The National Firearms Centre (NFC) are the custodians of the national collection of firearms.
The collection was started in 1631 by Charles I as part of an initiative to introduce some commonality and efficiency in the procurement of equipment and weapons. After a major fire at the Tower of London in 1841 the majority of the firearms collection was moved to the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield.
The collection developed in to what was to come to be known as the Enfield Pattern Room as the national reference collection of firearms.
The Pattern Room collection was moved to Nottingham in 1989 when the Enfield site was closed, and was finally re-unified with the rest of the Royal Armouries firearms collection from the Tower of London in 2005 when it was gifted by the MOD upon closure of the Nottingham site.
The scope of the collection has broadened over time. It includes any firearm or weapon up to 40mm. Originally the purpose of the collection was to provide a national reference resource, primarily with British weapons. During WWI however, it became apparent that the collection also needed to reflect the wider design characteristics and practical capabilities of all firearms. The proportion of foreign weapons was therefore increased from that time with an emphasis on acquiring examples of innovative concepts and design principles.
The NFC holds several thousand weapons in a secure environment. The collection is arguably the most extensive and varied of its type in the world. Included in that collection are a variety of unique weapons, prototypes and initial items from the production line. Those weapons are available to be inspected by academics and researchers who have a need to study their design and technical aspects.
The collection also comprises an extensive selection of books, photographs, technical information and engineering drawings.
The NFC also applies the unique knowledge, technical resources and expertise in support of a variety of Government Departments as well as providing operational support to the MOD and the Police.
The largest bore gun ever built, fired a 3 feet diameter cast iron ball weighing around 1 tonne, containing 215kg (400lbs) of gunpowder to a range of 2.4 kilometres (1.5 miles). It was designed by Robert Mallett and is on display at Fort Nelson.