Marking 70 years since VE Day – The Big Guns of WWII: 25 pounder self-propelled gun

To mark the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe day, our Portsmouth site Fort Nelson will be firing the impressive 25 pounder self-propelled gun at 1pm and 3pm today. Also known as the Sexton, the gun was developed to support rapidly advancing forces in later stages of World War Two. The gun will be fired at at 1pm and 3pm today.

The 25 pounder self-propelled gun pictured on the Parade at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson ©Royal Armouries

The 25 pounder self-propelled gun pictured on the Parade at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson ©Royal Armouries

The Royal Artillery experimented with a number of designs in their attempted to improve the mobility of artillery. Self-propelled guns on tracked mountings gave much better cross-country mobility. The ‘Flanders Mud’ of the First World War made it difficult and sometimes impossible to move heavy guns. Early tanks showed the way forward, leading to the gradual introduction of self-propelled guns [SPGs]. The towed 25 pr gun, examples of which can be seen on display in the Voice of the Guns gallery and the Artillery Hall, required a towing vehicle and limber and had limited off-road ability.

Early prototypes included the ‘Bishop’, combining a mounted 25 pounder quick firing gun to chassis of a Valentine tank. The Royal Artillery also used the American M7 self-propelled 105 mm which was known as the ‘Priest’, as its gun mounting resembled a pulpit. However, the British needed a self-propelled gun which incorporated the 25 pounder.

The answer, which came to be known as the Sexton, was created by adapting a Canadian Kangaroo chassis, based on the M3 American tank, to carry a 25 pounder field gun. Manufactured at the Montreal Locomotive Works in Canada, over 2150 Sextons were produced between 1943 and 1945.

The 25 pounder self-propelled gun on display in the Artillery Hall at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson ©Royal Armouries.

The 25 pounder self-propelled gun on display in the Artillery Hall at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson ©Royal Armouries.

This example on display at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson is painted in the colours of the 90th City of London Yeomanry, which landed in Normandy on D–Day, 6 June 1944. On the final run into the beaches they fired their guns from the landing craft in support of the troops already ashore. This example was transferred to Portugal after the Second World War and reimported in the 1980s and  has been restored to running order

See the mighty 25 pounder self-propelled gun fired at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson on Friday 8th May to commemorate the 70th anniversary of VE Day. Firings take place on the Parade at 1 pm and 3 pm.

First World War Archives Project: An introduction


For the centenary of the First World War, Leeds Royal Armouries is collaborating with a number of other heritage organisations to digitise archives relating to the Royal Small Arms Factory (Enfield) and Local Regiments.

The project is running until March 2016 and is funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund.

As the project develops we will be sharing any news, exciting discoveries, and points of interest on this blog – so keep checking back for the latest updates.

Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/1/1/4/4)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/1/1/4/4)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

Royal Small Arms Factory


Established in 1816, the Enfield factory developed into the main Government producer of military small arms during the First World War. The factory produced, among others, the famous Lee-Enfield Rifle which served the British Army as a standard issue weapon for over 60 years.

Below are a few thoughts from Philip Abbott, Archives and Records Manager leading the project at the Royal Armouries:

“Enfield was such an important Governmental factory because it was a fundamental pillar throughout the 200 years of the Industrial Revolution. The factory’s fascinating history is not just that of firearms production but of our industrial and social heritage, with discoveries such as staff registers and Minute Books. We will hopefully be able to link together projects and documents through the digitalisation process and discover new clues. One main aim of this project is to find out where original records of the Royal Small Arms Factory lie now and with whom, as many important documents remained in the possession of ex-employees and administrators”

“This specific area of the project advances our knowledge of the Royal Armouries collection and creates fantastic new partnerships, which helps create and support future projects.”

The project will digitise and make available records including staff registers, plans, technical drawings and photographs in order to create a valuable resource for researchers interested in the history of the factory and its employees.

Our partners are:

Enfield Museum
Enfield Local Studies and Archives
Royal Small Arms Trust
RSAF Apprentices Association 
Historical Breechloading Small Arms Association (HBSA)
Historical Breechloading Small Arms Association. Northern Group

Regimental and Corps Museums


Regimental and Corps Museums of the British Army contain a wide range of archives, including personal diaries, photograph albums, battalion orders and trench maps.

Working with 7 regimental museum partners, the project will digitise First World War material from their collections in order to create digital resources commemorating the lives of the allied soldiers who fought on both the Western and Eastern Fronts.

Philip Abbott: “The important factor of Regimental Museum’s collections is that it’s about ‘ordinary people’, which is an aspect our own collection at the Royal Armouries can sometimes lack. We need that personal view for WWI items and documents, whether reflecting life in the factory as at Enfield or the trench via the Regimental Museums.”

“Regimental Museums have a wealth of the material we need, but need the resources we have available to bring it to the public. Therefore it’s a perfect partnership.”

Our partners are:

Green Howards’ Regimental Museum
The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment (West Riding) Museum
The Prince of Wales’ Own Regiment of Yorkshire Museum
The Royal Dragoon Guards Museum
The King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
The York and Lancaster Regimental Museum
The Royal Green Jackets (Rifles) Museum

Armourers course group photo - Enfield 1910

Collections Up Close Special

With Royal Wedding celebrations in full swing this month we’re exploring armours which relate to one of the most influential marriages in British history. The Royal Armouries at the Tower of London is home to ornate armours which belonged to King Henry VIII and commemorate his marriage to Katherine of Aragon.

Henry was crowned and married Katherine in 1509 when he was 17 years old and she was 23. Katherine had previously been married to his elder brother, Prince Arthur who had died. However, Henry and Katherine’s union ended when after 24 years together Henry sought an annulment of their marriage in his quest for a male heir instigating one of the most turbulent periods in British history.

Henry VIII's armour and detail of tonlet decoration

Henry VIIIs armour and detail of tonlet decoration

The suit of armour is decorated with Katherine’s pomegranates and also has a border of intertwined letters H and K for Henry and Katherine. The armour also features scenes from the lives of the royal couple’s patron saints, St George and St Barbara.

Horse armour made for Henry VIII

Horse armour made for Henry VIII

This ornately engraved, gilded and embossed horse armour was a gift to Henry from Emperor Maximilian I, the ornamentation features both her badge, the pomegranate, and Henry’s Tudor Rose. The elaborately decorated suit of armour and this horse armour was partly imported from Flanders and some parts were probably made in Henry’s own armourer’s workshop at Greenwich in 1515.

The Tower of London also houses military uniform and polo kit belonging to Prince Charles, on display in the Power House exhibition in the White Tower.

Blogger: Angela Clare, Researcher

Collections Up Close April

As the well-known Bond theme goes ‘Diamonds Are Forever’. Diamonds have a long history as treasured gemstones and are April’s birthstone. Diamonds are used as engraving tools as they have the highest resistance to scratching of any material known. Some of the Royal Armouries’ more ornate collection items are decorated with diamonds.

Most notably are two guns on display in the Treasures of the Royal Armouries in the White Tower’s 1st floor gallery at the Tower of London. The first is a pistol made in Germany in 1991, a SIG P226, which is decorated with white gold and blue enamel and an astonishing 1,517 diamonds.

SIG P226 decorated with diamonds

SIG P226 decorated with diamonds

The second is a six shot revolver made in American about 1992. It is a Smith & Wesson model 586 and decorated in red gold, red enamel and diamonds. Both guns were decorated by a London jeweller for their owners.

Smith & Wesson 586 decorated in red gold, red enamel and diamonds

Smith & Wesson 586 decorated in red gold, red enamel and diamonds

Blogger: Angela Clare, Researcher

Towton on Twitter

On 29 March 1461 the largest and bloodiest battle of the Wars of the Roses was fought about 12 miles southwest of York, between the villages of Towton and Saxton. According to the chroniclers more than 50,000 soldiers from the Houses of York & Lancaster fought in blizzard conditions on Palm Sunday 550 years ago.

Towton 1461

Towton 1461

On Saturday 9 April join us on Twitter from our Towton History In Your Hands Seminar to learn more about the arms and armour of the period, find out how the battle unfolded and see images of contemporary pieces from the Royal Armouries collections. We’ll be Tweeting the day’s events live as they happen from 10.30am.

To join simply follow @Royal_Armouries on Twitter or search for #RAseminars on Twitter to join in the action. We’d love to hear any questions you have about the Battle of Towton so please ask away, on the day or in advance – we’re waiting to hear from you!

The Washing of the Lions

Found amongst the Royal Armouries archives at The Tower of London this fragile scrap of paper is a ticket for perhaps one of the most unusual April Fool’s Day stunts in British history – The Annual Ceremony of Washing the Lions.

Washing of the Lions Ticket

Washing of the Lions Ticket

The printed and wax sealed ticket admits Victorian visitors to the Tower via the White Gate, with strict instructions not give gratuities to any of the wardens on duty.

All in all, an entertaining spectacle appears to be promised – however all is not as it seems and the date of the event gives us a clue  – Monday, April The 1st, 1856.  We believe the ticket is part of an elaborate hoax – an elaborate April Fools’ joke.

As far as we know there wasn’t a Senior Warden by the name of Herbert de Grafsen, or an entrance to the Tower known as The White Gate, plus the Royal Menagerie within the Tower ceased to exist in 1835! What we don’t know is how successful the spoof was and how many gullible souls were taken in by it.

This fascinating story is featured in our new permanent exhibition Power House, which opens on Saturday 2 April 2011 at theTower of London.

Blogger: Stuart Ivinson, Library Assistant and Bridget Clifford, Keeper of Collections (South) & Tower History

Power House – Object Conservation 4

Object: Uniform Coat of the Duke of Wellington c.1835 (xvi.8)

Blogger: Suzanne Dalewicz-Kitto, Conservation Manager

This blue cloth uniform with white lining and scarlet facing was worn by the Duke of Wellington when he was Constable of the Tower of London. It has gilt buttons bearing a miniature of the White Tower in silver, and epaulettes made of gold and silver thread.  The coat is in reasonable condition with only a few small holes and surface grazing of the cloth, probably caused by moths.  The main area of interest to our Conservators were the tarnished metal threads and spangles (sequins) on the epaulettes.

Duke of Wellington's uniform

Duke of Wellington's uniform coat

Metal threads are fragile at the best of time.  Some are made from twisted fine metal wire and others are formed by twisting wire around a cotton or silk thread.  When applying treatments to remove the tarnish Conservators have to be careful not to leave residues behind that will ‘rot’ the thread over time.  On these epaulettes there are eight different types of thread design including: dull purl, pearl purl, bright check and Lizardine close.

Detail of the left epaulette before and after treatment

Detail of the left epaulette before and after treatment

The tarnish was removed by gently cleaning the surfaces with a damp swab using a mixture of carefully chosen chemicals.  This was carried out under a microscope to make sure no metal threads were being pulled away from the epaulette.  Residues where removed again by careful swabbing using deionised water – very pure water that has had any minerals filtered out of it.

This object will be featured in our forthcoming Power House exhibition at theTower of London which opens on Saturday 2nd April. Find out more about the work of our Conservation Team on our website.