National Maritime Museum

The National Maritime Museum (NMM) is a maritime museum in Greenwich, London. It is part of Royal Museums Greenwich, a network of museums in the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site. Like other publicly funded national museums in the United Kingdom, it has no general admission charge; there are admission charges for most side-gallery temporary exhibitions, usually supplemented by many loaned works from other museums.

National Maritime Museum
The museum's main entrance
Location within Royal Borough of Greenwich
Established1937 (1937)
London, SE10
United Kingdom
Coordinates51°28′52″N 0°00′20″W
Collection size2 million+ objects
Visitors2,367,904 (2009)[1]
DirectorPaddy Rogers
Public transit access Cutty Sark
Area200 acres (0.81 km2)

Creation and official opening

The museum was created by the National Maritime Museum Act 1934[2] under a Board of Trustees, appointed by HM Treasury. It is based on the generous donations of Sir James Caird (1864–1954). King George VI formally opened the museum on 27 April 1937 when his daughter Princess Elizabeth accompanied him for the journey along the Thames from London. The first director was Sir Geoffrey Callender.[3]


Portrait of Captain James Cook by Nathaniel Dance at the National Maritime Museum

Since the earliest times Greenwich has had associations with the sea and navigation. It was a landing place for the Romans,[4] Henry VIII lived here,[5] the Navy has roots on the waterfront,[6] and Charles II founded the Royal Observatory in 1675 for "finding the longitude of places".[7] The home of Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian since 1884, Greenwich has long been a centre for astronomical study, while navigators across the world have set their clocks according to its time of day. The museum has the most important holdings in the world on the history of Britain at sea comprising more than two million items, including maritime art (both British and 17th-century Dutch), cartography, manuscripts including official public records, ship models and plans, scientific and navigational instruments, instruments for time-keeping and astronomy (based at the Observatory). Its holdings including paintings relating to Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson and Captain James Cook.[8]

The Bretagne, painting by Jules Achille Noël, 1859, at the National Maritime Museum
Admiral George Keith Elphinstone, 1st Viscount Keith by George Sanders

An active loans programme ensures that items from the collection are seen in the UK and abroad.[9]

The museum aims to achieve a greater understanding of British economic, cultural, social, political and maritime history and its consequences in the world today. The museum plays host to various exhibitions, including Ships Clocks & Stars in 2014, Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution in 2015 and Emma Hamilton: Seduction and Celebrity in 2016.[10][11][12]

The collection of the National Maritime Museum also includes items taken from the German Naval Academy Mürwik after World War II, including several ship models, paintings and flags. The museum has been criticized for possessing what has been described as "looted art".[13][14][15][16][17] The museum regards these cultural objects as "war trophies", removed under the provisions of the Potsdam Conference.[18]

The museum awards the Caird Medal annually in honour of its major donor, Sir James Caird.[19]

In late August 2018, several groups were vying for the right to purchase the 5,500 RMS Titanic relics that were an asset of the bankrupt Premier Exhibitions.[20] Eventually, the National Maritime Museum, Titanic Belfast and Titanic Foundation Limited, as well as National Museums Northern Ireland, joined together as a consortium that was raising money to purchase the 5,500 artifacts. The group intended to keep all of the items together as a single exhibit. The oceanographer Robert Ballard said that he favoured this bid as it would ensure that the memorabilia would be permanently displayed in Belfast (where the Titanic was built) and in Greenwich.[20] The museums were critical of the bid process set by the Bankruptcy Court in Jacksonville, Florida. The minimum bid for the auction on 11 October 2018 was set at US$21.5 million (£16.5m) and the consortium did not have enough funding to meet that amount.[21][22]

The site

The museum was officially established in 1934 within the 200 acres (0.81 km2) of Greenwich Royal Park in the buildings formerly occupied by the Royal Hospital School, before it moved to Holbrook in Suffolk.

The gardens immediately to the north of the museum were reinstated in the late 1870s following construction of the cut-and-cover tunnel between Greenwich and Maze Hill stations. The tunnel comprised part of the final section of the London and Greenwich Railway and opened in 1878.[23]

A full redevelopment of the main galleries, centring on what is now the Neptune Court, which was designed by Rick Mather Architects and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, was completed in 1999.[24]

In 2008, the museum announced that the Israeli shipping magnate Sammy Ofer had donated £20m for a new gallery.[25]

For a year between 2016 and 2017 the National Maritime Museum reported 2.41 million visitors.[26]

Directors of the National Maritime Museum

A Type 23 frigate propeller at the National Maritime Museum
  • 1937–1946: Geoffrey Callender
  • 1947–1966: Frank George Griffith Carr[27]
  • 1967–1983: Basil Jack Greenhill
  • 1983–1986: Neil Cossons
  • 1986–2000: Richard Louis Ormond CBE (born 1939)[28]
  • 2000–2007: Rear Admiral Roy Clare (born 1950)[29]
  • 2007–2019: Dr Kevin Fewster[30]
  • 2019–present: Paddy Rogers[31]

Caird Medal

Museum interior

The Caird Medal was instituted in 1984 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the National Maritime Museum Act 1934 that established the museum. The medal is awarded annually to "an individual who, in the opinion of the Trustees of the National Maritime Museum, has done conspicuously important work in the field of the Museum's interests and is of a nature which involves communicating with the public." The medal is named for Sir James Caird (1864–1954), the principal donor at the founding of the National Maritime Museum.[19]

Caird Medallists

Other British maritime museums

NMM Cornwall, Falmouth

The National Maritime Museum Cornwall is a fully independent museum, a development of the original FIMI (Falmouth International Maritime Initiative) partnership created in 1992 and the result of collaboration between the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich and the former Cornwall Maritime Museum in Falmouth.[43]

See also


  1. "Visits made in 2009 to visitor attractions in membership with ALVA". Association of Leading Visitor Attractions. Archived from the original on 29 April 2010. Retrieved 21 May 2010.
  2. National Maritime Museum, Governing Acts of Parliament Archived 8 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ODNB article by Michael Lewis, 'Callender, Sir Geoffrey Arthur Romaine (1875–1946)’, rev. H. C. G. Matthew, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 23 September 2007.
  4. "Greenwick Park: Roman Remains". Royal Parks. Retrieved 29 December 2018.
  5. "Greenwich Palace: Archaeologists discover ruined remains of Henry VIII's birthplace". The Independent. 15 August 2017. Archived from the original on 18 June 2022. Retrieved 29 December 2018.
  6. "A brief history of the Old Royal Naval College". South London Club. Retrieved 29 December 2018.
  7. "Charles II and the Royal Observatory, Greenwich". Royal Collection Trust. Retrieved 29 December 2018.
  8. "Captain James Cook, 1728–79". Royal Museums Greenwich. Retrieved 29 December 2018.
  9. "Collaborative Doctoral Award with the National Maritime Museum (2010–13)". York Art History Collections. Retrieved 29 December 2018.
  10. Falk, Seb (2022). "Review of Ships, Clocks & Stars: The Quest for Longitude". Science Museum Group Journal. 2 (2). doi:10.15180/140204. S2CID 241871356. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  11. Smart, Alastair. "Samuel Pepys, National Maritime Museum, review: 'history rivetingly brought to life'". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  12. Jones, Jonathan (November 2016). "Emma Hamilton: Seduction and Celebrity review – the betrayal of Nelson's mistress". Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  13. "Revealed: Nazi painting in London’s Maritime Museum looted by British." The Art Newspaper. 3 January 2007
  14. "The Art Newspaper". Archived from the original on 26 May 2008. Retrieved 9 May 2009. How the London Maritime Museum rebuffed a German claim in 1965.] The Art Newspaper. 1 February 2007
  15. "The Art Newspaper". Archived from the original on 26 May 2008. Retrieved 9 May 2009.
  16. "Revealed: six paintings in Maritime Museum were seized by British troops from Nazi Germany." The Art Newspaper. 1 February 2007
  17. Schleswig-Holsteinischer Zeitungsverlag: Gezeiten. Die letzten Tage der Dönitz-Regierung in Mürwik Archived 22 February 2017 at the Wayback Machine. 21. Dezember 2009; access: 27. August 2016
  18. Littlewood, Kevin; Butler, Beverley (1998). Of Ships and Stars: Maritime Heritage and the Founding of the National Maritime Museum Greenwich. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 117. ISBN 978-0485115376.
  19. "Prizes and fellowships in naval and maritime history". University of Exeter. Retrieved 29 December 2018.
  20. Dawn McCarty, Jef Feeley, Chris Dixon (24 July 2018). "James Cameron: Getting Titanic Artifacts to U.K. Would Be 'a Dream'". National Geographic. Retrieved 2 September 2018.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  21. "Titanic: Salvaged treasure may not return to Belfast". 5 October 2018 via
  22. "The Basch Report: Titanic artifacts finally to be sold at auction | Jax Daily Record". Jacksonville Daily Record - Jacksonville, Florida. 20 September 2018.
  23. "SER Lines and Stations". Stephen Chapman. Archived from the original on 21 June 2017. Retrieved 29 December 2018.
  24. "Neptune Court, Greenwich Maritime Museum". Architects Journal. Retrieved 29 December 2018.
  25. "The Sammy Ofer Wing". C F Moller. Retrieved 29 December 2018.
  26. "National Maritime Museum Annual Report and Accounts 2016-2017" (PDF).
  27. "Biography Frank Carr: Ship saver by Peter Elphick, states "Meanwhile, in 1966, the Trustees of the National Maritime Museum dismissed Frank Carr from his post as Director, two years before he was due to retire. No one seems to know the full circumstances behind this highly controversial decision, but it seems that the Trustees wanted a change of course."". Archived from the original on 5 December 2007. Retrieved 13 January 2008.
  28. Who's who entry for Richard Ormond
  29. Who's who entry for Roy Clare
  30. "Biography of Director Kevin Fewster on NMM website". Archived from the original on 23 June 2008. Retrieved 13 January 2008.
  31. "Directors and Trustees".
  32. R. J. B. KNIGHT, HONOR FROST, ERIC RIETH, MICHAEL WEBB, N. A. M. RODGER, DAVID H. ROBERTS, RICHARD BARKER, ALEXANDER FLINDER & LAWRENCE PHILLIPS (1989) (1989). "NOTES". The Mariner's Mirror. 75 (3): 210–276. doi:10.1080/00253359.1989.10656259.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  33. van der Merwe, Pieter (15 January 2000), "Obituary – Michael Robinson 1910 – 1999", The Independent, archived from the original on 4 December 2010.
  34. Penguin Books author biography: Richard Ollard Archived 20 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine, accessed 20 October 2007.
  35. "Gerard Turner awarded the Caird Medal" (PDF). Bulletin of the Scientific Instrument Society No.37. 1993. Retrieved 29 December 2018.
  36. The Caird Lecture, 1999, by Elisabeth Mann-Borgese: "The economics and governance of the oceans" in Journal for Maritime Research, January 2000. Archived 29 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine accessed 20 October 2007.
  37. The Caird Lecture, 2000, by John Hattendorf: "The Anglo-French Naval Wars (1689–1815) in twentieth-century naval thought" Archived 21 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  38. Reference to David Attenborough's Caird Medal Address in Cook's Log: the quarterly newsletter of the Captain Cook Society, Volume 27 No.4 (Oct–Dec 2004) accessed 20 October 2007.
  39. Institute of Historical Research Newsletter 2005: Peter Kennedy's Caird Medal Address noted Archived 10 April 2008 at the Wayback Machine accessed 20 October 2007.
  40. Caird Lecture, 2006, by David Armitage: "The Elephant and the Whale: Empires of Land and Sea" Archived 26 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  41. "Roger Knight". Roger Knight.
  42. "Professor Simon Schaffer FBA". The British Academy.
  43. "National Maritime Museum Cornwall Trust, registered charity no. 1067884". Charity Commission for England and Wales. Retrieved 29 December 2018.
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