The Curator @ War – January 1915 : Three cheers for the back-room boys!

1915 appears to have dawned with business very much as usual – in fact ffoulkes only made 2 entries in the Minute Book. The arrival of W. Spooner RN as new Armouries cleaner was noted on the 11th January (presumably in place of H Evans who had died on 23rd December 1914), and the move of Charles I’s armour to the “centre of the small room” was recorded on the 12th.  The latter refers to the sub-crypt in the White Tower Basement where the Curator had moved the “valuable armours” in October 1914 as a precautionary measure against air raids – still to materialise.

This is hardly the stuff of an exciting blog- but Spooner’s appointment made me think about the unsung heroes of the Minute book and Diary – the Armouries back-room boys without whose support neither ffoulkes nor Dillon could have affected the modernisation of the collections and displays they achieved.

In 1913 Joubert’s new horse for Henry VIII’s silvered and engraved armour ascends to the top floor of the White Tower thanks to the muscle power of the Armouries’ team.  Identifying the individuals is unfortunately impossible – although the onlooker to the far right may be ffoulkes (prominent high white collars are a distinguishing part of his wardrobe in other photographs), and the supervisory, flat- capped gentleman in front of him may be Foreman Buckingham.

In 1913 Joubert’s new horse for Henry VIII’s silvered and engraved armour ascends to the top floor of the White Tower thanks to the muscle power of the Armouries’ team. Identifying the individuals is unfortunately impossible – although the onlooker to the far right may be ffoulkes (prominent high white collars are a distinguishing part of his wardrobe in other photographs), and the supervisory, flat- capped gentleman in front of him may be Foreman Buckingham.

Glimpsed occasionally in the background of unofficial photographs and recorded in the Receipts and Issues Books of the 1860s for payments due to them, the first comprehensive listing of the Armouries staff appears in the front of the Minute Book in 1913.  Employed by H M Office of Works, they were responsible for the maintenance of the displays and cleaning of the collection.  If objects were loaned out – and these were the days of gentleman’s agreements as well as formal loans when the military and diplomatic services could turn up and decorate their respective messes and embassies with material from stores – they would set up and dismantle selected displays off site. The high spot of this service was the decoration with Tower arms and armour of the annexe built onto the front of Westminster Abbey for the coronations of Edward VII and George V.  There were also annual trips to dress the Guildhall for the Lord Mayor’s festival in November.

Foreman Buckingham started life at the Tower as a Carpenter, and his involvement with the Volunteer Artillery undoubtedly proved useful. We have a number of his trophies  from repository exercise competitions showing his prowess in manoeuvring artillery over difficult terrain using minimal equipment – handy skills when relocating cannon about the site.  Both Dillon and ffoulkes praised his care and involvement with the collection, albeit a tad patronisingly.

A rare behind the scenes illustration from the Graphic of 1893 shows the team at work cleaning exhibits before opening, and is the only other illustration of this period showing the staff we have so far uncovered.

The tradition of facial hair among male members of the Armouries collections staff continues today, although the practice of wearing hats indoors has been discarded.

The tradition of facial hair among male members of the Armouries collections staff continues today, although the practice of wearing hats indoors has been discarded.

So what else do we know of these men?

Ffoulkes lists Foreman Buckingham, and cleaners T. Bishop, W. Williams, H. Evans, W. Brown, T. Riddles, G. Stewart and F. Davey; A.H Prince is noted in the Ticket Office, D. Nash in the parcels office (set up after the Suffragette outrage of February 1913 to accommodate visitors’ larger hand baggage during their visit) and W. Johnson as lavatory attendant.

Evans had served 20 years and reaching the age limit for employment received a 12 month extension on the 9th December. Following his death two weeks later he was awarded a “bonus” of £32-5-8d. Buckingham and Williams went off to war in September 1914.

Nash moved from the Parcels office and was appointed Foreman in July 1915. In April 1916 ffoulkes thanked Foreman Nash and cleaners Bishop, Davey, Riddles, Moncks and Stewart for their hard work arranging the new displays as all the White Tower floors were finally opened to the public. In October the Armouries staff was formally placed under the Curator’s control and Nash departed on active service with the London Regiment. He was replaced by T. Bishop.

From 1917 Nash was detailed to the War Trophies Section at G.H.Q in France collecting material for the War Museum. He returned from France early in 1919 and was promoted Armoury Supervisor enjoying an Armouries career of over forty years.  Bishop is recorded as leading man in 1922, resigning in April 1923.

F. Davey transferred to the National War Museum as Storekeeper in October 1917. Stewart remained at the Tower and retiring in April 1923 aged 71 years, while cleaner Moncks is first appears in the Diary in May 1915 gifting books to the Armouries.

And Mr Spooner?  He was suspended on 9th February 1915 “thro’ intemperance”.

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.

Carl Hans Lodypic

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.

Lody_telegram

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.

White Tower at night2

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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Elemental, my dear Watson!

Christmas has come early for conservation as Royal Armouries’ Conservator, Ellie Rowley-Conwy tells us about the exciting new addition to the museum’s conservation equipment…

Much of conservation, and the start of treatment on any object, begins with an in-depth look at materials. We have to be aware of what elements make up an object, how it has been manufactured and how these degrade over time, in order to make informed choices about how to prolong its longevity. The Conservation Department at Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds has a shiny, new and portable instrument called an EDXRF (Energy-Dispersive X-Ray Fluorescence) that will help us to investigate all of these areas, and we are very, very excited about it!

Christmas comes early for the Royal Armouries with the addition of a EDXRF (Energy-Dispersive X-Ray Fluorescence)

Christmas comes early for the Royal Armouries with the addition of a EDXRF (Energy-Dispersive X-Ray Fluorescence)

The addition of the EDXRF will enable the conservation department to investigate the materials in the national collection at an elemental level – and more importantly it is non-destructive. We will be able to get more of an idea about the uses of different metal alloys used for certain types of arms and armour, how these adapted over time and how they differ around the world.

An example of this could be when analysing leather, often found associated with arms and armour. The reading will pick up chromium so we then know the leather must have been chrome tanned. Chrome tanning of leather began in 1858, meaning we can use this information to help date an object. This also highlights another benefit of the EDXRF, as we can use it to help identify fakes. A number of elements and alloys that are around today could not have been extracted or manipulated for use in the past, due to the lack of modern industrial techniques. If these are present, in a supposedly historic object, then it could indicate that the object, or at least part of it, is a modern reproduction.

The EDXRF will also help us to find out about manufacturing techniques; an example of this is looking at certain decorative techniques. When analysing objects that have been gilded, a reading showing the presence of mercury will tell us that the object was gilded, using the mercury gilding technique. If we took readings from all our gilded objects we could then identify how popular mercury gilding was in the past compared to other gilding techniques.

We hope to gain lots of important information through the use of our new EDXRF and the results that we obtain, and we really look forward to sharing them with you and the other arms and armour enthusiasts out there!

Blogger: Ellie Rowley-Conwy, Conservator

Line of Kings: Back to Front

Ellie Rowley-Conwy, the project conservator for the Line of Kings tells us about her part in building a wall of armour.

Line of Kings, Project Conservator, Ellie Rowley-Conwy  © Royal Armouries Museum

Line of Kings, Project Conservator, Ellie Rowley-Conwy
© Royal Armouries Museum

To some, it might seem that cleaning 113 pieces of seemingly identical plate armour would be repetitive or even, dare I say it, boring.

Perhaps this makes me sound odd but nothing could be further from the truth. Although superficially similar, each artefact offers its own challenges, details and insights.

Indeed, it is only by working with so many pieces that the unique nature of each piece stands out. Many of the objects are inscribed with the word ‘Toiras’ across the front, referring to the Marquis de Toiras who famously withstood the three-month siege of La Rochelle in 1627, which is the provenence of all the breastplates and backplates.

© Royal Armouries Museum

© Royal Armouries Museum

Subtle differences can include the manufacturer marks that are often found on the inside; the size of the pieces giving information about the soldiers involved in the conflict; and the dents and damage present on the pieces which tells us about the objects’ working life.

Often the breastplates and backplates have been coated in a lacquer to protect them from handling and the environment. This can work well for a few years but, if left on for too long, it will yellow and become increasingly difficult to remove.

The first stage in the conservation process is to clean this off, using cotton swabs and an appropriate solvent that will remove the lacquer without damaging the underlying metal. Under the lacquer layer there can be remnants of thick wax, which was used in the past to help protect metal. This also has to be removed using a further solvent.

Any corrosion present on the object is cleaned off using, a specific abrasive material with an appropriate lubricant to prevent any scratching of the metal. The object is then coated with a protective conservation grade wax.

The result of all this hard work will be a very striking, full wall of breastplates and backplates, forming the backdrop for the Line of Kings exhibition, which will open at the Tower of London on July 10.

Blogger: Ellie Rowley-Conwy, Project Conservator, Line of Kings

Japanese Wakizashi Sword

As part of the Ingham case renovation in the Oriental Gallery, a large number of Japanese swords required cleaning and conservation at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds.

The swords had a variety of accessories and the highly ornate ones required more in-depth work. One of the most elaborate Japanese swords had approximately fourteen pieces to it – all of which required individual attention.

The object is a Japanese Wakizashi sword and dates back to the 17th century. The blade is signed ‘Hizen kuni ju Tadahiro’ and is accompanied by a wooden replica blade and two sets of scabbards and hilts; one simple and wooden, the other coated in lacquer and highly decorative with accessories.

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The decorative hilt was the main area of concern as the ray skin coating was fragile in a number of places and the gold dragon decorations showed evidence of copper corrosion. The metal blade collar, washers, utility knife and hair implement all showed signs of discolouration and copper corrosion. The decorative scabbard, while in good condition, had a small fragment of lacquer detached from the surface.

Before Conservators could start work on the sword, it had to be taken apart so that each item could be treated on individually. We took care to note the order and position of the accessories, so that it was not put back together incorrectly. Taking photographs helped with this process.

sword2

The metal accessories were cleaned using cotton wool swabs with a solvent specific for metals. This removed the corrosion and discolouration, without causing further damage to the objects.

The hilt’s decorative dragons were cleaned by brushing on an appropriate solvent, in order to fully penetrate the uneven surface and remove corrosion.  The fragile ray skin coating was stabilised using a suitable adhesive that was applied using capillary action, to strengthen the bond to the base material.

The decorative scabbard was cleaned using an alternative solvent, which would not damage the original lacquer, to remove the surface dirt. The detached fragment was re-attached using a suitable adhesive to secure it back to the wooden base, without damaging the lacquer exterior. The wooden scabbard and hilt, along with the remaining metal accessories, were dry cleaned to remove the surface dust and dirt

To clean the blade, traditional Japanese methods were used, including the application of a dry powder to remove any previous oil. This was then wiped with Japanese tissue to remove it. Finally, the blade was coated with a specially tested traditional Japanese oil to protect it and prevent deterioration.

Blogger: Conservator, Vicky Garlick

From Leeds to Oman…

Royal Armouries is staging an exhibition of iconic matchlock guns in the Sultanate of Oman as part of its ongoing commitment to showcase global heritage to the Islamic world.

The firearms played a crucial role in the history of both Europe and Asia and some were originally displayed in our Leeds museum. They are now part of a new exhibition at Bait al Rudaydah Museum, a recently restored Omani fort, which has its own diverse collection of small arms.

Royal Armouries Technician, Giles Storey tells us about the journey from Leeds to the Middle East.

Transporting the objects from the museum in Leeds and mounting the exhibition in Oman took eight full-on days. The first stop on our journey was London and the Constantine Warehouse, where three packed crates of the objects awaited. Once we arrived the crates were loaded onto custom-made wagons, with air-ride suspension and temperature-controlled storage to ensure the objects travelled safely.

The eight-hour overnight flight left on time with our precious cargo on board! We touched down in Muscat airport at 8am local time, and quickly made our way into the cooler air-conditioned terminal, remembering to obtain a 10-day visa in exchange for 5 Rials, before heading through security to meet up with Dihan Dole, the representative from CEVA.

We arrived at Bait al Rudayah Fort at around 4.30pm, and got ready to unload the crates into a secure area, ready for customs to inspect each crate. By the time we had worked our way through the object manifest and packed everything away in a secure room it was getting on for 8pm.

The next day was Install day. The room for the exhibition was quite small, so we were restricted slightly in terms of how much space we had to move about. The six large graphic wall-panels were the first to go up, relatively easy, though one panel did need a little alteration with a hacksaw, so it could be positioned to hide a fuse-box.

After lunch, we made a start on installing objects; my colleague, Senior Conservator Nyssa Mildwaters, condition checked each object as we unpacked them, and I started the process of placing them in the cases. We had layout drawings to work from, though the depth of the case was slightly shallower than anticipated, due to a couple of battens that were fitted to allow the glass frames to be screwed into position.

Day two involved fitting the glass for the display cases, and installing the object mounts into the table top case, bonding them in place and leaving them overnight to cure.

On the final day of installation we had to crack on with putting the finishing touches to the cases. The mirrors had to be carefully taped and bonded into position. Luckily I had brought a spare mirror, as my first attempt resulted in a scratch straight down the back of the first one. Object numbers were taped and installed, then it was a case of cleaning, cleaning, and more cleaning, ready for the glass to go in.

The glass had to be bonded into its frame, and then carefully carried through the doorway at an awkward angle. It was a five-man job to manoeuvre the glass into position – where it will stay for the next 12 months.

Once the install was finished we still had to prepare all the crates for storage. The heat in Oman can make wood warp pretty quickly so they have to be stored built up rather than as flat panels. Special seals around the crates ensure that we won’t bring any bugs back with us in a year’s time.

The return trip was relatively smooth with only the small hiccup of me losing my boarding card in the airport!

It was a tight project time-wise but we have successfully exhibited a small piece of our Leeds collection in the Middle East!

Blogger: Giles Storey, Technician

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