The Curator Goes to War – an everyday story of museum ffoulkes.

August 1914 – War!

Ffoulkes entry from the Minute book, date 28th July 1914

Ffoulkes entry from the Minute book, date 28th July 1914

Ffoulkes entry in the Minute book was brief and to the point – in the Diary he compiled retrospectively from 1933 “Bulgaria and Turkey” were added to the opposition.

Unfortunately to this modern eye it still reads like a fixture in a sporting league. Which rather begs the question, how are momentous events appropriately recorded? ffoulkes was not to know the impact that this event was to have on his career, let alone the rest of the world, when he penned the entry. Its very simplicity and starkness remains striking.
In his autobiography Arms and the Tower published in 1939 with the benefit of over 2 decades of hindsight, ffoulkes was honest about his military prospects “It will be obvious that neither the Army nor Navy would have the slightest use for an entirely untrained civilian at the age of forty-six, and to me the proper course was to continue the work for which I had been appointed and await developments” (p.71).
And what developments there might be. His working relationship with Sir Guy Laking, Keeper of the King’s Armoury at Windsor Castle was flourishing. In July 1914 it had facilitated the return of Henrician material and armours associated with Sir John Smythe and the Earl of Worcester to the Tower after their migration in “the latter years of the XVIIth century”. ffoulkes trumpeted this coup as “the most important addition to the Armouries since 1661”, and he looked forward to their future collaboration. Sadly the war, ffoulkes increasing involvement in the preservation of the material it generated and Laking’s early death in 1919 scuppered these plans.
July has also witnessed the incident of the American lady digging “an overlong finger nail” into the worm eaten execution block, recorded in the Diary (17th July) but absent from the original Minute Book. However the solution to the problem in the form of a new case received on 28th July is entered in the Minute book. And the fate of the owner of the offending digit? She was dealt with by the Curator and expelled from the Armouries.
Equilibrium having been restored, apart from the outbreak of War, the only other entry for August covered the visit of the Marchesa Stampa, Count J de Salis and the Countess Philllipine de Noailles on the 25th – members of the European in-crowd –in other words back to business as usual.
It was September 1914 that was to see the War really begin to impact on the Armouries.
B Clifford
Keeper of Tower History

And the Winner is…

To coincide with the Inspired by… Heraldry exhibition currently on display at Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, we asked our visitors to create their own designs. The winning piece would then be displayed alongside the work of the Yorkshire Heraldry Society.

The competition winner was Emma Horsfield  - we spoke to her about the inspiration behind her design.

IMG_3475-Emma-Horsfield---1

What was your motivation for entering the competition?
I decided to enter the competition as history is a great interest of mine and heraldry is one aspect of that which l thought would be interesting to learn about.  Entering the competition gave me the opportunity to learn something new and try out a new style of art, which was very appealing to me.

What was the inspiration behind your design?
Having recently joined the Pontefract Magna Carta Group, which was founded to prepare for the 800th Anniversary celebrations (in 2015), l thought that would be the ideal subject to pursue.  I decided to recreate the 25 shields of the Barons who summoned King John in 1215 to seal the Magna Carta document within my design, as this would bring unity to these facets of heraldry whilst also being a unique piece of work.  I also thought that, because of the approaching anniversary, it would be a subject which would be within the public domain.

Is this the first time you have created heraldry?
Yes it is, in fact I knew nothing about heraldry before entering the competition.  However, when l conducted some research on the subject, I was surprised to learn how complicated it is.

What did you enjoy most about creating it?
I enjoy creating art with lots of colour and contrast and it was this aspect, and the fact that it was historically based, which l enjoyed most.  I had been painting some historical scenes and events in acrylics and oils, and also designing my own medieval style manuscripts before the competition, so this was an interesting extension to this work.

How will it feel to have your work displayed in a national museum?
I am extremely pleased to be displaying my work in a National Museum, especially so because so many people will get to see and appreciate it and that is what pleases me most.  I would also hope it may contribute towards the public trying to learn a little bit about the Magna Carta and what it stands for.

Tell us a little bit about you and your background.
I am 39 years old; primarily a mother of six children but also studying for a BA (Hons) Illustration with the University of Hertfordshire (distance learning).  I studied A Level Art and Design but while travelling and bringing up my family l did little or no art at all for about 17 years.  Once my youngest son began full time education five years ago, l felt that it was high time l began being creative again.  I love drawing and painting and now take part in exhibitions and sell my art, whilst also taking commissions for portraits and other design requests.  My favourite subjects are historical and fantasy themes and this transpires through a lot of my work, but I also illustrate books and design book covers, and this is something l seek to become more involved in as l progress through my degree course.

For more information about the Inspired by…Heraldry exhibition visit our website.

A Day in the Life of…Natasha Bennett, Assistant Curator – Oriental Collections

Assistant Curator, Natasha Bennett talks climbing in cases, eccentric colleagues, being alone with the collection and why she loves her job, as we speak to her about her role as part of #MuseumWeek.

Natasha Bennett, Assistant Curator - Oriental Collections

Natasha Bennett, Assistant Curator – Oriental Collections

My primary function as Assistant Curator is to help safeguard, present and develop specialist knowledge about the Royal Armouries’ Oriental Collection. My role is very varied! It involves researching, writing and delivering publications, exhibition content, seminars and talks; answering enquiries from the public and other organisations and institutions; supervising visitors who need access to the study collections or help with identifying objects; assisting with filming projects; helping with various collections management duties such as auditing or couriering loan objects, and participating in the acquisitions process which allows the Royal Armouries to bring new pieces into the collection.

When I left school, I did a history degree at the University of Durham, before taking jobs first as a librarian and then as an editorial/publishing assistant. I didn’t feel suited to either of those careers, so I ultimately took the plunge, returned to university and pursued an MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies at Leeds, with the aim of improving my qualifications for the field in which I really wanted to work. Three years ago my dream job of working for the Oriental section of the curatorial department here at the Royal Armouries appeared on the website. I never dreamed that I would be successful with my application, but here I am, and I consider myself incredibly fortunate because I can genuinely say that I love my job.

There is no normal day for me. The ability to work flexibly is a key part of this job, in more ways than one. I usually start the day at my desk by working through emails and enquiries that have come through, but by home time I can be anywhere; up a stepladder with the elephant armour in the Oriental Gallery or climbing into a case to replace objects that have been temporarily removed for filming or research. One of the weirdest places I ended up was near the lofty ceiling of the loading bay while I was being trained to drive a ‘mobile elevated work platform’ – thankfully that was an abnormal day…

The Royal Armouries houses the national collection of arms and armour, which means that the objects we get to work with every day are literally priceless, and the events, experiences, skills and artistry connected with each piece are legion. Every time I touch one, I feel a frisson of excitement thinking about where it has been over time. Being in stores by yourself can feel quite peculiar, because the heritage that the collection carries with it, is almost a palpable presence. I am also very lucky to work with some fantastic (if slightly eccentric) colleagues – but an interesting collection will always attract interesting people!

For me, the main challenge of my role is packing in enough research about an enormously wide-ranging subject area. Here at the Royal Armouries, the Oriental Collection incorporates all non-European arms and armour, which obviously covers quite a lot of the world! But at the same time that is also the most exciting thing about my work, because there is always something new to learn or discover, and it never gets stale.

One of the main projects I am working on at the moment is a set of conference proceedings. I am currently gathering together all the material from eight papers that were given at our conference East Meets West: Diplomatic Gifts of Arms and Armour between Europe and Asia at the Tower of London last September. We are hoping to publish these proceedings in the near future.

17th century Mughal dagger  © Royal Armouries

17th century Mughal dagger
© Royal Armouries

I have a great number of favourite items within the collection, and they tend to change or increase in number, depending on what I’m working on at the time. One of my all-time favourites is our 17th century Mughal dagger with a watered-steel blade and a stunning hilt beautifully carved in the shape of a horse’s head. It is the only example that we know of with a hilt that is probably made out of serpentine.

Blogger: Natasha Bennett, Assistant Curator – Oriental Collections

To find out more about #MuseumWeek visit the Culture Themes website.

Line of Kings: The Haunting of Richard III

Kathleen McIlvenna, Curatorial Assistant – Tower Collections, delves deeper into the reasons why Richard III was not part of the Line of Kings.

The recent discovery of King Richard III’s remains in a Leicestershire car park, a project which involved our very own Bob Woosnam-Savage (read Bob’s blog), triggered a realisation for me. As the press coverage has shown, this particular King has been a dominant figure in English history, so for modern observers it could be surprising that Richard III was not represented in the historic displays of the Line of Kings at the Tower of London.

Over the centuries, a display representing Kings of England, and other curiosities, has been present within the Tower of London for visitors to enjoy, and this summer we will be opening a new exhibition exploring these displays through history. As part of our work to prepare for the new exhibition, I have recently been looking at how specific kings were represented.

Richard III’s brother, Edward IV as represented in the Line of Kings in the Penny Magazine, c.1840. © Royal Armouries

Richard III’s brother, Edward IV as represented in the Line of Kings in the Penny Magazine, c.1840. © Royal Armouries

After the discovery of Richard III in February 2013, I felt the absence of this infamous King was emphasised and began to wonder why. The representation of Richard III within cultural memory has changed over time. The last of the Plantagenet kings is no longer the despised villain of Tudor legend – today he is far more acceptable, the victim of Tudor propaganda and friendly monarch buried in the local car park. So when the line was constructed, as far back as the 1660s, it would not have been appropriate to portray or possibly celebrate his reign. However, he was always present through association.

The crowned monarchs either side of Richard III were displayed – his brother Edward IV, and Richard’s vanquisher at Bosworth, Henry VII. Though, arguably one of the most emotive and powerful displays in the Line of Kings is that of Edward V, Richard III’s nephew and one of the ‘Lost Princes’.

In my next blog I’ll discuss the depiction of the two princes in displays at the Tower of London in more detail, but in the meantime to find out more about the new Line of Kings exhibition see the previous blogs in the series.

Blogger: Kathleen McIlvenna, Curatorial Assistant – Tower Collections

The Last Stand

We spoke to photographer and Terry O’Neill award winner Marc Wilson, to find out more about The Last Stand exhibition, which opens at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson on Friday, 3 May.

What was your Inspiration for the work?
Initially the project came out of a small body of work called Abandoned that I created in 2003. This project included some military locations – from these I realised the importance of the subject matter and I felt I needed to produce a piece of work about it. Many locations have been documented before in some form or another but I wanted to approach it in my own way, and in doing so not only look at the objects themselves, but their place in the shifting landscape over time. Most importantly of all, I wanted to set up a dialogue and hopefully prompt the viewer to reflect on the histories and memories associated with these places.

Like many people today, I have some connection to the two world wars. My grandfather had been in the Navy in the First World War and whilst I did have a relative flying with the RAF during WW2, the main connection was with one side of my family being caught up in the horrors unfolding in Europe. Perhaps, in some ways, this project is my response to that.

© Marc Wilson

© Marc Wilson

What has been your favourite location to capture?
I’ve been asked that a few times and it’s so hard to answer. I love the process of photography and I have enjoyed the experience of the journeys and taking pictures at these locations where the landscapes are quite breathtaking. But then at the same time, whilst I strive to produce visually beautiful images, the subject matter at these locations is so dark that the ‘enjoyable’ elements pale away. An odd feeling really.

As for a ‘favourite’ to photograph, the dunes at Newburgh, north of Aberdeen, come to mind. I was 600 miles away from home, up at 4am, and I had to climb out of the hotel bar window as the front door was locked. It was a wonderful hour’s walk through the dunes in the rising light and sea mist before I was greeted with the scene you see in the images in the exhibition. It was then a slow walk back along the beach as the sea mist slowly melted away, back to the hotel for breakfast and an explanation for the open bar window!

© Marc Wilson

© Marc Wilson

What was the hardest image to capture?
The hardest, physically, was probably the image at the Dengie peninsula in Essex. It was another 4am start, followed by a one-hour cycle to the location, over a muddy grass levee in the rain, with my large format camera, tripod and umbrella on my back. I then stood in the rain for an hour waiting for it to stop, which it did eventually. I set up, shot the image and then cycled back with heavier legs and over muddier grass. The trip to Northern France and Belgium was also hard with 10 days of ferry journeys, late afternoon recces, 4am starts and daytime driving to the next location, with evenings of unloading and loading darkslides in neon motels, and four trips up and down the northern coast chasing the light.

© Marc Wilson

© Marc Wilson

What has it been like to photograph such poignant locations?
I photographed in the South West of England – this location had been recced on a previous visit and so I knew the time of day, direction, amount of sun and height of the tides I needed for the shot.

Yet still this image required over 280 miles and five hours of driving, followed by three hours in place, with the camera set up, waiting for the perfect combination of light and tides.

The image you will see in the exhibition was made at Torcross, nearby Slapton Sands. Some of you may be familiar with the military history of this location but for those that are not, it was used as a training ground for the D-Day landings due to its similarity to the coastline and conditions in Normandy, France. The local villages had all been emptied of the residents and the troops had moved in.

In April 1944, during Exercise Tiger, the three-mile-long convoy of vessels on their way to the exercises was attacked by nine German torpedo boats.  Two tank-landing ships were sunk, with the loss of 749 American servicemen. Over 1,000 lives were lost during the exercise.

It is a beautiful and peaceful place, and as I now stand in these locations, I am so engrossed in the photographic process that I can at times forget these histories. As soon as I stop though, and begin to pack away the camera, they all flood in, these mass casualties of war, associated with the histories and memories of these sites I am photographing. My imagination though can only scratch at the surface of the reality of these events.

For more information about The Last Stand, visit our website.

Do you have a place, which holds memories that has now been abandoned or destroyed? Are you a serving soldier that has left behind a base you called home whilst serving abroad? Did you document these places at the time or now they are gone? If so, we would love you to share them with us online. Tweet us at @Royal_Armouries using #LostLocations or post on our facebook page.

The Search for England’s lost king – Richard III

Bob Woosnam-Savage, Royal Armouries’ Curator of European Edged Weapons, explains his role in investigating the fascinating case of the “skeleton in the car park” – potentially that of Richard III, England’s lost king and the last of the Plantagenets.

Click to view image full screen.

Bob Woosnam-Savage, Royal Armouries’ Curator of European Edged Weapons

In September 2012, a skeleton was unearthed during an archaeological project at the former site of Greyfriars Church in Leicester, England – now a local council car park.

Part of the project’s remit was to excavate the inauspicious site to discover if it was the last resting place of the last Plantagenet king, Richard III, who fell at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 and was buried in the choir of the church in August that year.

The hunt for Richard was never going to be easy.  Tradition described how his mortal remains were disturbed during the Dissolution in 1538 when Greyfriars was demolished, as part of Henry VIII’s suppression of the Roman Catholic Church.

Richard’s remains were then thrown into, or buried near, the River Soar, which runs through the city – with no marked grave or tomb.

Amazingly, as investigators disinterred the skeleton, it gave many tantalising clues. Not only did it bear the signs of scoliosis giving rise to a curvature of the spine (Richard has notoriously been described as having some possible malformation; one posthumous reference called him a ‘crookback’) – but also the trauma of battle.

These were all strong indications that ‘the body under the car park’ could well be that of the medieval monarch, but had Richard III really been found after nearly 530 years?

Archaeologist Richard Buckley, Co-Director of University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) and team-leader of the Greyfriars’ Project, invited me to join the research team to examine the skeleton and help interpret the evidence of battle-related trauma which indicated that the individual had met a violent death.

Since its excavation the Greyfriars skeleton has been studied for four months by a number of different specialists and subjected to a barrage of scientific tests. Following this scientific analysis and archaeological investigation the preliminary results of this multi-disciplinary project, involving a number of experts in such diverse areas as DNA, carbon-dating, diet, osteology and forensic pathology, study are divulged on Monday (February 4) in a Press Conference at Leicester University which Bob is attending. You can find out more information on the Leicester University website.

The Channel 4 documentary The King in the Car Park the full inside story of the hunt for Richard III , is also broadcast on Monday and includes interviews with me, the preliminary results of the examination and shows the techniques used to identify ‘the body under the car park’. It also reveals what we know about this individual and describes how, blow-by-blow, he possibly may have died.

All will be revealed on Monday…

Blogger: Bob Woosnam-Savage, Curator of European Edged Weapons, Royal Armouries 

Saving Littlecote…

Twenty-seven years ago, the last great private collection of English Civil War arms and armour – kept since the time of its use at Littlecote House, an English country house near Hungerford – was threatened with dispersal at auction.

The Armouries co-ordinated a national appeal for funds and succeeded in securing the armoury for the nation. The collection is important for several reasons. For students of firearms, it contains the single most important group of mid-17th century English military guns in existence, forming the key reference for the development of the earliest flintlocks. For students of armour, it contains the largest surviving group of buff coats and other equipment of buff leather in the world. Almost everything dates to a single brief period, and although a few pieces were added in modern times, the core collection survives untouched.

Royal Armouries’ staff visited the house twice during the period leading up to the sale to record the armoury contents for future study. The catalogue compiled at that time has now been completed and published by the museum. The Royal Armouries’ former Academic Director Graeme Rimer and I were centrally involved in saving the Littlecote armoury for the nation, and we took part in the sponsored march, wearing armour, from Littlecote to London, which formed part of the fundraising.

Soldiers marching

We have been working away ever since to produce this catalogue, the most detailed record of a single corpus of munition arms and armour ever published, and hope it will stand as a monument to the importance of the Littlecote armoury to the 17th century study of arms and armour for many years to come.

Littlecote book cover

The catalogue was released to coincide with the museum’s English Civil Wars conference held at Leeds on 15 September 2012, and has been selling like hot cakes ever since. You can get your copy of the limited litho edition from the Royal Armouries shop here.

Blogger: Thom Richardson, Keeper of Oriental & European Armour at Royal Armouries, and co-author of Littlecote