Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds
Located in Leeds Dock, a short eight minute walk from 42 The Calls, the Royal Armouries provides an opportunity for all ages to learn more about the history of arms and armour. Its displays boast over 8,500 objects, varying between swords and firearms, to artwork created to promote peace. Its daily tours and talks offer further insight, while a range of interactive activities are also on offer to entertain visitors of all ages. Find out more about its many exhibitions, and plan a day out at the Royal Armouries Museum.
The museum is home to six themed galleries; War, Peace – Farewell to Arms?, Tournament, Oriental, Self-Defence and Hunting. The ‘War Gallery’ focuses on weaponry and warfare, exploring developments through history; from Ancient Greece to the 20th century. Glass-fronted displays feature an array of swords, guns, armour and shields, while detailed, life-size reproductions of soldiers on horseback or foot replicate battlefield scenes. Take the chance to see a Campanian bronze helmet from 375 BC, a 15th century rowel spur and a painting depicting the Battle of Pavia; an influential win for the Spanish, armed with firearms, over armoured French knights in Italy.
The ‘War Gallery’ is also home to a section dedicated to peace. The ‘Peace – Farewell to Arms?’ gallery explores positive actions and changes worldwide that aim towards peace and disarmament. Created in collaboration with Bradford’s Peace Museum, it features artworks, posters, quotes, and objects. Take the opportunity to learn more about international figures such as Dr Gertrud Woker whose actions led to a ban on gas warfare in 1925, and Princess Diana, whose body armour is on display. Meanwhile, a chair by sculptor Kester was entirely created from AK-47 guns that were surrendered at the end of Mozambique’s civil war.
The ‘Tournament Gallery’ is dedicated to what was a truly extreme sport that started in the 11th century and continued to entertain crowds for the following 600 years. Alongside displays of axes and lances, the area also offers information about the likes of Henry VIII, who was known to be an outstanding jouster. A helmet given to Henry VIII actually became the logo for the Royal Armouries Museum; the famous 16th century ‘Horned Helmet’. The unique headwear had originally formed part of the court armour of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I and boasts facial features such as nose, eyes and teeth, alongside glasses and spiralling, ram-like horns stretching from either side. It sits alongside other exquisitely designed tournament armour such as what is thought to be King Henri II of France’s ‘Lion Armour’; a 1550 design that depicts a metallic lion head biting into the wearer’s shoulder.
The ‘Oriental Gallery’ offers the chance to discover more about Asian history via its weaponry. Though the gallery is split into eight sections including those dedicated to China, Turkey and Persia, one key theme each country and area had was the use of the mounted archer. Other key weapons and strategies are explored in more depth for each destination, including China’s invention of gunpowder. Read about Japanese Samurais, the asymmetrical Japanese Bow known as yumi, and the Japanese Sword, which boasts a design that hasn’t been bettered since AD 1000. See an ornate example of Indian elephant armour dating back to around 1600 – the largest example of animal armour in the world – and a gold Ming dynasty sword from 1420.
The ‘Self-Defence Gallery’ looks into a time when civilians defended themselves using swords, daggers, chain mail and armour in the absence of policing. It also explores the impact of the arrival of the civil forces during the 19th century and gun crime today. Find out how swords and firearms developed, with artefacts dating back to 900-1150 AD, and displays of muzzle-loading handguns to machine guns. Meanwhile, the ‘Hunting Gallery’ offers insight into the history of hunting, including the variety of methods and tools used from prehistoric to present day. Here you'll find weapons such as longbows, crossbows, firearms and the likes of saw-back blades.
Activities & Learning Experiences
Alongside its galleries, the museum also offers a daily programme of talks and tours, alongside interactive handling sessions. These free-of-charge experiences are provided by the Visitor Experience Team, who will offer insight into the likes of trench warfare, the English Civil War or Indian arms and armour. Meanwhile, crowds of up to 1,200 can gather in the outdoor Tiltyard to watch jousting, with two international competitions per year.
There’s also the opportunity to have a go at firing a crossbow at the crossbow range, while the Jester’s Yard provides an array of activities for little ones to enjoy. This exclusive play area offers the chance to play dress-up and create swords and shields… which can then be used to conquer the play castle. For design inspiration, head to the fourth floor to see a display of five swords based on those seen in The Lord of the Rings films, meanwhile, the Hall of Steel should be awe-inspiring for any age group, with its stairwell lined with over 2,000 objects including 17th century armour.
Whether you’re a history fan or simply fancy joining crowds to watch a joust, the Royal Armouries Museum will provide an entertaining and informative day out for all ages during a stay in Leeds.