The Green Howards Regimental Museum, housed in the converted medieval church in the centre of Richmond’s cobbled market place, has developed spasmodically. The first mention of it was in the Green Howards’ Gazette in March 1922: The RegimentalMuseum at the Depot has been commenced. There should not be any great expense after obtaining a few glass cases for letters and medals. Immediately after the Great War, hundreds of items were brought back from the Western Front and Gallipoli and handed in to the Regimental Depot in the barracks at the top of Gallowgate Hill. No one appeared to know what to do with them. At that time the core of the museum was the private collection of medals and badges of Major M. L. Ferrar, the historian of the 19th Regiment of Foot, and a small but interesting array of the military ephemera collected by Lieutenant-Colonel E. H. Chapman before his death at Gallipoli in August 1915.
In 1922 there was no permanent home for these collections so they were moved from room to room in the barracks. Some rooms were centrally heated, others damp and dark. During the Second World War the museum had several homes, including a hut in Gallowgate Camp – a windswept site on the old racecourse. After the war the museum continued its nomadic existence around the Regimental Depot.
In October 1955, the Green Howards’ Gazette reported: Owing to the acute accommodation problem which arose at the end of November 1954, it was necessary to remove the Regimental Museum from the barrack room in Howard Block to the buildings in the south-west corner of the barracks which had previously been the home of the local company of the 4th Battalion (TA). By October 1955 the museum was open to the public on weekdays. The medal collection had been increased dramatically in the years of the Depression, when many decorations had come on the open market to be sold for a pittance. Major Ferrar had assiduously purchased medals of the Regiment whenever and wherever he could, and scoured catalogues for mention of medals of the 19th Foot. Brigadier Collins did likewise for regimental uniforms in the years after the war.
The museum remained in this wooden hut until the Depot closed down in 1961 and infantry regiments were given regimental headquarters and encouraged to establish museums. That year, the old stone gymnasium was converted into the RHQ and museum. Colonel Jonathan Forbes, the Regimental Secretary and Curator, Brigadier Tommy Collins, the prime mover of the new museum, and John Goat, the first museum attendant, rolled up their sleeves and began to convert the barn-like building, flooded by natural light, into a fine small regimental museum. The major problem was that the Home Office had taken over the remainder of the barracks to turn it into an Approved School. Security was a worry. In 1970 Colonel Jonathan Forbes entertained Major Peter Kirby, formerly an officer in 4th Green Howards – then Curator of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers Museum. Peter Kirby suggested the redundant Holy Trinity Church as an ideal location.
Major General Desmond Gordon, the Colonel of the Regiment, liked the idea when he was told that the Ripon Diocese would let the church for a peppercorn rent, but blanched at the cost of the conversion. Fund-raising committees formed and £90,000 was collected in just two years by the Regiment and its supporters. Conversion began on the main body of the church, leaving a small east chapel where 24 people would be able to worship.
In July 1973 the new museum was officially opened by the Colonel-in-Chief of the Green Howards, King Olav V of Norway. In 1975 it was runner-up in the ‘Museum of the Year’ Awards. Over 36,000 visitors poured through the doors during the first year. But the museum had been designed by regimental officers for other officers and soldiers and had little to communicate to those who had no military experience or background. Visitor figures dropped dramatically to below 14,000 a year.
The Green Howards had an excellent story to tell, but other museums and attractions in the area were using modern display techniques and technology to present their stories and so attracted potential visitors. Visitor figures fell further until, in 1994, Roger Chapman was invited by the then Regimental Secretary and Curator, Lieutenant-Colonel Neil McIntosh, to present plans to enhance the displays and introduce modern technology. In May 1995, the Trustees gave their permission and preparations for a four-month refurbishment programme began.
The museum’s collection now spans over three centuries of travel, campaigns and war. Archive film of the Western Front in the Great War and Green Howards in WWII are displayed on touch-screen audio-visual systems; colour film displayed on CD-ROM illustrates incidents over the past forty years; and new, easy-to-read labels in colourful cabinets communicate the story of the Regiment from 1688 to the present day. The pride of the museum is undoubtedly the Harrison Gallery (the Medal Room). Over 3,800 medals dating back to 1815, and regimental badges, buckles, buttons and gorgets dating back to 1750, glisten inside mahogany cabinets.
There is still much to be done, but the museum is in the top league of small regimental museums in the country and won the Yorkshire Tourist Board’s ‘White Rose Award 1998’ for attractions with under 50,000 visitors per year. In 2006 the museum won a Heritage Lottery Grant, money from which transformed the lower ground floor.
In 2013-2014 the museum again underwent major refurbishment thanks to Lottery Funding and money raised by its many Friends and supporters around the world, and now boasts a state of the art facility in which to tell the fascinating story of the Green Howards.
THE GREEN HOWARDS MUSEUM WEBSITE
[With thanks to Major Roger Chapman MBE (retired) for permission to quote from his exellent Regimental photohistory, published in 2006 and available from the Museum shop and Museum on-line shop.]