improved it. I recall 1815-something closed for years and, on another occasion, the ground floor cavalry mannequins closed. Once, opposite there was a second room, same size, to show flags, standards, trophies captured etc….wonderful.

I still think the responses have been fascinating and there has not been one yet I could not agree with. Even 'er indoors does so, tho' she loved it. She is bright enough to understand what is lost, but, as a Mom and one who has led school trips she also knows what will get kids interested.

We are all right. They need to sell the coffee (the museum is free). They cannot survive on folks like us…we are dinosaurs!

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP06 Jan 2018 1:00 p.m. PST

Oh wow.

Our messages have superimposed.

Cuirassier's. If these are right…how incredible are they?

What is the provenance?

I saw the sword in the Wellington Arch special exhibition for 1815, but have never, ever, ever, seen it shown before….anywhere else.

The cloak astonished me and doubts immediately assailed me…same reason. I always imagined his cloak with a cape, to cover the shoulders, but can accept that would have likely been sleeved and not so easy to slip on and off all day as DoW stated. This does have a civilian look. If this is the real thing….it is incredible….and I do not mean unbelievable by that word….I hope

dibble Supporting Member of TMP06 Jan 2018 8:57 p.m. PST


When I have the time, I'll post pictures of some of Gerry Embleton's exhibits that used to be on display at the N.A.M.

Paul :)

von Winterfeldt07 Jan 2018 7:27 a.m. PST

Is there any miniature out which shows the Duke of Wellington in this cloak? – I mean – no cape and short of collar which can be painted black?

dibble Supporting Member of TMP09 Jan 2018 6:02 a.m. PST

Here are those Jerry Embleton 'Time Machine' Mannequin pictures.

And a couple of magazine covers:

I have more on the front cover and in the issue no 23 Military Illustrated. When I 'get hold of it' I'll post more of his works.

Paul :)

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP09 Jan 2018 7:22 a.m. PST

How could I have forgotten the Guardsman at Waterloo?

Your pictures remind me of how much we have lost.

I persist in trying to see some silver lining, in attracting the complete novice to visit and, maybe, be inspired. But those figures would have been sensational to any schoolkid, as well as to us. A tailor's dummy to display a jacket in a glass case is just not the same.

I wonder if a message to NAM is called for. Maybe some of these are still in storage?

dibble Supporting Member of TMP09 Jan 2018 3:34 p.m. PST

They are probably too militaristic for liberal sensibilities.

They have a huge, empty foyer at the museum – they would look and would be ideal for that area, but don't hold your breath as it seems that realistic portrayal may upset people.

Paul :)

dibble Supporting Member of TMP11 Jan 2018 9:24 a.m. PST

More Gerry Embleton 'Illustrations in three dimensions' Pictures. The Swiss themed ones were not at the N.A.M.

His Brother Ron was also a well known illustrator.


If you google 'Ronald Embleton 'Oh! Wicked Wanda' then press images, you will see what else he was good at illustrating….

PS. I have contacted the museum pertaining the mannequins and will let you all know what they said.

Paul :)

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