Mobilising the Guns

This week has seen more moblisisation of the guns at Fort Nelson. Beck and Pollitzer have now moved the first exhibits – two anti-aircraft guns – into the new gallery, The Voice of the Guns. A further 12 guns will be moved into position during the next two weeks.

Moving the guns

Moving the guns

The guns moved this week included:

  • British 3.7-inch Anti-Aircraft gun and Searchlight – During the grim nights of the Blitz, the guns’ skilled crews worked closely with the searchlight batteries. Fort Nelson had its own gun batteries and also supplied the ammunition for the other guns in the area.

Weight – 8,120 kg. Date – 1943. Fire rate – 8 rounds per minute.

  • Bofors 40 mm Anti-Aircraft Gun – With one of the most rapid rates of fire, this versatile light anti-aircraft gun was used by Britain on both land and sea for over 30 years and was particularly effective against low-flying, attack aircraft. Whether operating in the North African desert campaign, or on a convoy in the Atlantic Ocean, the Bofors’ firepower saved countless Allied lives.

Weight – 1,920 kg. Date – 1940. Fire rate – 120 rounds per minute.

It’s particularly fitting that we’re starting with anti-aircraft guns, because, in World War II, Fort Nelson supplied ammunition to the AA batteries that defended the south coast. These weapons gave the local civilian population hope and a sense of fighting back, as they suffered through the blitzes of 1940-41.

Other guns to be moved into the new gallery include a French cannon, captured at the Battle of Waterloo; a bronze Russian cannon from the Crimean War of the 1850s, and sections from the barrel of the infamous Iraqi Supergun.

More images of the re-development of Fort Nelson can be found on our Flickr page.

Blogger: Beckie Senior, Communications Officer

Moving the Guns

Project focus at the Royal Armouries has moved from the historic White Tower in London to the equally stunning Victorian Fort Nelson near Portsmouth. This project offers a new set of challenges, combining an historic site with a new build – including  exhibition installation.

Interestingly, work within the existing galleries has turned out to be more straightforward than in the new build. Mainly because the design team and installers are working with a known quantity. To date, progress has been made in ripping out the old exhibition content, making good the gallery spaces and prepping electrics. The new art gallery space has also received its display plinth – made to measure on site and painted up ready to receive its cannon.

Moving the guns into position

Moving the guns into position

Over recent weeks we have seen installation of gun moving equipment in the new gallery – the Voice of the Guns – by engineering company Beck and Pollitzer. They have extraordinary experience of moving historic artifacts – including cannon at Greenwich and fine art such as the ship in a bottle in Trafalgar Square and sculpture by Anish Kapoor at the Royal Academy – so our collection should be in safe hands. The installation culminated in a test lift and move of the 88 German Anti-aircraft gun which was carried out successfully.

We are looking forward to moving the remaining guns to their permanent homes within the galleries, which is scheduled to take place in July.

Blogger: Karen Whitting, Head of Creative Programmes

An Admirable Armour

Over the last six weeks we’ve had two students from the University of Huddersfield, Jonathon and Vikki, in residence within our Curatorial Department. Whilst working behind the scenes Jonathon found this suit of armour to be of particular interest.

This stunning armour was made for foot combat at the barriers for Cosimo de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. The main decoration is gilded and etched, symmetrical scrolling of foliage intertwined with grotesque figures of animals, human and mythical hybrids.

Cosimo de Medici's armour

Cosimo de Medici's armour

This is done in the ‘Mannerist’ style, notable for its bizarre and contorted figures. The secondary ornamentation consists of scrolling foliaged which sprouts off and ends in floral shapes or personified figures, with the same figures intertwined. This was originally gilt and has now been polished bright, the rest of the armour has a blackened dogtoothed appearance which makes the decoration more obvious to the eye.

The helmet is impossible to remove without help due to the manner in which it is attached to the armour. Also when the armour was first made the helmet was too heavy for its wearer to keep his head up, therefore an extra support had to be attached to help support the weight.

Blogger: Jonathon Ellis, Student Work Placement – Curatorial Department

Fort Nelson Re-development

Fort Nelson houses the Royal Armouries’ collection of artillery, with over 350 big guns and historic cannon on display. The Fort was built on the direction of Victorian Prime Minister Lord Palmerston, as part of a chain of fortifications protecting the great Naval harbour of Portsmouth and its Royal Dockyard from French invasion – a fear that never materialised.

Panorama of visitor centre under construction

Panorama of visitor centre under construction

Fort Nelson is nearing the end of a £3.5m project to transform the heritage site into a museum fit for the 21st century. Part funded by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant, the project will include spectacular new galleries; visitor centre and extended free parking; new modern café; and state of the art learning centre.

Lower Gallery Artist's Impression

Lower Gallery Artist's Impression

The new glass-sided galleries will showcase the most impressive and iconic Big Guns, covering the most colourful periods of history from every corner of the globe. Key exhibits will include Saddam Hussein’s infamous Supergun, and the Great Turkish Bombard of 1464, that once protected The Dardanelles.

As the project nears completion over the coming weeks we’ll be following our Projects Team throughout the closing stages of the redevelopment.

Collections up Close June

On 18 June 1815 the opposing forces of Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington, joined by the Prussian Army met at Waterloo. The battle began just after 11am and the conflict continued throughout the afternoon. Both sides suffered heavily.

Napoleon had returned to France and resumed the throne as Emperor. However, his aims to dominate Europe were impeded by Allied armies advancing on several fronts. Napoleon had planned to advance into Belgium and separate Wellington’s army from the Prussians and then destroy them both. However, after a long day of battle, Napoleon’s army was defeated, and the battlefield was strewn with 40,000 dead and wounded men.

Wellington's sword

Wellington's sword

The White Tower at the Tower of London is home to the Duke of Wellington’s uniform coat, telescope and sword. The Duke was Constable of the Tower from 1826–1852. The coat is finely made with blue fabric with scarlet facings and has epaulettes of gold thread decorated with crossed batons under a crown in silver. The gilt buttons bear an image of the White Tower in silver. His telescope has a brass plate attached which reads, ‘TELESCOPE BY BERGE OF LONDON USED BY THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON AT THE BATTLE OF WATERLOO, PRESENTED BY THE DUKE TO SIR ROBERT PEEL’.

Napoleon's Sword

Napoleon's Sword

Also in the Royal Armouries collection is a sword presented to Napoleon I by his friend Alexandre Des Mazis. Des Mazis was a contemporary of Napoleon at the École Militaire and was his close friend. They later served together as officers in the Regiment de la Fère at Valance in 1796. The sword is on display in the War Gallery in Leeds, near a large model of the battlefield made in 1842–43.

Blogger: Angela Clare, Researcher

Waterloo: A Family's Story

On 18 June 1815 at the battle of Waterloo, the Allied armies under Lords Wellington and Blücher defeated the French, bringing to an end the Napoleonic Wars which had raged for over 15 years. Amongst the Royal Armouries’ archives is a collection of papers relating to the military careers of three brothers; William, Henry and Charles Dawson, which comprises extracts from official publications and from the letters they sent home. The archive was put together by their father, Pudsey Dawson, and their younger brother Pudsey Junior.

Extract from the officer’s list of the 52nd Regiment, including Lieutenant Charles Dawson

Extract from the officer’s list of the 52nd Regiment, including Lieutenant Charles Dawson

William Dawson joined the Royal Navy and served with distinction, on one occasion taking command when his captain was killed and capturing a French frigate. He rose to the rank of Captain and the command of his own ship, but died from fever in Madras in 1811, aged 29. Henry and Charles were officers in the 52nd (Oxfordshire) Regiment, serving during the campaign in Portugal and Spain. Both were wounded in the terrible siege of Badajos, and Henry was killed in 1812 during the retreat from Burgos, aged 24. Charles survived the Peninsular campaign to fight at Waterloo, where he was again severely wounded.

Hand drawn colour map of the Battle of Waterloo, showing the dispositions of both armies on the night before the battle

Hand drawn colour map of the Battle of Waterloo, showing the dispositions of both armies on the night before the battle

The archive includes four maps relating to the Waterloo campaign, showing the countryside of the surrounding area and the troop dispositions on the day. The 52nd fought on the right of the line, close to the famous Chateau Hougoumont, and took part in the repulse of the Imperial Guard which finally broke the French army. Although Charles had survived the war he died aged 25 in 1817. This remarkable collection acts as a sad memorial of a father to his sons, and gives us an insight into some of the personal stories of the Napoleonic Wars.

Blogger: Stuart Ivinson, Library Assistant

A Model Battle

The Royal Armouries in Leeds is home to a model of part of the battle of Waterloo; the model was made by Captain William Siborne in 1842–43. Siborne had not been at the battle but on hearing that the site was to be altered he decided to make a model of the site exactly as it was on 18 June 1815 at 2pm.

A section of the Battle of Waterloo model

A section of the Battle of Waterloo model

The model of the battlefield is 18 ft 4 in. by 7 ft 5 in and made up of ten sections. The model is made to a scale of 15 feet to 1 inch and the figures are to a scale of 6 feet to 1 inch in order that they might remain identifiable. The farm buildings are also this scale to avoid incongruity.

The model shows the area around the Brussels-Wavre crossroads, including the farm of La Haye Sainte, which was a critical position during the battle. The farmhouse was key to the centre of Wellington’s position. It was held by an Allied German garrison who fought bravely. When they ran out of ammunition they went on fighting with rifle butts and throwing stones, but eventually the French captured this important position. The Duke of Wellington and his staff are shown in the model to the North-West of La Haye Sainte.

Close up of Battle of Waterloo model

Close up of Battle of Waterloo model

The model was first exhibited in London in 1844 but we do not know for certain where the Royal Armouries model moved then until 1868 when it was shown in Germany. Further exhibitions on the continent were then abandoned due to representations from the French Government.

The model returned to Dublin in possession of a Mr Evans, who seems to have put up the money for it and to have foreclosed. It was later rediscovered in the possession of a Mr Barrington in a storehouse near Dublin in 1907. Mrs Barrington-Malone inherited the property, and transferred the model to the Staff College, Camberley.

In 1925 it was taken into charge of the Tower Armouries, and moved to the Tower of London in 1935, where it was restored by a Mr Cawood. The model was displayed in the Small Arms Room of the White Tower until 1949. Then it was cleaned again, possibly by Russell Robinson, and stored until 1962 when it was moved to Dover Castle. It was returned in 1982, and finally put back on display in Leeds in 1996.

Blogger: Angela Clare, Researcher