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Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds

On 30 March 1996, the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds opened to the public. The new building, designed by architect Derek Walker, is the headquarters of the Royal Armouries complex of museums, and houses the majority of the museum’s collections. The construction project, which cost a total of £42.5 million, was completed in just over two years.

The project formed part of Strategy 2000, a scheme produced in 1990 to provide the national museum of arms and armour with a suitable infrastructure to preserve, display and interpret its collections.

Strategy 2000 from its inception required the establishment of a new museum outside the Tower of London; even with the foundation of the Museum of Artillery at Fort Nelson in 1987, space constraints within the Tower of London made it impossible for the museum to display or house the collections properly.

In January 1991, detailed discussions about locating the new museum in the north began, and in June 1991 Clarence Dock in Leeds was chosen as the site for the new Royal Armouries Museum.

The Leeds museum is built not only to display the national collection, but to tell the story of the development of arms and armour through the objects, a wide range of audio-visual presentations, computer interactives and interpretations to bring the subject to life.

This approach to the presentation of the subject extends outside the museum building. There is also a Tiltyard for demonstrations of jousting and other forms of mounted martial sport, as well as falconry.

The Royal Armouries Museum itself was designed from the inside out. The redisplay of the collections in a thematic structure and the identity, size and basic storylines of the new galleries were all created as part of Strategy 2000.

The design for the new building took those spaces, together with the study collections, conservation workshops and library as the basis of its overall layout. The ceiling heights of the new building were designed to accommodate the longest staff weapons in the collections, displayed vertically, and the principal lift to move the largest object.

In addition to the five galleries which house 5,000 objects in the permanent displays, the museum includes the Hall of Steel, a giant staircase whose walls are decorated with trophy displays composed of 2,500 objects reminiscent of the historical trophy displays erected by the Tower Armouries from the 17th century.