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History of the Royal Armouries

We are custodians of the United Kingdom’s national collection of arms and armour, comprising the national collection of arms and armour, national artillery collection, and national firearms collection. It is one of the largest collections of historic arms and armour in the world.

We are also the keeper of Tower of London history.

Three sites

Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, White Tower in the Tower of London, and Fort Nelson, Fareham near Portsmouth.

The White Tower

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

Early in the 19th century, our nature and purpose began to change radically. Old displays were gradually altered, from exhibitions of curiosities to historically ‘accurate’ and logically organised displays, to improve the visitor experience by illuminating the past.

When the bulk of the collection was moved to the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds in the late 20th century, we focussed the display and interpretation of our collection in the White Tower that related directly to the Tower of London.

Read more about our history in the Tower of London

Fort Nelson

As our collection continued to expand the Tower of London became too small to house it all properly, as a result in 1988 the Royal Armouries took a lease on Fort Nelson, a large 19th-century artillery fort near Portsmouth.

Fort Nelson was built in the 1860s, as part of a chain of fortifications protecting the great naval harbour of Portsmouth in Hampshire and its Royal Dockyard from a feared French invasion.

We opened in 1995 as home to the national collection of artillery, with over 350 big guns and historic cannon on display. Covering nearly 19 acres and now fully restored, Fort Nelson sits majestically on top of Portsdown Hill, with amazing views of the Solent and the Meon Valley. It stands today as a monument to the skills and ingenuity of Victorian engineering and architecture.

Read more about the history of Fort Nelson

Royal Armouries Museum

In 1990, after two years of preliminary research and deliberation, the decision was taken to establish a new museum in the north of England to house the bulk of our collection. The concept of the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds had been born.

Our museum in Leeds, West Yorkshire was built using the best of traditional museum design and was developed to show our collection in relation to the real world in which we live.

Our collection isn’t a closed one, but is ever growing. Through public monies we continue to collect and safeguard the nation’s heritage for future generations to enjoy and to learn from.

Read more about the history of the Royal Armouries Museum

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