Herbert Woodend M.B.E. was a long-time friend, confidante & mentor of so many serious arms enthusiasts, authors and researchers. Curator custodian at the Royal Small Arms Factory Pattern Room since the 1970s, he authored 'British Rifles', a 1981 H.M.S.O. publication. 'Herb' or 'Bert' as he was more commonly known, was originally Irish, living in West Cheshunt, north London, and occasional visitor to the U.S.A. His work will make his name and memory live forever in the hearts and minds of serious researchers and collectors.

Herbert passed away late in July of 2003 at the Isabel Hospice, QE2 Hospital at Welwyn Garden City in Hertsfordshire, shortly after being visited by family and close friends.

Because of kind donations, his cancer treatment was successful in extending his life for a year, enabling many good friends to visit and witness another side of a modern icon in small arms study.

From Bob Adams in Albuquerque...                                                      e-mail to: 
Herb Woodend was custodian of the British Ministry of Defense Pattern Room - first at Enfield Lock and later in Nottingham. Just after retiring, Herb was stricken with colon cancer. After botched surgery (socialized medicine), he was basically told to go home to die! A long-time Crown employee, awarded 'The Order of the British Empire', they were unable (unwilling?) to do any more. Herb sold many possessions and went to the Anderson Clinic in Houston. 
However, Herb paid his own medical bills (near $200,000). A good friend to shooters and collectors worldwide, many firearm books credit his contributions. A confidant of many authors over the last generation, his experience made a significant impact on the record we have today of British (any many other) service arms and ammunition.
Bob Adams

Although it is more than a decade since Herb's passing, this page it retained in his memory.


Herb outside his office at the Enfield R.S.A.F. Pattern Room in 1977

Royal Small Arms Factory Pattern Room, Enfield, 1977

Royal Small Arms Factory Pattern Room, Enfield, 1977

R.S.A.F. Pattern Room car park, Enfield, northern London, in 1977

Enfield Lock, the barge canal by which the R.S.A.F. got its name

Herb in an untypical off-guard moment sorting government paperwork

Herb and firearms dealer Jeremy Tenniswood ponder a trade for some more goodies for the Pattern Room collection, 1980 at R.S.A.F. Enfield


Memorial Plaque at Enfield housing estate today

From Ian Skennerton...
first work with 'Herb' was in Spring 1977 when I visited the R.S.A.F. Pattern Room at Enfield on the northern outskirts of London, in the course of researching .577 Snider and .450 Martini-Henry arms. 

An introductory meeting with Herb at my 'digs' (rented room) at Wanstead London's east end, was to make an appointment and go through the required channels to visit the Pattern Room. 

In those days it was not easy to organise a visit. As a newly arrived visitor from 'Down Under' with few established contacts in the system, it was a rather intrepid encounter on my part. It was only through mutual collector friends that the meeting was arranged.

As you can well imagine, this mecca for all British firearms and edged weapons collectors was high on the 'must see' list for such visitors to the Misty Isles. As a repository for service and in-house Ministry of Defence arms for evaluation, it was not easy for casual visitors to visit. The Pattern Room then was used more by the Enfield Factory and British and NATO armed forces as a library of guns from all over the world. After all, this was where the sealed patterns were housed.

The key to real knowledge is a good library of original records and Herb set about to assemble, with old factory and War Office records as a base, relevant printed and hand-written records of the Royal Small Arms Factory and relevant institutions. This inevitably expanded into the best collection of records and service manuals in Britain. Because Herb knew what he was looking for. Similarly his avid pursuit for rifles, carbines, bayonets and swords for the Pattern Room collection became almost an obsession.

The Pattern Room was moved up to Nottingham when the new owner of the Royal Ordnance Factory, British Aerospace, saw the value of the huge land holding of R.S.A.F. Enfield and sold off the land for housing estates. 

The move up to Nottingham did not really suit Herb and while he over-nighted in Nottingham, he returned to London each weekend. His arrival back at work on Monday (or even Tuesday) largely depended upon the amount of traffic on the M1.

Yet again, the factory land at Nottingham was deemed to be of more value as housing estates so the Pattern Room was again under threat. This was after a few apprehensive years when the Ministry of Defence and factory organization argued over who was liable to pay rental of the Pattern Room buildings, and the Pattern Room was likely to be closed.  

This was finally decided when the factory at Nottingham was closed as the Pattern Room collection, one of the finest in the world, was in double jeopardy. There were talks of prize pieces being given to other museums and the bulk of it being destroyed. Given the firearms record of the sitting Labor British government, we were all prepared for the worst anyway. 

Then as prayers were answered, it was officially announced that a new purpose-built building would be established in the Leeds docklands adjacent to the Royal Armouries to house the Pattern Room collection. The Pattern Room reference library has already been moved to the Royal Armouries and is now available to researchers again.

The new establishment remains closed to the general public, but qualified students and collectors may still be granted access to the Pattern Room collection for morning or afternoon sessions. The old days when we could take down prized sealed patterns and experimental prototypes off the rack to examine and study are gone for most of us, but the pristine collection has at least been saved from dispersion or destruction.

Only time will tell if any of the initial restrictions to access are relaxed to permit a wider audience, although we have noted some Pattern Room items on general display in the Royal Armouries galleries.

Certainly, the most comprehensive British military inventory in the world is largely due to decades of tireless work and devotion to the collection of arms and records by one man, the custodian and curator, Herbert Woodend MBE.

Bestowed with one of the highest civilian awards that Great Britain offers, Member of the British Empire, it was recognition for his contribution to this superb collection of British service firearms and edged weapons. Herb was humble enough not to tell most of us of his MBE! Or maybe it was in part due to his dogged Irish ancestry? 

Thank-you to those who donated to Herb's medical expenses and granted him more time with family and friends in his final years. The new 'Lee-Enfield' book (Ian Skennerton) also carries a dedication to Herbert Woodend on the title page.



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Ian D. Skennerton

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