Eastern Warriors: Japan – Medieval and Modern!

Japan-Web-BannerThis February half term, why not take the opportunity to come to Leeds and experience a glimpse of the world of the Japanese warrior? The Royal Armouries holds a wonderfully rich collection of Japanese objects, and many of these are on show in the Oriental Gallery.

Through these pieces, we can see how the distinctive arms and armour of the famous samurai evolved over the centuries, in conjunction with new developments in battlefield tactics and wider political, social and economic change.

DI 2007-1482, Sword (katana). Japanese, 16th century. Made by Kanemoto. XXVIS.366

DI 2007-1482, Sword (katana). Japanese, 16th century. Made by Kanemoto. XXVIS.366

A quick summary cannot do the world of Japanese arms and armour justice, but for a whistle-stop tour of some of the essential points please read on! We start with the Japanese horse archer with his elite warrior status, wearing his flamboyant lamellar o-yoroi or ‘great armour’ with the colourful silk lacing and large shoulder defences, his kabuto (helmet) with the spreading neckguard, and carrying the unique Japanese longbow (yumi) fashioned for use on horseback.

Image: close–up image of head and shoulders of armour (tosei gusoku) for a member of the Sakakibara family. Japanese, 16th century. XXVIA.274. On display in Leeds.

Image: close–up image of head and shoulders of armour (tosei gusoku) for a member of the Sakakibara family. Japanese, 16th century. XXVIA.274. On display in Leeds.

Image: Helmet (kabuto) and mask (mempo) of an armour given as a diplomatic gift from Tokugawa Hidetada to James I and VI in 1613. XXVIA. On display at the Tower of London.

Image: Helmet (kabuto) and mask (mempo) of an armour given as a diplomatic gift from Tokugawa Hidetada to James I and VI in 1613. XXVIA. On display at the Tower of London.

Image: DI 2005-0753 Helmet (kabuto), part of an armour copied from an o-yoroi (‘great armour’) made c.1300. XXVIA.209.

Image: Helmet (kabuto), part of an armour copied from an o-yoroi (‘great armour’) made c.1300. XXVIA.209.

Image: DI 2005-0563 An illustration from Yoroi Chakuyo shidai, or ‘The Order of Putting on an Armour’ showing an Japanese warrior. Japanese, early 19th century.

Image: An illustration from Yoroi Chakuyo shidai, or ‘The Order of Putting on an Armour’ showing a Japanese warrior. Japanese, early 19th century.

These horse archers prevailed on the Japanese battlefield until around the 14th century, by which point the emphasis on large bodies of infantry was increasing, and fighting on foot with staff weapons such as the naginata (glaive) and the yari (spear) became more common. As combat techniques evolved, the warrior lords and their retainers began to wear smaller, less elaborate styles of armour such as the do maru and the haramaki, which permitted greater freedom of movement – we have examples of both these styles of armour on show in the gallery in Leeds.

Image: TR.195 Armour (mogami haramaki gusoku). Japanese, mid-16th century. XXVIA.2

Image: Armour (mogami haramaki gusoku). Japanese, mid-16th century. XXVIA.2

In the mid-16th century the Portuguese arrived in Japan and brought matchlock firearms with them. The Japanese daimyo (nobles), who by this point were embroiled in the protracted civil wars known generally as sengoku jidai or ‘age of the country at war’, adopted this new technology with enthusiasm, and the Japanese matchlock (teppo) became a crucial weapon on the battlefield. This was famously proven at the battle of Nagashino in 1575, when the arquebusiers of the combined forces of Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu annihilated the cavalry charge of Takeda Katsuyori. The new prevalence of firearms and the prolonged siege warfare that characterised the civil wars prompted further developments in armour. Laced rows of individual lamellar scales were reduced in favour of constructions incorporating solid plates, which provided better protection against bullets, and much experimentation was conducted to find a way of producing bullet-proof armour. Armour was simplified and the lacing was reduced in order to make it more practical during extended periods of warfare, as well as quicker and cheaper to produce for large numbers of troops.

Image: A13.369 - Illustration showing infantrymen armed with matchlock muskets. From a block book entitled Geijutsu Hideu Zue [Accomplishments in the secret arts] by Ohmori Sakou, with illustrations by Kuniyoshi (Tokyo, 1855).

Image: Illustration showing infantrymen armed with matchlock muskets. From a block book entitled Geijutsu Hideu Zue [Accomplishments in the secret arts] by Ohmori Sakou, with illustrations by Kuniyoshi (Tokyo, 1855).

Image: DI 2005-0854 Matchlock musket (teppo). Japanese, Izumi Province, 18th century. Made by Enami Ihei of Sakai. XXVIF.53

Image: Matchlock musket (teppo). Japanese, Izumi Province, 18th century. Made by Enami Ihei of Sakai. XXVIF.53

Once the civil wars were brought to a final close in the early 1600s by the victories of Tokugawa Ieyasu, though, the period of closely monitored peace known as the Edo period descended on Japan and lasted until the mid-19th century. A close eye was kept on the buke (warrior class) in an effort to stamp out all opportunities for insurrection. External influence was reduced to a minimum as the Shogunate shut down the majority of foreign trade amid concerns about Western ambitions within the country. A feudal chain of obligation between vassals, lords and ultimately the Shogun was codified in the ideal of Bushido or the ‘Way of the Warrior’, which reinforced the necessity of absolute personal loyalty and obedience. The glory days of the past must have seemed a long way away to the samurai, and this nostalgia was shown in part through the continued importance of arms and armour, not so much as functional equipment any more, but more for the implications of rank, status and honour that the pieces conveyed on their owners.

For example, the right to wear two swords, the katana and the wakizashi, at the same time, was restricted to members of the military class; those who were ranked lower in the social order, such as merchants, were only permitted to wear a short sword. Old styles of armour and copies of famous ancient armours became fashionable again; several of the armours on show in the Oriental Gallery in Leeds were made during the Edo period, but have archaic stylistic features such as individual lamellar scales or the big shoulder guards and neckguards that were popular during the times when o-yoroi  were worn. Martial arts involving weapons including the sword and staff weapons such as the naginata developed into more regulated forms; instead of being fundamentally a practical way to prepare for battlefield combat, the emphasis shifted to honing the skills, principles and mindset that were meant to embody the ideal warrior who was loyal to his lord.

Image: CN.977 - Armour (tosei gusoku) laced in purple and green. Japanese, about 1800. XXVIA.113.

Image: Armour (tosei gusoku) laced in purple and green. Japanese, about 1800. XXVIA.113.

Japan emerged from its period of self-imposed isolation during the mid-19th century, and embarked on an ambitious programme of rapid modernisation. By the twentieth century, Japan was competing with the military technology of America and Europe. However, certain cultural practices ensured that traditional Japanese arms and armour remained current and relevant. In Japanese religion, there is a strong belief that the kami or ancestral spirits continue to live on in the possessions owned by the deceased before they died, and this is thought to be particularly true of a warrior’s sword and armour. As a result, medieval armour and weaponry is often perfectly preserved, as the pieces are treasured through the generations as family heirlooms or passed on to shrines as offerings, so that the kami continue to be honoured and ensure good fortune for their descendents. It was often for this reason that Japanese officers in WWII had their ancestral, centuries-old blades fitted out with modern military issue mounts; in outward appearance their swords would conform to the 20th-century standard of uniformity and modernity, but they could still carry their medieval ancestors into battle with them. The ‘soul of the samurai’ still had power, and indeed it lives on today in the reverence that is bestowed on historical objects and the warrior culture connected with them, and the hold that the Samurai still claim over the popular imagination.

Image: DI 2010-1230 Sword (katana). Japanese, 14th century, with 20th century military mounts. Made by Sadatsugu in Bitchu province. XXVIS.333.

Image: Sword (katana). Japanese, 14th century, with 20th century military mounts. Made by Sadatsugu in Bitchu province. XXVIS.333.

Image: DI 2007-1476 Sword (katana). dated 1933. Made by Gassan Sadakatsu to commemorate the birth of the Crown Prince who is now Emperor of Japan.

Image: Sword (katana). dated 1933. Made by Gassan Sadakatsu to commemorate the birth of the Crown Prince who is now Emperor of Japan.


Fakes and Forgeries: in conversation with Karen Watts

Saturday 7 February, the Royal Armouries will host a highly anticipated seminar day on ‘Fakes & Forgeries’. (#RAFakes)

Karen Watts, Senior Curator of Armour and Art at the Royal Armouries, is conducting a lecture at the event, so I asked her to talk a little about what the day will contain and some background information on why we should study these objects.

Why were there so many forgeries in the nineteenth century?

“The nineteenth century gothic revival created a rediscovering of the Middle Ages with the work of Walter Scott novels, such as Ivanhoe”.

“Suddenly it was the trend and pinnacle of fashion to have medieval objects up on the walls in the home of your castle, mansion or hall, but there weren’t enough originals left to go around. The huge demand for these items led to the creation of many fakes, some which were convincing and some far from it. Greed had a big part to play here, as those with big pockets dug deep for the most ‘exclusive’ items. Most popular seem to be helms due to the desire to create a real human connection to those medieval people on the battlefield or in the tourney”.

“The demand for these items meant that opportunists such as Thomas Grimshaw, a very famous faker who I’ll be discussing in my lecture this Saturday, could take advantage of the fashion and make their fortune!”

Possible drawing of Thomas Grimshaw by Wash, (I.143) © Royal Armouries.

Possible drawing of Thomas Grimshaw by Wash, (I.143) © Royal Armouries.

How many fakes do we have at the Royal Armouries?

“We have approximately 30 fakes within our collection and I will be highlighting a selection of them at the lecture this weekend – including a few which have been hidden in stores away from the public, so it’s a great opportunity to handle some of our objects that you may never have seen before.”

“My personal favourite of our fakes is Mr Smiley, a helm with breathing holes shaped in a large pair of smiling lips! (See image below). Original medieval helms had breathing holes or slots on the lower right hand side of the face and neck to allow the left side remain smooth – to deflect an opponent’s  lance.”

Image A14.53 © Royal Armouries.

Our poster boy, ‘Mr Smiley’. Image A14.53 © Royal Armouries.

What factors indicate something is a fake?

“Weight, decoration and construction are the commonest indicators that an object is not original.”

Have you ever been fooled by a fake?

“Not that I know of!”

Why is it important to study fakes in their own right?

“The history of fakes in the nineteenth century is not only military but a social history. By understanding why fakes were made we can better understand the social climate and romantic fashions of nineteenth century Britain, whilst using knowledge gained to detect new originals. These fakes are now products of their own history with their own stories to tell, and are collectors’ items in their own right!”

To hear more about gothic revival fakes from both Karen Watts and Ian Bottomley – Curator Emeritus (formerly Senior Curator of Oriental Collections, Royal Armouries), come along to the Royal Armouries Fakes & Forgeries seminar day, Saturday 7 February. To book your place, please visit the link below.



First World War Archives Project: An introduction


For the centenary of the First World War, Leeds Royal Armouries is collaborating with a number of other heritage organisations to digitise archives relating to the Royal Small Arms Factory (Enfield) and Local Regiments.

The project is running until March 2016 and is funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund.

As the project develops we will be sharing any news, exciting discoveries, and points of interest on this blog – so keep checking back for the latest updates.

Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/1/1/4/4)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/1/1/4/4)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

Royal Small Arms Factory


Established in 1816, the Enfield factory developed into the main Government producer of military small arms during the First World War. The factory produced, among others, the famous Lee-Enfield Rifle which served the British Army as a standard issue weapon for over 60 years.

Below are a few thoughts from Philip Abbott, Archives and Records Manager leading the project at the Royal Armouries:

“Enfield was such an important Governmental factory because it was a fundamental pillar throughout the 200 years of the Industrial Revolution. The factory’s fascinating history is not just that of firearms production but of our industrial and social heritage, with discoveries such as staff registers and Minute Books. We will hopefully be able to link together projects and documents through the digitalisation process and discover new clues. One main aim of this project is to find out where original records of the Royal Small Arms Factory lie now and with whom, as many important documents remained in the possession of ex-employees and administrators”

“This specific area of the project advances our knowledge of the Royal Armouries collection and creates fantastic new partnerships, which helps create and support future projects.”

The project will digitise and make available records including staff registers, plans, technical drawings and photographs in order to create a valuable resource for researchers interested in the history of the factory and its employees.

Our partners are:

Enfield Museum
Enfield Local Studies and Archives
Royal Small Arms Trust
RSAF Apprentices Association 
Historical Breechloading Small Arms Association (HBSA)
Historical Breechloading Small Arms Association. Northern Group

Regimental and Corps Museums


Regimental and Corps Museums of the British Army contain a wide range of archives, including personal diaries, photograph albums, battalion orders and trench maps.

Working with 7 regimental museum partners, the project will digitise First World War material from their collections in order to create digital resources commemorating the lives of the allied soldiers who fought on both the Western and Eastern Fronts.

Philip Abbott: “The important factor of Regimental Museum’s collections is that it’s about ‘ordinary people’, which is an aspect our own collection at the Royal Armouries can sometimes lack. We need that personal view for WWI items and documents, whether reflecting life in the factory as at Enfield or the trench via the Regimental Museums.”

“Regimental Museums have a wealth of the material we need, but need the resources we have available to bring it to the public. Therefore it’s a perfect partnership.”

Our partners are:

Green Howards’ Regimental Museum
The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment (West Riding) Museum
The Prince of Wales’ Own Regiment of Yorkshire Museum
The Royal Dragoon Guards Museum
The King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
The York and Lancaster Regimental Museum
The Royal Green Jackets (Rifles) Museum

Armourers course group photo - Enfield 1910

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

Keeper of the Tower Armouries, Bridget Clifford, continues her posts on Charles John Ffoulkes, who was Curator of the Armouries from 1913-1938 – during which he took part in the World War I civil defence of London, completed the first and last complete modern printed catalogue of the Tower collection, and created a museum infrastructure within The Tower. After his retirement, he was awarded an OBE in 1925 and a CBE in 1934 in recognition of his work on the Imperial War Museum.

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”.

Facing-Recovering at Fort Nelson

Artist Jevan Watkins Jones talks about his experiences collaborating with soldiers and veterans for new exhibition facing – recovering, currently on display at the Royal Armouries Fort Nelson until February 1.


Jevan Watkins Jones & Luke Hardy 2013

(Facing-Recovering Image: Jevan Watkins Jones and Luke Hardy, 2013. Image courtesy of firstsite.)

What was your role in the project?

My role was as lead artist responsible for designing and delivering a socially engaged art project with wounded and injured soldiers (WIS) as an Associate Artist to the Learning Team, firstsite in partnership with Chavasse VC House, Recovery Centre, Colchester Garrison. The project was based at the centre one day a week for 10 months.

How did you work with the soldiers and veterans to share their personal stories and experience of injury and post-traumatic stress?

Words became drawing and drawing became words – they were interwoven. My original intention had been to draw more myself in the situation, directly from them and their stories. I had intended to create an active studio space where drawings were left on the wall of the canteen. First mine then theirs. This was not allowed on the new centre walls but also it became less relevant. The space I had created appeared to have founded itself upon talking together; talking about soldiering and art and, liminally, the human relationship between these two – me and them. I say ‘me and them’ though I often listened more than I spoke because it was still the offer of ‘Drawing with Jevan’ that instigated that space and my job to draw the visual out in a relational way. It was my duty in this instance not there’s. They didn’t have to participate or even turn up. The only way that the drawing-out could happen was to keep hold of these conversations as best I could in note form in order to draw on them in weeks to come. Key events were up most in my mind and these became drivers, or more rewardingly, evidence of a growing rapport with a few individuals channelling the course  of the project at what was and still remains for many a raw time.

(Image: Josh Green, Eye Crowd, 2013. Image courtesy of firstsite. Please use title as caption)

(Facing-Recovering Image: Josh Green, Eye Crowd, 2013. Image courtesy of firstsite.)

How is this exhibition significant to the current experiences of the armed forces?

From my perspective as an artist, civilian and having a step-son who has served in Afghanistan, it is significant in as much as it presents the contemporary soldier as a fellow human being who is as vulnerable if not more because of the extreme situations they face. My experience through this project is that many soldiers feel unable, even disabled, to reconcile their experiences with living a civilian life. The adjustment appears to be challenging and is certainly exacerbated by persistent stereotypes that can reinforce a sense of isolation or at least difference. The few soldiers I met wanted to express themselves personally and grab an opportunity to publicly declare their voice so that as Luke Hardy, Ex-Private and Sniper said people would be able to see ‘..the person behind the soldier.’

Is there a particular piece in this exhibition that stood out for you?

They, of course, all do for different reasons but because I have a particular love for drawing I would single out Josh’s drawing, ‘maimed Man’ as it really rocked me when he first presented it to me. Art has this potential but it is infrequently met. It is drawing in its most elemental, stripped back and sincere. It is also such a timeless image – man against man, defence, protection and humanity all rolled into one.

facing – recovering is on display at the Royal Armouries Fort Nelson until 1st February 2015.



The Christmas Truce


Image: soldiers of the 12th Bn East Yorkshire regiment pass through a communications trench, 1918. © Imperial War Museum, Creative Commons

Preview post


Did you see the Sainsbury’s Christmas television advert featuring the legendary Christmas truce that happened at various locations along the Western Front in December 1914? Whether you saw it or not, you probably will have heard some of the controversy it aroused. The advert, and more importantly the discussion around it, provided a great case study for our first class examining the history and memory of the First World War and generated a lot of debate. Here are the links we used, with a couple more we didn’t have time for:

Do you think Sainsbury’s ‘went too far’ with this advert? Was it a fond, well-researched tribute to an important historical event, or a cynical, emotive ploy to boost flagging profits? Or something in between? And what does this advert, and the debate it generated, tell us about the way we remember the First World War one hundred years on?

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


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

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them…”

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

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

IMG_8474- TTAL - 111114

IMG_8483- TTAL - 111114

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

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

They That Are Left

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

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


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:


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

The Edged Weapons of the First World War…

The up-coming First World War exhibition at Royal Armouries, Leeds will not only look at the firearms used during the War but also the evolution of edged weapons. We spoke to Assistant Curator of European Edged Weapons, Henry Yallop to find out more…

Can you tell us a little bit about your involvement in the research and preparation for the First World War exhibition?
It has been pretty all encompassing for Curator of Firearms Jonathan Ferguson, First World War Researcher, Lisa Traynor and I.  From choosing and acquiring the objects to conducting research, writing and editing all the content for both the physical and online exhibition – it has been non-stop.  We have also been heavily involved in the design of the gallery space and will even be installing it alongside the technicians.  The curatorial team have had a lot of involvement from start to finish.

Henry Yallop, Assistant Curator of European Edged Weapons

Henry Yallop, Assistant Curator of European Edged Weapons holding a Cavalry Trooper’s Sword, British, 1915

Can you tell us about some of the edged weapons that were used during the First World War and how they evolved afterwards?
The most common edged weapon of the War, carried by almost every soldier, was the bayonet.  Various types were used and it was still, despite huge advances in firepower, seen as an essential weapon of the infantryman. After the War the bayonet was viewed more as an auxiliary weapon of last resort. Nevertheless, changes in bayonet design did come about following the experiences of the First World War.

Every nation also started the War with sword, and even lance, armed cavalry.  The ‘cavalry spirit’ was still strong in a lot of armies and some still saw closing to contact the true purpose of cavalry. As such, in the years leading up to the War many nations attempted to improve upon their sword and lance designs.  However, the emergence of tanks during the War and their development afterwards effectively spelt the end of edged weapon armed cavalry, and with it any further development of sword and lance.

Perhaps the most unique edged weapons of the First World War are those that developed out of trench warfare.  Here a range of both improvised and purpose designed edged weapons were developed for the specific trench conditions of hand-to-hand combat.  Some of these were new designs, but others harked back to the medieval period.

What have you found most interesting about working on this project?
The opportunity to work alongside the Firearms team has been very rewarding.  I am fascinated by all arms and armour, so expanding my knowledge outside of my main discipline was excellent.  Although we have all had our main area of interest, working with each other enabled us to expand our individual understanding and the relationship between edged weapons, firearms and armour during this period.

What has been your most interesting discovery?
That there were occasions, despite the modern and changing nature of warfare, that cavalry armed with edged weapons could still have a role to play.  In the Middle East mounted regiments of the British Empire were asking to be issued with swords as late as 1918.  They were still considered essential weapons, and on more than one occasion proved to be uniquely so.

Lord Kitchener's sword and scabbard British, 1898 (XVI.16) © Royal Armouries

Lord Kitchener’s sword and scabbard British, 1898 (XVI.16) © Royal Armouries

What edged weapons can people expect to see in the exhibition?
We are displaying the full range of edged weapons used in the First World War; Swords, lances, bayonets, knives, daggers, clubs, knuckledusters, even a pike and a sharpened spade! Some of these have specific regimental and even personal associations. Although not intended to be used as a weapon, we are very lucky to have Field Marshal Kitchener’s sword, who was such an important figure to the whole of the British Empire’s war effort from 1914-16.

Bullets, Blades and Battle Bowlers: the personal arms and armour of the First World War will go on display at Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds In September 2014. For more details about the First World War Centenary programme, visit the website.

‘The Shot Heard around the World’…

Historical rumours claim that the Archduke Franz Ferdinand owned a piece of silk, bullet-proof body armour, which he failed to wear on the day of his assassination.  Originally the brainchild of priest-turned-inventor Casimir Zeglen, this armour was composed of a combination of organic layers, most notably silk, which had bullet stopping capabilities.  By the early 1900s various different patents of these armours were being sold globally, and were marketed to heads of state and royalty.

We spoke to Lisa Traynor, First World War Researcher at Royal Armouries, about the on-going research undertaken by Britain’s oldest public museum to determine whether this vest could have changed the course of history…

What can you tell us about the significance of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand?
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, on 28 June 1914 in Sarajevo, is an event which will forever be associated with the outbreak of the First World War.  In 1914, political relationships in the Balkans were very fragile, most notably due to Austro-Hungary’s annexation of Bosnia.  War had been a possibility in this area of the globe for a number of years, due militarism, imperialism, nationalism and the alliance systems. During the late 19th century/early 20th century, many heads of state and public figures had been assassinated, none of which had led to war. The assassination of the Archduke was the final ‘spark’ which ignited these existing European tensions, thus catapulting the world into the age of modern warfare.

FWW Fire Arm Shoot- April 2014_86

Royal Armouries has had various samples of this type of silk armour made, from the specifications laid out in the original patents of the invention © Royal Armouries

Why did Royal Armouries feel it important to carry out this research?
In my previous role as Firearms Documentation Assistant, I stumbled across a Browning Model 1910 pistol (the same type used to assassinate the Archduke). In examining its serial number I realised it was only 516 away from the actual pistol used in the assassination and would probably have been manufactured around the same time. This made me think about the ‘what if?’ scenario surrounding the death of the Archduke. If he hadn’t been killed, would the war have been delayed? I then considered the body armour from the turn of the 20th century and how this might have been achieved.

After months of independent research in international archives and with the assistance of international academics on the subject, I discovered that it was entirely possible that the Archduke may have owned a piece of body armour.  Our First World War team thought it would be interesting to test the theory of silk body armour against the Browning Model 1910, to understand the ballistic capabilities of 19th century body armour against 20th century firepower.

How was the research carried out?
Royal Armouries has had various samples of this type of silk armour made, from the specifications laid out in the original patents of the invention.  We have tested the body armour against pistols of varying calibres, at the National Firearms Centre in Leeds. The process has tried to replicate the assassination as closely as possible.

What is the most interesting thing you found out?
I don’t want to reveal too much before the opening of the exhibition however I can report that silk does have bullet stopping capabilities!

We have tested the body armour against pistols of varying calibres, at the National Firearms Centre in Leeds © Royal Armouries

We have tested the body armour against pistols of varying calibres, at the National Firearms Centre in Leeds © Royal Armouries

What will people see and be able to discover when visiting the exhibition?
The exhibition will explain to the visitor how these bullet proof vests were constructed, it will show footage of our experiments against the Browning pistol, and we will be exhibiting one of our silk vest samples. I am also doing a talk in September, which will go into more depth about Franz Ferdinand’s reasons for possibly purchasing one of these armours, and it will take an in depth look at our experiments in the National Firearms Centre. This research is still on-going, so by September more evidence may have come to light.

What other things in particular have you enjoyed / found most interesting or been surprised at during your research?
This research has both surprised and disappointed me at times. It has been interesting to discover what lurks at the bottom of historical archives around the world! It has also allowed me to connect with other international academics around the world, on the subject of Arms and Armour. Most notably, it has allowed me to give the public insight into the exciting historical research which the curatorial department at Royal Armouries achieves on a frequent basis.

Lisa Traynor (First World War researcher), test firing a Vickers Mk. II belt fed machine gun (XXIV.8841) at the National Firearms Centre, Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds, UK, 29th March, 2014  © Royal Armouries

Lisa Traynor (First World War researcher), test firing a Vickers Mk. II belt fed machine gun (XXIV.8841) at the National Firearms Centre, 29th March, 2014 © Royal Armouries

Blogger: Lisa Traynor, First World War Researcher, Royal Armouries

Lisa is delivering a talk at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds on September 24, which will shed fresh light on the issue, and reveal the results from the upcoming tests. For tickets, priced £5, and more information, visit the website.

Lisa is also presenting an international paper focused on the research at the International Committee for the History of Technology’s Conference in Romania, which runs from July 29 to August 2.

For more information regarding Royal Armouries’ First World War Centenary programme, visit www.royalarmouries.org/events/first-world-war-centenary