Two Museum Stores

Whatever’s on display in any museum is only ever going to be a fraction of the stuff it holds. There just isn’t the space.

Sometimes they can get round the problem by having rolling displays – the Fan Museum does it, for example – the ground floor stays the same, but upstairs the displays change, so it’s always worth coming back.

Other places that don’t have the portability of folding fans have to keep their collections much more static. I guess it’s hard to move a rather moth-eaten stuffed walrus too often. So museums have stores – and not always in the most obvious places. Take the Horniman, for example. The actual building is in Forest Hill (and well-worth a day trip, especially if you like stuffed walruses) but their “Study Collection Centre” is actually that rather sinister-looking ex-school on Greenwich Peninsula. I used to look and wonder at that place for years before I found out what it was – all manner of nefarious goings-on, most of them along the lines of The Long Good Friday danced through my imagination, but I guess I’m rather glad that it has a much sweeter purpose.

Behind those metal-grilled windows and steel fences, I imagine rows and rows; a whole host, indeed, of stuffed walruses, all waiting their turn to be allowed a spot in the limelight. I once tried to get a visit there, but with no luck whatsoever. You have to be a bona fide stuffed walrus expert – or at least someone who’s studying them.

Funnily enough, the museum that I might have assumed it was a store for, The National Maritime Museum, has its stores scattered around all over the place. They are very cagey about it, admitting only to “a number of storage outstations in South East London.”

They have to admit to the two they own the freehold on – an old RAF store in Kidbrooke, at the end of Nelson Mandela Road, and the “architecturally interesting” Brass Foundry, possibly designed by John Vanbrugh, in Woolwich Arsenal (curiously, they don’t actually own the freehold on either the main building of the NMM or the Royal Observatory, which as their men in grey suits noted “had no realisable value to the museum.” Thank God. Maybe they didn’t mean it to come out quite as though they were going to flog off some of the space for apartments or a shopping mall, but don’t you think that that phrase looks as though someone had actually thought about it?)

Ploughing through a load of extremely dull financial reports, I read that they had intended to get rid of the store in Kidbrooke in 2006, but the 2007 report seemed to imply they hadn’t done that yet. Maybe they changed their minds. My problem is that that kind of document boggles my eyes and I may well have missed something – so any further info would be gratefully accepted. And of course with that massive donation they’ve just had, things may change again.

I did find a somewhat ominous phrase in the report, which I would be grateful if someone who knows about museum policy and strategy or is familiar with the mysterious “1934 Act of Parliament” could reassure me upon:

“A disposal programme is now also underway in parallel with discussions within the UKMCS (United Kingdom Maritime Collection Strategy) which includes work on collection interface revision and the Secretary of State has recently approved the first set of collection disposals all in accordance with the 1934 Act of Parliament.”

Now, I really don’t want to turn into Conspiracy Theory Phantom. Can anyone help me here? What does “a disposal programme” consist of? What are they selling off? And why did I have to find it buried in a 60-page document?

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