HISTORY OF THE BRITISH ARMED FORCES
Focussing on documents and personal artefacts, this exhibition aims to cover aspects of the development and deployments of British armed forces from the Engllish civil war to the Great War in 1914. Told from the point of view of a selection of people and items, it includes archaeology, militaria, documents, medals and a host of other items. We have collections belonging to soldiers, volunteer nurses, Prisoners of War, and many others. Each personal story sheds light on a different aspect of the conflict.
We use the term ‘English Civil Wars’ to mean the series of internal conflicts that plagued the Stuart Dynasty. The first conflict saw the overthrow of Charles I by Parliamentarian forces ultimately led by Oliver Cromwell. A career soldier from outside the aristocracy, Cromwell re-organised and modernised the army, introducing the first uniforms. All troops wore scarlet, because it was the cheapest dye available at the time. It later became the colour of the British Empire. The development of military uniform and kit form an important part of our collection. The changes remained when Charles II returned to begin The Restoration of the monarchy in 1660.
Charles II was a popular ruler, but his son James II was not. A Roman Catholic, he excited fears amongst Protestant members of parliament that he intended to restore the Catholic faith and rule by divine right alone. In 1688, the Protestant European monarch William of Orange accepted an invitation by parliament to seize the throne as William III in the Glorious Revolution. The resulting conflict, much of which occurred in Catholic Ireland, was a key early cause of the sectarian violence that has recently plagued Northern Ireland.
This is a civil war period iron cannonball, probably from the siege of York in 1644. This monster has a diameter of 95mm and weighs about 7kg. It was probably designed to be fired from the
Culverin (a large, smooth bore cannon) which you can see ilustrated below. It was initially adopted by the English for naval use, but became a siege weapon during the Civil War. It was recovered from
Doncaster in Yorkshire. The area saw much fighting during the war as Charles I moved his capital to York in 1642.
Inaccurate and difficult to move and fire, artillery never the less revolutionized the battlefield, making the English civil war one of Britain's first 'modern' wars. You can see how big this cannonball is by the measure next to it, and when it goes on tour this year you can feel how heavy it is too!
At its height the British Empire covered nearly a quarter of the globe and as many as one in three people came under the Union Jack. Its meteoric rise came as something of a surprise to it's rivals in the 17th Century.
Our exhibits explore the trials and triumphs of imperial troops and the experience of ordinary people living under British rule all over the world.
Boer War period
This period tunic is one of a number of uniforms we have which cover the history of British uniform development, from chainmail in the late medieval period to camoflage and armour in the first Gulf war. The medal ribbons on the left breast tell us the owner served most of the period of the Boer war, both the Queen's and the King's South Africa medals are present. Bright red uniforms were on the way out by the end of the 19th century, and had been completely replaced by the familiar drab green woolen set that was used during the First World War. This tunic has an identity label, but sadly it is illegible.
Martini Enfield bayonet