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

How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse…

With Halloween imminent and the chance of a so-called Zombie Apocalypse increased, our Visitor Experience Team have been exploring the different weapons and methods, that could be used to battle the living dead.

The Visitor Experience Team at Royal Armouries, Leeds get into the Halloween spirit...

The Visitor Experience Team at Royal Armouries, Leeds get into the Halloween spirit…

In a light-hearted blog, our team have identified the best and worst weapons within the Royal Armouries’ collection to defeat a zombie….

Short Magazine Lee Enfield/SMLE MK.III*
Country of origin: United Kingdom
Calibre: .303 in
Rate of fire: 12-15 rpm (rounds per minute)
Capacity: 10 rounds
Effective Range: about 500 -550 yards
Year: 1916
Pros: Easy to use, accurate at range and has a bayonet attachment.
Cons: Only carries 10 rounds, slow rate of fire compared to more modern guns, single shot.
Zombie Rating: 6.5/10

Mills Bomb No.5
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Effective Range: 30 yards
Pros: Potential to “kill” a large amount of zombies with one hit.
Cons: Only as good as your throwing arm. High possibility of accidentally blowing yourself up.
Zombie Rating: 2/10

Bren Gun Mk.I
Country of Origin: Czechoslovakia / United Kingdom
Calibre: original BREN .303 in changes to 7.62 mm in 1954 when we joined NATO
Rate of fire: 500 rpm
Capacity: magazine box 30 rounds or pan 100 rounds
Effective Range: 1800 yards
Year: 1937
Pros: Works with single fire or burst so you can either mow down en masse, or pick off targets. Accurate at long range. The bi-pod can be used to set up a defensible position. The handle allows the user to run and gun, Rambo style!
Cons: It’s very heavy; this is the heaviest version of the BREN gun and is prone to jamming if not loaded correctly. You may need to buddy up if there’s anyone left alive.
Zombie Rating: 9/10

Mosin-Nagant M1891/30
Country of Origin: Russia
Calibre: .303 in
Rate of fire: 12-15 rpm
Capacity: 5 rounds
Effective Range: 730 yards with optics/ 500 yards without (of course the usual trajectory, conditions and marksmanship principles apply)
Year: 1938
Pros: It’s all about head shots when it comes to zombies so you have to be accurate. This weapon has a very good effective range and takes a large round, which is good for stopping power. This is a sniping rifle in 7.62 x 54 Russian, it has a turned down bolt to allow for its PU sight, which is quite accurate.
Cons: Relatively slow rate of fire. Not very helpful at close range. Also the Mosin-Nagant – unlike most B/A rifles – has no holes in the bolt body for gases to escape should there be a catastrophic cartridge failure.
Zombie Rating: 7/10

Liberator Pistol
Country of Origin: United States
Calibre: .45 in
Rate of fire: Single shot weapon
Capacity: 1 round
Effective Range: HAHAHAHAHAHA
Year:1941
Pros: It’s very light.
Cons: Useless in a zombie horde, terrible accuracy, unusable after one shot. You are better off with a water pistol!
Zombie Rating: 1/10

Our resident “zombie expert” aka Curator of Firearms, Jonathan Ferguson couldn’t resist joining in with his own suggestions…

“The obvious choice to fit the bill is the famous Kalashnikov rifle (AK47), particularly the Chinese Type 56 version which has a permanently attached, folding spike bayonet that would make short work of a zombie’s skull when the 30 round magazine runs out. Weapons like this aren’t necessarily available in all countries, so the next best thing is the humble 12-gauge shotgun. Nothing is more devastating at close range and the right type of ammunition increases the chance of a hit. Some are available in semi-automatic guise, like the Franchi SPAS 12 pictured.

However, guns are loud, difficult to use precisely, and require ammunition and maintenance. You might be better off with an edged or impact weapon. There’s the cutting power of the legendary Japanese katana, or the British basket-hilt with its built-in hand protection. A staff weapon like the halberd pictured below would keep grasping hands and gnashing teeth at bay! All of these would require a degree of skill to ‘remove the head or destroy the brain’, as the famous quote goes, so a handier alternative would be something like the flanged medieval mace.”

If you can think of a better weapon or method to survive a zombie attack, let us know on twitter using #ZombieWeapon.

Join us all this week (26 Oct – 3 Nov) at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds for a variety of spooky activities including daily talks on how to defeat a zombie. For further details visit the website.

Something to get your teeth into…

The Royal Armouries has just acquired a very unusual piece – a vampire killing kit that was recently put up for auction in North Yorkshire.

Vampire Slaying Kit - a mahogany casket with pistol, crucifix, rosary beads, three glass bottles, mallet and four wooden stakes

The complete Vampire Slaying Kit, recently acquired by Royal Armouries, Leeds comprises a mahogany casket complete with pistol and bullet mould, crucifix, prayer book, rosary beads, glass bottles labelled holy water and holy earth, a mallet and four wooden stakes

This intriguing kit comprises a mahogany casket, packed with everything a vampire hunter might need. The box is split into two tiers. The top layer contains a percussion cap pistol with an octagonal barrel – for firing silver bullets and a bullet mould. The lid holds a crucifix and rosary beads, to ward off ‘evil spirits’.

Other compartments contain three glass bottles, two of which are labelled ‘holy water’ and another ‘holy earth’. As a last resort there’s a mallet and four wooden stakes, plus The Book of Common Prayer, dated 1857.

The Book of Common Prayer opened to the title page, and a wooden crucifix

The Book of Common Prayer from the Vampire Slaying Kit, dated 1857

A handwritten extract from the Bible, quoting Luke 19:27, reads, ‘But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.’

I’m really pleased to be able to add this fascinating object to our world-class collections, which as well as conventional arms & armour, also contains a number of unusual objects. One category within our collections is known as ‘Firearms Curiosa’ – unusual and quirky pieces sometimes made to test new technology and ideas, sometimes to deceive, and sometimes just for fun! This kit definitely falls into this category.

Although often claimed to either be made for genuine vampire slayers, or as novelties for travellers to Eastern Europe, this is probably not the case with this piece. I’ve been researching vampire-killing kits for five years, and there is no evidence of their existence prior to 1972, around the time of the famous ‘Hammer’ horror movies. For some people, this makes them ‘fakes’, but is it possible to have a fake if there is no original to copy?

I argue that they are instead ‘invented artefacts’ – movie props without a film. We will be subjecting our kit to some sensitive scientific analysis to see if we can find out more about it, but chances are that it was made relatively recently. This is not a bad thing – museums today collect far more widely than just traditional art and historical pieces, and the level of interest generated by this kit shows how culturally important it is. It’s hard evidence of the undying love people have for supernatural fiction, from Dracula to Twilight and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. It also reflects centuries of folklore relating to vampires and the best ways to dispose of them, which for some people, even in the 21st century, remains a frightening reality.

We hope to put the kit on display by Halloween. In the meantime it will be available for researchers to examine by appointment.

Take a look at my article in issue 288 of the Fortean Times – ‘To Kill a Vampire’ for further details.

Blogger: Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms, Royal Armouries, Leeds

Southampton and Shakespeare reunited!

The armour of the 3rd Earl of Southampton took a trip last week, from its home at the Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds to appear in a new exhibition, Shakespeare: Staging the World, at the British Museum in London.

The Earl of Southampton is the only acknowledged patron of William Shakespeare, and this three-quarter armour was recorded being worn by the Earl in a portrait. From this evidence historians were able to accurately establish the provenance of the piece. This beautiful armour has intricate gilded decoration in the Mannerist style fashionable in 16th-century Europe etched onto its original blackened steel surface.

Two people packing an armour

Packing the Earl of Southampton’s armour

The meticulous packing process took around 31/2 hours as each piece had to be cushioned in custom-made foam protection to ensure they were not damaged whilst in transit.

Three members of British Museum staff check the armour after transit

British Museum staff check the Southampton armour after transit

On arrival at the British Museum the condition of the armour was thoroughly checked. Royal Armouries Keeper of Armour, Thom Richardson, who had accompanied the armour on its journey, and Chris Smith, Deputy Head of Conservation based at the Tower of London , then reassembled it ready for display.

The Southampton armour will be on display in London from 19 July to 25 November.

The final assembled suit of Southampton armour ready for display at the ‘Shakespeare: Staging the World’ exhibition at the British Museum

What a corker!

XVI.258A – Tower Hamlets Rifle Volunteers Officer’s Helmet

Conservation work has recently commenced on a Tower Hamlets Rifle Volunteers Officer’s regimental helmet, which will shortly be going on display at the Tower of London. The helmet is of the Home Service Pattern design, introduced in May 1878.

Black and silver helmet with chin strap and spike

XVI.258A – Tower Hamlets Rifle Volunteers Officer’s Helmet

The body of the helmet is made of cork, covered in black cloth, with two seams on each side. The chin chain is made of interlocking silver-plated rings, backed with leather and velvet. This was attached to the helmet on two side rose bosses and, when not being worn, the chain would have been attached to a rear hook. All the metal components on the helmet are silver-plated.

There is a metal crosspiece with a spike and base on the top of the helmet and a metal plate badge on the front. The badge’s design comprises an eight-pointed star surmounted by a crown. A Garter belt is around the outside, inscribed with the motto ‘Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense’ (Shame upon him who thinks evil upon it). The centre of the badge features the White Tower in the Tower of London as a symbol of the Tower Hamlets Regiment.

Silver badge with representation of White Tower and the motto Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense

Silver badge with the White Tower in the centre

The helmet’s interior has a leather layer and also a pink silk lining. The helmet features two retail labels for the hatters ‘W. Cater & Co. Established 1776, 56 Pall Mall, London’. The silk lining also features a name label for the helmet’s owner, ‘G.E. Colebrook’. George Colebrook was part of the 1st Tower Hamlets Rifle Volunteer Brigade and was promoted to Lieutenant in June 1901. Sadly he is recorded as having died in a motorcar accident in 1903.

Silver chin strap with detached leather backing

Silver chin chain with detached leather strap

The helmet arrived in the conservation lab with tarnished metal components and a partially detached chin strap, where the original thread had broken leaving some of the rings hanging loose from the leather backing. Stay tuned to hear about the conservation treatment and repair to the chin strap, ready for the helmet to go on display.

Blogger: Philippa Beesley, Conservation Student

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

Here be Dragons

Today (Monday, January 23) sees the coming of the Year of the Dragon, and any Chinese Dragon stopping off to visit London’s sights might care to look up some of his occidental relatives among the exhibits in the Royal Armouries’ galleries at the Tower of London.

Henry Tudor – On entering the White Tower, Henry VIII’s silvered and engraved armour (II.5; VI.1-5) sports dragons on both the man’s and horse’s harness. Unfortunately both are being vanquished by St George – the one on the breast plate by George on foot; the other on the chest of the horse armour appropriately enough by the saint mounted.

Engraving of St George and the dragon

Engraving of St. George slaying the dragon on the horse armour of Henry VIII

Agincourt – Hurrying onwards, the first floor contains a veritable flight of dragons. Perhaps the most obvious – and certainly the oldest – are squeezed onto inlaid decorative plaques on the saddle of the Hungarian Order of the Dragon (VI.95). Those joining the order founded by King Sigismund of Hungary in 1408, were presented with a sword and saddle. Indeed this may be the saddle given to Henry V of Agincourt fame in 1416.

Decorated saddle

Saddle of the Hungarian Order of the Dragon possibly presented to King Henry V

Charles I – Continuing the Royal association, the case opposite the Gothic dragons of the 15th century holds the tiny 17th century armour (II.126) possibly associated with Charles I as a child. A spitting dragon crouches on top of the helmet, its tail curling down to the back of the neck. If you look carefully, the helmet surface is scaled, and a fearsome monster frames the wearer’s face, with growling companions adorning the pauldrons or shoulder pieces. At only 95 cm tall, this is still something of mystery armour. 18th century visitors were told that it had belonged to Richard, Duke of York – brother of the uncrowned Edward V persuaded into the Tower for security in 1485 and never seen alive again. By the 19th century, the armour was more accurately dated but attributed to Jeffrey Hudson, dwarf to the court of Charles I.

Dragon in steel on top of helmet

Dragon perched on the helmet of the armour possibly belonging to Charles I

More dragons – Darting back in time, the World Treasures’ case contains a roaring dragon’s head (VI.319). Made by the German armourer Kunz Lochner in about 1550, it was designed as part of a crupper fitting along the horse’s back, with the tail flowing from between its jaws. Today the rest of the dragon rests in Poland.

Dragon shaped decoration for a horses tail

Part of a horse’s armour for protecting the tail

Passing around the end of the case, and along the side of the main case to the displays of the Great Collectors, another dragon lurks, clinging to the side of a German horse muzzle dated 1569 (VI.400) . The fashion for such things was short-lived from the end of the 16th to the early 17th century, but they remain popular among collectors and this example was bequeathed to the museum by Dr Richard Williams in 1974.

Horse muzzle

Pierced steel horse muzzle decorated with dragons

The beasties decorating the sides of the wheellock pistols (XII.1250/1) slightly further along may be related to the wider dragon family, but only distantly.

pistol with dragon decoration

Detail of decoration which may be a stylised form of dragon

Power House – However, the most impressive of the White Tower dragons welcomes visitors to the Power House display on the top floor – a fitting reward for toiling up so many twisty stairs. Its body is formed from elements of all the Tower institutions celebrated in the wider gallery – from weapons of the Ordnance to coins from the Mint and much else between – it greets you with a dragon-like roar if you pass by its far side.

Dragon constructed from arms, armour, maps, coins and guns.

Impressive – 4m high, 3.5m long with a wing span of 5m and weighing 1200 Kg!

New displays – Finally on the way out, lurking in the shadows under the staircase in the Basement but moving to a more prominent position in the coming redisplay of the area, are a pair of Burmese dragons. Fabulously moustached, they sit atop a bronze bell (XVIII.19) dated 1797 and presented in 1874 by the Constable of the Tower Field Marshal Sir William Gomm, previously Commander-in Chief of British forces in India from 1850 – 1855.

Bronze bell with Burmese dragons

Bronze bell with Burmese dragons

The new displays open at the beginning of April, and this pair provides a fitting celebration of the Year of the Dragon.

Blogger: Bridget Clifford, Keeper of Collections South, Tower of London