Preview – Visit – National Firearms Centre
Photography by Kenda Lenseigne
One of the World’s Finest and Most Extensive Firearms Collections Is Actually Across the Pond and Isn’t Open to the Public — But RECOIL’s Readers Get a Behind-the-Scenes Tour
We may as well get this out of the way, right off the bat. The irony of having a 36,000-piece collection of predominantly full-auto firearms in a country with some of the most restrictive gun laws in the world will not be lost on most RECOIL readers. Despite Britain’s long and storied gun-making history — with names like BSA, Enfield, Holland and Holland, and Vickers — there is currently no significant firearms industry here in England to speak of, having been utterly decimated by a combination of incompetent management, greedy unions, and governmental hostility.
The National Firearms Centre in Leeds, England, was almost stillborn and its contents destroyed or dispersed. The collection was founded in the early part of the 19th century as a repository for “sealed patterns” — the definitive examples of every item of equipment that entered into service with the British armed forces. Originally housed in the Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield, the Pattern Room collection evolved to encompass not just U.K. designs, but also examples of weapons found throughout the world and served as a reference library for tacticians and firearm engineers.
This lasted until Enfield was privatized, asset-stripped, sold, and then demolished in the 1980s following delivery of the ill-starred L85A1 service rifle. Fortunately, the Royal Armouries museum was undergoing a huge expansion at the time, and the Pattern Room collection was folded into the new organization. To give some idea of how close these exhibits came to destruction, the encased number 1 sample of the groundbreaking EM2 bullpup was recovered still attached to a partially destroyed wall in the former Enfield engineering building, after it had been recklessly bulldozed.
Because almost every one of the guns in this huge assortment (including autocannons, anti-tank systems, and machineguns) is in 100-percent working order, it’s accessible only by invitation and after enduring some pretty strict security protocols.
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