2005 | 46 | 140-146
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'BRINGING HISTORY TO LIFE'. THE ROYAL ARMOURIES IN LEEDS AS A MODERN HISTORICAL MUSEUM ('Ozywic historie'. Królewskie zbrojownie w Leeds jako nowoczesne muzeum historyczne)

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The Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds has been opened since March 1996. The decision of dividing the precious historical weapon collection, residing for ages in Tower of London, was a very controversial one and initiated a great public debate. Guy Wilson, the Master of the Armouries responsible for creating a vision of a new museum did not have many supporters from the start. The idea had been widely criticized, among others by curators and weapon researchers who were against breaking up an integral collection. The first years were not easy for the museum. Financed by both public and private sector it underwent serious financial crisis in late 90s. Free admission to English national museums and galleries introduced in 2001 encouraged the increase in number of visitors and helped the museum to gain popularity. Today the Royal Armouries in Leeds are publicly praised tourist attraction. It represents a modern type of museum where visitors are made interested in the subject which is difficult to achieve in museums with such large and specialistic collections, regarded usually as boringly monotonous. Guy Wilson, thanks to his enthusiasm and innovative ideas as well as the close co-operation within the whole team of professionals, managed to create a worthy setting for the royal exhibits likewise an interesting and friendly place for any kind of visitors. The architect Derek Walker had been invited to design a museum building. Respecting the needs of the collection he created a solemn edifice of granite and glass, resembling a fortress from outside. The interior, on the contrary, is colourful and inviting. The main hall called 'Street' is as high and long as the whole building which makes the inner layout clear to everyone and all the galleries easily accessible. There are five of them: War, Tournament, Hunting, Self-defence and Oriental Gallery, possible to be visited in any sequence. The most significant feature of the museum is the art of demonstration. The idea was to show the collections in relation to the real world by making the historical stories alive. There is an abundance of topics used for displays. The professional actors and stuntmen taking part in them are well prepared for their role and capable of answering visitors' questions. The open air demonstrations with the use of horses, dogs and birds of prey take place in the Tiltyard. The animals themselves are displayed in the Menagerie Court. The armour which the actors use is made and repaired in the Craft Court area of the museum where one is able to learn about the process of making the historical weapons. The Royal Armouries Museum was built in the Clarence Dock district - an underused industrial area, which is now being developed inspired by the success of museum. It seems that despite the primary fears the opening of the Royal Armouries in Leeds has proved to be a good decision.
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  • Anna Kucinska, Krajowy Osrodek Badan i Dokumentacji Zabytków, ul. Szwolezerów 9, 00-464 Warszawa, Poland
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