Tuesday, 6 May 2014

National Army Museum Closure / Spanish Army Museum Exhibition

There has been a big kerfuffle on TMP over the last week or so as people realised that the National Army Museum in Chelsea is closing for two years for a complete refurbishment. I only realised a couple of weeks ago when I was looking to see what the monthly lecture programme was over the Summer (short answer - for the next two years, there isn't one) - so the closure hasn't been publicised very well at all.

Essentially, the story is that the NAM has been looking for funding to redevelop the site for years but very little cash was forthcoming. Now that the centenary of WWI is here someone thought it a good idea to finally give the NAM the dosh - so the NAM will be closed for 2014-2015 for construction work. Evidently the Museum will be lending their WWI exhibits to other museums throughout the country - but the NAM website doesn't give any real specifics, merely referring to "outreach projects" and such - it doesn't sound very ambitious.

Apart from the exhibition areas the research resources of the Museum will also be unavailable for at least the next six months which is a major pain in the bum for those researching anything to do with the British Army at all. Although I believe individual British service records are held elsewhere - my only WWI research of this sort involved a relative who had emigrated to Canada when young and joined their army. The Canadians have a really simple website that will send you a CD with copies of all the original documents. So I know my Scottish Canadian relative served as a sapper from 1916 until the end of the war (and as I know his unit I can read the unit war diary entries from the web). I know he had an undistingueshed but unpleasant career (no medals) but that he got into trouble for catching the clap - which was apparently quite a common affliction.

Anyway, back to the NAM. On TMP some people are working themselves into a high old dudgeon about the closure. I can see both sides of the argument - although closing for the centenary of the start of WWI, the bicentenary of Waterloo, and seventieth anniversary of D-Day is pretty appalling timing my feeling is that, as a nation, we're so bellicose that it would be hard to find a good two years to close - but at least the Imperial War Museum will manage to re-open (fingers crossed) at the end of July after their refurbishment.

Still, never fear - I was thinking about places to go for a few days break and Madrid looked like a good possibility. Lo and behold - the Spanish Army Museum in Madrid looks like a good bet generally - but even better, they have a temporary exhibition with toy / model soldiers until the 2nd June 2014 Temporary Exhibition - if you click on the pictures you can get large scale pop-ups of the images, and jolly nice they look too.

So, after my Valencia Toy Soldier Museum visit last year, I'm thinking this could be well worth a look.


  1. I hadn't realised this either. It could certainly do with a bit of work. Let's hope it doesn't return as a building entirely dedicated to special exhibitions and interactive rooms for children etc. I recently visited the Tate Gallery and was appalled at how little of the permanent collection is now on display in galleries in favour of "outreach" rooms and such nonsense.

    1. Someone on TMP has found the planning application online and now some of the more irate TMPers are preparing to eat their words as they think it might turn out to be quite an improvement after all.

      I'm certainly with you on the Tate - I work just opposite (at least until they pull my office down like they have the neighbours) and sometimes pop in there at lunchtime.

  2. All the British WW1 records are online. I use Ancestry.com for family history research (you have to pay) but this links all digitised military records to your family. I found out that my great grandfather was one of the first to join the Welsh Guards, was wounded at the Somme and went AWOL when my grandfather was born, returned and did his time in Colchester. All this from the records. Previously before the internet we'd paid a researcher to look in to greatx5 grandfather who had been in the Crimea. Now these records have appeared linked to our family tree. To be honest family history is my wife's hobby and the military info is how she keeps me interested!

  3. The reality is that there's never a good time to close a museum - some people will always moan and I dare say all of us have been disappointed at some stage when we've arrived somewhere on holiday only to find that the best museum/gallery/historical attraction is closed for refurbishment (I'm particularly unlucky with any art galleries in Australasia - it's as if they know I'm coming and shut down specially).