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Naval museums prepare to reopen after pandemic lockdown

Wyllie’s The Panorama of the Battle of Trafalgar with a new touchscreen interactive display for visitors
28 April 2021
The nation’s premier historic naval museum reopens on May 17 with hi-tech displays to welcome visitors back after a five-month break.

Staff in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard have used the enforced closure of the site by the pandemic lockdown to complete telling the story of HMS Victory, her crew and battles, with a new, interactive gallery.

The dockyard last welcomed tourists six days before Christmas and with more than 80 per cent of the historic dockyard’s revenue coming from visitors, the site has been hit hard by the pandemic.

The Royal Navy has provided more than £4.4m to the National Museum while the government’s ‘cultural recovery fund’ has provided more than £1.2m to support both the Mary Rose and the boatbuilding academy on site.

“Without visitors, we will not survive,” said Professor Dominic Tweddle, the national museum’s director general. “They are our lifeblood. We have sought to use this period to continue to develop our offer. Ours is a world-class experience and we are optimistic that this summer will be a safe and memorable one.”

The new gallery – HMS Victory: The Nation’s Flagship – occupies the original museum on the site, built opposite the great vessel and constructed in large part to house William Wyllie’s panorama of Trafalgar (13 metres long, four high).

The huge painting has been redisplayed and digitally reinterpreted so visitors can get even closer to it – and understand it better.

“Without visitors, we will not survive. They are our lifeblood.

Professor Dominic Tweddle, Director General National Museum of the Royal Navy

The rest of the gallery has similarly been brought into the 21st Century with a large format cinematic film, interactive screens/displayed, freshly-aired and previously unseen artefacts, including a shot-damaged section of original Victory mast from Trafalgar and a spectacular ten-foot-tall, 200-year-old figurehead.

The aim is to tell the story not just of Nelson and the Royal Navy’s greatest triumph, but the 256-year history of Victory, her crew and her decline and salvation in the early decades of the 20th Century.

“Visitors love HMS Victory and they never tire of her story,” said lead curator Andrew Baines. “Even those who think they know all about the ship, will discover something new.”

Later this summer the Mary Rose Trust will unveil its new ‘immersive experience’ which will give visitors the chance to virtually sail aboard Henry VIII’s flagship at her final battle in the Solent in July 1545.

As before the current lockdown, visitors will have to book in advance – you cannot turn up at Victory Gate on the day – with tickets and timed slots made available for reservation from 10am on Wednesday May 5 via http://www.historicdockyard.co.uk/. HMS Trincomalee, the 19th Century frigate in Hartlepool, also opens with the same caveats - tickets/bookings at the same address, but Jutland veteran HMS Caroline in Belfast remains closed for the time being.  

The RN Submarine Museum and naval firepower museum Explosion reopen two days after the dockyard on Wednesday May 19, as does the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Yeovilton which also requires pre-booking via https://www.fleetairarm.com/

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