Tag Archives: history

Hello Sailor?

Here’s a question for you. True or false? The Dutch Navy once sailed into British waters and destroyed a good part of the British Navy, captured the English flagship and occupied a British town.

The captured Royal Charles. Jeronymus van Diest II

Well, yes it is true. During the 2nd Anglo-Dutch War, in the summer of 1667, the Dutch fleet under Admiral de Ruyter sailed from the Channel and up the River Medway in Kent. They burned the fleet, captured Sheerness and captured two British vessels. The Dutch success came as a result of their daring combined with British mistakes, laxity and the downright treason of a couple of Medway pilots who guided the Dutch. In Netherlands this event is known as the Battle of the Medway. Here we downgrade it to the Chatham Raid! Dutch pupils learn about the event in school and many visit Chatham to see where it took place. Where you will not find any mention of this event, nor indeed any other naval or maritime history is on the National Curriculum. I know, of course, that the curriculum in English schools is fairly wide ranging and should teachers wish, maritime history can be slotted in to one of the areas of study. However, as a nation of islanders, we British are generally not well-informed about our maritime past. Throughout our history we have sailed; we have fished, we have defended our home and been the aggressor abroad, we have explored and raced and taken the ferry to our holidays or a new life somewhere else. One of our iconic landmarks can only be seen from the sea – from land the White Cliffs of Dover are yellow and grey but viewed from the deck of a ship in the channel, they are most definitely white!

Thankfully we do have many great maritime museums and collections. From Chatham Historic Dockyard (where I first learned about the Chatham Raid when I became Collections Manager there) to the Scottish Fisheries Museum, Great Yarmouth’s Time and Tide to anyone of the RNLI Heritage Trust museums around our coast there are as many museums as there are types of maritime experience and life. There is also a fleet of historic vessels from HMS Belfast and SS Great Britain to the less well-known and glamorous but no less important workhorses of the sea such as Advance – formerly the Victualling Inshore Craft 24 or the Steam Drifter, Lydia Eva. And you don’t want to get me started on Lighthouses or inland waterways… These museums do more than preserve stories of a past way of life, they keep alive trades, skills and traditions. So next time you’re at the coast, make a point of checking out your local maritime museum.

I think it would be fitting to end where we began, back in Chatham. In the 1990s, the Dockyard Trust discovered buried under the floor of an old workshop, what appeared to be the complete skeleton of an 18th century ship. The mystery of why the ship was buried instead of timbers being reused or destroyed as was usual, we may never know but we do finally know that the ship was the Namur, an important naval vessel on which anti-slavery pioneer Olaudah Equiano once served. The Dockyard Trust is raising funds for a conservation project on the Namur. If you want to help or find out more about another bit of our naval history you might not know, have a look here www.chdt.org.uk

Craft workshops housing the timbers of the Namur

Greetings Pop-pickers!

Ooh would you look at that, it’s 2010! Leaving aside all the concerns of getting older which results in the years skipping by like Martine McCutcheon on her way to discuss yoghurt with a grateful nation, I thought I’d ease gently into the new year with a simple list of museum exhibitions I’m looking forward to this year.

There are a number of things you should be aware of:

  • These are in no particular order except that in which they occurred to me
  • You may notice a South East bias. That’s because I live in Kent and have to rely on public transport. There are fantastic exhibitions going on all over the country (and the surrounding ones) but it’s not a list of exhibitions I’m slightly miffed I probably won’t get to.
  • If you want deep and well-informed reasons why these are on my list and others aren’t – you’ll be disappointed. Most of them just made me think “That looks like it’ll be good”
  • Turner Contemporary at Margate is opening next year, not this or it would have been on the list for sure.

So here’s my list. Let it inspire you to make your own and get out to museum or 6 this year!

1.Fra Angelico to Leonardo: Italian renaissance drawings at the British Museum. (April to July)

I admire the ability to draw and love the simplicity of drawings and sketches.  This is the sort of exhibition that the BM does really well and that, combined with the chance to see work by Raphael, Jacopo (whose paintings I saw recently and loved), Mantegna and Titian means this should be a gem of an exhibition.

2. The “new” Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

The backlash has begun in the letters section of the Museums Journal but I want to see for myself what’s been achieved here. The work done has been bold and looks stunning in photos but will the building outshine the displays? I hope not. The Ashmolean is one of those museums I’ve always wanted to like more than I did so let’s hope we get on better this time!

3. Stanley Spencer at No1 Smithery, the Historic Dockyard Chatham (July to December)

A little nepotistic I know since I work here but I’m not curating this exhibition and it looks like being a doozy! No1 Smithery is a brand new space and this exhibition of Stanley Spencer’s shipyard paintings from World War Two is the first time all the paintings will have been exhibited together since the 40s and will be the last time for a while as two are off to Glasgow afterwards. It’s being curated by artist Stephen Turner http://www.seafort.org/ and frankly, I’m just excited by the prospect of something this good in Medway.

(Note: Earlier I said they were off to Australia. I was getting confused and have corrected myself. Apologies.)

4. The Modern London galleries at the Museum of London (TBC Spring)

I have a big girly crush on Museum of London that dates from my youth and the photos coming out make the new displays look really exciting and fresh. I can’t wait to see the finished project even if I wish they’d stick that damn Lord Mayor’s carriage in a shed somewhere and use the space for something better. I may be in a minority there. Plus- I loved this photo project to publicise the redisplays http://bit.ly/4mN3eN

5. Tunbridge Wells Rocks  at Tunbridge Wells Museum  (February to April)

This is a mixture of art and social history. High Rocks just outside Tunbridge Wells is a strange outcrop of Sandstone which has served as home to an Iron Age community, the backdrop to TV shows (Blakes 7 or Dr Who, I forget which) as well as the courtship of many a Tunbridge Wells teenager, although it’s a lot smarter and less wild these days than when I was growing up (ahem). This exhibition will be pure nostalgia for me. What? I said this was my list! Get your own teenage reminders!

If I’ve missed anything I should really see, please do leave a comment and let me know.