Elemental, my dear Watson!

Christmas has come early for conservation as Royal Armouries’ Conservator, Ellie Rowley-Conwy tells us about the exciting new addition to the museum’s conservation equipment…

Much of conservation, and the start of treatment on any object, begins with an in-depth look at materials. We have to be aware of what elements make up an object, how it has been manufactured and how these degrade over time, in order to make informed choices about how to prolong its longevity. The Conservation Department at Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds has a shiny, new and portable instrument called an EDXRF (Energy-Dispersive X-Ray Fluorescence) that will help us to investigate all of these areas, and we are very, very excited about it!

Christmas comes early for the Royal Armouries with the addition of a EDXRF (Energy-Dispersive X-Ray Fluorescence)

Christmas comes early for the Royal Armouries with the addition of a EDXRF (Energy-Dispersive X-Ray Fluorescence)

The addition of the EDXRF will enable the conservation department to investigate the materials in the national collection at an elemental level – and more importantly it is non-destructive. We will be able to get more of an idea about the uses of different metal alloys used for certain types of arms and armour, how these adapted over time and how they differ around the world.

An example of this could be when analysing leather, often found associated with arms and armour. The reading will pick up chromium so we then know the leather must have been chrome tanned. Chrome tanning of leather began in 1858, meaning we can use this information to help date an object. This also highlights another benefit of the EDXRF, as we can use it to help identify fakes. A number of elements and alloys that are around today could not have been extracted or manipulated for use in the past, due to the lack of modern industrial techniques. If these are present, in a supposedly historic object, then it could indicate that the object, or at least part of it, is a modern reproduction.

The EDXRF will also help us to find out about manufacturing techniques; an example of this is looking at certain decorative techniques. When analysing objects that have been gilded, a reading showing the presence of mercury will tell us that the object was gilded, using the mercury gilding technique. If we took readings from all our gilded objects we could then identify how popular mercury gilding was in the past compared to other gilding techniques.

We hope to gain lots of important information through the use of our new EDXRF and the results that we obtain, and we really look forward to sharing them with you and the other arms and armour enthusiasts out there!

Blogger: Ellie Rowley-Conwy, Conservator

Line of Kings: 21st Century Craftsman for the Line

H&H Sculptors Ltd are creating conservation grade figures for the Line of Kings that will support the armours to be mounted on original carved wooden horses. Their work is in the tradition of the craftsmen who have worked on this incredible display over hundreds of years.

Kathryn Hall of H&H takes us through the process of preparing the figures to provide a perfect fit.

Garry Hall, MD of H&H Sculptors, visited Chris Smith, Conservator at the Tower of London, on 19 April, with a selection of our assessment torsos and body parts taken from the measurements that Chris had supplied, which we felt would be most suited to the sizes of uniforms and armour. At this meeting, Chris and Garry tried the armour on a combination of different torsos shapes, and chose the best fitting ones for each of the three sets of armour, taking photos and making notes on each figure.

Chris and Garry tried the armour on a combination of different torsos shapes © Royal Armouries Museum

Chris and Garry tried the armour on a combination of different torso shapes
© Royal Armouries Museum

After this initial assessment process, we laid up all the relevant body parts in the studio using conservation-grade materials, adapting each figure and making the necessary alterations. We are now in a position to return with the three figures ‘tacked together’ and ready for their second fitting. At this stage, it may be necessary to make some minor adjustments before finally securing all the parts together and completing each figure for delivery on 7 June.

The story continues at the second fitting…

The main difficulties we found were to make sure that the figures would support the weight of the armour but without being too close or too tight, and not compromising the object in any way. We removed the figures’ elbows, which allowed us to slide the armour ‘sleeves’ carefully  upwards to attach at the shoulders,  and to use an alternative way of securing the arms to torso on the inside with a wing-nut fixing we had previously developed for the V&A.

We had prepared all three sets of legs to be spread outwards,  so they can cope with sitting on horseback –  but when they were placed on the saddle, which was poised on top of a stool in a ‘mocked-up’ riding position,  we could see they needed to be even straighter legged.

All three sets of legs were spread outwards,  so they can cope with sitting on horseback. © Royal Armouries Museum

All three sets of legs were spread outwards, so they can cope with sitting on horseback.
© Royal Armouries Museum

However, once we tested them on the actual wooden horses, complete with saddle, it was again quite different.

We had to cut off the chin, from one of the heads, and take a slice from the back, as the helmet wouldn’t fit over it properly. It was a mystery as to why this should be until we realised the gorget sat much higher up the neck than on the previous figure, and was preventing the helmet from dropping down. So off came the chin!
The forearms needed shortening to allow for the original wooden hands to attach successfully, but apart from that they all fitted well. We needed to shave a little off the calves of one pair of legs so the leg armour wasn’t quite so snug a fit.

IMG_0689

Figures mounted on original carved wooden horses
© Royal Armouries Museum

During June, the figures and armours will be carefully installed together in the final stages of preparing the new exhibition of the Line of Kings which opens on 10 July.

Blogger: Kathryn Hall, H&H Sculptors Ltd

Line of Kings: Back to Front

Ellie Rowley-Conwy, the project conservator for the Line of Kings tells us about her part in building a wall of armour.

Line of Kings, Project Conservator, Ellie Rowley-Conwy  © Royal Armouries Museum

Line of Kings, Project Conservator, Ellie Rowley-Conwy
© Royal Armouries Museum

To some, it might seem that cleaning 113 pieces of seemingly identical plate armour would be repetitive or even, dare I say it, boring.

Perhaps this makes me sound odd but nothing could be further from the truth. Although superficially similar, each artefact offers its own challenges, details and insights.

Indeed, it is only by working with so many pieces that the unique nature of each piece stands out. Many of the objects are inscribed with the word ‘Toiras’ across the front, referring to the Marquis de Toiras who famously withstood the three-month siege of La Rochelle in 1627, which is the provenence of all the breastplates and backplates.

© Royal Armouries Museum

© Royal Armouries Museum

Subtle differences can include the manufacturer marks that are often found on the inside; the size of the pieces giving information about the soldiers involved in the conflict; and the dents and damage present on the pieces which tells us about the objects’ working life.

Often the breastplates and backplates have been coated in a lacquer to protect them from handling and the environment. This can work well for a few years but, if left on for too long, it will yellow and become increasingly difficult to remove.

The first stage in the conservation process is to clean this off, using cotton swabs and an appropriate solvent that will remove the lacquer without damaging the underlying metal. Under the lacquer layer there can be remnants of thick wax, which was used in the past to help protect metal. This also has to be removed using a further solvent.

Any corrosion present on the object is cleaned off using, a specific abrasive material with an appropriate lubricant to prevent any scratching of the metal. The object is then coated with a protective conservation grade wax.

The result of all this hard work will be a very striking, full wall of breastplates and backplates, forming the backdrop for the Line of Kings exhibition, which will open at the Tower of London on July 10.

Blogger: Ellie Rowley-Conwy, Project Conservator, Line of Kings

Japanese Wakizashi Sword

As part of the Ingham case renovation in the Oriental Gallery, a large number of Japanese swords required cleaning and conservation at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds.

The swords had a variety of accessories and the highly ornate ones required more in-depth work. One of the most elaborate Japanese swords had approximately fourteen pieces to it – all of which required individual attention.

The object is a Japanese Wakizashi sword and dates back to the 17th century. The blade is signed ‘Hizen kuni ju Tadahiro’ and is accompanied by a wooden replica blade and two sets of scabbards and hilts; one simple and wooden, the other coated in lacquer and highly decorative with accessories.

Japanese-sword-image1

The decorative hilt was the main area of concern as the ray skin coating was fragile in a number of places and the gold dragon decorations showed evidence of copper corrosion. The metal blade collar, washers, utility knife and hair implement all showed signs of discolouration and copper corrosion. The decorative scabbard, while in good condition, had a small fragment of lacquer detached from the surface.

Before Conservators could start work on the sword, it had to be taken apart so that each item could be treated on individually. We took care to note the order and position of the accessories, so that it was not put back together incorrectly. Taking photographs helped with this process.

sword2

The metal accessories were cleaned using cotton wool swabs with a solvent specific for metals. This removed the corrosion and discolouration, without causing further damage to the objects.

The hilt’s decorative dragons were cleaned by brushing on an appropriate solvent, in order to fully penetrate the uneven surface and remove corrosion.  The fragile ray skin coating was stabilised using a suitable adhesive that was applied using capillary action, to strengthen the bond to the base material.

The decorative scabbard was cleaned using an alternative solvent, which would not damage the original lacquer, to remove the surface dirt. The detached fragment was re-attached using a suitable adhesive to secure it back to the wooden base, without damaging the lacquer exterior. The wooden scabbard and hilt, along with the remaining metal accessories, were dry cleaned to remove the surface dust and dirt

To clean the blade, traditional Japanese methods were used, including the application of a dry powder to remove any previous oil. This was then wiped with Japanese tissue to remove it. Finally, the blade was coated with a specially tested traditional Japanese oil to protect it and prevent deterioration.

Blogger: Conservator, Vicky Garlick

Missing Link…

Amongst a sea of metal links, Kate Perks, Conservation Intern, tells us about getting a rider’s coat of mail ready for a trip to the British Library.

Kate Perks, Conservation Intern, works on the coat of mail.

I am currently working on an Indian, 17th century coat of mail, taken off one of our horse and riders in the Oriental Gallery, Leeds. This is going on display at the British Library in November. At the moment my biggest challenge is to work out how to fix a broken metal plate called a lamellae. I’m doing experiments to see if I can fix it in a less intrusive way than previously.  I am trying different adhesives. A couple of my previous tests have failed but the third test seems to be the winner. I have weighted it to see how strong it is, how much weight it will hold and how long for.

The lamellae has split before and been mended with a metal plate and rivet but it wasn’t reversible and it has failed. I’m now trying to find a different method that is reversible but will be strong enough. We have to be very careful with the adhesives we use, again because should there be problems we need to be able to remove it. We can’t use super glue, for instance because once that’s stuck, that’s it.

The coat of mail is made up of different sizes of links. There are larger links in the areas you need more protection or are most likely to be attacked, because they’re the strongest and the thickest metal. As you don’t need that thickness throughout the length, at the bottom the links are much smaller, which makes it lighter but they still offer some protection. I had to look carefully through the thousands of links, which make up the coat of mail to see which needed replacing, so far I have put in 12 large, 2 medium and 3 small links.  It’s probably going to take me another 3 days to finish, but what’s slowing it down is the experiments I have been doing with the adhesives. I have already cleaned it, and finally it will need treating with a protective coating to help stop it corroding.

The coat of mail, along with its rider and horse will be going on loan to the British Library from 8 November.

To find out more about the Conservation Department visit our website.

Blogger: Kate Perks, Conservation Intern

Kate’ll Fix It…

Kate Perks is on a 12-month internship in the Royal Armouries’ Conservation department. She talks about getting to grips with firearms, handling holsters and why there’s never a dull day in conservation.

Kate Perks, Conservation Intern

I have always had an interest in history and my path into conservation started after studying History of Decorative Arts and Crafts at Brighton University. I knew I wanted to work closely with historical objects, I am a hands-on person and I like to physically work with objects, so conservation ticked all the boxes. The element of the job I enjoy the most is getting something that is broken and fixing it or getting something that is looking a bit sad and making it happy again! There are also challenges of the job, as we must make sure everything we do is reversible, the methods used do not harm the object and will last.  Therefore if another conservator comes across the object 50 years later, when technology has moved on and processes have changed, they can undo my work. It’s not just simply fixing things.  It is also about making sure the methods used can be reversed, using materials that have been tested and proven not to react with the object, such as making sure it won’t cause it to corrode, and that the materials are stable enough that they will carry on doing their job for decades to come.

I recently had my first experience of firearms with the Matchlock guns that are going on loan at the Small Arms Centre for Excellence, Nizwar, Oman, in October. This was a challenge because you have to make sure they’re not loaded and I had to learn about the firing mechanism.  It was interesting getting to understand how they work.

I have also been getting a handle on holsters, I was presented with a box of around 18, all jumbled up, so I have been going through them and looking at the best ways to store them. At the moment I am trying to work out how they can keep their shape, even just things like lining them with tissue can work. I’ve also been doing some research to find out what type of leather they are made from. This depends on the hair follicles, and how they are positioned, from that you can work out whether it’s leather from a cow or a sheep. This is found with a little microscope, with a light on it, you place it over the object, with LED lights, the image appears on the computer, and you can then take a photograph to study more closely.

After my internship, I would love to get a full time position here or at another museum but at the moment I am making the most of every opportunity.

To find out more about the Conservation Department visit our website here.

Find out why Kate is searching for the missing link in a coat of mail in her next blog instalment…

Blogger: Kate Perks, Conservation Intern

Kate’ll Fix It…

Kate Perks is on a 12-month internship in the Royal Armouries’ Conservation department. She talks about getting to grips with firearms, handling holsters and why there’s never a dull day in conservation.

Kate Perks, Conservation Intern

I have always had an interest in history and my path into conservation started after studying History of Decorative Arts and Crafts at Brighton University. I knew I wanted to work closely with historical objects, I am a hands-on person and I like to physically work with objects, so conservation ticked all the boxes. The element of the job I enjoy the most is getting something that is broken and fixing it or getting something that is looking a bit sad and making it happy again! There are also challenges of the job, as we must make sure everything we do is reversible, the methods used do not harm the object and will last.  Therefore if another conservator comes across the object 50 years later, when technology has moved on and processes have changed, they can undo my work. It’s not just simply fixing things.  It is also about making sure the methods used can be reversed, using materials that have been tested and proven not to react with the object, such as making sure it won’t cause it to corrode, and that the materials are stable enough that they will carry on doing their job for decades to come.

I recently had my first experience of firearms with the Matchlock guns that are going on loan at the Small Arms Centre for Excellence, Nizwar, Oman, in October. This was a challenge because you have to make sure they’re not loaded and I had to learn about the firing mechanism.  It was interesting getting to understand how they work.

I have also been getting a handle on holsters, I was presented with a box of around 18, all jumbled up, so I have been going through them and looking at the best ways to store them. At the moment I am trying to work out how they can keep their shape, even just things like lining them with tissue can work. I’ve also been doing some research to find out what type of leather they are made from. This depends on the hair follicles, and how they are positioned, from that you can work out whether it’s leather from a cow or a sheep. This is found with a little microscope, with a light on it, you place it over the object, with LED lights, the image appears on the computer, and you can then take a photograph to study more closely.

After my internship, I would love to get a full time position here or at another museum but at the moment I am making the most of every opportunity.

To find out more about the Conservation Department visit our website here.

Find out why Kate is searching for the missing link in a coat of mail in her next blog instalment…

Blogger: Kate Perks, Conservation Intern

What a corker!

XVI.258A – Tower Hamlets Rifle Volunteers Officer’s Helmet

Conservation work has recently commenced on a Tower Hamlets Rifle Volunteers Officer’s regimental helmet, which will shortly be going on display at the Tower of London. The helmet is of the Home Service Pattern design, introduced in May 1878.

Black and silver helmet with chin strap and spike

XVI.258A – Tower Hamlets Rifle Volunteers Officer’s Helmet

The body of the helmet is made of cork, covered in black cloth, with two seams on each side. The chin chain is made of interlocking silver-plated rings, backed with leather and velvet. This was attached to the helmet on two side rose bosses and, when not being worn, the chain would have been attached to a rear hook. All the metal components on the helmet are silver-plated.

There is a metal crosspiece with a spike and base on the top of the helmet and a metal plate badge on the front. The badge’s design comprises an eight-pointed star surmounted by a crown. A Garter belt is around the outside, inscribed with the motto ‘Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense’ (Shame upon him who thinks evil upon it). The centre of the badge features the White Tower in the Tower of London as a symbol of the Tower Hamlets Regiment.

Silver badge with representation of White Tower and the motto Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense

Silver badge with the White Tower in the centre

The helmet’s interior has a leather layer and also a pink silk lining. The helmet features two retail labels for the hatters ‘W. Cater & Co. Established 1776, 56 Pall Mall, London’. The silk lining also features a name label for the helmet’s owner, ‘G.E. Colebrook’. George Colebrook was part of the 1st Tower Hamlets Rifle Volunteer Brigade and was promoted to Lieutenant in June 1901. Sadly he is recorded as having died in a motorcar accident in 1903.

Silver chin strap with detached leather backing

Silver chin chain with detached leather strap

The helmet arrived in the conservation lab with tarnished metal components and a partially detached chin strap, where the original thread had broken leaving some of the rings hanging loose from the leather backing. Stay tuned to hear about the conservation treatment and repair to the chin strap, ready for the helmet to go on display.

Blogger: Philippa Beesley, Conservation Student

The Great Cover Up

Over the next few weeks, as part of the Museum’s preventative conservation programme, work will be carried out in the Royal Armouries stores at our Leeds Museum to cover all the large objects that are not stored on shelves or racking, this includes horse saddles and whole mounted armours.

Individual Tyvek covers, a non-woven fabric consisting of spun-bond olefin fibre which is water-resistant yet breathable, will be made for each object to protect them, particularly from dust, and will help reduce the need for additional conservation work to be carried out on these objects in the future. Images of the objects and their accession numbers will be attached to the outside of each cover making it easier to identify the objects.

Conservation Assistant Emily Ironmonger at work placing protective covers on a jousting saddle

Conservation Assistant Emily Ironmonger at work placing protective covers on a jousting saddle

Work has started on making covers for some of the mounted armours. It is quite a challenge to make covers for some of the objects, such as a large German jousting saddle dating from around 1500, as it is such an irregular shape.

For some of the more fragile, or awkwardly shaped objects like the saddle, covers with ties at the front will be made, making them easier to remove when necessary and prevent damage to the objects when uncovering them.

A wide-range of skills is certainly needed to work in the Conservation Department.

Blogger: Emily Ironmonger, Conservation Assistant

Cuirassier Armour

As part of the the second year of my Conservation Masters at Durham University I will be undertaking a nine-month placement in the Conservation Department at Royal Armouries, Leeds.

The placement has begun with the cleaning and conserving of a 17th-century Dutch composite cuirassier armour in preparation for its loan to Edinburgh Castle’s Great Hall, where it has previously been on display. Cuirassier armour was worn by the heavy cavalryman of the period and became prominent because of the more extensive use of firearms from the early 17th century.

The armour is often referred to as three-quarter armour covering the whole body to the knees and worn with long boots. The head was protected with a close helmet, the neck with a gorget, the shoulders and arms with pauldrons and vambraces, the body with a breastplate and backplate, the legs with tassets and the hands with gauntlets.

Over time this armour has at times been restored to an extent with features like new plates being added, new rivets to hold parts together and re-leathering. The ethical considerations of these restorations are also of paramount importance when studying the authenticity of previous work.

Armour previously on display in the Great Hall, Edinburgh Castle

Armour previously on display in the Great Hall, Edinburgh Castle

Previous conservation work took place on the armour in 2005 and presently the armour is receiving solvent and mild abrasive treatment to remove any surface dirt and corrosion. Fragile areas on the metal or on the leather straps used for attachment are either being consolidated or given additional support in order to prevent further deterioration. All of the armour is being given a protective wax coating after treatment.

Blogger: Philippa Beasley, Student Work Placement – Conservation Department