Leeds’ Library gets a makeover…

The Leeds’ Library has recently undergone a major refurbishment. Antique oak bookcases, obtained from the National Maritime Museum (NMM), have replaced the former, rather bland metal shelving.

The Library at Royal Armouries, Leeds before…

The bookcases came from the old Caird Library at the NMM where they had stood since it opened in 1937. They were originally designed with the help of the Maggs Brothers, an eminent rare books dealership who still trade in London today, in consultation with British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. Lutyens is famous for designing the Cenotaph in London, the Thiepval Memorial and much of New Delhi. The bookcases became redundant as the Caird Library has moved to the new Sammy Ofer wing at the NMM, and the Royal Armouries jumped at the chance to save some of them, and bring them to Leeds.

Moving the bookcases turned out to be a logistical nightmare. They easily break down into 8 pieces, however each one is still over 3 metres long, ranging from 60kg to around 140kg in weight. Narrow and twisted corridors meant that there was only one way to get the cases into the Library (short of removing windows or knocking holes in the wall) by lifting them onto the mezzanine and carrying them straight through the curators’ office!

Now where did I put the instructions…?

Once in the Library, the bookcases had to be assembled and remodelled to fit a much smaller room, which was done as sensitively as possible to respect the original designs. The new Library looks incredible and there has been an overwhelmingly positive reaction from staff and the public – the main comment being that it now looks like a “proper library”. The atmosphere has been drastically transformed to a much more academic setting, and a section of the old Caird Library has been saved.

The Library at Royal Armouries, Leeds after…

Blogger: Jasmin Patel

Behind the Scenes: Kings of Cloth of Gold

We spoke to Set Designer, Ruth Paton about having history at her fingertips as she prepares the scenery, props and costumes inspired by the Royal Armouries collection for Kings of Cloth of Gold.

Emanuel Brierley as King Francis I and Dominic Goodwin as King Henry VIII

What inspiration have you taken from the Royal Armouries’ collection?
The amazing thing for me was being able to see the actual armour that Henry VIII wore. As it is a complete head to toe body shield with no part of him showing, you can really imagine that he is inside there. It was moulded to his body and so you get a feeling of his physical presence. There is also a beautiful tent on display, a replica of one in the famous panting. It is very impressive and a good reminder of the display of power shown from both sides. We have to come up with something that alludes to the scope and grandeur of that scene.

What props are being used from the Royal Armouries?
We have generously been allowed to borrow some gorgeous and authentic costumes and I think we will be borrowing some weaponry, swords and daggers too.

Tell us about the set and costumes.
It is quite a difficult brief. I must provide the different locations that the text demands, demonstrate the vastness and wealth of the tents and palaces both nations brought with them, whilst at the same time design something that can be put up and down quickly on the tour. It also has to be versatile enough to fit into a whole range of different performance spaces, from village halls to proscenium arches. So, we have come up with something golden and tented, which can be manipulated by the actors on stage to imply different locations. The costumes have come from the Royal Armouries and the Royal Shakespeare Company and are as sumptuous as you would expect for the early Tudor period.

What does it mean to you to have the resources of a museum’s historical collection at your disposal?
I consider it a great privilege to have behind the scenes access to the museum and it’s staff. Meeting Karen Watts, Senior Curator of Armour, was completely inspirational. Her knowledge and passion was infectious. I was interested in her description of handling historic artifacts and the art of “reading” them. She spoke about the importance of passing on her knowledge. In a far lesser way, I also feel responsible for describing history although I must admit to using a huge pinch of artistic license- my world is that of make believe after all.

What stage of preparation are you at now?
Well, I am writing this from the train to Stratford Upon Avon where I have an afternoon in the costume store looking for suitable things. Scale drawings are on my desk at home ready to be sent to our production manager Steve and I have fabric samples in my bag of the fabric for the tents as I am trying to make a decision.

Kings of Cloth of Gold by Angus & Ross Theatre Company, premieres at the Royal Armouries on 29 September 2012.

For more information and to book tickets visit our website here.

Introducing Other Ranks…

Sound artist, Amie Slavin, brings the multi-sensory, sound-based installation, Other Ranks, to the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, this November to form part of our Remembrance events.

Other Ranks by Amie Slavin comes to the Royal Armouries in November 2012.

Amie gives us an insight into what to expect…

Other Ranks is a project aiming to tell the civilian public how life is for ‘squaddies’ and helping to honour the sacrifices made by those serving in the British Army.

The installation will feature the stories of current and ex-soldiers, who have been on active service in dangerous places. Their stories will be played out of 16 speakers, interspersed with extracts from written sources, from classic fiction and well-known poetry, to unpublished thoughts of the rank and file.

The endless parade of marching feet, drill, handling weapons, tackling an assault course and training in urban warfare will also be heard. These sounds intend to evoke thoughts of the people inside the marching boots; each is a human being, a man prepared to give his life in combat, each is the hero of his own story. These sounds move and swell around us, illustrating the unimaginably large number of people who have gone to war under a British flag.

How many of us ever really consider what it has meant, through the centuries, for a hundred, a thousand, half a million troops to be killed in the various theatres of war? Each broken body is the culmination of a person’s life, their hopes and dreams. Raising the question of whether these men are a breed apart – or ordinary people, stepping up to do an extraordinary job?

Empty boots will stand in the space, as a further reminder of the people, mostly men, who have worn those boots and made that ultimate promise to their country. How many boots have been left standing empty, through the generations?

Under your feet, as you move around the space, the entire floor will be covered with photographs, pictures of people, thousands of them, all overlapping and layering, an apparently numberless throng. Many of the people in the photos on the floor are in uniform. The uniforms vary endlessly, but each one contains a unique person. Among the uniformed folk you will also find other people, some are the mothers, the sisters and the children. Others are the farmers, the entertainers and the cooks. They are all the victims of war; nobody is exempt; the floor is covered with pictures of humanity; those who can be shot, bombed, diseased or bereaved.

We honour and commemorate the lives lost in wars – the officers, the civilians and, centrally, the ever-marching Other Ranks.

For more information about Other Ranks, or to donate your own photographs or old military boots, please visit Amie’s website.

Something to get your teeth into…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Southampton and Shakespeare reunited!

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

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

Two people packing an armour

Packing the Earl of Southampton’s armour

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

Three members of British Museum staff check the armour after transit

British Museum staff check the Southampton armour after transit

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

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

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

No sitting on the fence for these Giants!

Clash of the Giants ….

Huddersfield Giants’ quartet Jermaine McGillvary, Michael Lawrence, Luke George and Leroy Cudjoe clashed swords at the Royal Armouries in Leeds – thanks to the Royal Armouries Fencing Club.

3 men fencing with swords

L to R: Huddersfield Giants’ players Leroy Cudjoe, Jermaine McGillvary, Luke George, Michael Lawrence.

Like Rugby League, fencing requires considerable skill and speed so the Giants’ stars were ideally placed to enjoy one of Europe’s oldest combat sports.

Huddersfield Giants' Stars with Royal Armouries staff.

L to R: Michael Lawrence, Jo Clements, Leroy Cudjoe, Ann Lindsay, Jermaine McGillvary, Luke George and Royal Armouries Fencing Club coach Mark Murray-Flutter.

The RFL have encouraged all the Super League teams to try their hands at various sports and activities. To see a film clip of the rugby stars in action, visit The Giants’ website.

Christmas Box

At Christmas 1914, the teenage Princess Mary, daughter of King George V and Queen Mary, wanted to send a ‘gift from the Nation’ to all who were away from home for Christmas, fighting for our freedom. An advertisement in the national press invited contributions for a ‘Sailors & Soldiers Christmas Fund’.  Following a generous response from the public, the money was used to produce an embossed brass box, with various contents for the recipients.

The standard contents were 1oz of tobacco and 20 cigarettes, with a separate pipe and lighter. Non-smokers were alternatively offered a bullet pencil, writing paper and sweets.  Spices and sweets were provided for Indian troops, and chocolate for nurses. Most boxes also contained a Christmas card and a small photograph of Princess Mary.

The fund stayed open until 1920, and over 2.5 million boxes were delivered. Many of these survive, including one on display on the War gallery mezzanine, on loan from ex-senior curator of firearms at the Royal Armouries, Martin Pegler.

The Christmas Box on display in the War Gallery

The Christmas Box on display in the War Gallery

Martin writes:

In the 1980’s my wife and I were interviewing WW1 veterans. [We were given the tin by] Albert Edward Lee, though he was universally known as ‘Nick.’ He had been in the Machine Gun Corps in 1915, then was transferred to the Tank Corps in 1916. I don’t recall what regiment he served in prior to 1915, but do recall him saying that then he was a non-smoker and teetotal, so he never used the tin, and sent it home as a souvenir. Oddly, he became a confirmed pipe-smoker later in life, and always had a pipe puffing away when we visited him.

Nick Lee

Nick Lee

He won the Military Medal in 1916 with the tanks, was badly gassed in 1917, invalided out of the war, and told he had two years to live. So he became a medical experiment and lived in the open for three years, in his parents back garden in a sort of garden shed with only three walls. His lungs began to heal, and when we met him he was a robust 80-ish, and laughed at having outlived all the doctors who said he’d never survive!

The Christmas boxes for troops were revived in 2004 by the charity ‘uk4u thanks’! http://www.uk4u.org/charity

Trench biscuit

Trench biscuit

Very nearby in the gallery can also be seen a hardtack biscuit also on loan from Martin Pegler, inscribed ‘SOLDIER’S TRENCH biscuit, 1915, FRANCE, European WAR’. Renowned for being tooth-breakingly hard, in almost 100 years no one was desperate enough to eat it!

Blogger: Victoria Adams, Curatorial Assistant

Bite the Bullet

In 1857 native soldiers of the Indian Army rose up against the British Empire in what became known as the Indian Mutiny. It’s often said that the cause of this unrest was the paper cartridge issued for use with the new Pattern 1853 Enfield rifle. These were greased at one end to lubricate the bullet, which had to be pushed down the barrel from the muzzle end for loading. In order to open the cartridge, soldiers were instructed to tear it with their teeth, resulting in the ingestion of some of the grease. Rumours spread that this grease was derived from pig fat, forbidden to Muslims, or from cows, which would be a serious issue for Hindus. Moreover, the rumours suggested that this was a deliberate practice intended to degrade and even to force conversion to Christianity.

Paper cartridge issued for use with the P'53 rifle, containing a lead 'Minié syle bullet

Paper cartridge issued for use with the P’53 rifle, containing a lead ‘Minié syle bullet

In fact, the causes and background to the mutiny were rather more complicated than this, but historians agree the cartridge rumours were one of the main triggers or tipping points for the mutiny. Some have disputed the claim of pig and/or cow fat, but although it is clear that their use was not intentional, both types of grease were indeed used on the cartridges. Although many officers in India recognised this serious oversight and attempted to address it, the offence and concern had already been caused. The result was widespread violence, bloodily put down by the Imperial authorities, with ringleaders being ‘blown from guns’, or tied to the muzzle of cannon which were then fired.

The tangent backsight of the Pattern 1853 rifle, graduated up to 900 yards, and the Pattern 1859 musket for native troops with its basic 'V' notch

The tangent backsight of the Pattern 1853 rifle, graduated up to 900 yards, and the Pattern 1859 musket for native troops with its basic ‘V’ notch

One less obvious result of the mutiny was the introduction of a new pattern of arm. Though it outwardly resembled the Enfield rifle, the rifling lands and grooves themselves were machined away, and a much more basic rear sight fitted. These new Pattern 1858 and 1859 smoothbore muskets effectively put ‘Brown Bess’ back in the hands of Indian troops. This was a deliberate attempt to limit the effectiveness of any future uprising, as they would be much less effective at range, and make the targeting of officers far more difficult.

Blogger: Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms

Going by the book!

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

Front page of the manuscript

Front page of the manuscript

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

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

Pages from the manuscript

Pages from the manuscript

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

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

Blogger: Stuart Ivinson, Library Assistant

Illustrating Armour

The Royal Armouries, Leeds has teamed up with local artist Sean Casey to showcase some of his latest works inspired by the Museum’s collection.

Sean hard at work in the Tournament Gallery

Sean hard at work in the Tournament Gallery

The drawings Sean has produced at the Royal Armouries relate to a lifelong interest in armour, from playing with toy Timpo Knights, because he couldn’t get Greek warriors, but which were beautifully made all the same, to an admiration for the awe-inspiring skills of the people who produced the armour itself. For him war games, at the top of the landing steps, evoked childhood notions of a fairytale world of romantic heroism and honour, that gave way to the academic investigation into the true horrors of warfare, coupled with his feelings of pride in our armed forces.

Sean hopes that all those who see his artwork will gain an aesthetic pleasure through the medium in which the subject matter is presented – detailed and often intricate drawings that pay homage to the craftsmanship of the armourers themselves. An exhibition of Sean’s work is currently on display in the Tournament Gallery of our Leeds Museum.

Blogger: Projects Team