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Plymouth to get £5m new naval museum

10 January 2018
Work will begin this year on a £5m museum to tell the story of the Royal Navy in Plymouth.

It’s the cornerstone of a 12-year plan by museum bosses which will also see a multi-million pound revamp of the Fleet Air Arm’s heritage.

The team who have more than doubled tourist numbers to Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard inside a decade say the time has come to give Devonport a full-time visitor attraction, centred around former nuclear submarine HMS Courageous.

And the long-term plan revealed by the National Museum of the Royal Navy will transform the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Yeovilton with brand-new facilities.

The National Museum was formed a decade ago to bring the Service’s four principal museums - Royal Navy, Submarine, Royal Marines and Fleet Air Arm - under central leadership to better tell the story of the individual branches and the whole Senior Service, and to bring in millions of pounds investment.

Aided by a mix of fund-raising and money from National Lottery investment, around £125m has been injected into the RN’s heritage over the past decade, helping to more than double visitor numbers to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, restore WW2-era submarine HMS Alliance in Gosport, open Jutland veteran cruiser HMS Caroline as a tourist attraction in Belfast, and Gallipoli veteran monitor HMS M33 in Portsmouth.

we will have a museum which tells the story of the Royal Navy and how it relates to Plymouth

Professor Dominic Tweddle, National Museum’s Director General

The second stage of the transformation of telling the Navy’s rich story will focus on the West Country.

Over the next decade, the existing museum will move to a revamped and expanded Bonaventure House (also known as Officers’ Terrace) in the South Yard.

That will allow the public to see thousands of objects and artefacts held in Plymouth - 10,000 glass negatives of the pre-WW1 base, ships and women at work in the yard; a sizeable collection of ship models; figureheads; and a lot of relics from the ‘end of empire’ - items brought back from former colonies as Britain pulled out after WW2 tended to end up in Devonport.

In addition, submarine HMS Courageous will move to a nearby dock, with a neighbouring building turned into a museum telling the RN’s Cold War story.

“Plymouth’s naval history has not been particularly well served over the years,” said the National Museum’s Director General Prof Dominic Tweddle. “We can do better, so let’s do it.

“Courageous is a fantastic attraction, wonderfully restored and preserved, but at the moment she’s difficult to see.

“If all goes well, we will have a museum which tells the story of the Royal Navy and how it relates to Plymouth, as well as the Navy’s story since 1945.”

The first work is due to begin on the site later this year with the whole project taking seven to ten years.

Further east at Yeovilton, the hangars currently occupied by the Fleet Air Arm Museum are reaching the end of their lives – but a 12-year-plan is in hand to completely rebuild museum, overhaul the galleries, and display upwards of 100 classic aircraft from more than a century of British naval aviation.

As for Portsmouth, as well as the new-look Royal Marines Museum, a ‘centre for discovery’ will open in the storehouse behind the existing National Museum galleries to allow the public to see thousands of items currently in storage.

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