About the Museum

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Essential information

Key stage: 
National Maritime Museum, Queen's House
School subject: 
Leisure & tourism

An essential introduction to the Museum

About the Museum

An essential introduction to the Museum


Welcome to the National Maritime Museum (NMM), set in the heart of historic Greenwich.

The Museum’s mission is to

... illustrate for everyone the importance of the sea, ships, time and the stars and their relationship with people ...

The NMM is both a museum and a visitor attraction. As a museum it is directly funded by the Government to look after its historically important buildings and collections, which are part of our national heritage. As a visitor attraction the NMM has to compete with other modern visitor attractions for income and visitors.

Before investigating the NMM as a leisure, travel and tourism 'case study’, it is necessary to understand what makes the Museum unique – i.e. the historical importance of its buildings and their contents.

The Museum is made up of three main physical sites:

  • The Royal Observatory, Greenwich (ROG)
  • The Queen's House (QH)
  • National Maritime Museum galleries (Maritime galleries) (NMMg)

The Royal Observatory

The Royal Observatory was designed in 1675 by Christopher Wren, on the order of King Charles II. It was used by the Astronomer Royal to study the stars as a means of calculating longitude (our position east or west).

This was important in 'perfecting navigation and astronomy’ and for Britain’s expanding maritime trade and empire.

Key points

  • It is famous as the 'home’ of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and the Prime Meridian Line (Longitude 0°).
  • By international agreement, it is the official starting point for each new day, year and millennium (at the stroke of midnight GMT is measured from the Prime Meridian).
  • The Observatory galleries tell the related stories of time, space and astronomy, and display the world-famous Harrison timekeepers.
  • The Planetarium lets visitors explore the wonders of the heavens, while the Observatory also houses London's only public camera obscura.

The Queen’s House

The Queen's House was England's first building built in the 'classical' style of architecture. It is a rare surviving example of the work of Inigo Jones, the man who revolutionized English architecture of the period.

It was completed in 1638 for Charles I's French queen, Henrietta Maria, as a private 'house of delights'.

Key points

Currently it displays part of the Museum’s vast portrait collection (the second largest in England after the National Portrait Gallery's). Some of these paintings have not been seen by the public for many years, including works by Van Dyck, Gainsborough, Hogarth and Reynolds.

It is also a venue for contemporary art, with an innovative programme of commissions and workshops by artists-in-residence. These workshops are linked to the Museum’s education programmes for schools, families and adults.

The National Maritime Museum galleries

The National Maritime Museum is the largest and most important museum of its kind in the world. It was founded by the National Maritime Museum Act in 1934 and was opened to the public in 1937.

Key points

The Museum has recently undergone a £20m modernisation – with £11m funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Inside the classical buildings lies a state-of-the-art museum.

It houses 16 galleries which tell the story of Britain and the sea and the importance of the ocean in our lives today. Gallery themes include exploration, trade and empire, passengers, the marine environment and the life of Nelson.

The galleries are designed to be physically and intellectually accessible for everyone. Many include interactive and hands-on features, that are not just for children.

The Museum deals with thousands of enquiries from researchers, students and the general public. There is an extensive library, E-library and a subject-specialist enquiry service. As well as corporate events and sponsorship, the Museum has cafes and shops to meet visitors' needs and generate income.

Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site

In addition to the three museum buildings, Greenwich has many features which make it exceptional as a tourist destination. These include:

  • World-class buildings by famous architects such as Sir Christopher Wren, Inigo Jones, Hawksmoor, Vanburgh and James (Athenian) Stuart
  • The beautiful grounds of Greenwich Park (the oldest Royal Park of London) has quiet gardens, sports grounds and a children’s boating lake
  • A Georgian town centre, which contains a market, antique and craft shops, a theatre, good restaurants and riverside pubs

Maritime Greenwich was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997. History, geography and architecture give Greenwich its unique character as a tourist destination. This unique character – location, buildings and collections – affects the Museum’s marketing strategy and its operations as a visitor attraction.

Did you know..?

Some fast facts about historic Greenwich:

  • A Tudor palace called Placentia (which means 'pleasant place’) was built on the banks of the River Thames, on the site of the present University of Greenwich buildings
  • Henry VIII, Elizabeth and Mary Tudor were all born here
  • Greenwich is only four miles from the Tower of London. It was a pleasant place to escape the dirt, smells and disease of the inner city (a view shared by many today!)
  • Henry VIII hunted deer and danced with Anne Bolelyn and Elizabeth in the grounds of the Royal Park. You can still see deer in the park today
  • There is a very old story that Queen Anne, wife of King James I, accidentally shot one of his favourite dogs while hunting in 1614. The king was so angry that he swore at her in public. To apologise for such a grave insult, the king gave his wife the Manor of Greenwich!