Monday, July 12, 2010

National Maritime Museum

After arriving home from Paris late the night before (more about that later), I got up early to join the class trip to Greenwich to visit the National Maritime Museum. We walked down to the London Eye (Waterloo) Pier to catch a small clipper ferry to Greenwich. The boat ride was quite exciting- we traveled at a fast clip down the Thames and each stop on the route only lasted a couple of minutes. Megan and I traveled by the same ferry back to Waterloo and found that it was a great way to see the London.

After arriving at the National Maritime Museum we were given a tour of the library there, the Caird Library. It is a publicly funded institution and originally opened in 1937, along with the original museum. The Library was named after one of the founders, Sir James Caird, and is one of the largest maritime museums in the world, with over 100,000 books, 8,000 rare books, 20,000 periodicals, and about 20,000 pamphlets. It receives around 3,000 to 4,000 visitors a year and has a total of twelve staff members. Although the Library is normally open six days a week, it is currently only open three days a week, as it will be moving to a new location in the Museum soon.

Our tour guide Hannah and another staff member named Martin had laid out some interesting rare books and manuscripts for viewing. Among the rare books was Domestic Medicines, a treatise on medicines that was often taken on board ships. The Caird Library's copy was bound in sailcloth and was on board the HMS Bounty (!). I was in awe, but found the manuscripts even more exciting. Martin showed us a journal kept by Edward Mangin, a Chaplin on a Royal Navy boat in 1812. Mangin was an unusual fellow, as he was 40 years old and a civilian and thus provided an interesting point of view from life on a ship. Martin read us a passage about their diet, which sounded simply awful. In addition to the journal, we saw a ship's crew list and a signal book containing U.S. signals. Its spine was weighted with musket balls so it could be thrown overboard and sink in the event of capture. However, all did not go according to plan and this particular copy was seized by the British and the U.S. had to change all its signals.

This library visit was my favorite so far. After the tour I bought a couple of items in the gift shop and climbed up to the Royal Observatory with several classmates. The walk was steep but well worth the hike. We were able to see the Prime Meridian, an imaginary line that runs from the North Pole to the South Pole. Fortunately, it is represented at the Observatory by a physical line. We were also able to see some fabulous views of London.

Photos courtesy of the National Maritime Museum (Caird Library) and Port Cities London (Meridian Line).