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Friday, 30 November, 2001, 18:29 GMT
Behind the museum doors
Natural History Museum
London's Natural History Museum is a popular attraction
As England's's government-subsidised galleries throw open their doors to the public for free, News Online takes a look behind the scenes.

Some people have been able to visit English museums free for a while.

Many of the 18 government-subsidised museums in England started letting children in free on 1 April 1999, followed by the over-60s on 1 April 2000.

London's Victoria and Albert Museum stopped all charges on 22 November this year, to mark the public opening of its ambitious new British Galleries.

But Saturday marks the moment the museums capitalise on tax changes in the last budget which allow them to reclaim VAT.

So what shows are they putting on to tempt their new visitors through the doors?

The Museum of London

Its new World City Gallery opens on 7 December 2001 - in the same week that the museum celebrates its 25th anniverary.

Victoria and Albert museum
The V&A: Focuses on the decorative arts

The gallery is devoted to London's history, from the French Revolution to World War I, and will feature film footage, photography and oral history recordings.

Objects range from Queen Victoria's parliamentary robes to one of the earliest motorised taxis.

The National Maritime Museum

The museum in Greenwich, east London, is offering public tours, led by director Roy Clare, other senior staff and special guests including yachtsman Tony Bullimore and BBC Radio 4's Libby Purves.

Those tours take place on 1 December, and from 3 to 8 December.

Treasures in the museum's 45 galleries include the uniform in which Nelson was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar and the timepieces, made by John Harrison, that inspired the bestselling novel Longitude.

At the Museum of Science and Industry
Wheels of industry: The MSI showcases Manchester

The special exhibition, South: The Race to the Pole, will also be free on 1 and 2 December

Natural History Museum

Highlights at this London museum include the moving, breathing, roaring animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaur and the full-size blue whale model suspended from the Mammal Gallery ceiling.

National Museum of Science and Industry

This museum, also in London,

is paying tribute to timeless Italian engineering and design in a special exhibition entitled Alfa Romeo: Sustaining Beauty.

On display is a collection of classic cars valued at more than £50m.

Natural History Museum
Here be monsters: The Natural History Museum

The Imperial War Museum

This London museum continues to focus on the Spanish Civil War in what is the biggest exhibition on the subject yet mounted in the UK.

The Spanish Civil War: Dreams and Nightmares features artorks and writings by Joan Mirů, Henry Moore, George Orwell, Salvador Dali, and many key figures from the period.

Admission to the Holocaust exhibition and the 1940s House will also be free.

The Victoria and Albert Museum The V and A contains a cornucopia of decorative art - ranging, the museum says, from Raphael to Vivienne Westood.

Exhibits in the new British Galleries alone span the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth II.

The Museum of Science and Industry

This Manchester museum celebrates the city's achievements.

Highlights include the world's first passenger railway station, the largest collection of working steam-mill machinery and the Baby - the world's first computer.

The museum will continue to stage special exhibitions from around the world for what it describes as a modest charge.

The Royal Armouries

These comprise museums at Leeds and at Fort Nelson, near Portsmouth.

The Royal Armouries
The Royal Armouries stage reconstructions

On 3 December, Leeds unveils a 30-metre long collage, made from over 250,000 photographs donated by people from all over the UK, entitled Portrait of the Nation.

Artist David Mach reportedly aims to tell the story of the nation over the last century in his piece.

Mersyside's museums are going free in a particularly big way.

The Liverpool Museum, Walker Art Gallery, Merseyside Maritime Museum, Museum of Liverpool Life, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Sudley House, the Conservation Centre and HM Customs and Excise National Museum are all abandoning entrance charges.

The National Coal Mining Museum for England, in Wakefield, west Yorkshire, is also subsidised by the government - but will not be opening free to the public until next year.

The museum is undergoing repairs so extensive that it would be unable to cope with a large influx of visitors.

It says is hope to adopt the free admissions policy after Easter in 2002.

See also:

01 Apr 01 | Wales
Museums launch free entry
23 Nov 01 | Newsmakers
The V & A: Designer makeover
30 Mar 01 | Scotland
Museums scrap entrance charges
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