Travel UK: Greenwich's other dome

The British at sea, from Captain Cook to cross-Channel lager louts, all find a place under the National Maritime Museum's new glass canopy.

The National Maritime Museum may conjure up images of row upon row of Airfix model-style frigates whose insignia are being noted down eagerly by middle-aged men with anoraks and Thermos flasks. But with nearly pounds 20m (pounds 11m from the National Lottery and pounds 8.6m from sponsors) having been poured into 16 spanking new galleries at the museum, that image could soon be swept away.

The newly-refurbished museum in Greenwich re-opens to the public on Wednesday. Its curators have taken the wise decision to focus not so much on ships as the sea, the stage on which so much British history has been played out over the centuries. Theme-park touches abound - bold, eye-catching displays and clear explanations - but they haven't cheapened this part of our national heritage so much as livened it up. The curators are savvy enough to realise that in this Disneyfied age, visitors expect dynamism rather than dust.

As you approach the impressively colonnaded front of the 19th-century building, you are lulled into a sense of the sea by hidden speakers which relay a live broadcast of the sounds of waves crashing on Chesil Beach. In the lobby, you come face to face with an installation by Lucy Blakstad, maker of the recent Naked series for BBC2. Images of the 12 sites featured on the Radio4 shipping forecast are paired up with the sounds of the forecast being read out, a noise so mesmerisingly soothing that many people admit they can't get to sleep without it.

Inside the museum, the sheer scale of the glass canopy strikes you - at 2,500 square metres, it is the largest single-span glass roof in Europe - think King's Cross station crossed with a greenhouse. Dotted around the main hall are landmarks from the sea - Suhaili, the yacht in which Robin Knox-Johnston in 1968 became the first person to sail round the world single-handedly, the optic from the Tarbet Ness lighthouse which flashes out at the street 24 hours a day, and the constantly revolving, eight-ton propeller from a Type23 frigate, punctured with tiny holes to make its turning quieter and less easily detectable by submarines. On a raised platform in the centre of the hall is a display on "The Future of the Sea", designed with environmental issues in mind. A section of the hull from the Sea Empress, the tanker that came to grief off the coast of Wales, and a scary-looking eight-foot harpoon-gun from Norway are all part of the exhibit. Audio-visual displays help explain the water cycle and effects of rising sea levels.

Side doors off the main hall give onto a series of smaller, specialist galleries. "Explorers" includes a display on John Franklin's failed 1845 mission to find the Northwest Passage. Here, peeping out from under a tarpaulin, is the rather creepy, blueish waxwork hand of one of the dead men, discovered in a frozen lifeboat at the North Pole. By the end of the expedition, the sailors were apparently so hungry, they were reduced to eating their own shoes.

The nearby array of famous explorers includes Columbus, Drake, Cook, and Scott, but curiously omits Richard Branson. Meanwhile, "Rank and Style" presents costumes ranging from the first naval uniform in 1748 to the protective survival suit worn by Tony Bullimore during his dramatic rescue two years ago. In "The Bridge", visitors can have a go on various vessel simulators: a Viking ship, a Victorian paddle-steamer or a Seacat. "The Wolfson Gallery of Trade and Empire" features an emotive waxwork of an elegant 18th-century English lady taking tea beside a manacled black arm reaching out from a ship's hold - a reminder of Joseph Conrad's comment that imperialism "is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much".

"Art and the Sea" closes with a commission from a contemporary artist, the felicitously named Humphrey Ocean. In one corner of his large canvas, The First of England, a lager lout is lying drunk next to a crate of beer on the deck of a cross-Channel ferry. Nobody can accuse this gallery of not being bang up to date.

The new galleries of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London SE10 (0181-312 6565) open on 31 March. Opening hours will be 10am-5pm and entrance will cost pounds 5 (pounds 7.50 from 11 May) for adults, free for children

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor