Explosives and ammunition provide an important record of technological development and are, arguably, equally as important as firearms in detailing mans progression in battle and the advancements of technological warfare. However, preconceptions held about the dangers and legal requirements of accepting this type of artefact into collections means that museums are failing to adequately preserve an important aspect of history. The lack of knowledge on the subject of ordnance is also putting museums at risk, by possessing degrading and unstable items.
This paper investigates the true hazards of historical ordnance and the risks posed to museum staff, the public and collections. It outlines the current laws and regulations pertaining to the storage and display of ordnance in museums, and discusses the current available processes for making items safe. This has been achieved through primary research carried out by way of consultation with selected Constabulary Forces, firearms licensing departments and military personnel within England.
The current knowledge, opinions and procedures regarding ordnance within museums has been gathered and analysed through the responses to a questionnaire. The questionnaire revealed the low rate of acquisition of historical ordnance by museums within the United Kingdom, both through donation and purchase. This research identified a number of key issues, which have been discussed, including a widespread uncertainty over licensing requirements and a general lack of knowledge by museum staff on the subject of explosive ordnance.
The research concluded that there is a requirement for a standardised set of guidelines for dealing with ordnance. The guidelines should be supplied, or made available, to all museums within the United Kingdom. Further recommendations include providing a more efficient service to museums for having ordnance rendered inert, also for selected museum professionals to undertake an accredited explosive ordnance-training course. A guidance flowchart is proposed advising museums on procedure to be followed in the event of a discovery or donation of ordnance.