Leeds is firmly on the map as a UK city offering some of the best museums. The city’s spectacular museum choice is outstanding and includes the definitive museum on arms and armour at the Royal Armouries Leeds and the Thackray Medical Museum with an acclaimed medical collection and superb interactive family friendly displays bringing to life the history of Leeds’ public health and the gruesome streets of Victorian Leeds.
Explore the history of Yorkshire’s largest city in the central Leeds City Museum and discover the fascinating industrial history of this former textile giant at the Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills. Leeds is a great city for family friendly museums, particularly the free Entry Royal Armouries, Armley Mills and lesser known interactive museum gem the Abbey House Museum in the Kirkstall area just north west of the city centre.
Free Entry Royal Armouries Leeds
The Royal Armouries Leeds is one of the city’s most popular attractions. Purpose built to house Britain’s collection of arms and armour, the museum’s galleries take you through significant periods of warfare and weaponry development and include the war galleries spanning the earliest history of warfare through to World War II and the present. Galleries take a close look via exhibits and film shows at the shifting technologies and war strategies during each of the time periods, culminating in the rapid pace of weaponry technology during the 20th century. Hiram Maxim’s first machine-gun – essentially the birth of automatic weaponry is on display, and in the World War 1 section there are extensive display of trench warfare weaponry including a Vickers machine-gunner.
Other themed exhibition galleries include the fascinating ‘Peace – Farewell to Arms?’ exhibit in conjunction with the Bradford Peace Museum. The focus here is the idea of conversion from war to peace looking at areas such as the history of CND. More spaces include the Tournament Gallery, Self Defence Gallery, the Oriental Gallery and the great Hall of Steel – the museum’s architectural gem, a great steel and glass tower visible from each of the floors which display a selection of armour and arms.
The distinctive Horned Helmet logo of the Royal Armouries is taken from one of the museum’s prized treasures – the Horned Helmet made in Innsbruck between 1511-1514 and given to Henry VIII by Roman Emperior Maximillian. Such treasures hint at what essentially is one of the world’s best collections of weaponry here in the Royal Armouries Leeds. Displays are superbly interactive for children and special events include jousting displays in the adjacent arena, special kids activity days and daily live performances which help bring history to life. A thoughtful and rigorously organised museum, you’re looking at the hard facts via definitive collections, interactive display, film and live performance.
Entrance is free, but some charges apply for activities and events. The Royal Armouries is on the south east side of the city centre alongside the Aire & Calder Navigation at Clarence Dock. This historic Leeds waterfront area bustles with a restaurants, chic bars, funky shops and leisure facilities. The River Aire pushed west towards Victoria Bridge and Granary Wharf to connect with the Leeds Liverpool Canal, the longest single canal in Britain at 127 miles.
Thackray Medical Museum
On the northern edge of Leeds city centre, the award winning Thackray Medical Museum is housed within the Grade II listed old workhouse building of St James Hospital. The medical collection here is ever growing, and its roots stem from Paul Thackray’s archive of the Leeds based international medical suppliers Chas F Thackray Ltd. One of the largest UK medical museums, the Thackray holds a prized medical collection with superb interactive exhibits and educational fun activities for children. Take a journey back in time via galleries featuring the slum streets of Victorian Leeds and learn about public health and why many of Leeds’ poorest residents never lived past 40 years.
Free family activities are regularly available and exhibits include The Lifezone interactive gallery, great for younger children, with educational and interactive displays guiding children through all aspects of the human body – kids get to test their strength, see how high they can jump and so on. Other fascinating audio-visual exhibits are more suited to older children/ adults like 11 year old Hannah Dyson’s gruesome ordeal as she undergoes a leg amputation after a factory accident in the mill where she worked in 1823.
The medical collection here at the Thackray is impressive, with over 35,000 objects held. Prized collections are particularly in the areas of medical equipment and the medical supply trade archive. An extensive photographic archive from the Chas F Thackray collection depicts the public health problems of Leeds between 1930 to 1970 and are a fascinating highlight.
The Leeds City Museum
The Leeds City Museum is based within the old Grade II Listed Civic Institute building situated just off Millennium Square in the city centre. Exhibitions include ‘Ancient Worlds’, ‘Life on Earth’ and an entire floor designated for the ‘The Leeds Story’ exploring the history of Leeds from pre-historic times to the present. Key themes covered include fashion, music, sport, housing and shopping (Leeds regularly features in UK top 10 shopping break lists!). Highlight feature include the Central Arena where huge screens, audio visual displays and an interactive large scale map of Leeds,