HARRY Potter's Minister of Magic popped into Stow-on-the-Wold last this week to launch the town's new Civil Way exhibition.

Celebrated actor Robert Hardy, who has played many parts over the years – from Winston Churchill and Shakespeare’s Henry V, to Cornelius Fudge in the Harry Potter films – was in Stow week to perform a different kind of role in a drama that began more than 350 years ago.

As well as acting career Robert is an expert on medieval warfare and president of The Battlefields Trust charity.

Stow acquired its valuable collection of muskets, pike staffs, breast-plates and other military paraphernalia in 1948 from a Captain Christie Crawfurd, (CORR) who visited the town with his wife in the 1930s. When she fell ill while there, the captain was so struck by the kindness of residents that he bequeathed his collections of paintings and armaments to the town.

Members of the public can view the pictures in St Edward’s Hall but little of the weapons and armour have been displayed. A few items were in the lobby but in 2011 two civil war helmets were stolen during the Stow Festival.

This theft prompted Stow and District Civic Society into action, joining forces with the Arms and Armour Heritage Trust to share the £8,000 cost of a secure display case to house the collection in the library lobby.

Civic Society chairman Tim Norris said: “These weapons and armour help tell of some of the conflicts in our nation’s history, and the story of Stow where the last battle of the first Civil War was fought in 1646. We’re very proud to be able to give the collection a safe home where the people of Stow and visitors to the town can admire it.

“This is the first time in 50 years that Stow has had a permanent secure location to show off its wonderful collection of Civil War weaponry and armour.”

Members of The Sealed Knot in Civil War dress were in attendance when Robert Hardy performed the opening ceremony last Thursday and guests included Norman Goodman and David Glaisyer, descendants of the Roundhead and Cavalier commanders, who faced each other at the Battle of Stow.

Robert Hardy who lives in Charlbury, Oxfordshire, joked with his audience that he might be able to pinpoint the exact site of the 1646 battle of Stow which is regarded as something of a mystery.

“As a supposed expert,” he said, “when I walk a battlefield, I always know exactly where the fighting took place from the ghosts of the past that I meet.

“This is a great collection - and it’s important for it to be on show to the public.”