01 August, 2007

The National Maritime Museum & Royal Observatory

Today we visited Caird Library in The National Maritime Museum. It was designed by Sir James Caird and opened to the public in 1937. There are approximately 25,000 reference books in the reading room, and over 100,000 items in the collection altogether including atlases, charts, ship plans, photographs, and manuscripts. The museum offers a wide range of services to the public such as story time and educational lectures. Computers in the library allow readers to access catalogs and electronic journals free of charge. The library is funded by the government, and plans are being made for a new archive that will better accommodate different research needs. There are already 4 1/2 miles of manuscripts currently on the shelves, so space is always an issue.

The range of items that we saw from the collections was absolutely remarkable. There was a book of intelligence notes gathered by an English spy inscribed with a dedication to Queen Elizabeth from 1582. We saw an atlas owned by the pirate Basil Ringrose from 1682 containing a map of California before they knew that it was attached to the mainland. A log book from a Royal Navy ship mentions capturing Blackbeard the Pirate in 1720. It apparently took 40 men to kill him off the coast of the Carolinas. Another interesting item was a set of letters from the Navy Office from 1679 containing the signatures of King Charles II and Samuel Pepys.

I have to say that I was most impressed by the Walter Lord collection of artifacts from the Titanic. It was such an amazing experience to hold in my hands the second class dinner menu from the last meal served aboard the Titanic before she sank. A little girl that survived the sinking had forgotten that it was in her pocket that night and hung on to it for many years. The photographs taken by people aboard the rescue shipCarpathia literally gave me goosebumps. You could see the people wearing life vests inside the lifeboats with the iceberg looming in the distance just hours after it struck the ship. Those images are not something I will soon forget.

After exploring the National Maritime Museum and library we climbed the hill to the Royal Observatory. I have to admit that it was one of the highlights of my time in England to actually be able to straddle the Prime Meridian of the world and have one foot in the Eastern Hemisphere and one foot in the Western Hemisphere simultaneously! I had been wanting to do that ever since reading the book Longitude by Dava Sobel. What an amazing experience!

No comments: