Thursday, 2 August 2007

Entry #14 The National Maritime Museum and The Royal Observatory

The National Maritime Museum was founded in 1934 and opened in 1937. It’s located on the former site of the Royal Hospital School – a school for orphans of sailors – and is now a three story complex with maritime relics, a restaurant, and a reference library. The library is open to the public after they obtain reader tickets, however children are not allowed to use the facilities. They have story time on the weekends for kids and allow educational tours for schools, but they feel that the material is too delicate and not appropriate for people under eighteen.

Sir James Caird was the first director of the library and is responsible for the design of the reading room. The room contains over 25,000 books and over 100,000 volumes. They are working on building a new archive section to better serve the increasing number of people who are coming in and wanting assistance for research projects, especially family history. They are funded by the government and consequently have a committee that reviews all of their book purchases and discarding. Like most libraries they are running out of space and have several materials that are in storage but still available. The items that are catalogued are done in the Universal Decimal Class – a system closely related the DDC, but with the addition of punctuation marks to denote items like subject and language.

Our private lecture and viewing session with two of the archivists was by far the most enjoyable part of the tour. From their 4 ½ mile long supply of manuscripts they brought up some of the more interesting pieces and explained their history. Although their collection dates from 1322 to the present, they were only able to bring materials dating back to the 16th century. Some of my favourite items included a real pirate’s log complete with hand-drawn maps, a spy book, a log book from The Pearl recalling the capture of Black Beard, a book covered in part of the sail from the HMS Bounty, and pictures taken by a Titanic survivor of the iceberg and survivors being placed in boats. (Picture of the iceberg attached) The conservation department has done a great job of fixing the items so they can be easily handled by people. I know I’ve mentioned this several times already, but there is nothing quite like touching pieces of living history. It never stops being overwhelming.

Following the NMM we hiked up to the Royal Observatory to see the Prime Meridian , the big red ball signifying Greenwich mean time, and a great view of London. How many people can say they stood in the eastern and western hemispheres at the same time? I can! The apartment and longitude/latitude exhibits didn’t interest me very much, but it is nice to say that I’ve been at 0 degrees.