The King is Dead, Long Live the King;
The Gifting of the MOD Pattern Room and the Formation of the National Firearms Centre at the Royal Armouries at Leeds

By Dan Shea

Longtime readers of Small Arms Review are aware of what was formerly the MOD Pattern Room Collection in Nottingham and its history, as well as the fact that it was packed up and shipped to various facilities around the UK in preparation for its new home. After a number of years where the rumors were of a frightening potential destruction of many of these unique artifacts, thankfully, a solution was found. The MOD Pattern Room ceased to exist on 1 September 2005, as it was finally gifted into its new home at the Royal Armouries at Leeds. The former MOD Pattern Room Collection was formed into the base of the new National Firearms Centre.

It took Herculean efforts on the part of the staff to carefully supervise and pack-up the collection at Nottingham, run the needed MOD service with much reduced resources in Leeds for 3.5 years, and get the collection unpacked and displayed as well as deal with the incorporation of another 1,000+ examples to add to the collection in that period. SAR readers are familiar with our contributors Mr. Richard Jones and Mr. John Henshaw on whom much of this responsibility fell. They are now blended into the new National Firearms Centre hierarchy, with the addition of new staff and much modern instrumentation as well as a test firing range. As part of the Royal Armouries, the National Firearms Centre will be a boon to the forensic community.

The Defence Procurement Agency (DPA) Integrated Project Team leader, Roger Colebrook said, "As well as being a remarkable historic artifact, the Pattern Room provides a major resource to security and police bodies (including, where permissible, those from across the globe). It helps them with forensic enquiries, weapon safety and handling, and other technical aspects of small arms. This collection of small arms is regarded by many as the best of its type in the world. With the recent parliamentary agreement to transfer the Pattern Room to the Royal Armouries, the future of this important asset is assured long-term. We have had many discussions with the museum and I know they are keen to develop the service. We wish them every success." Commenting on the significance of the development, Guy Wilson, then Master of the Armouries, said: "Two pivotal parts of the national collection that have been developing separately since the mid 19th century are now being brought together. Quite simply this means that the Royal Armouries now contains the best assemblage of military small arms in the world, and those inspired to study of the evolution of firearms will travel to the Royal Armouries, Leeds to pursue their interest."

More information can be found on the Armouries website: http://www.royalarmouries.com/.

Ministry of Defence Pattern Room and Small Arms Technical Information Centre to be Gifted to the Royal Armouries Museum

The MoD Pattern Room is the world's largest working reference collection of military small arms from 1850 to current experimental, prototype and issue examples. Due to a combination of factors the collection, formerly housed at the Royal Small Arms Factory Enfield and latterly BAe Systems Royal Ordnance factory Nottingham, needed a new home.

After careful research into a number of options, the Royal Armouries, with its own superb collection of small arms from all ages, was chosen as the best option. Not only was this a cost effective solution, it also took into account that this would be both beneficial to and enhance services provided to users and those undertaking academic research. The combination of these two collections will form the National Firearms Centre at the Royal Armouries. The collection is not open to the general public; however bonafide researchers will be able to request access to the Centre once it is reopened in the Autumn of 2005.

The Royal Armouries and the Pattern Room to form the National Firearms Centre

The new arrangement means that the Royal Armouries will become the world's leading repository of historic and current firearms, and an international centre of excellence without equal. This will become the National Firearms Centre. The Royal Armouries looks forward to building on the Pattern Room's exceptional work in serving its world-wide clientele and re-establishing the historic link between the two organisations which existed in the Tower of London in the early 19th century. Now the two major collections of British military sealed pattern weapons are being brought together so that the full story of the British serviceman's small arms can be told in one institution. Work on the new site to house the collection started in early 2005 and is due for completion this year. The gifting of the MoD Pattern Room is scheduled for September of the same year. The new National Firearms Centre should become operational in the Autumn of 2005.

(Editor's Note: SAR has covered the MOD Pattern Room several times in the past: Volume 1 Number 6 by Virginia Ezell and Volume 7 Number 4 by Dan Shea, which covers the closing of the MOD Pattern Room, the history, photos of days at Enfield Lock and the Nottingham facilities. We also gave tribute to the passing of Herbert H. J. Woodend, who had retired and passed on after thirty years of building up the Pattern Room collection. This article is subtitled "They paved paradise, and put in a parking lot" with apologies to Joni Mitchell, due to the leveling of the old facility and the installation of the new Sainsbury's Superstore and parking lot on the site. This article is available for viewing on-line at http://www.smallarmsreview.com/pdf/jan04.pdf.)

The Royal Armouries' official statement.

The Royal Armouries is Britain's oldest national museum, and one of the oldest museums in the world.

It began life as the main royal and national arsenal housed in the Tower of London. Indeed, the Royal Armouries has occupied buildings within the Tower for making and storing arms, armour and military equipment for as long as the Tower itself has been in existence.

Although distinguished foreign visitors had been allowed to visit the Tower to inspect the Royal Armouries from the 15th century at least, at first they did so in the way a visiting statesman today might be taken to a military base in order to impress him with the power of the country. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, less exalted foreign and domestic visitors were allowed to view the collections, which then consisted almost entirely of relatively recent arms and armour from the arsenal of King Henry VIII. To make room for the modern equipment required by a great Renaissance monarch Henry had cleared the Tower stores of the collections of his medieval predecessors.

The Tower and its Armouries were not regularly opened to the paying public until King Charles II returned from exile in 1660. Visitors then came to see not only the Crown Jewels but also the 'Line of Kings', an exhibition of some of the grander armours, mounted on horses made by such sculptors as Grinling Gibbons, and representing the 'good' Kings of England, and the 'Spanish Armoury', containing weapons and instruments of torture said to have been taken from the 'Invincible Armada' of 1588. The Royal Armouries had become, in effect, what it has remained ever since, the national museum of arms and armour.

During the great age of Empire-building which followed, the collections grew steadily. Until its abolition in 1855, the Board of Ordnance, with its headquarters in the Tower, designed and tested prototypes, and organised the production of huge quantities of regulation arms of many sorts for the British armed forces. Considerable quantities of this material remain in the collections today, and some can be seen on the walls of the Hall of Steel.

Also, throughout this period trophy weapons of all sorts continued to be sent to the Tower and displayed as proof of Britain's continuing military successes.

Early in the 19th century the nature and purpose of the museum began to change radically. Displays were gradually altered from exhibitions of curiosities to historically 'accurate' and logically organised displays designed to improve the visitor by illuminating the past. As part of this change items began to be added to the collection in new ways, by gift and purchase, and this increased rate of acquisition has continued to this day.

In this way the collection has developed enormously, the 'old Tower' material being joined in the last 150 years by the world-wide material which now makes the Royal Armouries one of the greatest collections of its type in the world.

As the museums' collections continued to expand, the Tower became too small to house it all properly. In 1988, the Royal Armouries took a lease on Fort Nelson, a large 19th-century artillery fort near Portsmouth. This is now open to the public and displays the collection of artillery.

In 1990, after two years of preliminary research and deliberation, the decision was taken to establish a new Royal Armouries in the north of England in which to house the bulk of the collection of world-wide arms and armour, thus allowing the Royal Armouries in the Tower to concentrate upon the display and interpretation of those parts of the collection which directly relate to the Tower of London. The concept of the Royal Armouries in Leeds had been born.

The new museum has been developed specifically to show the collections of the Royal Armouries in the best possible way. We began with the question 'How do we want to display our collections?', and the answer to that has dictated the sort of building which has been designed and built.

The Royal Armouries Museum has been built for the 21st century using the best of traditional museum design and it has been developed quite consciously to show its collections in relation to the real world in which we live. The displays seek to make the historical stories relevant by bringing them up to the present day. The building has, quite literally, been designed around the collections of the museum. The displays are intended to entertain and stimulate a desire to learn, and our intention has been to create a multi-layered experience to cater for the many different interests and interest levels of our visitors.

The use of violence by humankind for supremacy or survival, or its sublimation into sport or play always has been, and probably always will be, one of the main forces for historical change. This is the underlying theme of the new Royal Armouries. It is a fascinating and often disturbing story of great importance to us and our children.

Royal Armouries and Forensic Alliance Ltd. Form Partnership at National Firearms Centre

The Royal Armouries, the UK's national museum of arms and armour, has entered into an innovative partnership with Forensic Alliance Ltd. (FAL). The private sector organisation is developing a state-of-the-art facility for the forensic and ballistic examination of firearms at the Leeds-based museum. The new facility is part of the Royal Armouries' planned National Firearms Centre. It includes a purpose-built 25m indoor firing range.

FAL, which is based in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, currently provides comprehensive examination and analysis services to the majority of British police forces, including the Special Investigation Branch of the Royal Military Police, as well as coroners and other organisations. The Royal Armouries' Museum Director, Peter Armstrong, said he was delighted that FAL would be part of the new National Firearms Centre. "The National Firearms Centre will include the historic Pattern Room collection, which has been gifted to the Royal Armouries, and a 27,000 sq ft open display area - the largest of its kind in the UK. The NFC will be a unique research facility, to which FAL will be an exciting and invaluable addition." John Barrand, Head of Planning and Services at FAL, added, "As well as being able to do ballistics tests on firearms suspected of being used in crimes, our scientists will also be able to examine the weapons for fingerprints, DNA evidence and tool marks. We are very excited about our new partnership with the Royal Armouries, which will give us access to the NFC's library and reference collection of weapons that is unrivalled in the world. The very strong synergy between our two organisations will help us to take our service to a new level. It also offers a potential collection point for local police forces."

For further information, please contact: Royal Armouries, Peter Armstrong, Museum Director, Tel: 0113 220 1903; Simon Mountford, Simon Mountford Communications, Tel: 01347 844844; Forensic Alliance, John Barrand, Head of Planning & Services Tel: 01235 551800; Helen Newman, Tel: 07887780495.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V9N9 (June 2006)
and was posted online on November 1, 2011


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