Museum History

The Royal Artillery Museum is one of the world's oldest military museums. It first opened to the public in Woolwich, south-east London in 1820, but the collection is even older than this.

The Royal Military Repository

In 1778, King George III tasked Captain William Congreve with setting up a “Repository of Military Machines” to provide the officers and men of the Royal Regiment of Artillery with improved training in the science and practice of artillery.

This new teaching collection was originally based in The Warren, later known as the Royal Arsenal, at Woolwich in South East London.

Following a serious fire in 1802, the Repository was moved to a site beside the nearby Royal Artillery Barracks, where staff continued to develop both its scientific methods and its collection.

The Museum in the Rotunda

In 1818, the Repository collection found a new home in the Rotunda, an elaborate marquee originally built by John Nash in the grounds of Carlton House to host events in celebration of the allied victory over Napoleon.  After the celebrations, the Prince Regent authorised the Rotunda's removal to Woolwich "to be appropriated to the conservation of the trophies obtained in the last war, the artillery models, and other military curiosities usually preserved in the Repository." The Rotunda opened to the public as a museum in 1820.

With the rise in the popularity of museums through the 19th century, the collection in the Rotunda swelled to overflowing. Meanwhile, the Royal Artillery Institution was founded in 1838 and created a regimental museum and library, both of which became important collections in their own right.

Royal Artillery Historical Trust

In the last decade of the 20th-century ownership of the collection held in the Rotunda passed to the Royal Artillery Historical Trust. The Royal Artillery Institution also donated its library and archives, as well as its medal collection.

In 2001, the entire collection was moved to the new “Firepower” museum at the Royal Arsenal. Firepower achieved Accredited Museum status, with the collection being designated for its national importance under the scheme run by Arts Council England. However, the museum did not achieve the footfall necessary to become financially sustainable.

In 2014 the decision was taken to close Firepower and create a new home for the collection on Salisbury Plain, close to the modern-day headquarters of the Royal Artillery at Larkhill, where Gunners have trained for over a century.

More information on the Royal Artillery Historical Trust can be found on their website