Landlocked Huntingdon's role in building the Royal Navy

The London - part of Cromwell's navy

Model of the flagship London which sank off Southend - Credit: Cromwell Museum

Huntingdon may be many miles from the sea, but three men who were educated in the town played a key part in building the foundations of  the Royal Navy.

The story of the men, Oliver Cromwell, Edward Montagu and Samuel Pepys, is told in the latest exhibition at the Cromwell Museum.

Curator Stuart Orme said:  “It may seem strange to have a display on matters nautical when Huntingdon is nearly 40 miles from the sea, but three men who went to school in the building which today houses our museum all played key roles in the development of the navy we would recognise today.

"Some of the astonishingly preserved artefacts on loan to us recovered from a shipwreck of the period evoke what life must have been like on board these cramped wooden warships.”

In addition to finds discovered in the wreck of the London, which sank off Southend, there is a huge scale model of the flagship Naseby from the 1650s, donated by the family of a professional prop maker who worked on the Star Wars and Muppets films.

Mr Orme explained how Oliver Cromwell recognised the importance of having a strong navy to protect trade, prevent piracy and to project the image of England as a major power, ordering its expansion to make it more professional.

One of the fleet’s admirals was Edward Montagu, from Hinchingbrooke House, who in 1660 brought Charles II back from exile and led fleets in many of the naval actions of the period. He was also patron to his cousin Samuel Pepys who, as Secretary to the Navy, reformed much of the Admiralty’s administration.

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Mr Orme said the wreck of the London, one of Cromwell’s ships, was being excavated in a feat of nautical archaeology akin to that of the Tudor warship Mary Rose.

The exhibition has been made possible with financial support from Huntingdonshire District Council, and funding from the UK Government Welcome Back Fund, in association with the European Regional Development Fund.

It has also been supported by loans of objects from Historic England, which have been excavated by a team from the Save the London project.

Cromwell’s Navy runs until April and can be seen during normal museum opening hours, winter 11am–3.30pm Tuesday to Saturday. Admission is free and more details are available from www.cromwellmuseum.org.

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