Wednesday, 8 August 2007

National Maritime Museum

So today we had to be in the courtyard (our group meeting place) at 7:30am. Seeing as I do not function without coffee, I woke up at 6:15, threw on clothes, went and got coffee, checked email, then met the group. We then trekked across the waterloo bridge over to the other side of the river and took a 23 minute long boat ride down the Thames to Greenwich.

Now, our official tour didn’t start until 10:30am. The museum (and most shops) didn’t open until 10:00. So we had a little bit of time to get some breakfast (THANK GOD) and I could settle down a bit before we went in.

The National Maritime Museum also has a library, which houses pretty much any and everything pertaining to ocean/sea related items.We walked up through the Museum into the E-Library area, which was a foyer with an Inquiry Desk (information desk) and about 12 computers. The computers have access to E-Journals, their catalogue, family history items, etc. The E-Library was created so people under the age of 16 could search for information, as the under-agers are not permitted in the library itself. Within the foyer “E-Library” area, they also place items on display, this time around they are displaying items from the Falklands Islands Dispute. Swords, paintings, documents, etc. Pretty neat.We then walked through the rotunda to the Caird Library within the Maritime Museum. The shelves within were all guarded with glass doors, and locked. (Patrons are able to unlock the glass doors, they need only ask for a key.) Above the door to the library is a plaque stating Caird’s (the main benefactor in creating the library) motto “Strive and Endure” which is pretty depressing if you ask me.

The shelving was based on Cambridge University’s shelving plan- and created in the 1930’s. There are about 25K books in the Reading Room, all Reference only. Of those books, about 8000 of them are Rare Books, pamphlets, charts, atlases, maps, etc. The Rare Books include anything that is from pre-1850. Many of these rare items are not on-site.The library utilizes the UDC cataloguing system- Universal Decimal Classification- which integrates punctuation into the call numbers to further divide sub-headings into sub-sub-headings. Most of the patrons to the library are either Family Historians or academics. The library is currently creating a new archive to accommodate all groups (allow for better quiet areas for academics) and will be switching over to temperature controlled areas for the entire collection. This library (which is different from most of the others we’ve visited) acquires things on a regular basis, so they WEED constantly. They’re short on space and work diligently to keep it all organized and efficient for patrons, just as any library would.

The library was opened in 1937 by King George the VI. The building itself was originally an orphanage called the Royal Hospital School, which housed children of sailors and seamen who’d been abandoned for whatever reason. The Museum building lays on the grounds of what used to be the Naval College which is a separate building and was closed in 1999 (now it houses the Greenwich University).

This whole experience reminded me of the summer reading program at my library right now, as a lot of Maritime’s items are pirate-related. Here are some of the things I got to see and HOLD IN MY HANDS! The museum library has about 4 and a half miles worth of manuscripts. Their oldest piece is from 1322.

Spy Book: 1582
This book was compiled before the Spanish Armada for Queen Elizabeth by a real spy who was in Portugal, watching the Spanish fleets bring in goods/people, etc. It is basically military intelligence from long long ago. Very cool.

Waggoner: 1682
Pirate-owned atlas. Neat! Basil Ringrose (a real pirate) wrote this around American and South America. On a map within it, California is drawn as an island. Basil would attack Spanish ships, so even though he was a pirate, because the English weren’t too happy with the Spanish at that time, they eventually let him off the hook after he was tried for pirating.

Pearl- Royal Naval Log Book: 1720
This log book has two lines in it that detail when the English Navy captured Blackbeard…the real thing, Blackbeard the Pirate. Very neat! Interestingly, it appears that he was caught off the coast of North Carolina.Merchant/Slave LogNot very interesting, because the slaves were listed as “goods” and not much is recorded about them other than where they were going, how many onboard, etc. However, this book was written by a man (Newton) who later became a reformed Christian and wrote the song: Amazing Grace. Neat!

Admiral Lord Nelson’s love letters- 1801
These were neat because we got to see the love letters to his mistress—and then also the letter to his wife that basically says, “Look lady, I can’t help you- I don’t love you, we’re married and whatever, but buzz off.” But the letter to his mistress is pretty hot and steamy. Apparently Nelson was a paranoid guy too, so a lot of what he wrote is scribbled out and re-written…just in case someone intercepted it. He burned all the letters he received. I bet he didn’t think hundreds of years later we’d be reading about his affair! The library has literally 100s of these letters, as the mistress never held up her end of the deal and burned them, as Nelson burnt his. (I wouldn’t burn them either.)

Titanic: Walter Lords’ collection of memorabilia
Walter Lords, who wrote A Night to Remember, collected a ton of stuff from the Titanic, and upon his death, the Maritime museum acquired these items. Some things I was able to look at: a promotional brochure for White Star Liner, with a cross-section of the ship; photographs taken on the Carpathia of the survivors, how they were saved, and even a real photograph of the iceberg that sunk the Titanic (amazing); a 2nd class dinner menu, which was also a postcard that a little girl had in her pocket when the boat went under.

I also was able to see a lot of information on the Confession and Execution of pirates…pretty bloody stuff. Also saw the HBMS Bounty book, which had a broken spine, so they tied it together with a piece of the sail from the boat. So all in all this was a neat little trip. I wasn’t expecting it to have so many interesting treasures.

After our visit to the museum, I trekked up the hill to the Observatory, which is the area where the prime meridian is located. I was able to place a foot in both hemispheres. Doubt that will ever happen again. Haha!

1 comment:

Anne said...

I love your description of Nelson's letter to his wife! :)