King James, Japanese armour and the perils of collecting shunga…

Dr Thom Richardson, Keeper of Armour at Royal Armouries, tells us about his upcoming lecture on Japanese Gift Armour and why 2013 is an important year…

2013 is the 400th anniversary of diplomatic contact between England and Japan. Not, you might think, one of the most exciting facts of the year, but it’s an important anniversary for Royal Armouries because we hold the only material remains of the first diplomatic meeting back in 1613, the two armours given by the Shogun of Japan, Tokugawa Hidetada, to King James I of England. One is here in Leeds, the other at the Tower of London. In honour of this fact we themed our 2013 Tower conference East Meets West on the diplomatic giving of arms and armour between Asia and Europe, as part of J400 (see http://japan400.com/ if you would like to learn more). On Wednesday 27 November at 6.30pm I will be giving a lecture at the museum in Leeds about the gift armours.

Japanese armour presented by Tokugawa Hidetada to King James I in 1613, on display at the Tower by 1660. © Royal Armouries

Japanese armour presented by Tokugawa Hidetada to King James I in 1613, on display at the Tower of London by 1660. © Royal Armouries

Within 10 years of the gift of our armour, it had all ended: Japan became a closed country, isolated from the rest of the world for the next 225 years. In England, we forgot where the armours came from, and called the armour that was displayed in the Tower of London from 1660 the ‘armour of the Great Moghul’. The Royal Armouries’ armours weren’t the only ones, either. There is a whole herd of them in European collections, all traceable to gifts from the Japanese government to foreign powers within a 40-year period. You can make quite a nice holiday by visiting them all (in Madrid, Paris, Copenhagen, Innsbruck as well as Leeds and London) or you could just come to the lecture and find out more about them, and why collecting shunga can be perilous!

Blogger: Thom Richardson, Keeper of Armour at Royal Armouries

Lecture: Japanese Gift Armour, Wednesday 27 November, 6.30pm. For more information or to book tickets visit the website.

The Forgotten Dig…

Kathleen McIlvenna, Curatorial Assistant – Tower Collections -tells us about the new pilot volunteer project which works with Artefacts from the Tower’s foreshore.

In September 1986, Royal Armouries funded an excavation on the River Thames’ foreshore, in front of the Tower of London wharf to the east of Traitors’ Gate.

The dig on the Tower Foreshore in 1986, the report details the difficult working conditions as the tide flooded the trench twice a day. © Royal Armouries

The dig on the Tower Foreshore in 1986, the report details the difficult working conditions as the tide flooded the trench twice a day. © Royal Armouries

The excavation’s aim was to determine the depth and nature of archaeological deposits in the area with the hope of identifying stratified deposits and finding evidence of the Board of Ordnance’s foundries on the bank of the Thames.

The dig was deemed successful, identifying a series of compacted sloping foreshores dating from the 15th to the 19th centuries, and uncovering a large number of weapon parts – potential evidence of the Ordnance workshops.

A report was written, the artefacts bagged and that was the end of it. Until now…

I recently met some volunteers who are going to start to help repack these artefacts to today’s best practice standards. They are also going to help me start to catalogue them so we have a better, fuller idea of what this collection contains.

How the artefacts are stored today. They are in good condition but we hope the new standards will save space and make objects more accessible. © Royal Armouries

How the artefacts are stored today. They are in good condition but we hope the new standards will save space and make objects more accessible. © Royal Armouries

To get to this stage I have been working with the LAARC (London Archaeological and Archive Centre) which has been indispensable in giving guidelines as to how the collection should be stored. This involved a tour of their amazing store and they have some brilliant literature on their website. They have also sourced some experienced volunteers to help with our pilot project here at the Tower. These volunteers have a range of backgrounds and have experience of volunteering for LAARC or the Thames Discovery Project or sometimes both!

The pilot project runs for six weeks and will hopefully give us an idea of how long it will take to complete the repacking, labelling and documentation for all the artefacts. Armed with this knowledge, we can look to completing the project and realise the full potential of this forgotten dig.

To keep up with the progress of the volunteers, follow one of their blogs.

Blogger: Kathleen McIlvenna, Curatorial Assistant – Tower Collections

How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse…

With Halloween imminent and the chance of a so-called Zombie Apocalypse increased, our Visitor Experience Team have been exploring the different weapons and methods, that could be used to battle the living dead.

The Visitor Experience Team at Royal Armouries, Leeds get into the Halloween spirit...

The Visitor Experience Team at Royal Armouries, Leeds get into the Halloween spirit…

In a light-hearted blog, our team have identified the best and worst weapons within the Royal Armouries’ collection to defeat a zombie….

Short Magazine Lee Enfield/SMLE MK.III*
Country of origin: United Kingdom
Calibre: .303 in
Rate of fire: 12-15 rpm (rounds per minute)
Capacity: 10 rounds
Effective Range: about 500 -550 yards
Year: 1916
Pros: Easy to use, accurate at range and has a bayonet attachment.
Cons: Only carries 10 rounds, slow rate of fire compared to more modern guns, single shot.
Zombie Rating: 6.5/10

Mills Bomb No.5
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Effective Range: 30 yards
Pros: Potential to “kill” a large amount of zombies with one hit.
Cons: Only as good as your throwing arm. High possibility of accidentally blowing yourself up.
Zombie Rating: 2/10

Bren Gun Mk.I
Country of Origin: Czechoslovakia / United Kingdom
Calibre: original BREN .303 in changes to 7.62 mm in 1954 when we joined NATO
Rate of fire: 500 rpm
Capacity: magazine box 30 rounds or pan 100 rounds
Effective Range: 1800 yards
Year: 1937
Pros: Works with single fire or burst so you can either mow down en masse, or pick off targets. Accurate at long range. The bi-pod can be used to set up a defensible position. The handle allows the user to run and gun, Rambo style!
Cons: It’s very heavy; this is the heaviest version of the BREN gun and is prone to jamming if not loaded correctly. You may need to buddy up if there’s anyone left alive.
Zombie Rating: 9/10

Mosin-Nagant M1891/30
Country of Origin: Russia
Calibre: .303 in
Rate of fire: 12-15 rpm
Capacity: 5 rounds
Effective Range: 730 yards with optics/ 500 yards without (of course the usual trajectory, conditions and marksmanship principles apply)
Year: 1938
Pros: It’s all about head shots when it comes to zombies so you have to be accurate. This weapon has a very good effective range and takes a large round, which is good for stopping power. This is a sniping rifle in 7.62 x 54 Russian, it has a turned down bolt to allow for its PU sight, which is quite accurate.
Cons: Relatively slow rate of fire. Not very helpful at close range. Also the Mosin-Nagant – unlike most B/A rifles – has no holes in the bolt body for gases to escape should there be a catastrophic cartridge failure.
Zombie Rating: 7/10

Liberator Pistol
Country of Origin: United States
Calibre: .45 in
Rate of fire: Single shot weapon
Capacity: 1 round
Effective Range: HAHAHAHAHAHA
Year:1941
Pros: It’s very light.
Cons: Useless in a zombie horde, terrible accuracy, unusable after one shot. You are better off with a water pistol!
Zombie Rating: 1/10

Our resident “zombie expert” aka Curator of Firearms, Jonathan Ferguson couldn’t resist joining in with his own suggestions…

“The obvious choice to fit the bill is the famous Kalashnikov rifle (AK47), particularly the Chinese Type 56 version which has a permanently attached, folding spike bayonet that would make short work of a zombie’s skull when the 30 round magazine runs out. Weapons like this aren’t necessarily available in all countries, so the next best thing is the humble 12-gauge shotgun. Nothing is more devastating at close range and the right type of ammunition increases the chance of a hit. Some are available in semi-automatic guise, like the Franchi SPAS 12 pictured.

However, guns are loud, difficult to use precisely, and require ammunition and maintenance. You might be better off with an edged or impact weapon. There’s the cutting power of the legendary Japanese katana, or the British basket-hilt with its built-in hand protection. A staff weapon like the halberd pictured below would keep grasping hands and gnashing teeth at bay! All of these would require a degree of skill to ‘remove the head or destroy the brain’, as the famous quote goes, so a handier alternative would be something like the flanged medieval mace.”

If you can think of a better weapon or method to survive a zombie attack, let us know on twitter using #ZombieWeapon.

Join us all this week (26 Oct – 3 Nov) at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds for a variety of spooky activities including daily talks on how to defeat a zombie. For further details visit the website.

The Survival of the Biggest…

Keeper of Artillery, Nicholas Hall tells us how the British Army’s biggest gun survived from 1918 until today and why its arrival at Fort Nelson was the highlight of his career.

I heard about the existence of a British railway gun sometime in the late 1980s, whilst development of the Royal Armouries Museum at Fort Nelson was underway. Luckily for me, the Ordnance Society arranged a visit to the artillery ranges at Shoeburyness, Essex, in 1989. A highlight was viewing the last British railway gun to survive – the mighty 18-inch Railway Howitzer. Although no longer used for trials, it was maintained in excellent order as an ‘asset’. Little did I know that one day it would come to Fort Nelson.

The gun arrives at Fort Nelson. © Royal Armouries

The gun arrives at Fort Nelson. © Royal Armouries

But after my trip to Shoeburyness, I never forgot about it and wondered what would happen to the 180-tonne gun when the New Ranges were rationalised. It was transferred to the Royal Artillery Historical Trust and displayed near the Royal Artillery Museum at the Rotunda, Woolwich. When the Artillery Museum moved into the old Royal Arsenal, the Railway Howitzer was taken to Larkhill, the Royal Artillery’s new HQ. It was safe at Larkhill but it was rather tucked away, even from those on site. Before travelling to Fort Nelson, it had formed the exhibition centrepiece at the Het Spoorwegmuseum (Dutch Railway Museum) in Utrecht.

The First World War ended before any 18-inch Howitzers were ready, but four were completed soon afterwards.

Some were used for testing purposes on artillery ranges and one had a new lease of life in the Second World War – serving on a railway line in Kent, in readiness to blast the beaches if a German invasion force landed. Each 18-inch shell weighed about a ton but the howitzer was never fired in anger as the feared invasion never occurred.

Seeing the gun’s arrival at Fort Nelson has to be one of the most exciting days of my career and I am thrilled that we have it here for the First World War Centenary next year.

Laying the track into the Artillery Hall at Fort Nelson with the help of 65 Works Group 507 Specialist Team Royal Engineers [Railway Infrastructure]  [CN 1126.17] © Royal Armouries

Laying the track into the Artillery Hall at Fort Nelson with the help of members from the 507 Specialist Team Royal Engineers (Railway Infrastructure) 
[CN 1126.17] © Royal Armouries

Blogger: Nicholas Hall, Keeper of Artillery, Fort Nelson

For more information about the arrival of the 18-inch Railway Howitzer at Fort Nelson, read the press release.

Equine Installion-ations – a continuing story of museum ffoulkes

Currently wooden horses and armour dominate Royal Armouries’ life at the Tower with the opening of the new exhibition celebrating the Line of Kings – our oldest on-site display and the longest-running visitor attraction in the world.

One hundred years ago, the Tower Curator Charles ffoulkes (who unusually spelled his surname without an initial capital letter) was similarly engaged as he turned his attention to one of the iconic pieces in the Royal Armouries collection and its mount.

Henry VIII’s silvered and engraved armour for man and horse (II.5 & VI 1-5) was believed to be a wedding gift from the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian to the young king and his first bride, Catherine of Aragon. Today the armour is dated to about 1515 and attributed to Henry’s Greenwich workshops. It retains a touch of romance, with the couple’s initials decorating the skirt of the rider’s armour and background heraldry incorporating their personal and family badges.

© Royal Armouries

© Royal Armouries

The rearing horse that had carried this armour throughout the 19th into the early 20th century had fallen victim to the ongoing fight against woodworm raging in the White Tower. The gallant steed is shown displayed in the New Horse Armoury -  a crenellated Gothic addition to the south face of the White Tower built in the 1820s to accommodate the revamped 17th century Line of Kings – in Frank M Good’s stereoscopic card.

© Royal Armouries

© Royal Armouries

In 1882 the New Horse Armoury was emptied prior to demolition. Henry and his horse found themselves relocated to the White Tower top floor west, balanced  precariously on the exposed beams crossing the mid 19th century light wells.

© Royal Armouries

© Royal Armouries

The Tower Diary (I.188) notes  “a new horse of papier maché made by M.Felix Joubert of Chelsea” arriving in the Tower on May 6,  1913. Monsieur Joubert was more famed as a cabinet maker, and during the Great War produced a trench knife, but his new horse proved popular, if rather unrealistic, in its arrested stance, and its relatives appeared in supporting roles at Windsor Castle and the Wallace Collection.

It was hoisted up to the top floor of the White Tower as this contemporary photograph shows.

© Royal Armouries

© Royal Armouries

In October, 1914, the original deal horse “formerly used for the engraved suit” and “marked 1824, Graher and Wooton carpenters” was “cut by order”.  This was another historic link severed, as 1824 was the time that Sir Samuel Meyrick was re-organising the Line of Kings display in a more scholarly fashion and buying in new horses.

In 2009, Joubert’s horse was itself retired, returning to Leeds, and Henry found himself astride a flocked 21st century horse commissioned from David Hayes as part of the Henry VIII: Dressed to Kill exhibition celebrating the quincentenary of Henry’s accession (1509).  You are invited to trot along to view the pair and their companions on the White Tower entrance floor.

Blogger: Bridget Clifford, Keeper of Tower Armouries.

Line of Kings: The Opening…

One week after the opening of Line of Kings, Karen Whitting, Head of Creative Programmes, tells us why the launch is only the beginning…

The past two weeks have passed in a blur and only now, back at head office in Leeds and looking ahead to our next projects, is it possible to draw breath and reflect accurately.

With one week to operational handover, we were in remarkably good shape – able to backfill areas from which we had drawn objects for the new Line of Kings’ exhibition while ensuring that final objects were installed and final snagging carried out.

This included the straightening of each of the 266 breast and back plates, painting black every silver bolt and fixing, and cleaning relentlessly. Everyone pulled together, to ensure that we handed over to Historic Royal Palaces’ operations team on schedule – and with the exhibition in a world-class format.

The final object is placed within the exhibition.  © Royal Armouries

The final object is placed within the exhibition.
© Royal Armouries

We unveiled the new-look Line of Kings at a “soft opening” on 6 July to excellent feedback from both staff and visitors. Tower of London visitor numbers were up to around 12,000 people per day, so the exhibition was well and truly “stress tested”, with only one label coming adrift to be quickly re-installed.

At the same time, our team in Leeds were putting final touches to extensive web pages to support the physical exhibition, which also went live for 6 July. Please visit http://www.royalarmouries.org/visit-us/tower-of-london/line-of-kings to see the results of our research.

On 9 July, the exhibition was closed again as we showcased Line of Kings to the media, plus Historic Royal Palace (HRP) members – followed by a private view in the evening, attended by RA and HRP stakeholders.

It was a real privilege to be able to recount some of this extraordinary exhibition’s historic story and many treasures, as well as to thank the dedicated and passionate joint project team and the many expert external contractors who supported us on this journey. All have become part of Tower history – and the exhibition owes its success to every one of them.

The newly re-displayed Line of Kings at the Tower of London. © Royal Armouries

The newly re-displayed Line of Kings at the Tower of London. © Royal Armouries

With the exhibition now officially open, you might think this would be the end of the story. However, as this is a permanent exhibition we are looking ahead, with further improvements planned for September. We are also monitoring visitor feedback at #LineofKings.

Meanwhile, project meetings for our next exciting Tower exhibition have just begun…

Blogger: Karen Whitting, Head of Creative Programmes

Line of Kings: One week to go…

With just one week to go until the opening of Line of Kings, Karen Whitting, Head of Creative Programmes, tells us about those last finishing touches…

The countdown to the opening of the new-look Line of Kings is now well underway – with the challenge to install more than 350 stunning objects in just four weeks nearly completed.

The White Tower continues to be a hive of activity, thanks to a partnership of Royal Armouries’ staff from both our Leeds and London sites, including display technicians, conservators, registrars, audio visual and lighting designers.

Every day has seen extraordinary changes in the exhibition space – as scenic structures and cases have been covered and filled with stunning objects from the Armouries’ national collection. Every one of these objects has been selected in recognition of its role in the world’s longest-running visitor attraction at some point in history. They range from royal armours from the Line of Kings itself, to life-size, carved wooden horses which once supported these armours and ‘curiosities’ – objects whose stories have fascinated Tower of London visitors for centuries.

Each object has its own bespoke mount, made in our Leeds workshop and is then individually installed – from the walls of mass display, such as 254 breast and back plates and 44 lances to the exquisite armours of kings and princes.

Technicians take a moment to admire the wall of breastplates mid-install © Royal Armouries

Technicians take a moment to admire the wall of breastplates mid-install © Royal Armouries

All of this three-dimensional installation is set in a context of text and graphic interpretation and so the last week has seen specialist companies, the hub and BAF graphics, working seamlessly with the Royal Armouries’ team to ensure everything is ready for the operational handover.

The final layer is that of lighting and sound design – both produced by Armouries’ staff – creating the perfect showcase for the Line of Kings’ objects and stories.

With one week to go, the last 20 objects will be moved into place, final labels will be installed and everything will be cleaned and audited to ensure that 21st century visitors will have the best possible experience when the exhibition officially opens on 10 July. We look forward to hearing their responses…

Blogger: Karen Whitting, Head of Creative Programmes