Tower Armouries 1820s

Royal Armouries History

Royal Armouries is the United Kingdom’s National Museum of Arms and Armour. It is one of the largest collections of historic arms and armour in the world, comprising the National Collection of Arms and Armour, National Artillery Collection, and National Firearms Collection. It is also the Keeper of the Tower of London history.

There are three museums in the United Kingdom: Leeds, Tower of London, and Fort Nelson.

The White Tower

The Royal Armouries 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.

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.

The Fort

As the museum’s 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.

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.

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.

The Fort stands today as a monument to the skills and ingenuity of Victorian engineering and architecture.

Royal Armouries, Fort Nelson opened in 1995 as home to the national collection of artillery, with over 350 big guns and historic cannon on display.
Read more about the history of the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson.

The Museum in Leeds

In 1990, after two years of preliminary research and deliberation, the decision was taken to establish a new museum in the north of England in which to house the bulk of the collection of world-wide arms and armour.

This allowed 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 Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, West Yorkshire 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.

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.

Did you know?

Palmerston's Follies

Fort Nelson is one of the ‘Palmerston Forts’, commissioned in the 1860s by Lord Palmerston, who feared a French attack. By the time they were completed, however, any threat from France disappeared. The forts gained the nickname ‘Palmerston’s follies’.