Housed in the former 18th Century Ratsey and Lapthorn sail maker's loft, this splendid museum conveniently located in Cowes High Street, holds Sir Max Aitken's personal collection of magnificent marine paintings and historic nautical artefacts. The museum is a 'must see' for visitors to Cowes who is interested in art, history, royalty and the famous sport of yacht racing.
Born in Canada in 1910, Sir Maxwell Aitken was the eldest son of Lord Beaverbrooke, the famous newspaper tycoon who owned the Daily Express. Sir Max was educated at Pembrooke college, Cambridge, where he learnt to fly in his spare time with the Auxiliary Air Force.
Come war time, Max was flying with the famous 601 County of London Squadron and was lucky enough to survive the Battle of Britain. His first mission was over Germany in 1939 and his last was as group Captain of the Banff Strike Wing, flying over Norway, in 1945. He was credited with 16 victories, 9 probables and damaged 15 enemy aircraft along the way. Not surprisingly he was awarded the Distinguished Service order and the Distinguished Flying Cross and was Knighted in the 1940s.
After the war Sir Max joined his father's newspaper business as a Director of the Express group, he became Chairman of Beaverbrooke Newspaper Ltd on his fathers' death in 1964.
He was a keen and able yachtsman with several of his yachts built by local boat builders. Clare Lallow's built the Sparkman & Stevens designed Roundabout in 1966 and Sir Max won more races with this yacht than any of his others. They also built Drumbeat which competed in the Onion Patch race in Bermuda several times. Another local builder, Souter's built Crusade in which he won Line Honours in the Sydney - Hobart race in 1969. That year it was won by Prime Minister Ted Heath in Morning Cloud. Sir Max won the Round the Island Race twice and was named Yachtsman of the year in 1978. These are just a few of his yachts and achievements. Many of his trophies are on display in the museum.
In 1979, Sir Max created a charitable trust to preserve his collection and make it available to the public. Although he died in 1985 the museum is an enduring reminder of a remarkable man.
Without doubt one of the most impressive exhibits in the Sir Max Aitken collection is the 1920's Gaff from King Edward V11 famous Royal Racing Yacht Britannia. It is approximately 51 feet long, weighs some 900 pounds and spans the entire length of the museum. Other items from the Britannia include the king's chair, the tiller, some mast hoops, blocks and rigging, anchor chain and the yachts clock.
Lallows were commissioned to make the tables for the room in the 1960s out of Honduras Mahogany and they are still used today. Over the years Sir Max entertained many friends and dignitaries in this magnificent room. The cradle pictured above is a French Empire cradle, reputed to belong to Napoleon Bonaparte and Princess Marie Louise of Austria for their son "The Infant King of Rome".
There are many artefacts relating to Nelson, a fine Buttersworth painting depicts the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and there's a hand written letter, signed Nelson of Bronte, four paintings of the Battle of the Nile and various other interesting exhibits.
Other exhibits include several models and half models of various yachts, junks, clippers, yawls etc. One of these is a replica of Nelsons flagship Victory, made from Ivory and Silver, another (which was also made by a prisoner of war) is a replica of the French Flagship, Redoubtable, this is made entirely of bone.
There are many navigational instruments and other nautical memorabilia and adorning the walls are many paintings date from the early 1600s to the 1900s, including many famous artists such as Peter Monamy, Thomas Luny and Norman Wilkinson.
Also on display is a beautiful Valentine pin cushion made by a sailor in the 1800s for his sweetheart and a ditty box made by a French prisoner of war. It's inlaid with straw and would have been sold by the prisoner for extra money to buy additional food, tobacco or supplies.