Following the decision to close the museum in Woolwich, RAM has been developing plans to create a new home for the Royal Artillery’s collection on Salisbury Plain. The new museum is designed to appeal to visitors of all ages, from families and school groups to Army personnel and veterans. It will present three interlinked stories: the evolution of artillery technology, the 300-year history of the Royal Artillery, and the British Army’s relationship with Salisbury Plain.
The Army and MOD have identified a site for the new museum at Avon Camp West, just south of Netheravon on the A345, and around a mile and a half to the north-east of Larkhill. Designs have been developed for a simple, functional but high-quality museum building overlooking the Training Area. It will provide large museum galleries to display the collection, as well as space for education rooms, an archive research room, lecture theatre, meeting rooms, café and shop. The site will also accommodate visitor parking, a children’s play area and a large display arena for demonstrations and activities such as armoured vehicle rides.
The building will be two storeys high, with only a Salisbury Plain viewing gallery sitting above this level. It will be finished in a green cladding material sympathetic to the surrounding landscape, and its carbon footprint will be minimised using solar power and air source heating. New landscaping and planting will help screen the building and parking areas, and will also enhance the ecological value of the site, while arable land will be returned to grassland.
Interactive exhibits and audio-visual displays will help visitors explore the Royal Artillery’s unique museum collection and discover the fascinating stories behind each object. A History Gallery will chart the development of artillery from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century, with displays of historic guns and cannon from around the world. Highlights include a number of rare and highly decorated artillery pieces from India, China and Burma.
A dedicated gallery will demonstrate the huge importance of artillery during the First World War, and the pivotal role it played in breaking the stalemate of trench warfare and bringing the war to a conclusion. Other displays will focus on the Royal Artillery and the personal stories of its men and women.
There will be a separate room to house the medal collection, which is one of the finest in the country. There are examples of every type of medal awarded to British Army personnel, including twenty Victoria Crosses, each of them telling a story of service, sacrifice and, in many cases extreme bravery. There are also groups of medals and other personal items belonging to famous Gunners such as Lord Alanbrooke who was Winston Churchill’s “Master of Strategy” during World War Two. This will be a quieter and more reflective space since the medal collection is viewed as a memorial to the men and women who have served in the Regiment.
By contrast, a dramatic two-storey Artillery Hall with mezzanine viewing gallery will house the collection’s large artillery pieces, vehicles and aircraft dating from World War Two to the present day. These include an exceptional group of Cold War weaponry, unique experimental pieces such as the Green Mace anti-aircraft gun, and nuclear-capable artillery that was in service from the 1950s to the 1990s, including the famous Honest John missile.
Visitors will find out how the Royal Artillery grew to around one million men and women during the Second World War, and about the Regiment's contribution to more recent campaigns, from Northern Ireland and the Falklands to Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. Displays will highlight the equipment currently in service, such as the AS90 self-propelled gun and Rapier missile systems, and will look at what future developments in artillery technology might bring.
A Special Exhibition Gallery will host a programme of temporary exhibitions, including themed displays commemorating historic events, rarely-seen items from the historical archive and reserve collection, and items on loan from other museums. Elsewhere, there will be exhibitions telling the story of the British Army on Salisbury Plain, and how 130 years of military training has shaped local communities and helped preserve a unique landscape rich in wildlife and archaeology. The Salisbury Plain viewing gallery will offer exceptional views out over the Plain, helping visitors to identify historical features and explaining what the Army does here today.
Outdoor exhibits will include the 200-ton Railway Howitzer, the largest surviving British artillery piece, and an extensive recreated WW1 trench system with command bunkers and gun positions. A conservation workshop will enable visitors to see staff and volunteers working on pieces from the collection, with historic military vehicles being brought back to life and driven in the nearby display arena.
Once the museum is up and running, RAM will be developing further projects to enhance this initial offer. These could include improvements to exhibitions and educational resources, new immersive exhibits and activities, increased gallery space and storage for the historical archive and reserve collection.
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