Swords and knives and guns, oh my!

This past Friday in Leeds we took the opportunity to visit the Royal Armouries. Officially called the National Museum of Arms and Armour, it is the oldest museum the UK (although it’s housed in a fabulous new building). I can believe it’s pretty old, because they’ve got  a LOT of stuff. I mean a seriously large collection. And this site, in Leeds, is only one of three (the other two are the Tower of London and Fort Nelson in Portsmouth).

Let’s start with the building, which is very much modern-castle-esque. Perched on a quay near a canal, the building is pretty massive. Once inside, it’s split into two halves that you can cross back and forth by bridges. It’s very subtle, but there is definitely a strong medieval feeling to the whole place. I really like this aspect, since it makes the structure part of the collection, rather than just a place for storage. In the picture below you can see several castle elements, including the tower, the tall narrow windows, and the appearance of heavy fortifications at the base of the walls.

The main feature of the building is the really cool glass tower. It’s called the Hall of Steel, and from inside you can look up into the inner shaft to see all sorts of stabby things  (if you can’t tell, arms and armoury isn’t really my thing).

The spiral staircase goes around the outside of the inner shaft, so you can enjoy the view but also peer in through the portholes to get a better view of the steel.

The museum itself is free (yay!), which means we didn’t feel too guilty for breezing past most of the exhibits. If you’re into the history of guns or gunsmithing, this is the place for you. They had guns from all over the world, including quite a large collection from the Middle, Near and Far East. I saw a pretty cool Indian gun that had three barrels!

While it would be really easy to make this collection really boring, I think the museum does an excellent job of both presenting the weapons, but also presenting the larger picture. They had a special exhibition that talked about how guns have affected people in Leeds, including interviews with crime victims. They had a forensics scene that showed how scientists can analyze bullets. But they also had a few video-game type stations, where you could practice your shooting. Alex tried it, and the picture scares me a little bit (seeing Alex with a gun is not something I thought I would ever see), but he did quite well, and scored 100 out of 100 points.

Unfortunately a similar experience, when seen with little children, is really chilling. At least to me. I know my reactions aren’t always logical, but there’s something really wrong with this picture, isn’t there?  In addition to this rifle, I saw a machine gun, with several teenage boys all queuing to try it.

My favorite part of the Royal Armouries museum was the castle exhibit!  Duh!  It was quite small, but did an excellent job of showing the various means that armies would use to storm a besieged castle. They could fire a trebuchet, use a tower, or dig a tunnel. This is a scale model of a trebuchet, and reminds me of a project from high school.

The museum also covered a lot of armoury, which means lots and lots of chain mail and suits of armour! I’ll spare you the pictures, because unless you really know what you’re looking for they all kind of look alike. But this one I can’t pass up. It’s an example of armour for an elephant, which was used in India. I don’t know if Hannibal’s elephants were similarly clad, but I can only imagine what a terrifying sight this would be to behold at the head of an oncoming army!

And last, but not least, here is the obligatory picture of the custom-designed chair for this museum. It seems like every museum we’ve visited so far has some kind of special chair. They usually look really cool, but the comfy factor has been variable.


Posted on 26/08/2010, in Exploring the UK and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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