Visit to the Caird Library and Archive, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

Monday 10 July 2017

Glorious sunshine accompanied our visit to the Caird Library and Archive this week. Housed in the Sammy Ofer Wing of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, the new library space opened in 2011. It comprises a group and quiet study area and offers 42 spaces for readers. Library and archive staff are available to assist visiting researchers with the open access collection and retrieval of items from the on and off-site stores. As well as the print materials, the day pass or three year pass include access to e-resources such as OED, BNB and family history databases.


Housed in the library are modern and rare book collections totalling 135,000 with the pre-1850 books making up part of the national collection. Sir James Caird, a Scottish shipping magnate acquired many early items for the collection. Additionally, there are 80,000 maps and charts, printed ephemera such as on-board menus, personal papers donated by the families of ships’ captains etc., Board of Trade documents from companies such as P&O and business collections detailing cargoes carried around the world by different vessels, all giving a rich resource to mine. The team also use the collection to contribute to the many exhibitions at the museum.

Subjects covered on the open shelves include medicine at sea, weaponry, dockyards, warships, fishing & whaling, discovery & expedition and ship building. In such close proximity to the Royal Observatory, books on horology and astronomy feature too. An accompanying journal collection included The Nelson Dispatch, Lighthouse Digest, Slavery & Abolition, Model Boats and Knotting Matters.

Visitors number 5,000 per year and are made up of researchers, students, Caird fellows and sometimes those inspired by shows like Who do you think you are?, who wish to research the naval connections in their family history and those interested in popular topics like the Titanic. The team are busy with over 300 written or telephone enquiries a month often focusing on the Royal or Merchant Navy.

Our hosts Stawell Heard, Librarian and Jon Earle, displayed a number of treasures from the collection for us to view. Highlights being a letter written by Nelson in 1797 asking for a frigate to bring him home and believed to be the first letter he wrote with his left hand, Captain Bligh’s copy of Domestic Medicine by W Buchan from 1779 which was on board HMS Bounty and a collection of miniature books bound in a ship’s wood.


Plans are in place to consolidate the collections in the four off-site stores in to one location and to make their artefacts, such as models of ships, more accessible to visitors. With this due to happen in the coming year, a repeat visit by CILIP in Kent is sure to feature in our programme of events.


Write-up by Kate Davies, CILIPinKent Secretary


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