Review Of the

In Leeds 5/2/06

The Royal Armories is the oldest museum in Britain and one of the oldest in the world. It houses one of the greatest and most comprehensive collections of arms and Armour in the world today. The aim of the museum is to educate its visitors, through the displays on view as well as through short film, sound shows and computer programs in addition to live demonstrations. The Royal Armory began its life in the tower of London as early as the 15th Century. As collections expanded throughout the centuries, the tower become too small to house it fully so in 1988 the Royal Armories took a lease on Fort Nelson Nr Portsmouth, this is still open to the public today and displays the majority of the collections artillery. In 1990 after 2 years of research and deliberation the decision was made to establish a new Royal Armories in the North of England in which to house the bulk of the collection, now worldwide arms and Armour thus the Royal Armories in Leeds was born. The use of violence by humankind for reasons of supremacy and survival, as well as its sublimation into sport or play, has always been and probably always will be one of the main forces for historical change.

This is the underlying theme of the Royal Armories museum. It tells a fascinating and often disturbing story of great importance to our children and us. This review is really about my experience of the Royal Armories so to be honest, I must say that as there was so much to look at over five floors of word-wide collection, I tended to stick with what was really of interest to me personally therefore the majority of the pictures taken were of that. I will try to offer you a semblance of order to it all but you might find that the periods depicted during my take on it, are a little jingled up so please bear with me. The Armories also offer a significant display on Hunting and sport/Tournament related subjects but I will not be reviewing those parts here. Basically I started at the top on the fifth floor and worked my way down. To say that I was as distracted as a kid in a toyshop, would be a bit of an understatement. The next time I visit I will take a systematic approach so that I have a set of periodic topics of interest to study.


Hindu dagger: known as the Katar from India is made entirely from steel. It has an H shaped handle, which is gripped in the fist and employed for punching at Close Quarters. The photo on the right is of a sword known as The Kris: this sword is of Javanese origin circa late 18th century

Fix your bayonets: Part of the collection housed a vast array of bayonets from different periods throughout the centuries.

‘’Stop chucking those bloody spears, at me!’’

Warriors have worn protective helmets as part of their Armour since the Bronze Age, but it was during the Middle Ages that helmets became considerably larger in order to better protect the face/head and neck. Those on display here are from around the 1500’s.

The swords taken into battle by the medieval knights and foot soldiers during the time of German sword master Hans Talhoffer in the late 1400’s were of relatively simple design, mainly for cleaving through the enemy backed up with a stack of attitude. However come the 16th century sword designs were replaced with blades somewhat narrower, longer and more pointed. The sophistication of the Rapier was born. These were the swords of well off gentlemen and aristocracy, used not only to defend themselves from casual attacks but also to take part in formal prearranged sword fights known as duels.

The Royal Armories also houses a large library full of archives and information in both written word and pictures. All around the museum you can find pictorial depictions of men of combat throughout the centuries. Here is a small part of a collection depicting both foot and mounted combat throughout the Middle Ages, a period that I personally find most interesting.

Depictions of foot combat with the sword and buckler from one of the earliest treatise ever written on the subject.

Knights in full Armour partaking in foot combat with axes and hammers; note the use of the limb stomp on entry in the illustration on the right depicting the knight Maximilian.

Here are some depictions of mounted combat along with some of the Armour worn during that time.

This is a photo of one of the excellent displays of mounted combat depicting Pavia diorama

Robbins trench dagger from 1915: This is an unusual combination knife and knuckleduster. Weapons of this type were not military issue, but could be purchased and used by any soldier who felt there was a need for one. Such a practice was quite popular amongst the soldiers of the Great War who often took an array of weapons both makeshift and of design into the trenches. The second picture shows a German trench dagger circa 1915: This pattern was officially issued to German soldiers although it was designed, to be carried on the belt many soldiers preferred to carry it tucked inside their tall Army boot .

This is a U.S V44 Survival knife of WWII circa 1944: This was a combination of survival and fighting knife based on the Bowie-style blade. It was issued mainly to troops serving in the Pacific theatre of war.

Fairbain & Sykes, first Pattern fighting knife about 1941: This was the most widely issued British knife, used mainly by the Commando Units. Over 56,000 were actually manufactured. Below is Fighting knife, Pattern ‘BC 41’ this was an attempt to produce a more practical combat knife, that combined a knuckle-duster with a strong blade. Few were made and original examples are now rare. The ‘BC’ was believed to stand for British Commando.

Here is a modern example of Fairbain’s Smatchet and a picture of a British soldier with an original issue Smatchet

Self-Defence gallery

‘The right to carry arms-and these the best and the sharpest-for his own protection is a right of nature indelible and irrepressible.’’
James Paterson 1877

The Self-Defence gallery was the main topic of interest for me. This gallery traces the story of the use of weapons in civilian life and the ways in which society has attempted to control them, in order to ensure that its citizens might be safe. Issues such as the development of Policing and the growth of prisons along with the impact of mass production in the manufacture, of even smaller, more compact weapons are fully illustrated in this collection. It also explains how, for many centuries in Europe weapons were much more a part of daily life than they are today.

An early example illustrating the need, for personal street defence.

Swords and daggers were openly carried by most classes in society and were also considered fashionable items and an essential part of every day dress. With no organized peacekeepers to uphold the law travelers, traders and pilgrims routinely armed themselves for personal protection. This gallery shows how weapons evolved through the advances of technology along with the changes in fashion. Simple daggers and swords developed into weapons that were both more efficient and more sophisticated, eventually becoming the elegant rapiers of the late 16th century. By the 1750’s you can see how firearms, particularly pistols had begun to replace the sword as a means of personal defence. The gallery also has on display a variety of weapons that the traveler abroad would have carried, at a time when being armed was regarded as a matter of necessity. As society became more regulated, so law and order became increasingly more important along with the need to arm the public servant. The central display shows a collection of weapons carried by police and prison officers, Custom and Excise officers and those in command of Royal Mail coaches. The weapons of the public servant went on into modern day policing explaining the historic connection between weapons and the law. On display are everything from pre-Victorian truncheons to modern firearms and CS gas dispensers. In the foreground there is a figure of a police dog trainer wearing a special armored sleeve of synthetic materials.

Early coshes and truncheons: Issued to public servants such as police, prison officers, officers of Custom & Excise and Royal Mail coachmen alike.

Modern day policing: incorporating the use of K9 trainers

Finally there is an excellent display showing a variety of weapons carried by various Criminals throughout the centuries. This looks at an array of some of the ingenious, concealed and illegal weapons throughout the changing times. Here is just one such example.

Apache Pistol circa 1890: A typical weapon of the Parisian criminal gangs element, known as the Apache named after the warlike tribe of North American Indians. This was a specially made pin fire revolver with a folding blade and a knuckle-duster butt. It had no barrel so could only be fired at point blank range. The gun had 6 chambers and a folding trigger.

All in all it was a great day and very educational to boot. There was even time for a little target shooting in addition to a little picture posing. As a conclusion I would highly recommend the Royal Armories museum to any and all for a fun day out, particularly if you have a little passion for weapons and kit.