Peterloo

Mike Leigh’s new film about Peterloo goes out on general release today. We were lucky to see the preview a couple of weeks ago. It was shown at Home in Manchester, a few hundred yards from where the events actually happened,as part of the London Film Festival. We weren’t at Home but in Horwich at one of the cinemas around the country where the film and the question and answer session with Mike Leigh and Maxine Peake was relayed.

The film tells the story of the Peterloo Massacre which took place on St Peter’s Field in Manchester on 16 August 1819 and is one of the first key events in the struggle of working people in England. Manchester had grown massively from a small settlement in south Lancashire to become a dynamic metropolis of manufacturing based on the cotton industry. The mill owners became extremely rich but this was at the expense of their workers who lived in appalling conditions (described by Frederick Engels in his book The Condition of the Working Class in England written a few years later in 1845). In 1819 conditions were particularly bad due to the economic depression that followed the end of the Napoleonic Wars, which resulted in wage cuts and unemployment, and the passing of the Corn Laws in 1815 which led to increased food prices. The vote was restricted to the wealthy and there was massive disparity in representation around the country – the whole of Lancashire had only 2 MPs.

Manchester was something of a hot bed of radicalism and it was decided to organise a mass meeting on Peter’s Field in Manchester and the renowned Radical orator Henry Hunt was invited to speak and act as chair.

The local representatives of the ruling class were terrified, believing that revolution was in the air so they arranged for a military presence comprising 600 men of the 15th Hussars, several hundred infantrymen, a Royal Horse Artillery unit with two six-pounder guns, 400 men of the Cheshire Yeomanry, 400 special constables and 120 cavalry of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry.

On the day 60,000–80,000 workers and their families, including children, marched to Manchester from the city and surrounding districts, with banners bearing slogans such as “Liberty and Fraternity” and “Taxation without Representation is Unjust and Tyrannical”, and assembled on Peter’s Field, an open space in the centre of the growing city. They came from all around South Lancashire, including a contingent from Wigan. Many of them had to walk a considerable distance to get there. Perhaps some of my ancestors were amongst them.

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By Jhamez84 – self-made but based on work in Reid, Robert (1989) The Peterloo Massacre, William Heinemann Ltd ISBN: 0434629014., CC BY 3.0, Link

The meeting started and seeing the enthusiastic reception Hunt received on his arrival the local Magistrates lost their nerve, read the Riot Act and sent in the troops. They charged into the crowd, running over demonstrators with their horses and slashing out with their sabres. Hemmed in in a restricted area there was nowhere to run. At the end, by the time the field had been cleared there were 11–15 demonstrators killed and 400–700 injured.

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By Richard Carlile (1790–1843) – Manchester Library Services, Public Domain, Link

Currently there’s very little evidence in Manchester of this pivotal event in working class history other than a circular memorial plaque high on the wall of the Free Trade Hall (where I used to go to concerts when I was a teenager and which is now a posh hotel)which stands where the massacre took place.

The events provoked outrage, summed up by Shelley’s poem, the Masque of Anarchy with it’s call to action

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number.
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you—
Ye are many—they are few.

Next year there are plans to stage events to celebrate the bicentenary and the conceptual artist Jeremy Deller has been commissioned to create a memorial to be located on the forecourt of the former Central Station, behind the Midland Hotel, close to the location of the assembly. Details of the design were released this week.

As for the film, well it’s not a Hollywood action movie. The story develops gradually , bringing to life the lives of workers in Manchester and the radical atmosphere in the city. There’s a lot of talking, using the words of the protagonists themselves, illustrating the different views on what action was needed. Those arguing for a peaceful demonstration prevailed over those agitating for a more violent response to repression. Henry Hunt himself was shown to be something of a vain and pompous demagogue. The real heroes were the ordinary men and women of Manchester and Lancashire. It builds slowly to the demonstration itself and culminates in the slaughter.

Mike Leigh believes the events of Peterloo and the reasons why it occurred need to be more widely known. I agree. His film should help.

Until the Day Breaks

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Until the day breaks and the shadows flee, turn, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or like a young stag on the rugged hills. (From the Song of Solomon)

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My main motivation for our trip to Thessaloniki was to visit the Mikra British Cemetery, as it’s there that my Great Grandfather is buried. He died on 19 August 1918 while in Greece as part of the British Salonika Force (BSF). So our visit was 100 years after his death (although we were a few weeks late).

Until I started researching my family history I didn’t really know that there were British troops in Greece. But they were there as part of a French led campaign between 1915 and 1918, initially sent in to assist the Serbs who were being attacked by the Bulgarians, supported by the Germans and Austrians.

Greece was a neutral country but the Entente force was “invited” in by the Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, who was pro-Entente. The Greek King, Constantine I, however, was pro-German, so the political situation was tense to say the least. An internal struggle in Greece led to the King being deposed and replaced by his son in 1917, and Greece joined the war supporting the Franco-British led force which also included Russian, Italian, and Serbian contingents as well as British and French colonial troops from the Indian subcontinent, Africa, and Indochina.

By the time the Salonika Force arrived, the Serbs had already been defeated and after an initial offensive the front stabilised. The Allied armies entrenched around Thessaloniki, which became a huge fortified camp, leading the French Premier Georges Clemenceau to mock them as “the Gardeners of Salonika”. There was a final push in late 1918 when the Bulgarians were defeated.

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Over 10,000 British members of the Salonika Force died, more than half of them from malaria, dysentery and other diseases. Initially, the Commonwealth dead were buried in the local Protestant and Roman Catholic cemeteries. The Anglo-French Lembet Road Military Cemetery was used from November 1915 to October 1918. The British cemetery at Mikra, Kalamaria, was opened in April 1917, remaining in use until 1920.

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My Great Grandfather, Arthur, was a regular soldier in the Royal Field Artillery when the Great War broke out and he was off to France with the British Expeditionary Force on 18 August 1914, so he was one of the first to be sent out to the war. Somehow he survived (he was a driver and I suspect he was ferrying officers around) and was discharged at the end of his service period in March 1916. Surprisingly, this was normal practice for Regular soldiers. He wasn’t home for long, though, as on 9 June 1916 he was sailing out of Preston to Greece having been called up into the Army Service Corps. As someone who could drive (a relatively rare skill in those early days of motoring) he was assigned to a Mechanical Supply Company.

Like many of the British troops out in Greece, it would appear that he died of disease. His death record states that he died in No. 29 Hospital and his cause of death is recorded as “died”. Well that’s pretty obvious. I guess that was to disguise how he died as the authorities probably didn’t want the public to know how many troops were dying from disease.

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Mikra cemetery is next to the Greek cemetery in Kalamaria, which in 1918 was were the British force was based and on the outskirts of the city. Today it’s been absorbed into the urban sprawl. We got a taxi out there from the city centre – at a cost of 8 Euros each way.

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The cemetery is like those that we’d visited in France, very well looked after with pristine headstones – not the usual Portland Limestone but local stone – mainly marble. There are 1,810 Commonwealth dead buried here and 147 other nationalities, including Russians, Serbs, Greeks and even some Bulgarians. It’s a peaceful spot and a beautiful (if that’s the right word) memorial.

It was easy to locate Arthur’s grave. The Cemetery records are accessible online and provided details of exactly where he was buried – the headstones are numbered and laid out in neat rows. There’s a copy of the record in a cupboard in wall by the cemetery gates too.

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We soon spotted that the headstones of non-Commonwealth dead had a slightly different design of headstone.

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Non-combatants are also buried here.

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At the top of the cemetery, next to the cross, there are memorials to Troops and nurses who died on ships sunk on the way to Salonika, including the Britannic, the sister ship of the Titanic.

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I’ve no doubt we were the first visitors to Arthur’s grave. It was a moving experience for me to stand beside it. We left a small bouquet of flowers, including red roses for Lancashire, which I’d bought at the flower market that morning.

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Afterwards we spent some time looking round the cemetery and also chatted with three members of a family who were visiting the grave of a relative. After spending about an hour and a half in the cemetery we left and caught a taxi from the rank across the road and headed back into the city centre. I was glad that I’d been able to fulfil my ambition to visit my Great Grandfather and pay my respects on behalf of the family. He’d survived the first two years of the war on the Western Front only to die of disease in a forgotten front far from home, only a few months before the madness ended. Rest in Peace Arthur.

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James Cook – the Voyages at the British Library

Last Tuesday I had to travel down for a meeting in the afternoon. As I was travelling on an “off peak ticket” the first train I could catch for the return journey only leaves at 7:30, so J decided to travel down with me and make a day of it.

After my meeting we met up at the National Portrait Gallery where we had a look around the BP Portrait Award exhibition before heading over to the British Library to visit the current exhibition about the voyages of James Cook.
We have a particular interest in him as he’s in my wife’s descended from one of his siblings and last year we’d visited the Cook Memorial Museum in Whitby as well as his parent’s home which has been transplanted in Fitzroy Garden’s in Melbourne.

It was an excellent exhibition and we ended up spending longer there than we’d anticipated. It covered in some detail all three of Cook’s voyages with exhibits including maps, charts, journals, books, drawings, paintings, many of which were produced by the artists, scientists and sailors on board the ships (including Cook himself) and a series of short videos giving different perspectives on the voyages.

After a brief introduction to Cook and the background, there was a separate section of the exhibition devoted to each of the three voyages.

Highlights for me were the charts drawn in Cook’s own hand

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and his handwritten journals

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and pictures by the expedition artists and other crew members, including the earliest European depiction of a kangaroo.

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One thing that particularly came across to me from this exhibition was the role of Polynesians from Tahiti who guided the British expedition to islands they were already aware of and also helped as translators as well as, to some extent, smoothing the way, when encountering indigenous Polynesian peoples on the newly “discovered” (by Europeans) lands. In particular, Tupaia, who joined first voyage, travelling on to New Zealand and Australia.

There were a number of drawings by Tupaia in the exhibition.

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The official objective of the 1st expedition (1768–1771) was to observe the Transit of Venus to aid the calculation of the distance from the Earth to the Sun, but the Admiralty provided Cook with secret orders to search for land and commercial opportunities in the Pacific. So Cook and his crew are best remembered for being the first Europeans to discover and chart the Eastern shores of Australia, properly explore and chart the shores of New Zealand and to “discover” a number of Pacific islands. Of course, all these lands had been discovered many years before by the people who were living there when the Europeans arrived.

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The objective of the 2nd expedition (1772–1775) was to search for the Great Southern Continent, believed by some in Europe to encircle the South Pole. They travelled further south than had been done before, were the first ships to cross the Antarctic Circle and the Resolution set a record for the Farthest South that would stand for 49 years. They didn’t find land (not travelling far enough south to reach Antarctica)and Cook ruled out the existence of a continent ‘unless near the pole and out of reach of navigation’. The expedition also revisited Tahiti and New Zealand and “discovered” several new Pacific islands as well as South Georgia which he claimed for Britain. The latter was occupied by Argentina during the Falklands War.

The secret aim of the 3rd voyage (1776–1780) was search for a Northwest Passage linking the Pacific and the Atlantic. Again, they sailed into the South Pacific where they visited Tonga, Tahiti, Tasmania and New Zealand and the Hawaiian islands before sailing north to Canada and then Alaska. They crossed the Bering Sea over to Asia and crossed the Arctic circle, but further progress was blocked by ice so they failed in their quest to find a North West passage. Sailing south they called in at the Hawaiian islands. It was here, on 14 February 1779 that Cook was killed on the beach along with 4 marines and 16 Hawaiians, following a dispute over a stolen boat. The expedition carried on without him travelling to Kamchatka in western Russia and China before returning to Britain.

These were epic journeys demonstrating tremendous navigational skills, seamanship and chart making abilities. But there was a legacy. The discoveries and charts enabled the subsequent occupation, colonisation and subjugation of the indigenous peoples of these lands. So it was good to see that the British Library provided some different perspectives other than simply praising Cook in a series of short videos.

Terracotta Warriors in Liverpool

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More than 8,000 life-sized Terracotta Warriors have been unearthed in burial pits at the tomb complex of Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, since 1974 near Xi’ in North West China. They’re one of the “wonders of the world” and a small selection of them are currently visiting Liverpool as part as an exhibition at the World Museum in Liverpool.

We went to see the exhibition last Friday evening. It’s proving to be very popular (not surprising really) and tickets have to be booked a few weeks in advance.

My colleague at work was a little scathing as only a relatively small number of the warriors are on display. He felt that the spectacle was in seeing the massed ranks.

Visitors are allocated a time slot but we still had to queue up to wait to get in. First of all you’re shepherded in to watch an introductory film. Personally I didn’t find it very enlightening and don’t think it set the scene particularly well. However it didn’t last too long and we were soon entering the exhibition proper to be greeted by a horse and its groom.

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We were able to get quite close to the life size figures – within a metre. Photographs were allowed (no flash), and although the exhibition was busy, we were able to get a good look.

Then into the main part of the exhibition where we learned about how China was unified under the First Emperor and about life in China during his reign. There was a good selection of artefacts on display

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supported by information panels

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Then the main display of warriors – seven of them in a row

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Again, we were able to get very close to the figures and inspect their features, clothing, armour etc.

The life-sized figures vary in height, uniform, and hairstyle in accordance with rank. They all have different features although experts have identified 10 basic face shapes.

Although today they appear as terracotta grey, they were original painted in bright colours, like this reproduction on display in the foyer of the Museum,

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which has faded and flaked off. However, by getting close it was possible to see traces of the paint. Most of the figures originally held real weapons such as spears, swords, or crossbows, but very few remain as they’ve either been robbed or disintegrated over time.

Here’s a closer look at some of the figures.

The General

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An Officer

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A Light Infantryman

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A Heavy Infantryman

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A Charioteer

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A Standing archer

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A Kneeling archer

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This wasn’t the end of the exhibition. Some high ranking notables and later Emperors also had their own armies created – although these were smaller than life size and not as realistic.

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and there was a beautiful golden horse found in the tomb of Emperor Wu, the 5th ruler of the Han Dynasty

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Well, despite my colleague’s warning, we were not at all disappointed – quite the reverse. We learned quite a lot about the history of China and the early Emperors, and it was fantastic to be able to get close up to the figures. They were breathtaking.

The National Museum of Finland

We visited the National Museum of Finland on the first full day of our recent stay in Helsinki – on the Sunday afternoon after we’d been to the Didrichsen Art Museum. It tells the story of Finland and its people, going right back to the pre-historic times and is definitely worth a visit to get an understanding of this relatively young nation.

The museum is in a distinctive Finnish National Romantic style building, designed by architects Herman Gesellius, Armas Lindgren, and Eliel Saarinen, directly opposite the Finlandia Hall, close to the city centre. The exterior is rather austere and influenced by medieval architecture but with some Art Nouveau / Jugendstil touches.

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Inside includes murals and other Finnish style Jugendstil features, particularly in the central hall and main staircase. It’s hard to do justice to the ceiling mural in the central entrance hall which depicts scenes from the Kalevala, the Finnish national myth.

There were some beautiful stained glass windows on the main staircase

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The first half of the museum concentrates on the history of Finland from the Middle Ages to the foundation of the independent Finnish State in 1917 (after the Russian Revolution). It’s what I would call a traditional type of museum with lots of artefacts presented in a relatively static way with limited interaction. This doesn’t mean it wasn’t interesting and we learned quite a bit about the history of Finland when it was a colony of Sweden and then, later, a Russian Grand Duchy.

The Medieval room

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A recreated room from the 18th Century when Finland was a Swedish colony – the large white “cabinet” is a ceramic heater – needed in the depths of the Finnish winter!

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The throne used by the Tsar during his visit to Finland when it was under Russian Imperial influence

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The second half of the museum, covering the modern era from the beginning of the 20th Century to the present day was very modern in style with lots of interactive and hands-on displays including this interactive panorama of Helsinki at the end of the Russian era

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and a “book” where the content was projected on to blank pages.

Nationalist feeling was growing in Finland at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th Century – which is reflected in the Jugenstil and National Romantic architecture so prevalent in Helsinki. After the fall of the Tsar, taking opportunity of the Bolshevik policy of  National Determination, Finland declared independence on 6 December 1917. A Civil War followed between “Reds” and conservative “Whites”, the latter eventually being victorious.

At the beginning of WWII Finland was attacked by Soviet Russia leading to a bitter “Winter War” where the much smaller country defeated the Red Army, yet the Moscow Peace treaty ceded territory to Russia. There was a period of peace before war resumed in autumn 1941 when Russia was preoccupied with defending itself from the German invasion.  Power relations had changed and The USSR were now allied with Great Britain, which resulted in the latter declaring war on Finland on 6 December., and Finland was supported by, if not allied with, the Nazis. I felt that although much was made of the hardship and heroics of the Winter War (quite rightly), this aspect was rather glossed over.

After WWII Finland was in a difficult position with a long border with the USSR and and had to balance carefully between the big powers maintaining a neutral stance. Like the other Nordic countries it developed a strong welfare state which largely remains today despite some economic difficulties and the rise of the Nationalist right who are now in Government.

Last year was the Centenary of the founding of the Finnish state and the final exhibit in this part of the Museum was a film show with an image of a Finn from each year from 1917 until 2017 projected on a large screen. Visitors could control both the direction of the film (past to present or vice versa) and the speed.

As we were about to leave the museum we realised we’d missed a whole section devoted to prehistoric Finland, so we went to have a look. Again, it was an interesting exhibition, well presented in a modern way.

Given it’s position in the frozen north, early population was sparse and life would have been hard so no major civilisations developed like in more temperate environments. However there was some migration after the last Ice Age and a number of artefacts were displayed, such as weapons and jewellery.

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as well as displays and models about the environment and how people lived.

We enjoyed our visit to the Museum. There was more  to see and we could have spent longer there, but we were starting to feel tired so it was time to head back to our hotel for a rest and to get ready to go out for something to eat.

 

Irish Gold

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After my visit to the National Gallery of Ireland last Sunday, I took a short walk down Kildare Street to the National Museum (Archaeology). I hadn’t visited for a number of years and as I had an hour to spare before it closed I thought I’d take a look around.

Ór – Ireland’s Gold, an exhibition of findings from the Bronze Age occupied the centre of the ground floor, immediately attracted my attention. There were impressive displays of gold objects from both the early and late Bronze Age showing how gold working techniques and craftsmanship evolved in Ireland from 2400 to 700 BC. The collection includes finds from all over Ireland. The gold they used came from alluvial deposits “panned” from rivers and streams. It wasn’t pure and contained other metals such as copper, lead and even silver.

The earliest objects were relatively simple, discs and crescent shaped neck ornaments known as lunulae, made from flat sheets. Many of them were decorated with designs such as rows of dots, crosses, triangles and zigzags. Just over 100 lunulae have been discovered by archaeologists; 80 in Ireland, so the design is likely to have originated here.

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Over the years techniques developed allowing more complex objects to be created including solid objects, cast or made from bars and ingots. Gold wire was also used producing hair ornaments called lock-rings and thin gold foil was used to cover objects made from other metals such as copper, bronze or lead.

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The most impressive gold objects were in a separate part of the Museum – The Treasury. They were found in 1896 close to the shore of Lough Foyle at Broighter, Co. Derry, part of a hoard of gold objects,  and date from the 1st Century B.C. – the Iron Age.

The Broighter Collar – a hollow tubular neck-ring of hammered sheet gold.

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The Broighter Boat, complete with two rows of nine oars and a paddle rudder for steering, is the earliest depiction of a sailing ship from Ireland. It measures 18.4 cm long by 37.6 cm wide and weighs approximately 85g.

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Het Scheepvaartmuseum

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The day before we left for our recent break in Amsterdam I was watching a programme on Channel 4 about the south coast of England. One of the features on the programme was about a buried shipwreck in the sand near to Hastings – the remains of the VSO sailing ship, Amsterdam. After showing the location of the wreck the presenters whizzed over to Amsterdam where they visited a reconstruction of the very same ship at the National Maritime Museum. Having seen the programme we decided it would be interesting to go and have a look for ourselves. So on the Wednesday of our holiday we took the tram to Centraal Station and walked along the waterfront to the Maritime Museum.

On the way we passed houseboats and historic ships and boats moored along the quays.

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On the way we made a brief visit to Nemo, the Science Museum. The building, designed by Renzo Piano reminds me of a ship’s prow ploughing through the water.

DSC03172 Visitors can walk up onto the roof where there’s a great view across the water and over to the city.

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I really liked the cartoon panorama designed by Jan Rothuizen

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After a coffee in the roof top café, we made our way round the harbour to the Museum where we could see the Amsterdam moored alongside.

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The museum building is a former naval storehouse and magazine, built in 1652.

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Today the central courtyard has been covered with a glass roof, just like in the British Museum

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There are exhibits in the North, west and east wings. We decided to start by walking through to the harbourside to have a closer look at the Amsterdam

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Visitors can board the ship and look around both above and below deck

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Although it was a merchantman it carried guns for protection

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The museum recently introduced a new attraction on the ship – a virtual reality experience Dare to Discover which

transports visitors back to the 17th century when Amsterdam was the world’s largest port and the Netherlands was a world power. The VR journey allows visitors to witness a number of unique happenings from those days such as the construction of the Zeemagazijn – now home to Het Scheepvaartmuseum – and the building of warships on the shipyard premises. They can even join a farewell on the quayside where the crew is boarding one of the Dutch East India Company’s ships.

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There are two other boats to see on the harbourside,

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including the very ornate Royal Barge

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It was dinner time so we went back inside and enjoyed a light meal ( a hearty soup) before heading over to the east wing to explore the exhibitions.

There was an excellent collection of old maps (I found them fascinating and could have spent longer looking at them, including the interactive electronic versions that visitors could view on computer terminals – you could even email copies to yourself!)

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There were also displays of models of yachts, navigational instruments,

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ship decorations

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and an extensive paintings of ships

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and albums of old photographs, all displayed in interesting, engaging and imaginative ways.

Moving over to the west wing we visited the exhibitions about life in the Dutch Golden Age and whaling.

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In the north wing we visited the exhibition about the Port of Amsterdam which includes a scale model of the modern port

Time was getting on and although there was more to see but  We’d spent considerably longer in the Museum than I’d expected and we were ready for some fresh air. So it was time to head back along the harbourside to get the tram back to our apartment. We had a meal booked in a nice restaurant in the evening and needed to get ready.

So an enjoyable few hours and glad I was glad that I’d seen the programme on Channel  4 which gave me the idea of visiting the museum.