Forgotten Weapons Visits the Pattern Room

We took part of our recent European excursion in England, and part of that time was spent at the National Firearms Centre in Leeds, formerly known as the Pattern Room. The gun collection there was started in 1631 as a repository for reference examples of British military equipment, in an effort to standardize manufacturing. The collection was housed in the Tower of London until a fire led to its relocation to the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield, at which time it became known as the Enfield Pattern Room and became a national firearms reference collection.

The collection moved again in 1989 and finally in 2005 it came to rest in Leeds as a part of the Royal Armouries collection. It comprises several thousand military firearms up to 40mm in bore size, designed in England and around the world. It includes both standard production weapons as well as an extraordinary number of prototypes, trials guns, and rare variants. It is the best publicly-accessible collection in the world.

We asked Jonathan Ferguson, the Curator of Firearms, to pick out an item to show you, and his choice was a very interesting early (very early!) self-indexing revolver:

As I mention in the video, we had a great time with the collection and its staff. The collection is a resource and an experience not to be overlooked if you should ever find yourself in England. We couldn’t take photos inside the collection, but you might find a couple with a bit of Google searching.



  1. Good Evening, Ian :

    I was gratified to read that you and the team had had a real chance to visit the holy grail of firearms repositories.

    Did you get to view James Puckle’s 1718-patent mechanical “Defense” gun, which is generally acknowledged to be the true forerunner of all machine guns? I believe it was a revolver-type weapon incorporating a flintlock ignition mechanism, and some authorities have stated that Puckle might be said to be the father of the six-shot revolver with a rather tenuous connection to the machine gun.

    What about the following? :

    1. The Ager “Coffee Mill Gun”, a mechanical MG that derived its name from the appearance of the loading hopper and operating crank ; it was also the first attempt at incorporating a self-contained “cartridge” in a rapid-fire weapon.

    2. The 37-shot Montigny Mitrailleuse

    3. The Billinghurst-Requa battery gun ( bridge gun )

    4. The actual 42-caliber Gatling gun as demonstrated by Dr. Gatling himself at Woolwich Arsenal in London on August 11th, 1870 during comprehensive British Army trials

    The list is potentially endless, but it would be great to hear more about your experiences with the listed weapons, or any other early machine guns or rapid-fire guns for that matter.

    • Hey Earl,

      You’re going to make me feel like we wasted the trip! 🙂 We didn’t see the Puckle Gun (I don’t think it’s in the main collection; pretty sure I’d have noticed it), the Ager gun, Billinghurst, or the Gattling. Are you sure they aren’t in a Royal Artillery collection somewhere? The NFC collection really didn’t have anything in the way of manual guns.

      Through the trip, though, we got our hands on three different Mitrailleuse examples, two Belgian multi-barrel battery guns, a Lowell gun, several Gattlings, Nordenfelts, and Gardners. And a demo model air cooled Maxim in 7.62 Mauser (so cute!). We also have a bunch of documentation on several of these manual guns, which I’ll be posting as time allows. I have plans to put together an ebook on manually-operated machine guns, as that is a subject I’m pretty interested in.

  2. Thanks for the reply, Ian. As far as I know, the Puckle and the other guns mentioned were supposed to be in the collection, although it is possible they may have been moved elsewhere in the interim.

    With such a vast inventory to deal with and a limited amount of time on your part, it would have been quite difficult to take it all in during the trip.

    For your penance, we will have to sentence you to ten years’ hard labor in the Pattern Room and associated museum facilities, with absolutely no hope of parole :).

  3. The e-book project sounds really interesting. Will a formal print version of your upcoming book also be available? I’m looking forward to it!

  4. Sadly, we did once have a Puckle gun, but I believe that was a loan object and was withdrawn in 1996. Prior to this it was displayed at the Tower, where we still maintain display galleries. However, to the best of my knowledge, we’ve never had any of the others you mention. I wonder if they could have been exchanged/disposed some time before gifting of the Pattern Room collection to us at the Armouries – but I can’t think of any UK institutions that would want such things. Royal Artillery museum is a possibility, but of course they are small calibre guns. IWM’s remit is 1914 onwards, so if anything, they’d have transferred them to us. National Army Museum perhaps?

    If you have any sources, I’d be happy to look into it.

    Ian did miss a few manually-operated guns in the reserve collection in the NFC – several Gardner and Nordenfelt guns, a naval Gatling, and a curious 30+ shot Russian percussion battery gun. We also have a number of manual guns display in the public galleries.

  5. I did not miss the Nordenfelt, Gardner, naval Gatling or the Russian battery gun. I guess I will have to get those pictures to Ian.

  6. Hi – I can say categorically that the ‘Puckle Gun’ was in the collection at the ‘Pattern Room’ when it was at Enfiled Lock. I visited many times during my time as a firearms instructor in the 1970 – 80 and indeed following the move to Nottingham. It is indeed sad if the fireram has ‘gone missing’ and I recall my late friend ‘Burt Woodend’ expressing concern that the collection would be ‘broken up.’ Whatever the case I am sure that the current staff do an exceptional job and indeed I paid a short visit last year when working on a ballistics project (next door).

  7. Guys,
    the Puckle gun was on loan (there were two actually) and they went back to their owner (one remains on display at Boughton House and another at Beaulieu Palace). I sourced a hand built beautifully constructed reproduction for the Institute of Military Technology in Titusville, Florida and shipped it from Belgium to the USA in 2014. It is displayed there next to an Agar ‘Coffee Mill’ gun 😉

  8. Except of course it isn’t “It is the best publicly-accessible collection in the world” because it isn’t publicly accessible to the British Public.

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