The Burton Constable gun collection
William’s gun collection, which is on display in the museum, tells a particularly interesting story. Prior to the eighteenth century, the manufacture, supply and repair of firearms in East Yorkshire was primarily the province of the resident armourer and his staff at Hull garrison. Things changed however following the turbulence of the Civil War and the Restoration. Aristocrats, landowners and farmers increasingly sought to acquire firearms from local gunmakers, for both self-defence and sporting purposes. Even as late as 1780, one never knew when firearms might be needed (as a companion blog in this series demonstrates: see ‘The Gordon Riots and Hull’). However, as the country became more politically stable, the need for personal protection declined and the ownership of a fine gun cabinet became more a matter of personal prestige and conoisseurship.
William was no exception in this respect, and he set about gathering one of the country’s finest collections of some 34 firearms. Many came from from prestigious workshops in London, but others were made locally by Hull gunmakers such as Benjamin Burgess and George Wallis. The collection survived until 1952, when it was broken up and sent to London for sale. All was not lost, however, as the collector the late W. Keith Neal obtained possession of eighteen of twenty eight of the items dispersed. By such means, with the help of the National Lottery Fund and Leeds Royal Armouries, together with supporting evidence of purchase, repair and maintenance bills, the collection has survived as a single entity.