Oh god, the USS Cod. Where do I begin?! Actually, if it wasn’t for the strange incident at the end of my visit, I would have rated it quite highly overall, so in all fairness, I should leave the weirdness for the end, and focus on the positive that was the bulk of my experience there (and leave you in a bit of suspense for once), starting with the excellent tagline on their brochure, “In 1944 she terrified the Japanese fleet. Today she will fascinate your family!”
Here’s part 2 of my outing in Portsmouth, which mainly means the new Mary Rose Museum. I was probably more excited to see this than the Victory, even though I generally prefer Georgians to Tudors, simply because I think the history behind it is pretty incredible. (Do you have the first version of the Gilligan’s Island theme song (before the Professor and Mary Anne rated a mention) stuck in your head from my post title? Just thought it would go with the maritime theme!)
For those of you unfamiliar with its story, the Mary Rose was a Tudor ship (Henry VIII’s flagship) that famously suddenly sank during a skirmish with a French ship in 1545, thereby drowning most of the crew (only 25-30 people survived out of a crew of over 400). Contrary to popular belief, the Mary Rose was actually a perfectly capable ship for the 34 years prior to sinking, so the theories as to why it sank are numerous, and include being hit by a French cannonball, a mistake during battle, or being toppled by the wind after extra guns had been loaded on board. At any rate, the ship sat at the bottom of Portsmouth Harbor until 1982, when it was hauled up and preserved. Because the ship is understandably fragile after being underwater for over 400 years, and only half the ship survives (the half that was covered up by silt, which protected it from various hungry and probably disgusting looking sea creatures), unlike the other ships at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, it is kept inside the museum, with scaffolding to protect it. The actual wood has been preserved by somehow replacing the water molecules inside it with wax, which is apparently quite a lengthy process (I’m not sure of all the science behind it, but it is briefly explained inside the museum). The end result is amazing to behold, and the fact that half the ship is missing makes it into a convenient cross-section, so you can really admire the interior.
Although the Mary Rose is undeniably the showpiece of the collection (and you can walk past it at multiple levels to give you the chance to admire every aspect, including a trip up a “viewing lift”), it is by no means the only incredible thing about this museum. Because the ship sat undisturbed for so long, and many of the crew kept their possessions in heavy chests, it turned out to be a treasure trove of Tudor artefacts, most of which are on show in the museum’s galleries. The museum has arranged them according to the type of people who would have been working on each deck of the ship, which makes for a trip through all the seafaring social classes. Common threads that united them all were the prevalence of fine combs, designed to remove lice, and the ubiquitous dagger (including my particular favourite, the “ballock” dagger, so named for its resemblance to a certain part of the male anatomy. You can probably see what I mean from the example above). So, you do see a lot of the same objects again and again, but there are enough tools that were unique to particular trades (I loved the section on the ship’s surgeon, with all his medical implements), and personal touches on the more common items, like carved pictures or initials, to keep things interesting.
Of course, since most of the crew went down with the ship, there were also lots of skeletons in the wreckage, as well as jewellery and scraps of clothing. They’ve analysed the skeletons to try to determine the age, health, and occupation of each man (aside from the captain, George Carew, we don’t really know the names of any of the crew members), and the results are fascinating. Judging from the skulls on display, not a single man on board had a complete set of teeth in his head, and even the men who were still in their 20s already had a whole host of injuries (many of them caused by Henry’s law that required every able-bodied man to practice archery; using a longbow from an early age means that shoulder bones never fuse properly), and probably looked quite rough, judging from the facial reconstructions. I love anything to do with medicine, so I was enthralled by their findings (and the display of bones with various types of injuries and conditions).
We spent more time in the Mary Rose museum than any other part of the Dockyard, and I think I could have lingered even longer if we didn’t have a tour of the Victory to catch. I really think they did an excellent job displaying all the artefacts, and the amount of signage was just right. Plenty of great information and special sections about the history behind each job or custom, but not so much that it felt overwhelming. My only complaint was that some of the galleries were so crowded that it was difficult to see everything, and it’s only the start of March, so the crowds must be horrible during the summer. Because of this, I’d definitely recommend going in the off-season or possibly on a weekday if you can (although I’d worry about schoolchildren being bussed in on a weekday).
In addition to the ships I wrote about in my earlier post, there were some other attractions at the Historic Dockyard. Since we were starving, my boyfriend and I queued for ages just to get a tea and some chocolate fudge cake from the small case in the museum (there were only like three people ahead of us, but service was so slow, though the cake was not bad); there are a few other cafes and a chippy, but I’d rather venture into Portsmouth and take my chances with a proper seaside chippy, personally. But there were statues of famous people to have your photo taken with, which I love doing! (Here’s another tip, some guy will offer to take your picture with the Henry VIII inside the Mary Rose Museum, which you can buy for 8 quid at the end. But there’s another Henry VIII statue hidden in a corner across from the building where you buy your ticket, which you can photograph as much as you like for free. Not that I think anyone would pay £8 for a hastily taken photo by a bored museum employee anyway, but just in case you really wanted a picture with Henry.) I liked the giant Nelson the best, especially since they accurately made his one eye look all milky and weird (he lost most of the sight in it in the same accident that took his right arm. Poor banged-up man).
There’s also a figurehead of some Restoration era gent who was a contemporary of Samuel Pepys, and even looked a great deal like Pepys, but was not Pepys (though I think there should have been a Pepys figurehead, he was Chief Secretary to the Admiralty after all!). Another building on the site holds some cheesy gift shop, and this weird “dockyard apprentice” exhibit that you can walk through in the back. I did not have time to read all the text associated with it, but I guess if you do, you emerge a full-fledged worker at the other end (conveniently, they sell diplomas in the gift shop. I seriously wonder whether anyone has ever bought one). However, it did contain two of my most favourite things; mannequins with amusing expressions, and authentic smells, so it’s worth walking through just for that.
I guess because they were trying to give the place more of a “seaside” vibe, there were a handful of penny arcade games in there as well (I say penny, but they cost between 10-50p). We had a couple 20ps to hand, so got suckered into the crappy ones showing some kind of tableaux that “comes to life” after you stick the money in (usually a ghost or something pops out). Like others of their kind, these were pretty lame, and I refused to try the one where a “war criminal” was hanged, as he was a supporter of the Americans during the Revolutionary War, so I couldn’t really endorse his execution.
I should mention that the National Museum of the Royal Navy is also part of the Dockyard, and it looked rather large and impressive, but I simply did not have time to go in (assuming we don’t lose our stupidly small and awkwardly sized tickets, we’ll probably head back to the Dockyard within the next few months), so I think it would be quite easy to spend two days at the Dockyard, particularly if you have children. Though I felt the main ships (Victory and Warrior) were kind of a mixed-bag, though certainly historically significant, and worth seeing for that reason alone, I really loved the Mary Rose Museum, and it made me slightly less salty about the admission price (though only slightly, I mean £26!?). I think the Dockyard as a whole should get a 3.5/5, though I’d probably rate Mary Rose as a 4/5, easily. Not at all a bad day out, if you can stomach the price.
I’ve been feeling very tired of London lately (not necessarily tired of life though, sorry Dr. Johnson), so I was glad to get down to Portsmouth for a day to check out the Historic Dockyard. Though it wasn’t quite the usual seaside excursion, it’s still a bit cold to go promenading with an ice cream (I will happily eat ice cream year round, but prefer to enjoy it indoors in the wintertime), so this was a marginally warmer alternative.
I’ve done a lot of complaining about prices of late, but really and truly, the Historic Dockyard is not cheap. They charge £17 per attraction, so the only sensible option is to get an all-in-one pass for £26, which is valid for one year (another pet peeve of mine: places that offer an annual membership with the admission price, but require you to hang onto a small ticket that you present for subsequent visits, with no replacements offered. If you’re just issuing someone with a cheap paper ticket, odds are pretty good they’re going to lose it or accidentally throw it out and have to buy a new ticket if they come back, which I suspect is exactly what these museums want to happen. I’d be a lot happier if they could at least humour me by giving me a membership card to stick in my wallet or something, so I’d have some chance of hanging onto the thing.), but paying £52 for the two of us to spend a day somewhere is not the kind of outing we can afford often. Anyway, the pass gives you access to all the ships and museums on the property; I’ll be talking about the HMS Victory and the HMS Warrior today, and cover the rest in the next post.
The HMS Victory was most famously Nelson’s flagship during the Battle of Trafalgar, and although I can see its colour scheme not being ideal for stealth, it certainly is a beautiful ship. You can see the Victory through guided tours only (they give you a time slot when you buy your ticket), so we joined up with the large group (30 or so people, more than I find ideal) outside and waited for our guide. After “boarding” the ship, we received a brief introduction, and then were taken on an overly fast-paced tour that required trekking up and down very steep steps, and ducking under narrow entries (I’m only 5’4″, and I had a sore neck after leaving from bowing my head so often, so just a heads up (ha) for the tall people out there).
Following a brief tour of Nelson’s surprisingly plush and spacious living quarters (almost everything in the ship is a replica), we were herded up on deck to see the spot where Nelson was fatally wounded (the shot passed through his lungs and lodged in his back; he was immediately carried belowdecks where he died three hours later), and then back down again to see the low-ceilinged and depressingly dark decks where the common sailors lived and worked.
The tour guide did a very good job of engaging the children on the tour, but unfortunately, this meant that the rest of us had to stand in the back, and it was difficult to hear him at times, or see anything, for that matter. As expected, he went through the origins of many common phrases which have their basis in nautical terms (there’s not enough room to swing a cat, pull the cat out of the bag, etc. etc.), but he also did provide some interesting facts about the ship and its crew. It was launched in 1765, so it was already 40 years old by the time of the Battle of Trafalgar (making it a near-contemporary of the Endeavour, Captain Cook’s ship; sadly the original Endeavour was wrecked, so I’ll never get to see that dishy Joseph Banks‘s quarters), and the aforementioned distinctive yellow and black colour scheme was Nelson’s favourite, called “checkerboard” as that’s what it resembled when the black gunports were closed.
I did very much enjoy getting to see the interior of Nelson’s gorgeous ship, and picture it in action, but I wish the tour had been more comprehensive (perhaps if they offered separate tours for families and adults?), as the whole thing felt quite rushed, and half the time was spent waiting for everyone to finish climbing up or down the scarily narrow steps.
There was a small HMS Victory museum nearby, so we popped in to see if it could flesh out the scant details provided on the tour (although even with my limited knowledge, I managed to get 9/10 on the computerised quiz inside, go me!). I felt bad for not experiencing the film and light show on offer, as the man working there seemed slightly disappointed when I turned it down, but I really was in a hurry. There wasn’t a tonne of content in the actual museum, although I did pick up a few more tidbits, but I was ultimately distracted by a glimpse of the flamboyant figureheads perched upstairs.
I do love a good figurehead, and these were brilliant, with lovely eye-popping paint, and nipples galore! Quite a few of them were based off royalty or Roman/Greek gods, although there were a few Victorian (meaning, slightly racist) depictions of various foreigners. On the whole, however, I loved this display, and it was probably one of the highlights of the Dockyard.
I know I’m already running on, but I still want to mention the HMS Warrior, which is seemingly there in large part to show the advances in technology in the century between the building of the Victory and the Warrior, though it is an interesting ship in its own right. When it was built, in 1860, it was the “largest, fastest, and most powerful warship in the world” (according to the pamphlet we were given), but it was never actually used in battle (I know I’m meant to refer to ships as “she,” but having no naval background myself, it just feels kind of awkward doing so).
The Warrior is viewable by self-guided tour, so we saved it til last, figuring we could always rush through if we ran out of time, though it turned out we were easily able to see everything in 45 minutes. There were steps all over the place, so our route was a little confused, but I’m confident we saw everything in the end.
Like the Victory, the Warrior also had very swanky Captain’s Quarters, though they lacked a little of the Victory‘s charm. There wasn’t much information posted inside the ship, so I was fairly reliant on the free pamphlet, which quite frankly wasn’t detailed enough for my liking (I guess I could have paid extra for the official Historic Dockyard guidebook, but that would be completely out of character for me).
By studying the map, we did manage to work out the locations of the jail cells, for seamen guilty of serious crimes, and some pens for the sheep and other livestock that were kept for meat. Like any ship, things got grimmer the further you travelled down into its aptly-named bowels, and the engine rooms were the grimmest yet.
The mood lighting did help me appreciate how hellish things must have been, and it was a comfortable temperature (instead of 120 F +) and not full of sweaty men when I was down there, so I can only imagine how bad things were when the ship was at sea. No wonder they were paid more than normal sailors, though whatever it was, it wasn’t enough.
I’ve got far more pictures than words at this point, so I’ll just start throwing the pictures up here with brief descriptions as I’m sure you’re sick of reading by now anyway. There are the engine room and the Officer’s Dining Hall.
Wheels (your guess is as good as mine, probably better as I don’t know much about ships) plus washing bowl (not a toilet)
The raisin bin, plus “special issues” of food, in addition to the normal menu of bread and meat. Conditions had certainly improved since Nelson’s day, when common seamen mostly ate ship’s biscuit, porridgey things, and rancid meaty stews, but I loathe raisins, so I would not have been a happy camper even on the Warrior.
Barrel, perhaps it contained rum, which would explain the spirit of generosity towards the Queen, and cannon.
The Warrior had scantier information on offer than the Victory, but it’s still worth a look around as part of the combined ticket. Although I think I was meant to be marvelling at how modern it was in comparison to the Victory, I couldn’t help but think about how some of the romance of sailing had been lost (though that “romance” included a crew mostly comprised of men who had been press-ganged into service, who were flogged for any infraction and had terrible living conditions, so it is possible any positive connotations of a Georgian sailor’s life are all in my mind). Honestly, I’d probably rather be aboard a ship in the heat of battle than stuck in a horrible boiler room, as at least your suffering wouldn’t last as long. The Warrior just seemed more utilitarian than the Victory (though it was a Victorian ship, so not THAT utilitarian), and in purely stylistic and romantic terms, I think the Victory unquestionably wins out, though I’m sure the Warrior could have easily blown it to bits with its advanced technology. I’ll hold off giving a rating until I’ve written about the entire Dockyard, as I’ll grade it as a whole. So, I’ll just throw in a couple more pictures of figureheads to finish off the posts, because damn, they’re cool!
(Oh, and that’s Charles II’s royal barge that you can see in that picture, also awesome.)
I was craving a churro the other day (ok, and I wanted to buy some new shoes), so another trip to Greenwich was in order. I suppose I could have gone to Camden, as they also have churros and the shoe stall I like, but Camden is pretty horrible and crowded, and Greenwich is quite pleasant. The only trouble is, I’ve already posted about most of the free museums in Greenwich, so I wanted to find something new to see without spending any extra money (which could instead be spent on more churros). Granted, I could have just gone and ate the damn churro without going to a museum, but then what would I have to blog about? A quick investigation online led me to the Queen’s House. I’m not sure how this previously escaped my attention, since it is literally next door to the National Maritime Museum (you can even see the edge of it on the right of the photo above, at the end of the columns), but there’s a lot of attractive buildings in Greenwich, and I’m usually eating an ice cream when I walk down that way, so I’m not at my most observant.
The queen in question is Henrietta Maria, wife of the ill-fated Charles I, who only lived here for a few years because of the whole, you know, Civil War and all. It was designed by Inigo Jones, and initially commissioned for Anne of Denmark, James I’s wife, but she died before construction could be completed. Catherine Pelham also lived there for a bit, which is of interest only because she was cousin-in-law (once-removed, I think, at least as far as I can work out) to Elizabeth Hay, wife of William, and I think any connection to William Hay is neat, as he seems to be mostly forgotten. It’s weird, but I often feel like I know the Georgians better than my actual acquaintances; I always get excited when I find a connection to Georgians I “know.” Anyway, the house later became the Royal Naval Asylum, for orphans of seamen (ha), and then ultimately became part of the Royal Museums of Greenwich group, and currently houses the art collection of the National Maritime Museum. Whew. All you probably need to know is that it is free, and is a rather lovely setting for an art museum.
Architectural highlights include the Tulip Stairs, which are meant to be haunted, though I didn’t sense any strange pockets of cold air when I was walking up them, and the Great Hall, with its collection of four busts, and a splendid black and white marble floor that they are rightly quite keen to preserve (there’s a warning about grit on your shoes posted outside). I began my visit by climbing up that very staircase to the first floor, which held the Stuart galleries, and a special installation by Alice Kettle: “The Garden of England,” which consisted of three pieces with a flower theme set amongst the 17th century portraits in the North West Parlour. The Stuart room was fittingly graced with portraits of Henrietta Maria and Charles I to each side of the window, and there was a dollhouse sized version of the Queen’s House itself in the next room.
Heading up to the second floor, I was very pleasantly surprised to come across a Captain Cook gallery. I’ve been quite keen on Cook ever since reading Tony Horwitz’s Blue Latitudes, and even keener on the fine-looking Joseph Banks, but alas, this gallery was focused on artwork from Cook’s second and third voyages, and Banks went along on the first one. Nonetheless, I thought it was incredibly cool to have the opportunity to see William Hodges‘ paintings, as they essentially represent the first time Europeans got a glimpse of Polynesia. I especially loved his painting of Easter Island, and of course, his portrait of Cook himself, amongst a few others that I’ll also post here. (Please excuse my shoddy attempts at photography, the lighting was poor, flash wasn’t allowed, and my hands are unsteady).
I definitely lingered longer there than in any of the other galleries, and even came back for a second look, but there was plenty more to see. The next room offered an x-ray analysis of some of Hodges’ paintings, to reveal the changes he made, and speculate on the reasons behind them. There was a substantial amount of Dutch naval art as well, but pictures of boats don’t enormously appeal. I did however get interested again when I got back into another portrait gallery.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself, it’s that I like a fine-looking seaman (ha again!). I know Joseph Banks wasn’t technically a seaman, but Cook’s voyage was pretty epic, and he managed to survive that (albeit with the help of a number of manservants). In addition to Banks, I’ve also developed a fondness for the young Augustus Keppel (though he too, became corpulent in middle age). I thought at first it was because I like Georgian naval outfits, and whilst I do love a good greatcoat/knee breeches combo, there was an unnamed Stuart naval officer who was looking pretty fine as well, so maybe it’s not all in the uniform. Still, I do rather fancy Hugh Laurie as the Prince Regent (though obviously not so much as Bertie Wooster, and in spite of the fact that Blackadder drives me mad because he wasn’t yet the Prince Regent during the time period Blackadder III is set in, and in fact wasn’t even born yet when Samuel Johnson was writing his Dictionary), so there’s something to be said for the breeches and stockings after all, certainly when compared to a neck ruff.
Now, where was I? Oh right, the rest of the Queen’s House. There was art hidden all over the place in here; I had to go down a random back staircase to see Turner’s “Battle of Trafalgar” in a room with some paintings of battles in the American Revolution. I don’t know why, but somehow I never think of naval battles when I picture the Revolutionary War, even though obviously I knew they went on. There was also a series of rooms devoted to maritime art by the century; I managed to catch a glimpse of my old “friend” Alfred Wallis in the 20th century section, whilst I was predictably rushing through to get back to the older stuff.
Back on the ground floor, there was a small gallery on the Royal Hospital School (which was merged in 1821 with the Royal Naval Asylum mentioned at the start of this post), used to train future naval recruits. This exhibit featured quite prominently on the museum website, so I must confess I was hoping for more than just one room’s worth, but I did learn a few things; one, that there was a “practice” ship in front of the school so they could practice seamanship in an authentic environment, and two, the children used to dare each other to take the Tulip Stairs, because they were also afraid of the ghost.
I’m kind of upset with myself for not discovering the Queen’s House sooner, because it is an unexpectedly charming collection. I loved the colourful rooms and intricate wall mouldings, which, when coupled with the 18th century sash windows and the wooden floors, gave the place more of a Georgian feel than a Stuart one, and made it an excellent atmosphere in which to appreciate some of my favourite kind of art (basically, old portraits). The Cook gallery also earns them some bonus points in my book, so 4/5.
Although I’m more of a Wellington girl myself (a thin, aloof aristocrat beats out a short, sickly seaman. Sorry, Horatio), the Nelson Museum still seemed worthy of consideration, especially as I was already in Great Yarmouth. Appropriately enough, the museum is housed in a Georgian merchant’s house that overlooks the sea, much as Nelson probably gazed out over the horizon as a child. Admission to this compact, volunteer-run collection is a mere £3.50. The main gallery takes up the ground floor of the house, and is devoted to Nelson’s life-story, mainly accompanied by portraits and some commemorative china, although there were a few interactive things, like ropes for knot-tying practice, and paper and pens for trying out signing your name with your non-dominant hand (in case you ever lose an arm in battle!). I may suck at tying knots, but my left-handed signature was surprisingly good, perhaps because it looks so crap in the first place. It’s not hard to replicate a scribble.
In the back, there was a re-creation of the bedchamber at Merton Place, Nelson’s Wimbledon residence that he shared with his mistress, Lady Hamilton. I honestly had no idea that Nelson had lived in Wimbledon, even though I’ve pored over a copy of Wimbledon’s Cultural Heritage map, and was momentarily excited about the prospect of somewhere new to visit, but after looking it up, discovered Merton Place has been converted into council estates, so I guess I can cross that one off the list. Anyway, the walls were full of quotes describing Nelson, most of them unflattering (Wellington himself wasn’t especially keen), but then again, I suppose he was more a “man of the people” than anything. The first floor held the temporary exhibition space, currently on Nelson’s ships, with a painting and description of each. It was actually more interesting than I’m making it sound, since Nelson anecdote was included for each one. Some Nelson memorabilia sat in a case at the end, including a miniature replica of his coffin, similar to the one that can be found in a diorama at the back of the Painted Hall in Greenwich (I seem to be doing quite a lot of maritimey things lately for some reason).
“Life Below Decks” is the museum’s child-orientated section. Pushing in the ship’s biscuit (hmmm, that sounds a bit dirty, have I invented a new euphemism?) triggered a recording of a long, long conversation between two sailors, culminating in a naval battle. I had to duck outside before the cannon effects started going off; they were loud! They had a few touchy-feely boxes in here, some with disturbing things hidden inside, and a small below-decks area to explore.
The back garden was surprisingly spacious, and offered yet more activities. Here was where you could try out some games popular on ship, such as giant-sized dominoes, skittles, and a Ring-Around-the-Nelson rope throwing game, which I am demonstrating above. Back indoors, the gift shop was offering an unbelievably low price on postcards, so I now own quite an impressive range of Nelson cards. The museum was not terribly large, but I think that was reflected in the price, and the volunteers were certainly very friendly. I think I’d like to see more biographical information on Nelson; even though that was the main focus of the museum, it still felt like it was lacking something somehow, like I could never really get my head around the man. Or perhaps that was the result of his supposedly complex personality, and I just needed more background on naval practices and sailing? Either way, I think it was good, but not great. 3/5
The “Golden Mile” is the term used to describe the long strip of funfairs, arcades, restaurants, and adventure golf courses bordering the seafront, and I can never resist the tacky, yet alluring blend of the weird and wonderful that is the British seaside, so of course, we had to explore it. Besides that, Great Yarmouth is the Pleasure Beach that the Buckets visit in Keeping up Appearances, as I mentioned in my last post, so I had to walk in Hyacinth’s footsteps. The Ghost Train was the only ride we partook of, and I’m not one for swimming, especially on a slightly chilly day, so most of the time was spent wandering around and eating.
I love a good arcade, and the ones at the Pleasure Beach were decent, offering a mix of old and new games (though sadly, no Galaga, which is my favourite game and the one I’m most skilled at). The disturbing clown machines shown above were eerily ubiquitous, and I had to keep an eye on them so the clowns couldn’t eat my soul when I wasn’t paying attention. However, I let my guard down to play the early 90s Simpsons arcade game which I remembered fondly from my youth. I’m not any better at it now than I was back then.
Further along the beach, we espied the Merrivale Penny Arcade, whereupon we foolishly exchanged a pound for 15 antique pennies so we could use the coin-operated machines. After the Under the Pier Show in Southwold, they were bound to be unsatisfying, but these ones were real duds. Some hilariously so, like the “haunted house” where a lame plastic ghost dangled precariously from a chain in the background, and some were just crap, like the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Victorian peep show.
And of course, one of the delights of the seaside is eating yourself stupid on greasy food, so I was happy to oblige, managing to down a portion of cheesy chips, an extraordinarily oil-laden doughnut, a stick of rock, a strawberry swirl Mr Whippy (two-flavour Mr Whippy thrills me more than is warranted by the actual taste, but damned if I don’t miss good old American twist, where the chocolate side actually tastes of chocolate), and a Slush Puppy that was advertised as mix-your-own, but which the surly vendor insisted on mixing for me, and she skimped on the cherry. At least there was plenty of blue!
Although I don’t see how “Mr. Wobbles” on the right there would not scar children for life, Great Yarmouth was otherwise a pretty good seaside. Lots to do, and plenty quirky, but not so crowded that you couldn’t actually enjoy yourself, which is my main gripe with Brighton (well that, and the horrible rocky beach. I do like a sandy beach). Of course, it’s all terribly cheesy and overpriced, but I think that’s kind of the point.
In closing, I leave you with two seafood huts, which didn’t have punny names (though on retrospect, I suppose Rod’s does, sort of), but at least gave it a go with their taglines. Due to my insistence at getting chips from the chippy with the best name, we ended up at “Frydays,” which I thought was a bit of a poor effort, but it was the only place that even attempted a pun (besides, they had cheesy chips!). Step up your pun game, Yarmouth!
If the Fan Museum wasn’t enough to quench your thirst for museums, never fear, for Greenwich is full of other options, like the National Maritime Museum, which is free. I’d personally advise you to detour back to the market in between museuming for ice cream, either in the form of a chocolate chip cookie sandwich, or a lovely creamy gelato from Black Vanilla (though their one flavour per small cone policy irks me, as the standard is two flavours, and I’m still debating whether the pistachio surcharge is worth it. It was delicious, but so is the pistachio from Scoop and Gelupo, neither of which charge extra.). With a cone in hand, the National Maritime Museum is a short (and tasty) walk away.
I went here last year for the Royal River exhibit curated by David Starkey, which I quite enjoyed, despite my distaste for Starkey’s position on the Tudors. (He’s basically a Tudor apologist, and I’m not going to be won over to the idea that Henry VIII was a good person anytime soon.) However, I didn’t get much a chance to look at the rest of the museum at the time, so this last visit was my first opportunity to check everything out. I started with the section on explorers, which included the grisly ends of some arctic expeditions. As I’m sure you all know, I have some interest in polar exploration anyway, (I think my first post on here was about poor Lawrence Oates, of the Scott Expedition) and I liked how this section was situated in a dark tunnel, as it was at least an attempt at creating an authentic atmosphere.
Progressing out onto the main floor, there was a rather good assortment of ship’s figureheads, as well as Prince Frederick’s fabulous gilded barge, a true exercise in royal restraint and taste. I do love its gaudiness though. Rooms in the interior section of the ground floor are devoted to maritime London and arctic convoys, the latter of which was basically just a load of pictures of boats, and thus not of great interest to me. There was a sign outside one of the rooms advertising an exhibit on cartoons within, but alas, it was closed, which was a shame.
Other objects of note on the ground floor include a nice collection of dishes and other things from cruise ships, including some menus, various mechanical bits and bobs, and a gallery hidden off to one side through a stairwell that smells of new tyres (does anyone else love that smell, or am I the only weirdo?) on Seafaring Britons, complete with charming portraits of Nelson and his mistress, and a genuine ship’s biscuit (sadly missing a photo of Lord Kitchener (or naval counterpart) in the middle, as seen in a biscuit at the Museum of Reading).
The middle of the first floor is a large open space with a map of the world drawn on the floor, which children can ride around on various boat toys. Dodging between them, I quickly passed through a rather lame recycling themed gallery that seemed noticeably out of place in a maritime museum, and headed over to the much more appealing section on the East India Company. I’m well aware of the troubled history of the East India Company, which was covered in detail throughout the gallery, but there were also many wonderful items from various Asian cultures to look at.
Equally troubling is the history of Atlantic trade, which was covered in the next gallery. The cruelties of slavery were well illustrated with chains and whips, and objects related to the sugar trade, including a collection of abolitionist tea paraphernalia. There was also a section on other Atlantic industries, such as whaling, and something to appeal to my macabre side – an old guillotine blade that was actually used for executions on Haiti during the French Revolution. Again, grim, but fascinating.
Due to construction work on one of the stairwells, the first floor was a bit labyrinthine, and I ended up having to walk all the way around, and back through the East India gallery to access the stairs up to the second floor. The only things up there at the moment are a bunch of model ships, and a children’s gallery, which I skipped. The model ships were wonderfully detailed, (or so I’m told) but they mostly all looked the same to me, since I’m not particularly well-versed on ships, or really anything pertaining to naval history. I think if they’d had tiny people on top, I’d have been intrigued.
I think the National Maritime Museum is a solid diversion if you’re already in the Greenwich area, and even if you’re not that interested in maritime history (I’m not), many of the galleries still manage to be engaging by discussing the larger consequences of sea-travel. I think they make an effort to cater to children as well, which might be a concern for some of you. I’ll award it 3/5. I should mention, whilst we’re on the subject of Greenwich, that the famous Painted Hall where Nelson lay in state is right across the street from the Maritime Museum (albeit somewhat buried in the maze that is the Old Royal Naval College), and is worth poking your head in on your way back to the station, to complete your tour of things related to Nelson’s death, if nothing else.