Historical Memories…

Oral Historian Tracy Craggs has been working in partnership with the Royal Armouries Museum to complete a two-year European Union-funded project, contributing towards a methodology on teaching historical memory in schools. Tracy tells us more about the project.

The Royal Armouries’ team worked with a class of Year Nine History students (aged 13-14) for one term. The students were from the Co-operative Academy of Leeds, a mixed-ability comprehensive school near the city centre. The students studied the Second World War, focusing on the history and memories of D-Day.

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Students interview D Day veteran, Alf Ackroyd

Students learnt about the background to the Second World War, then spent a lesson focusing on D-Day from the perspective of one man, Wilf Todd, who took part in the invasion on Sword beach in Normandy. Using photographs, historical documents relating to Wilf’s service, a letter he wrote to his wife Mary, and extracts from Wilf’s and Mary’s memoirs, students analysed the difference between history and memory sources.

They then used a wide range of eyewitness accounts of D-Day, together with photographs, films and archive sources, to broaden their understanding and assess why the invasion of Normandy was ultimately a success. The class spent a day at the Royal Armouries Museum, where they worked in the museum galleries and handled Second World War weapons and uniforms.

After interview skills training, students met and interviewed D-Day and Second World War veterans in school. Using their interview results, students created digital stories based on the interviewees’ experiences, interpreting their stories in the context of the Second World War and giving their own views on the relationship between ‘official’ history and memory sources.

The Royal Armouries team found that students had a far more mature response to the museum’s collection, particularly difficult objects such as Second World War weapons, when they understood the memories those objects held for people who used them. Meeting living witnesses was an important part of the learning process for young people. However, oral history was more powerful for the students when they had the opportunity to question and compare different narratives rather than seeing it as a piece of evidence telling them ‘what really happened’. Getting young people to deconstruct how interpretations are made, and how social memory is created, made them appreciate the relevance of history to their own lives.

Our team worked with staff from museums and cultural organisations from Spain, Norway, Italy, Slovenia and Poland to create a methodology to teach historical memory that would work in schools across Europe. This methodology has now been made available and interested teachers can access it at http://memoriesatschool.aranzadi-zientziak.org/methodology/

Blogger: Tracy Craggs, Oral Historian

The Wild West – tough times and even tougher characters…

This February half-term, the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds is set to be over run by outlaws, bandits, desperados, rustlers and thieves. We need your help to track them down, so keep your eyes out for the shady characters below, from 16-24 February.

‘The Big D’
Wanted for gambling, fraud and horse rustling! Tends to shoot first and ask questions of your dead corpse later. You could arrest him but he’s also the Sheriff!

Wanted Cards Andy

Kid Carlson
Wanted for petty crimes. A man hated in the community for not so evil deeds. People have seen him cheating at poker games, stealing the Sheriff’s lunch money, and tormenting the local cows with nasty words.

Wanted Cards Carl

Hot Foot Holly
Wanted for unpaid tabs. Hot Foot Holly flits from town to town, staying in the grandest hotels, dining in the finest restaurants and when the fanciest tailor in town has just about sewn the last button on a beautiful new gown, she hot foots on out of there without paying a single bill!

Wanted Cards Holly

Wacky Jackie, The Bane of the West
Wanted for horse stealing. It is said that a Native American Chieftain told her that her spirit guide is a horse. She now believes she is one, and is wanted for stealing horses – or as she would say ‘setting her kin free!’ Last seen galloping across the plains.

Wanted Cards Jackie

Jemma ‘The Magpie’ Bulmer
Jewel thief and jail breaker. Married into a life of wealth and luxury, then widowed, she became accustomed to the luxuries of life so now steals from the rich and the elite, any shiny trinket or bauble she likes. She continually breaks out of jail using her charm and wit.

Wanted Cards Jemma

Kit Ducklin aka The Duck of Death
Wanted for army payroll robbery. Sometimes operates as a quack surgeon, now thought to be working as a buffalo hunter somewhere in Montana.

Wanted Cards Keith

Lisa – The Scourge of the Prairies
Wanted for Murder! She hails from the deepest prairies and outside of church she hasn’t had much time to socialise with folks. Wanted for murder in seven counties, she is extremely dangerous. For the sake of your life and your immortal soul do not approach.

Wanted Cards Lisa

Showtime Shona
Wanted for blackmail, extortion and robbery. Her profession as a saloon show girl means she is always surrounded by gentlemen admirers; the perfect opportunity to use her skills and rob them blind of all their worldly possessions.

Wanted Cards Shona

Join us this February half-term (16-24 February) to discover what life was like for the Wild West Outlaws through talks, demonstrations, films and craft activities. Plus don’t miss the daily showdown between our hotshot gunfighters.

Visit our website for more information.

Living History Day: English Civil Wars

We spoke to Dave Lister, a member of the English Civil War Society, to find out what is in store for the Living History Day this weekend.

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Colonel Edward Montagu’s Regiment of Foote from the Roundhead Association, part of the English Civil War Society..

Can you tell us a little bit about the group and what you do?
We are Colonel Edward Montagu’s Regiment of Foote from the Roundhead Association, part of the English Civil War Society. We recreate the everyday life of the English Civil Wars. Our display will provide an insight into how the civilians and military went about their everyday business during the 17th century.

How long have you been established?
We have been part of the English Civil War Society for 35 years now, so we have been around a while. We even have a few members that have been in the society and regiment for nearly as long!

What can people expect from the Living History day?
We will have a variety of stations showcasing everyday life during the English Civil War. These stations will include a cooks’ area providing examples of the diet of the 17th century, a military area with an officer’s post and soldiers demonstrating their duties.

We also have more stations reflecting other areas of civilian life in the 17th century, these include the various crafts such as sewing, spinning and weaving. We also have a scribe – there will even be a chance for you to try out some writing yourselves!

During the day we will be performing a full military drill to demonstrate the weapons used during the English Civil War. There will also be a children’s drill where we can teach the young ones how to be a soldier.

Why do you enjoy doing events such as this one?
It’s good to interact with the audience; you get to see their reactions to hearing what life was like in the 17th century. It also gives our members a chance to learn new skills from others within the regiment and the society.

The English Civil War Society and Colonel Edward Montagu’s Regiment of Foote will be at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds on Saturday 9 February, 10am – 4pm. Visit our website for more information.

The Final Moments of Richard III…

Bob Woosnam-Savage, Curator of European Edged Weapons at Royal Armouries, formed part of an expert team that on Monday 4 February confirmed the identity of the “skeleton in the car park” as those of England’s last king to fall in battle – Richard III. His role was to investigate the battle-related trauma on the skeleton, and attempt to identify some of the possible weapons used to kill the last of the Plantagenets.

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L to R: Philippa Langley (Richard III Society), Dr. Stuart J Hamilton (Deputy Chief Forensic Pathologist, East Midlands Forensic Pathology Unit, University of Leicester), Bob Woosnam-Savage (Curator of European Edged Weapons, Royal Armouries) and Dr. Jo Appleby (Lecturer in Human Bioarchaeology, University of Leicester).

Bob tells us the story of what historians now believe were the final minutes of Richard III – slain by the army of Henry Tudor, father of Henry VIII.

What we have is a very tentative, first attempt to try and create a possible narrative reconstructing the last minutes and death of Richard III, the last king of England to die in battle. It is extremely important to bear in mind that this is exactly that; a first attempt. It will no doubt evolve as more is discovered.

My narrative that follows is a synthesis, based upon various elements from the historical accounts – the veracity of each is a discussion for another time – and what we presently understand the evidence the skeleton may possibly suggest.  The scenario offered suggests just one possible scenario. Material from existing histories is written in italics.

Richard was described as leading a mounted charge against Henry Tudor in an attempt to kill him. Cutting down Tudor’s standard bearer, Sir William Brandon, there is the possibility Richard’s momentum was stalled by marshy ground, a feature confirmed by the recent archaeology of the Bosworth battlefield. His horse stuck, or slain, Richard, fully armoured, continues fighting manfully on foot, maybe only a few feet away from his intended target, Henry Tudor.

However, the tide of battle had seemingly already begun to turn as Stanley’s forces decided to side with Tudor, and they came down upon the Plantagenets and Richard. Tudor’s own bodyguard would have been defending him as well and so, within a very short space of time, Richard could have found himself outnumbered and in the press of his enemies. But then what?

His armour, successfully protecting him up to this time, probably began to fail under ferocious attack. There is no evidence to say how long this sustained attack lasted but at some point it would appear that his helmet was forcibly removed (possibly cut or ripped away). It is perhaps from these moments that the skeleton appears to begin to provide some glimpses of a possible scenario, regarding the dying moments of Richard III.

At this time, Richard immediately receives more blows; a number of individual wounds from bladed weapons to the head, particularly to the top and rear of the skull, indicate a sustained and repeated attack on an unprotected head, one particularly massive blow possibly proving fatal. That particular blow could well have been delivered by a staff weapon such as a halberd. Other blows, including a penetrating wound to the top of the skull, and another to the base, both again probably dealt to an unprotected head, appear to have been perhaps delivered either near, or at the point of, death, with Richard possibly finally keeling over in a kneeling position or even lying semi-prone on the ground (although the body position must remain speculative at this time). This trauma to the head certainly would appear to fit accounts that include descriptions such as his head was shaved and that his brains came out with blood.

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Halberd. Swiss or German, about 1480 (VII.1497)

However the skeleton bears other wounds which, if it were that of Richard, can only be explained as having been delivered after any armour was removed from the body and therefore probably after the king was presumably already near death, or dead. These ‘insult injuries’ might have included the small stab wound to the face; a stab in the back from behind, which struck a rib and, perhaps most tellingly of all, a stab wound, possibly delivered with a knife or dagger, to the buttocks. This last, insulting, blow could easily have been delivered to king’s body by an infantryman with a bladed weapon after it had been slung over the back of a horse, ‘with the armes and legges hanging down on both sides’, as he was borne to Leicester.

A point of interest is that compared to a number of the dead from the Battle of Towton (1461), the face itself seems to bear comparatively little trauma. This may be of significance as the body of the king was subject to at least two days of exposure, from the time of his death to his burial. One of the reasons for such exposure, which was not exceptional at this time, was to allow an individual’s death to be witnessed and accepted – a severely damaged or unidentifiable face, preventing recognition, would obviously largely defeat this purpose.

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The skull of the skeleton found at the Grey Friars excavation in Leicester.
© University of Leicester

Finally it should be borne in mind that the trauma to the skeleton (over 10 wounds) must be regarded as an under enumeration of the number of wounds the body originally sustained – for Richard may well have borne wounds to the soft tissue, which have not been preserved. The state of his body would therefore no doubt have matched descriptions, which say Richard was all besprinkled with mire and blood.

This investigation has been an excellent example of everyone working together within the research team. Our real work is now only beginning.

Visit our website for more information and images.

Behind the Scenes…

Have you ever wondered what happens behind the scenes at a national museum? Now is your chance to find out as our curatorial department plans a special day for you to meet the curators and get their hands on the amazing study collection.

Curatorial Manager Lynda Jackson tells us why the behind-the-scenes experience is a must for museum lovers.

While the galleries are home to a huge selection of objects, these displays represent only a small selection from the 70,000 plus arms, armour and archives that make up the Royal Armouries’ collection. These objects include a huge range of European and Oriental-edged weapons, firearms, armour and artillery, alongside original manuscripts, artworks and prints.

Senior Curator of Armour and Art Karen Watts and Thom Richardson, Keeper of Armour and Oriental Collections, will guide guests through the collection and provide an opportunity to handle original pieces and view the study collections. Feeling the smooth finish of Greenwich armour, or the weight of an early matchlock, really helps visitors to understand how objects work and how they were originally made and used.

The session starts with a unique seminar in which Karen and Thom will discuss a range of special objects, including edged weapons, firearms and armour. Guests will then be given the opportunity to touch and handle these important objects. Most museums have large study collections in storage but few people get the opportunity to explore them with a world expert in their field.

Finally, it’s time to relax with pre-dinner drinks in the gallery and the evening is rounded off with a three-course meal in the Hunting Gallery’s Gun Room, hosted by Karen and Thom. This is a fabulous opportunity to view behind the scenes and a real treat for any lover of arms and armour.

This unique ‘Behind the Scenes’ experience will take place on 19 January 2013. For more information and to book, visit our website.

Swords of the Middle Earth…

To celebrate the premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, four heroic swords based on weapons used in the epic The Lord of the Rings film trilogy will go on display at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds on Thursday (December 13). Royal Armouries’ curator of European Edged Weapons, Bob Woosnam-Savage, reveals all about the magical swords.

After our highly successful The Wonderful World of Weta: Arms and Armour from the Movies exhibition in 2008, I have kept in close contact with one of the workshop’s directors, Sir Richard Taylor, in New Zealand. So when these swords were suggested as a collection of ‘high-end’ collectibles of museum quality I knew we had to have them.

Although the swords in this collection are not movie props, they have been made at the multi-Academy Award winning Weta Workshop by the movie’s very own swordsmith, Peter Lyon, using the same designs, methods, materials and tools that were used to create the original hero weapons for The Lord of the Rings motion picture trilogy. The pieces encompass a multitude of sword making, metal crafting and wood-working techniques and are examples of present day, world-class sword-making skills. In fact it could be said that they are even better than the original movie props as Peter Lyon now has 10 years more experience in sword making!

The swords – Andúril, Strider’s Sword, Glamdring, and Sting – are all artists’ proof copies of the long since, sold-out limited editions, ranging from only 10 to 25 in number, and have been made over the past two years.

The design of some of the swords is based on real medieval and Renaissance designs, similar to those held by the museum.  Andúril, the sword of Aragorn, was based upon a large ‘cruciform’ European sword. The hand-and-a-half sword of the ranger ‘Strider’ was based closely on the proportions of a late 15th century European (bastard or hand-and-half) sword, but with non-historical design features. The result is a functional and elegant synthesis of history and fantasy. Even ‘Sting’ was originally going to be based upon a Holbein-type dagger of the 16th century, but after much rethinking ended up as it is seen. John Howe, one of the concept artists of The Hobbit also, designed the sword Andúril for The Lord of the Rings as well as co-designing Strider’s sword.

To run alongside the installation, our visitor experience team has written a demonstration entitled ‘From Battle Scene to Silver Screen’. The talk will give a fascinating look into how arms and armour are used for film and television. There will be a chance to learn about what materials are used, how they are made and the difference between props and reality. The talk is suitable for all ages, particularly The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars’ fans! At the end of the 10-minute talk, visitors will have a chance to hold the props used in the talk and feel like movie stars themselves.

The Swords of Middle Earth exhibition goes on display at Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds, on December 13 and runs until February 2013.

Where Christmas began…

This year at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, Santa swaps his red suit for green and his grotto will transport you back to where Christmas celebrations began, in Victorian times.

Santa and friends at Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds

It seems hard to believe now but before the 19th century, Christmas was hardly celebrated and it didn’t become a public holiday until the end of the century. It is now the biggest annual celebration and we owe the Victorians for many of the festive traditions we still uphold today.

Starting with the man himself, Father Christmas was originally part of an old English midwinter festival, normally dressed in green – thought to symbolise a sign of the returning Spring. The stories of St. Nicholas (Sinter Klaas in Holland) came via Dutch settlers to America in the 17th century. From the 1870s, Sinter Klass became known in Britain as Santa Claus and with him came his unique gift and toy distribution system – reindeer and sleigh. (Source: www.historic-uk.com)

We also owe the pleasure of that colourful paper crown, tiny toy and joke that comes within the Christmas cracker, to British confectioner, Tom Smith, who in 1848 travelled to Paris and discovered bonbons. From this, he came up with the idea of a simple package filled with sweets that snapped when pulled apart. The sweets were replaced by small gifts and paper hats in the late Victorian period, and remain in this form as an essential part of a modern Christmas.

The roast turkey has its beginnings in Victorian Britain. Previously other roasted meat such as beef and goose were the centrepiece of the Christmas feast. Wealthier sections of the community added the turkey to the menu in the 19th century. It was deemed the perfect size for a middle class family gathering, and so became the dominant dish by the beginning of the 20th century. (Source: www.bbc.co.uk/history)

Come and experience the beginnings of Christmas in traditional Victorian style at Royal Armouries, Leeds. Christmas activities run from 1-23 December and Santa will visit every Saturday and Sunday.

For more information, visit our website.

Editing, a labour of love…

Sound Artist Amie Slavin talks about the trials and tribulations of editing Other Ranks and how every stutter, mumble and pause must be considered.

At the end of the process of collecting sounds, I gathered them all up and began the massive labour of love, which is the editing process. I had to listen to every moment of every recording, snipping and making tidy cuts of usable sounds and filing them for inclusion in the piece.  I had to spot what’s especially good and excise anything off-topic, contaminated or unusable for any other reason.

At this point I had a big pile of files, each still quite lengthy, containing the best of each location and/or voice.  This is where it gets tricky…

The toughest part of editing for a project like this one is that you end up with more material than you have space.  You are, if you are me, now in love with every sound, every voice, and getting really scratchy about losing anything anyone has said.  Tough!  Man-up, whining arty-person!

From here on, each sound file has to stand up and justify its inclusion in the piece.  Every voice gets edited further as each one is snipped and placed, with extreme delicacy and care, into position within the mix.  Each must overlap its surrounding sounds correctly. A fraction of a second alters where the listener’s attention is – and this has a very real impact on which parts of which voices actually get heard.  I like to have voices criss-crossing each other, like old chaps in a pub, each philosophising into his pint, they chime, coalesce and weave gently around each other.  They also cut across each other, sometimes agreeing and sometimes not.  They reinforce and contradict each other.  One voice adds to another from a very different experience or perspective.

Throughout the process, my preference is to preserve the participant’s own speech rhythms and style of articulation.  I don’t like to begin by cutting out their stumbles and stutters.  I like the emotional elaboration we get from the way someone speaks, as well as the words they say.

At every point the priority is to pay central attention to what each person was trying to say.  I warned participants that their voices would be edited.  I also promised to represent them fairly.  This was a most serious and sincere pledge and, at the end of the production process I am equally concerned with how each participant will feel about his treatment within the edits and the piece, as well as the effectiveness of the whole mix.  This creates an additional complexity which has served to keep me awake and pacing the floor through many nights in the past four years.

The end product contains literally hundreds of sounds and dozens of voices, as well as several hundred participants who contributed their marching feet and PT exertions.  In many places the voices are edited into fluency.  Many, are of course, fluent to begin with.  Where necessary, I have removed stumbles and mumbles, which make a particular piece of speech too long for the gap it’s heading for.  Did it work?  Well that’s your call, isn’t it?

Blogger: Amie Slavin

Other Ranks is now open in the War Gallery at Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds until March 2013. For more information, visit our website.

Creating Other Ranks…

Sound Artist Amie Slavin has been creating the installation, Other Ranks, for the past four years. She tells us about her journey; travelling to Army camps to record soldiers’ stories, witnessing a mocked-up Afghan war zone and trying to instigate a good old dressing-down.

Artist, Amie Slavin

Other Ranks owes its existence to many contributors and friends. A project of this scale and scope requires a lot of research and preparation. The bulk of the work, in terms of the time it has taken, has been spent in pursuing every sound, every voice, every piece of proffered advice or wisdom and seizing ruthlessly on anyone not quick enough to stay out of reach!

I’ve been on three different Army camps and visited a TA veterans’ group.  I’ve recorded in the street, in fields, backrooms and a mocked-up Afghan Forward Operating Base.

At the beginning, notwithstanding meticulous and painstaking planning, there’s little predicting the sounds that’ll make it into the studio.  I roughed out lists of questions for interviewees and plans for sounds.  In the event, though, people say what they want to say and the best conversations are those where I’ve facilitated the participant to lead me in his chosen direction.  Some guys will talk about almost anything and are eager to do so.  Others are wary of speaking out of turn or of causing me distress with what they say.  For example, I spent some considerable time and effort attempting to find and persuade someone to give me a good old-fashioned Army dressing-down.  I wanted to show how the rigorous standards of behaviour and training are applied to the soldier on the ground. Two chaps very kindly had a crack at it for me but one eventually admitted it was just impossibly difficult to stand in front of a female civilian (my gender was more inhibiting than my disability they told me, to my delight) and deliver a proper telling-off.  Both spoke to me in gently firm and moderate language about my slipshod turnout on parade or my drunken behaviour off camp (how did they know?)

Upshot was I had to rethink the inclusion of a dressing-down, whereas a thoroughly slick and fluent explanation of the history of the Drill Parade flowed onto tape without hesitation or preparation.  I couldn’t have guessed that this would be the case.  Planning a production of this nature is a deeply imprecise science.  This is, of course, one of the greatest joys of it.

Other Ranks, opens in the War Gallery at Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds today (1 November) and runs until March 31, 2013.

Blogger: Amie Slavin

It’ll be all Fright on the Night…

As Halloween looms over the ever-darkening horizon, the Royal Armouries, Visitor Experience Team are busy preparing for the spookiest night of the year. After dark, on October 31, the museum will be transformed into a frightful Halloween scene. Owls will swoop overhead, Royal Armouries staff will be dressed to scare, the spooky museum trail will be set, awaiting its first victims and the ghost stories will be prepped to give you shivers.

We spoke to Lisa Power and Keith Ducklin, Visitor Experience Team, as they prepared a chilling tale for those that dare listen this Halloween.

One of the strangest and disturbing haunted house stories of the last century, The House that Winchester Built, relates to the lone heiress of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. The enigmatic Sarah Winchester purchased an eight-room farmstead in California in the 1890s and set to work on continually expanding it. For 38 years carpenters and builders were employed 24 hours per day, seven days a week to add new rooms, corridors and stories to the building.

Her motivations for creating this monstrous house are shrouded in mystery. However, stories emerged of the mistress of the mansion’s belief in restless apparitions multiplying from the exploits of Winchester guns out to seek vengeance on her.

Some of these mysteries surrounding Sarah Winchester and her house of horror may be solved at the Royal Armouries, Leeds on October 31.  Jason Cravatte a vaudevillian peddler of mysteries recounts the tragedy of Mrs Winchester with the aid of a former servant Margaret Duggan.

Ghost stories will be told as part of our Family Halloween Party, we also have a series of Spooky activities running everyday in Leeds and Fort Nelson until November 4.

Bloggers: Lisa Power & Keith Ducklin

For more information about the mysterious Winchester House go here.