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Brief History of the Royal Naval Museum
and its Permanent Collections

Main buildings of The Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth

Facts About Storehouse No 11

(Where the Nelson Exhibition and the Sailing Navy Gallery are)


Storehouse No 11 were the first of the Great Storehouses built from 1763 onwards as part of a major expansion of Portsmouth Dockyard. It and its two neighbours, were therefore able to play a part in supporting the British naval effort culminating in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Nelson the Hero of Trafalgar, would have known these buildings, just as his flagship, HMS Victory stands guard over them today.

The storehouses were designed and built by shipwrights and local "brickies" (the structure of the attic is very reminiscent of a ship). Originally, they stood on the waters edge (Watering Island), with Semaphore Tower, which was reclaimed later and were "ready use" stores, housing spare gear - rigging blocks, gunnery equipment, and so on. Material was loaded into the storehouses from the landward side and ship's boats would come to the jetty on the waterside to collect their supplies. (Because of the difficulty of getting in and out of Portsmouth Harbour, sailing ships only entered the harbour if they were going into dock or needed extensive repairs).

The Great Storehouses were designed to be grand and imposing - an expression in bricks and mortar of the power of the Royal Navy. Today, they still retain their naval link and their role as stores, but now it is the heritage of the Royal Navy, through the collections they house.

The Royal Naval Museum was founded in 1911 as the Dockyard Museum by Mr Prescott-Frost, the Secretary to the C in C Portsmouth. The Foundation Collection consisted largely of Ships relics (in particular, ship figureheads and models) and general naval memorabilia.

During the 19th century HMS Victoryhad been moored in Portsmouth Harbour as an accommodation and occasional flagship. Visitors were allowed on board and a small Nelson Collection was established. In 1922, under the aegis of the Society of Nautical Research, HMS Victory was brought into dry dock and after the major restoration was open to the public in 1928.

The Society of Nautical Research's plan also involved the removal of the small museum to a new specially built museum ashore in the dockyard to house the exhibits. This was finally achieved in 1938, with the opening of the Victory Building on the site of an old rigging house close to the Victory. The Dockyard Museum closed and was combined with the Nelson Collection in the new Museum.

In 1972 Mrs Lily McCarthy, an American lady offered the McCarthy Collection of Nelson Commemorative items to the nation, at the same the Great Storehouses became surplus to requirements and her collection was opened to the public in May 1972.

It was then decided to amalgamate both the Victory and the McCarthy Museums and so the Royal Naval Museum was founded as an Ministry of Defence (MOD) funded museum, with the addition of further galleries covering the Modern Navy and fitted out by the DPRN (the part of the Navy that deals with recruitment).

In 1975 the Museum acquired another private collection, The Douglas-Morris Collection of Naval Memorabilia, so gradually a series of new galleries were opened to tell the story of the Royal Navy and its earliest times to the present day.

During the same period, the curatorial staff has gradually improved the standard of the cataloguing and storage of the Collections. In particular, a computerised system was launched in 1984, as a result of which a large percentage of the Collections are now on computer.

In 1985 the Museum was devolved under the National Heritage Act and became a Trustee-run Museum, assisted by grant-in-aid from MOD(N).

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The Development Plan

HRH The Princess Royal officially opening the new Exhibition Galleries on the 7 May 1999Under the Museum's Development Plan, Storehouse 11 has become the Collections Centre of the Museum. After sympathetic restoration and conversion all the Museum's research collections are housed here, in properly controlled storage. This includes an environmentally-controlled store to keep documents, letters, photographs and some works of arts; and accessible storage, in which appropriate items, eg World War II ship relics can be seen by the public on special tours which are conducted during special weekends, for example Community Days and Heritage Open Days.

Other facilities include a Research Centre and a temporary Exhibition Gallery - The Princess Royal Gallery, on the first floor.

Phase I of the development completed by the 21st October 1999. The new Nelson Exhibition which was opened on the 28th January 1999 and the new Sailing Navy Exhibition was officially opened on the 7th May 1999 by HRH The Princess Royal . The new Victory Gallery opened on the 21st October 1999.

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Royal Naval Museum's Facilities

Under the re-development special attention has been paid to people with disabilities.

  • Access via a lift is now available

  • All of the interior of the Museum is now wheelchair accessible

  • All the new galleries have hearing loops installed

  • Also included are Touch Areas for those with sight difficulties, and with prior notice, a handling collection can be made available

  • All the new galleries display panels are now in a larger print and written in easy to read format

  • Storehouse 11 has accessible toilets and baby changing facilities

Other Facilities include :

Other facilities will be added after Phase I of the Development.

Trevor Carpenter
Visitors Service Manager
The Royal Naval Museum
HM Naval Base (PP 66)

Telephone : 023 9272 7583
Fax : 023 9272 7575

Outside UK
Telephone : 44 23 9272 7583
Fax : 44 23 9272 7575

E-mail : trevor.carpenter@royalnavalmuseum.org

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Created 26 June 1999
Last modified 4 November 2000