The Royal Armouries Leather In Warfare Conference

Recently the Royal Armouries played host to a wealth of knowledge and passion as we, in partnership with the Archaeological Leather Group, held the Leather in Warfare conference here in Leeds. We were fortunate to hear from a wide variety of fantastic speakers, each providing delegates with a fascinating new perspective on leather and its uses on the battlefield and in arms and armour.

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Yvette Fletcher, Head of Conservation, Leather Conservation Centre.

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Dr David Nicolle, Honorary Research Fellow, Institute for Medieval Research, Nottingham University.

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Nicholas P. Baptiste, Archivist-Curator Morges Castle (Swi), Doct-Researcher, University of Savoy (Fr).

Attendees were treated to a range of presentations on subjects as diverse as Roman army tents and mamaluk armour. Royal Armouries Emeritus Curator, Ian Bottomley, enthused the audience with his paper on Japanese leatherwork, and Helen Adams’ porcupine fish helmet from the Pitt Rivers museum also caused much excitement. Other Royal Armouries speakers included Senior Curator of Armour Karen Watts, Conservation Manager Suzanne Kitto, Assistant Curator of Edged Weapons Henry Yallop, and Assistant Curator of Armour Keith Dowen. Dr Thom Richardson, Deputy Master of the Royal Armouries, chaired the conference as well as providing his own paper.

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Japanese leather items presented by Royal Armouries Emeritus Curator, Ian Bottomley.

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Helen Adams, Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, presenting on Ethnographic examples of animal skin armour – with a porcupine fish helmet pictured.

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Deputy Master of the Royal Armouries Thom Richardson.

Debate arose on the final day of the conference when Barbara Wills, senior curator at the British Museum (department of Conservation and Scientific research) presented her project on crocodile skin ‘armour’ from Egypt.

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Barbara Wills, Senior Conservator, British Museum Department of Conservation and Scientific Research – presenting her crocodile skin armour project.

Fellow speaker Carol van Driel-Murray questioned whether this discovery was indeed armour at all, and if it were purely intended for ceremonial use should we not avoid describing it as such altogether? However it was also argued whether this armour was representing specific Egyptian religious beliefs through symbolising Sobek – the crocodile warrior god who signifies strength and power. Was this therefore an example of ‘costume armour’ and therefore should be called such? Was this a complex ceremonial layering of a human, dressing as crocodile, dressing as a solider? No doubt this isn’t the last we will hear of this fascinating project!

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Carol van Driel-Murray, University of Leiden, presenting on Roman Military leatherwork.

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Barbara Wills, British Museum.

The event was organised by Curatorial Manager Alison Watson, who commented, “it was fantastic to work with the Archaeological Leather Group to produce such a successful conference and we look forward to working with them on the proceedings, due out 2015.”

A study day commemorating the Battle of Waterloo is currently proposed at the Royal Armouries for spring 2015, and Armouries staff will be speaking at a number of conferences throughout the upcoming months, for more information please contact enquiries@armouries.org.uk. For more images from the Leather in Warfare conference, please visit our Facebook and Twitter pages.

The Force Awakens: The Weapons Behind Star Wars.

IMG_3490-FWW-YEP-PhotocalIn light of the recent teaser trailer for the eagerly anticipated ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’, our curator of Firearms Jonathan Ferguson, couldn’t resist inspecting the new trailer’s weapons for both changes and similarities to their alien predecessors. Below are his expert thoughts and ponderings of the weapons of Stars Wars both past and future.

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When George Lucas was looking for imaginary weapons to arm his heroes & villains in ‘Star Wars’, he had a relatively small budget to work with. Although he wanted his swords & guns to project pure energy; he turned to real-world technology to make his ideas a reality. His ‘lightsabers’ were built from camera flash tubes and various found objects including jet fighter parts, whilst the ‘blasters’ were modified from conventional firearms of the 1940s and 50s. These were plentiful in 1970s Britain, where much of production took place. Master propmakers Bapty & Co were engaged to turn these mundane weapons into futuristic (yet ancient!) plasma-firing wonders.

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A lightsabre and its camera components.

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Han Solo’s (modified) gun.

One of the most iconic designs in the Star Wars universe is the Imperial blaster used by the Stormtroopers. This was actually the Sterling Mk.4 submachine gun, or L2A2 in British Army parlance. Still a service weapon at the time of production, this was modified with additions including a WW2 German machine gun sight, black flanged ribs (actually plastic drawer runners from B&Q!) and a photocopier part. The distinctive curved magazine of the ‘Sterling’ was also cut down to hold only a few rounds, to alter the fairly well-known silhouette of the weapon and suggest a ‘power pack’ in place of a conventional box magazine.

Left: a Stormtrooper blaster. Right: a Sterling sub-machine gun from the Royal Armouries collection

Left: a Stormtrooper blaster. Right: a Sterling sub-machine gun from the Royal Armouries collection.

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The firing versions used blank rounds, which produce no real recoil, but the design of the Sterling meant that a big heavy metal bolt was cycling back and forth every time an actor pulled the trigger. This caused the gun to jump slightly, making the energy bolts that it ‘fired’ (a pre-CGI optical effect) appear more real. The heavy steel guns also made for convincing weighty props in the hands of the actors.

The prequel movies featured precursor blaster carbines in the hands of Battle Droids and later Clonetroopers, but these were bespoke designs quite far from the low budget yet iconic originals.

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When the new sequel movies were announced, fans wondered how much would change. As we now know, many of the classic vehicles and even the white armour of the Stormtroopers have received major facelifts, inspired by the original movie’s concept art by Ralph McQuarrie.

But as the teaser trailer for Episode VII shows, the classic blaster carbine has survived almost intact. Some components, like the end cap and folding stock (which, of course, Stormtroopers don’t know how to use!) are now white in colour, there’s a new optical sight, and for some reason the magazine appears on the wrong side – possibly a case of flipped film – or perhaps with no brass to eject, Imperial forces have moved the power source to the right hand side.

Screenshot from the new Star Wars Trailer 'The Force Awakens'

Screenshot from the new Star Wars Trailer ‘The Force Awakens’

There is a red glowing light; possibly a means of checking ammunition/power levels. But all the main features of the host weapon remain. Even if these upgraded blasters no longer fire blanks for that authentic look and feel, one of cinema’s most recognisable weapons is alive and well.

We’re certainly looking forward to seeing what other new, or old, Star Wars weapons will be making an appearance in the highly anticipated ‘The Force Awakens’.

The Curator @ War: “The enemy within” November 1914

Author: Bridget Clifford, Keeper of Tower Armouries.

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Three months into the war, as the combatants on the Western Front learnt the grim reality of trench warfare in the 1st battle of Ypres, the Tower found itself once more a place of execution.

Three hundred years after Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex and former favourite of Queen Elizabeth I became the last man beheaded on site (25th February 1601), Carl Hans Lody faced an eight man firing squad at the Tower having been found guilty of war treason against Great Britain.

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Born and educated in Germany, Lody completed a year’s service in the German Navy from 1900-1901 then joined the merchant fleet while remaining a naval Reservist. Working on English, Norwegian and American ships he travelled extensively, latterly as a tourist agent running excursions for the Hamburg – Amerika line.  In 1912 he met and married a wealthy American lady of German descent and they planned to make their home in the States. Unfortunately the marriage was short-lived and in July 1914 Lody found himself aged 39, unattached and $10,000 dollars richer thanks to his former father in law and determined to emigrate. He contacted the general office of the Naval Office seeking release from the Reserve, citing an illness in 1904 which had rendered him unfit for active service.

Summoned for interviews in August it was suggested that he might undertake some naval intelligence gathering in England before relocating to America.  Despite his reservations as to his suitability for the role, the 27 August saw him disembarking at Newcastle as Charles Inglis an American tourist. Moving to Edinburgh he sent his first telegram to Adolf Burchard in Stockholm on 30th August.

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Lody was unaware that the address was known to the British authorities who were already conducting stringent and very successful postal censorship, and who would monitor his future correspondence. Cycling round Edinburgh he relayed observations, gossip and newspaper cuttings in further letters to Burchard. Trips to London, Liverpool and Killarney in Ireland followed and the increasing quality of information aroused sufficient alarm for the Royal Irish Constabulary to be alerted. Charles Inglis was detained on 2nd October under the Defence of the Realm Act as a suspected German agent. Instituted 8th August 1914, the Defence of the Realm Act made espionage a military offence to be tried by Court Martial punishable with death penalty.

Brought to London and held at Wellington Barracks, Lody’s court Martial was conducted at the Middlesex Guildhall, Westminster Broadway from Friday 30th October to Monday 2nd November.  The proceedings were open to the public but the court was cleared for sentencing. On the 4th November secret written instructions were issued to the general officer commanding London district, stating that His Majesty confirmed the findings of the court, and that Lody should be told of his fate the following morning.  At least 18 hours must elapse before sentence was carried out, with every consideration afforded the prisoner for religious consolation and an interview with his legal adviser. However there was to be no leakage to the press before the official communique was issued. The Tower was the approved place of execution given the constraints of time and secrecy, and on the evening of 5th November a police van brought Lody to the site.

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He wrote two letters on the eve of his death – one to the commanding officer of the 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards at Wellington Barracks thanking him and his staff for their kind and considered treatment “even towards the enemy” and signing himself Senior Lieutenant, Imperial German Res. II; the second was to relations in Stuttgart stating “I shall die as an Officer, not as a spy”.

Ten further spies were executed at the Tower, the last Ludvico Hurwitz-y-Zender on 11th April 1916. The majority including Lody died in the Rifle Range in the outer ward of the Tower between the Constable and Martin Towers – an area closed to the public. As ffoulkes wrote in Arms and the Tower (1939 ) “it is worthy of note that although London was filled with hysterical rumours of spies, secret signalling and expected sabotage, the authorities kept their heads as far as the Tower was concerned.  All through the War the Tower was open to the public at 6d. a head, or on certain days free, in spite of the fact that spies were imprisoned and shot within the precincts.”

Ernest Ibbetson’s engraving of the Tower site in 1916 with the buildings open to the public is highlighted below.  From North to South – Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula (not Saturday afternoons); White Tower (1st and 2nd floors only); Wakefield Tower (Crown Jewels); Beauchamp Tower (prisoner’s inscriptions).

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They That Are Left: the Royal Armouries hosts a stunning Remembrance photographic exhibition

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…They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old.

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them…”

from Laurence Binyon’s ‘The Fallen’ (first published in The Times, 21 September 1914)

Last week the Royal Armouries hosted the opening of photographer Brian David Stevens’ ‘They That Are Left’ exhibition, an inspiring ten-year project comprising of portrait photographs of war veterans, taken each Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph from 2002 to 2012. The project consists of 100 portraits, a selection of which is currently on display at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds until 1 February, as part of our First World War Centenary commemorations.

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As with each passing year our war veterans do grow older, and age both wearies them and condemns their valuable memories, they are thus at risk of becoming unknown. With this in mind, Brian took inspiration from Binyon’s famous poem, saying “the viewer is given no information, just a portrait. These faces then are as of unknown soldiers; no cap badges, no ribbons of spooling medals, no insignia for military rank. They are faces only. Each deep-etched with who they are and what they did, that we might look, and think – and thank them.”

“As the years pass, the number of veterans from World War I has dwindled to nothing and the number from World War II is steadily reduced, but their places are taken by other veterans from newer conflicts, who are also included.”

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Below is a short interview with Brian at the Royal Armouries about his collection, currently showing until 1 February.

The exhibition – which forms part of Royal Armouries’ ‘Inspired by…’ programme – transfers in March to Fort Nelson, Portsmouth, home to the national collection of artillery. For more information about Brian David Stevens’ work, please see his website here; http://briandavidstevens.com/ .

 

The Curator Goes to War – British toys for British boys

@Royal Armouries

@Royal Armouries

The Minute Book entries for October 1914 are the usual mix of domestic detail, grand strategy and a pinch of world events.

The move of material (Royal armours)to the White Tower sub-crypt was a precaution against the anticipated Zeppelin air attacks, although they did not finally materialise in London until 8th August 1915. It was no coincidence that on the same day ffoulkes was presented with a practical war-time role. Although apparently resigning himself to “continue the work for which I had been appointed and await developments” at the outbreak of war, the Senior service finally provided an opportunity for this “entirely untrained civilian … [aged] … forty-six”. The use of RNVR personnel to man London’s air defences was the First Lord of the Admiralty’s (one Winston Churchill) response to an urgent appeal from the Lord Mayor of London as the trained gunners were needed in France. Mr C mobilized an Anti-Aircraft corps in the RNVR with searchlights being manned by the electrical staff of the Office of Works and the guns by men, many of whom had joined the special constabulary detailed for duty at the Royal Palaces. ffoulkes “took my place in the long queue and was enrolled as an able seaman, being promoted with startling rapidity to Chief Petty Officer and sub –Lieutenant” (Arms and the Tower p.75) – re-enforcing the impression that Charles was not one to hide his light under the proverbial bushel. His enthusiasm was catching. Lord Dillon, apparently a keen yachtsman in his youth also tried to enlist but at 70 years old his offer was rejected albeit with compliments on his patriotism.

Meanwhile, the home front was also under direct attack as staff laboured to keep woodworm at bay in the White Tower. There are several references to the block being treated during this period, and the wooden display horses were not immune. The core of the Armouries stable was provided by those animals nobly supporting the figures for the last 200 years. Unfortunately, although time had given them a greater status than mere props, identifying the fate (and date) of individual steeds continues to be problematical today. The deal horse ordered to be cut up on 21st October is probably the one seen prancing here on the top floor of the White Tower sometime between 1884 and 1913.

@ Royal Armouries

@ Royal Armouries

Contemporary newspaper reports suggest that it was this figure – or rather ffoulkes wooden model of it lent by Viscount Dillon – that helped the Women’s Emergency Corps toy making department’s push to produce British toys for the home market as Christmas 1914 approached. A wooden “Henry VIII in silvery armour tilting with a scarlet lance” based on ffoulkes’ model was intended to be the first of a series of soldiers “Ancient and Modern” according to the Sheffield Telegraph of 29th October 1914. Ffoulkes remained uncharacteristically quiet about his involvement in this particular enterprise. ( Many thanks to Naomi Paxton for bringing this snippet to my attention).

Meanwhile ffoulkes’ rationalisation of the Armouries collection by disposing of those parts he did not consider core gathered momentum. The loan of Oriental arms and armour, Prehistoric and Greek and Roman material to the British Museum proposed before the War moved closer with news of their Trustees’ agreement. By the end of October a new firearms case had arrived and existing cases were being French polished and their locks altered ready for the redisplays to follow the transfer.

Blogger: Bridget Clifford, Keeper of Tower Armouries

Ask A Curator Day Wednesday 17 September 2014

Have you ever wondered what it is like to be a curator of artillery? Perhaps you have always wanted to know what was in a ‘vampire killing kit’, or speculated as to why the White Tower has two mummified cats in its collection! Well now’s your chance to find out and ask the experts directly as the Royal Armouries team will be taking part in the annual #AskaCurator Day tomorrow.

Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms

Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms

Organised by cultural blogger @MarDixon, this social media event creates an unique opportunity for members of the public to communicate directly with curators and people who work behind the scenes in cultural venues. Last year 622 museums from over 37 countries took part, answering questions about collections, objects and histories from participants around the world.

Royal Armouries will have a range of experts on hand to answer your arms, armour and artillery related questions:

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Natasha Bennett, Acting Curator Oriental Collections

Natasha obtained her BA in History from the University of Durham (2007), and a MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies at the University of Leeds (2010). Before coming to the Armouries, she worked as an intern at the V&A and the Green Howards Regimental Museum. Prior to her MA she worked as an editorial and publishing assistant, and as a librarian.

Natasha works with our wide range of arms and armour from Asia and Africa, spanning multiple countries, cultures and time periods. Past research projects have included papers analysing Asian matchlock mechanisms and the substantial gift of Indian arms and armour bestowed on the Tower of London in 1853 by the East India Company. Currently she is looking at the textiles incorporated into Japanese armour, and is also interested in how a study of Asian and African arms and armour can provide insight into the complexities of trading relations across the world over time.

Henry Yallop, Assistant Curator European Edged Weapons

Having completed his first degree in History (BA, King’s College London 2001-2004), Henry went on to focus on the early medieval period at the University of York (MA, Medieval Studies, 2004-2005). Henry then began his museum career as a long-term volunteer at the Norwich Castle Museum, whilst working part time. He moved back to London to work for the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, firstly with the Export Licencing Department and then for The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest.   When MLA relocated, Henry took the opportunity to do a Museum qualification at the University of East Anglia (MA, Museum Studies & Cultural Heritage, 2010-11) which he received after further voluntary work with the National Army Museum.

He took up the post of Assistant Curator (European Edged Weapons) in 2012 after a lifelong fascination with arms, armour and military history. He is particularly interested in the development, use and effect of historical weapons.

Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms

Having completed a first degree in Archaeology (BA, Exeter 1997-2000), Jonathan began his museum career as a volunteer at Coldharbour Mill Museum in Devon. After further voluntary work with the National Museum of Ireland, he received his postgraduate diploma in Museum Studies from the University of Leicester in 2002, and found work at Colchester Museum documenting the archaeological and oral history collections there.

In 2006 he joined the Collections Department at the Imperial War Museum’s Duxford site, sourcing objects and carrying out research for the major ‘AirSpace’ redevelopment. He then became Assistant Curator of Military History at the National War Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh Castle where he curated the exhibition ‘Call to Arms’ in 2008.

He took up the post of Curator of Firearms at the Royal Armouries in 2009. Based at the National Firearms Centre, his research interests are in the area of use and effect of firearms, and gun-related mythology and folklore. He has been researching so-called ‘vampire killing kits’ since 2007.

Lisa Traynor, Assistant Curator of Firearms

Lisa completed her degree in History and Museum Studies (BA, Huddersfield 2006-11), and in particular focused on the history of arms and armour 1750-1918.  She began her museum career as a volunteer at Museums Sheffield in (2007-09), whilst studying. In 2012 she joined the Visitor Experience team at Royal Armouries Leeds, devising talks for visitors on the history of firearms and the different conflicts in which they were used. She then became the Firearms Documentation Assistant at Royal Armouries in December 2012. Through documenting the former MOD collection, Lisa studied pistols in depth, noting their actions, operating systems and calibres.

She took up the post of First World War Researcher in December 2013. Along with her two colleagues she is curating ‘Bullets, Blades and Battle Bowlers’ a gallery exhibition telling the story of the rise of weapon technology during 1914-18. She is currently working on her paper: ‘The bullet-proof vest and the Archduke: 19th-century innovation versus 20th-century firepower’. Her research involves practical ballistic testing in order to test the claims of 19th-century inventor, Casimir Zeglen. The primary aim of this research is to assess the capabilities of a 19th-century bullet-proof vest against the FN Browning Model 1910, the model of pistol used to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

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Bridget Clifford, Keeper of the Tower Armouries

Bridget joined the National Maritime Museum after graduating in History from Manchester University in1977, having cut her museum teeth as a volunteer in her ‘local’ at Hereford. Four years later, she moved to the Armouries and the Department of Edged Weapons, spending the first year battling with ‘old Tower stock’ of the pointy kind in the Brick Tower.

Four children and 20 years part-time curating later, having worked on projects ranging from re-storage of the Armouries collections in the Tower in the mid 80s, to taking over the Tower Library and Archive in celebration of the new millennium, and several Tower exhibitions in between, she returned to full-time work as Keeper of Collections South (and library!) in September 2006.

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Philip Magrath, Curator of Artillery

Philip read for an Honours Degree in History at the University of Sussex, followed soon after by a Masters Degree in Museum Studies at University College London, a Diploma in English Local History and a Further and Adult Education Teaching Certificate.

Previously employed by English Heritage and Gosport Borough Council at Explosion! The Museum of Naval Firepower. He joined the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson in 1991 working in various capacities and was appointed Curator of Artillery in 2001.

Nicholas Hall, Keeper of Artillery

Nicholas read History of Art at the Courtauld Institute, London and joined the then Tower Armouries in 1972. He was fortunate to be mentored by Howard Blackmore, Russell Robinson and Alan Borg, leading scholars in the arms & armour field and to spend valuable time in the workshop with craftsmen Ted Smith and Arthur Davies.

In 1978 Nicholas became Keeper of Metalwork at Hampshire County Museums, opening a community museum in Havant. When the County bought Fort Nelson, a derelict Ancient Monument, he was asked to help decide its future. The Fort was restored and eventually became the Royal Armouries’ artillery museum. In 1988 Nicholas re-joined the Royal Armouries to develop Fort Nelson and prepare the museum displays for opening in 1995. The use of historic artillery became a particular interest, involving participation in TV programmes and consultancy on behalf of the museum.

Our curators will be available between 10am and 1pm and 3pm and 5pm to take your questions. All you have to do is tweet your questions to @Royal_Armouries or @Fort_Nelson and a curator will respond. If it is a complex question about the collection it may take a little time to research and respond, but we will certainly try and get back to you as soon as possible!

To find out more about this event please visit www.mardixon.com

The Curator Goes to War – Autumn leaves

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September 1914 brought with it the reality of war as ffoulkes matter of factly recorded the departure of the first of his staff to serve King and Country.

Foreman William Henry Noble Buckingham joined the Tower as a Carpenter, and the first Armouries record we have of him is a signed piece of glass paper retrieved from inside XVII.12 (one of the wooden horses made for the Line of Kings at the Tower)  which reads “Repaired August 1893 By W Buckingham Carpenter”.  As Armouries Foreman he was responsible for the oversight of the 11 Armouries staff and the maintenance of the displays in the White Tower which ffoulkes was gradually modernising. A keen volunteer artilleryman, he had served in 1900 with the City Imperial Volunteers in the South African War (1899 -1902).  He re-enlisted in 1914 with the rank of Battery Sergeant-Major, Field Artillery and was sent to Peterborough with the Reserve Battery of the 1st Essex Battery. He fell ill in March 1915 and was given 3 weeks leave, dying on “the very hour” he should have returned to duty.

And cleaner W. Williams? He marched off to war, and apparent oblivion.  The Armouries records make no further mention of him or his fate.

Ten days later the 2nd Battalion the Scots Guards marched out of the Tower led by Col Bolton and a military band.

Ffoulkes watches the Guards leave for camp at Lyndhurst in the New Forest – he’s the bare headed gent standing on the Water Lane pavement to the left of the picture, 5th chap up with prominent white collar. Photographer Sgt Christopher Pilkington.

Ffoulkes watches the Guards leave for camp at Lyndhurst in the New Forest – he’s the bare headed gent standing on the Water Lane pavement to the left of the picture, 5th chap up with prominent white collar. Photographer Sgt Christopher Pilkington.

Staff Sergeant Christopher Pilkington was attached to the 2nd Battalion the Scots Guards and more of his unique record of their early war experience can be seen on the Imperial War Museum’s website. Ffoulkes was not averse to keeping a photographic record of his exploits, and a copy of this photograph was pasted into his album following on from earlier ones showing his return of local militia colours.

At the end of the month, Lionel Earle’s visit conferred both the official seal of approval on ffoulkes labours to modernise the displays and a timely reminder that life must go on even in the face of war.

Blogger: Bridget Clifford, Keeper of Tower Armouries

For details of the Royal Armouries’ First World War Centenary programme visit the website.