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:

Leeds

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.

The White Tower

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.

Fort Nelson

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

Royal Armouries to publish oldest known fencing manual in Western World

Royal Armouries Manuscript I.33 is the oldest known fencing manual in the Western world.

In this Olympic year it is being lent for exhibition to The Wallace Collection in London.

The Royal Armouries have taken this opportunity to rebind the manuscript and
while it is unbound to photograph it so that a unique full scale colour facsimile can be published.

The Royal Armouries have teamed up with specialist publishers Extraordinary Editions who have designed a replica early 14th-century binding for the facsimile, which will be packaged in a solander box along with a companion volume and feature a page by page transcription and translation as well as a new introduction by Dr Jeffrey Forgeng of the Higgins Armory Museum, Worcester, Mass.

MS I.33 will be published as a limited edition and in order to fund the project a limited number of subscriber copies will be made available at £600 [plus postage and packing]. Remaining copies will cost considerably more.

If wish to register for a copy of I.33 please e-mail mm@extraordinaryeditions.com as soon as possible.

The first 25 copies have already been reserved.

Medieval manuscript illustrations of sword fencing

Royal Armouries MS I.33 – the oldest known fencing manual in the Western World

Going by the book!

The last battle on English soil was fought on 18 December 1745, when dragoons of the Duke of Cumberland’s Government army caught up with the rearguard of the retreating Jacobite forces of Charles Edward Stuart – ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’. The rebel Jacobites had advanced as far as Derby, but due to lack of support from the people of England decided to retreat back towards Scotland.

Front page of the manuscript

Front page of the manuscript

By 18 December they had reached Penrith in Cumberland, and as the rearguard was passing through the village of Clifton the advance elements of Cumberland’s army – a body of dragoons several hundred strong, caught up. The Scots rearguard was made up of several infantry units. Charles chose not to commit his main force but continued to retreat in the direction of Carlisle, ordering his rearguard to catch up. However, with the Government cavalry in the vicinity it was not possible for them to do so without first offering battle.

In our archive we have a rare survivor from this period, a small 31-page booklet entitled: The new exercise of firelocks and bayonets appointed by his Grace the Duke of Marlborough to be used by all the British forces: with instructions to perform every motion by body, foot and hand. This manual was written by an anonymous ‘Officer in Her Majesties Foot Guards’, and published in 1708. Prior to the Act of Union of 1707, the Government forces in England, Scotland and Ireland had been separate, so this booklet was one of the very first drill manuals used by the British Army. It is not illustrated, but the descriptions of the orders and words of command give us a good feel for small-arms handling at this time.

Pages from the manuscript

Pages from the manuscript

At Clifton, the dragoons dismounted and, lining a series of hedges and ditches opened fire upon the Jacobites. After a brief exchange of fire, the Jacobite regiments charged and dispersed the Government forces, and then resumed their retreat. Reports as to the numbers of casualties vary, but an account written on 29 December 29by Thomas Savage, a local farmer whose house seems to have been at the epicentre of the fighting, put the number of Government troops killed at ten, with 21 wounded. Only five Jacobites were killed according to Savage, and although many were wounded only two were taken prisoner.

On the face of their poor show at Clifton, it might seem that the manual the dragoons followed had been of little use. However they were probably outnumbered by the Jacobites, and as the events of Culloden would show the following year, when troops using manuals like this were commanded by a resolute and skilled general such as Cumberland, they proved to be very effective indeed.

Blogger: Stuart Ivinson, Library Assistant

Pretty lucky wasn’t it?

This letter from the Royal Armouries archives contains an eyewitness account of the battle of Jutland fought between the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet on 30May – 1 June 1916.

HMS Invincible sinking

HMS Invincible sinking

It was written by George Slade, a seaman aboard HMS Inflexible, to his mother ten days after the battle to reassure her that he was safe. HMS Inflexible came through the action without any casualties and undamaged, although Slade describes one dangerous moment when ‘four torpedoes were fired at us. One passing across our stern, another passed along our port side about 10 yds away + the fourth actually went under us!! Pretty lucky wasn’t it?

Wartime letters were normally censored, and Slade intended to give no more details of the action, but he was then allowed to write a fuller account (presumably as reports of the battle had been published in the press) which he does so in the form of a journal or log.

During the battle Slade was stationed in the foretop and on the bridge, and so he had an excellent view of the action. He records all of the major events, including the dramatic loss of HMS Invincible:

‘6.30 The Invincible was blown up. She went up in a tremendous cloud of yellow cordite smoke. She broke in half + her bows + stern were left floating but I saw no survivors. Apparently a salvo pitched amidships + blew up her P+Q magazine. Huge pieces of steel + iron were falling everywhere but none touched us. We have heard that six were picked up afterwards + I think were all part of the Fore Top’s crew. (52 4 N, 6 6 E)’

George Slade's letter

George Slade’s letter

His account is unusually precise and it is likely that Slade copied the main details from the log kept on the bridge of HMS Inflexible during the action, and then added his own personal observations. The result is a fascinating description of one of the great battles of the First World War.

Blogger: William Longmate, Student Work Placement – Archives Department

Reporting From the Front

On 5 November 1854, one of the bloodiest battles of the Crimean War was fought. A large Russian army of over 40,000 troops counter attacked the Anglo-French forces besieging the Crimean town of Sevastopol, in an attempt to drive them away. After several hours of savage fighting the Russians withdrew, leaving over 12,000 dead on the field.

With the British troops at Inkerman was an artist, William Simpson. He was born in Glasgow in 1823 and became an apprentice lithographer. In 1851 he got a job as a lithographer with the firm Day & Son in London, and in 1854 was commissioned by the Fine Art company P&D Colnaghi to produce a series of illustrations depicting events during the Crimean War, which they intended to publish in a commemorative book.

Frontispiece

Frontispiece

Due to the lack of source material for the illustrations in England, Colnaghi’s took the unusual (for the time) decision to send Simpson out to the Crimea. He thus became one of the first war artists, depicting at first hand what was really going on. In 1856 his illustrations were published as The Seat of War in the East. This work comprised 81 colour lithographs with text in two series; the library at the Royal Armouries has copies of both, bound together into a single volume.

Second charge of the Guards at Inkerman

Second charge of the Guards at Inkerman

Several illustrations depict events during the Battle of Inkerman, and the whole volume is a magnificent testament to Simpson’s skills both as artist and reporter. After the Crimea Simpson went on to cover other British campaigns – including the Indian Mutiny – and worked all round the world covering military and civilian topics. His works appeared in numerous other publications and also newspapers such as the Illustrated London News. Simpson died in 1899, a successful and famous artist. He had even achieved Royal patronage from Queen Victoria herself.

The Field of Inkerman

The Field of Inkerman

Although the Russians were defeated at Inkerman, their attack did succeed in diverting the Allied efforts away from Sevastopol, ensuring the siege dragged on for many weeks longer, through the savage Crimean winter. The hardships the British soldiers endured during this time are well known, thanks to the efforts of William Simpson and the other early war reporters.

Blogger: Stuart Ivinson, Library Assistant

Collections Up Close – Remembrance Special

The Royal Armouries Archives contain a collection of letters between Jack and Gert Adam, written during the First World War. The letters poignantly show their loving and often humorous relationship, including letters from their three young children. However, in August 1918 Gert’s letters to Jack, posted overseas to France, began to be returned unopened and the remainder of the letters reveal Gert’s endeavours to find out exactly what happened her husband, who never returned. Official records of the war, photographs and War Office correspondence surrounding the events reveal the true impact of war on his wife and family back in Doncaster, an experience undoubtedly shared by thousands of families at this time.

Jack and Gert Adams

Jack and Gert Adams

The letters have their own remarkable story, after being purchased form a house sale by the Museum in 2006 they were written into a play performed at the Royal Armouries. One day an audience member recognised the names and it transpired the family were living in the area. Once in touch the family were relieved the letters had been found as they had been accidentally lost during a house move. Later, in 2009, the family found a further collection of letters between Jack and Gert and kindly donated them to the Museum to be kept with the rest of the collection.

A short film about these archives can be found here on YouTube, the film was previously shown by the BBC for Remembrance in Trafalgar Square.

Blogger: Angela Clare, Researcher

Feuerwerkbuch – Book of Fireworks

With bonfire night approaching a topical object in the Royal Armouries collections is a 15th-century  German manuscript called Feuerwerkbuch, or the Book of Fireworks, a reference book for gunpowder manufacturers and those who work with making fire or explosions.

Detail from folio 84r – Two besiegers bravely hold early handguns, while barrels of incendiary material fall around them.

Detail from folio 84r – Two besiegers bravely hold early handguns, while barrels of incendiary material fall around them.

Our manuscript is one of about 50 existing versions, probably copied by apprentices from their master’s original document, each adding their own recipes and observations throughout their working lives.

The oldest section of the text (c.1380) is structured in 12 questions and answers about how a stone ball is fired from a Steinbüchse gun using a new type of gunpowder manually compressed into pellets. This is followed by a mythologised account of the invention of gunpowder by the (probably legendary) alchemist, Berthold Schwarz.

A list of the qualities and abilities of a good master gunner includes: God fearing, restrained and reliable, always calm, and never intoxicated. Literate, numerate, knowledgeable about weights and measures. Familiar with siege warfare against fortresses and walled places, including knowledge of ‘fire cats, fire shields, fire eyes.’

folio 86r The Master gunner (identified by his red leggings and feathered cap) calmly directs a canon and fire-arrows towards a besieged town or fortification.

Folio 86r The Master gunner (identified by his red leggings and feathered cap) calmly directs a canon and fire-arrows towards a besieged town or fortification.

The manuscript includes instructions on growing and purifying saltpetre, and the various proportions of saltpetre, sulphur and charcoal needed to create gunpowder with different strengths of explosion. Using pre-scientific alchemical techniques and beliefs, concepts such as gases, crystals, precipitate and temperature were as yet undefined. Instead there are references to vapours, frost, and boiling ‘to the same extent that one cooks fish’.

Blogger: Victoria Adams, Curatorial Assistant