Plymouth to get a new naval museum

Work is starting this year on a £5m museum to tell the story of the Royal Navy in Plymouth.

It’s part of a 12-year plan by the National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN) to highlight the role and heritage of its branches in their key locations.

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. Aided by a mix of fund-raising and money from National Lottery investment, around £125m has already been been injected into the RN’s heritage, 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.

HMS Courageous museum submarine
HMS Courageous in dry dock (Photo: Chris Allen CC-BY-2.0)

Now the NMRN is turning its attention to the Devonport Naval base in Plymouth and the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Yeovilton…. which will also see a multi-million pound revamp, with the old museum hangers being replaced & upgraded to display upwards of 100 classic aircraft from more than a century of British naval aviation.

The plan is to give Devonport a full-time visitor attraction, centred around former nuclear submarine HMS Courageous, which has been on public display in Devonport since 2002. The existing museum (I didn’t know there was one!) 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.

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

The HMS Courageous video tour…

“Plymouth’s naval history has not been particularly well served over the years,” said the NMRN’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.

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