Purcell completes National Museum of the Royal Navy Scheme £4.5m refurbishment and extension

The Babcock Galleries at The National Museum of the Royal Navy at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard have opened to the public following a £4.5 million renovation led by architects Purcell and project managers Artelia.

 The opening coincides with the centenary of the First World War. The Galleries house a major new permanent exhibition; ‘Hear My Story’, which tells 100 years of life in the Navy and covers the personal stories from those who served at sea. The Babcock Galleries are housed within an 18th century naval storehouse.

Storehouse 10 is a Grade I listed brick and timber framed building. Before major works were carried out the brickwork, which had suffered from erosion, was repaired and the timbers were stripped back. One of its most significant characteristics is the building’s floor, which in certain areas is made up of Spanish ship’s timbers. A raised floor has been installed above the timbers to protect them and glass vision panels inserted so that they can still be viewed. This fully reversible solution creates a void for all services to run beneath the floor and ensures level access.

A new, single storey glazed link was conceived as a transition space between the two listed buildings, Storehouse 10 and Storehouse 11. The design was technically demanding as the ground between the buildings is not level. As part of the concept, the overall thickness of the roof structure had to be the same depth as the stone band of the two flanking storehouses. A terne coated stainless steel roof finish was specified, which allows the roof to be laid to a shallow fall and is suitable for the marine environment with longevity equivalent to lead roof finishes.

Taking pride of place in the centre of the new link space is the ‘4 inch’ gun from the destroyer HMS Lance which fired the very first shot of the war at sea in WW1. This 3.6 tonne gun was craned into place by the contractor, Warings, before the roof was laid.

The exhibition fit out was designed by Redman Design. It is highly interactive with audio points stationed throughout the galleries, allowing visitors to listen to personal accounts of Navy life, and a dedicated audio-visual space in the centre of Storehouse 10 which shows the dramatic conflicts. Further facilities include an education space for schools and a temporary exhibition area which currently accommodates the ‘Racing to War: The Royal Navy and 1914’ exhibition.

Associate, Martin Dunseath from Purcell said: “Our simple glazed link intervention is distinctly different from the brick buildings either side, but is informed by the architectural rhythm of the arched colonnades and window openings across their elevations. The link is a practical solution, enabling the museum to guide visitors on a seamless journey through their buildings, and a shop window, showcasing what the museum has to offer.”

Matthew Sheldon, Head of Strategic Development at The National Museum of the Royal Navy said: “We are delighted with both this contemporary link building and with the sensitive conversion of the Georgian storehouse. At the start of the project we posed the question, ‘is it possible to create a 21st century exhibition within this space without compromising this 18th century building?’. Purcell has shown definitively that it is possible and it is a pleasure to see our many visitors enjoying a newly-revealed building and thoroughly modern exhibitions”. The ‘Hear My Story’ exhibition was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and opened to the public on Thursday 3rd April.