The Curator @ War – January 1915 : Three cheers for the back-room boys!

1915 appears to have dawned with business very much as usual – in fact ffoulkes only made 2 entries in the Minute Book. The arrival of W. Spooner RN as new Armouries cleaner was noted on the 11th January (presumably in place of H Evans who had died on 23rd December 1914), and the move of Charles I’s armour to the “centre of the small room” was recorded on the 12th.  The latter refers to the sub-crypt in the White Tower Basement where the Curator had moved the “valuable armours” in October 1914 as a precautionary measure against air raids – still to materialise.

This is hardly the stuff of an exciting blog- but Spooner’s appointment made me think about the unsung heroes of the Minute book and Diary – the Armouries back-room boys without whose support neither ffoulkes nor Dillon could have affected the modernisation of the collections and displays they achieved.

In 1913 Joubert’s new horse for Henry VIII’s silvered and engraved armour ascends to the top floor of the White Tower thanks to the muscle power of the Armouries’ team.  Identifying the individuals is unfortunately impossible – although the onlooker to the far right may be ffoulkes (prominent high white collars are a distinguishing part of his wardrobe in other photographs), and the supervisory, flat- capped gentleman in front of him may be Foreman Buckingham.

In 1913 Joubert’s new horse for Henry VIII’s silvered and engraved armour ascends to the top floor of the White Tower thanks to the muscle power of the Armouries’ team. Identifying the individuals is unfortunately impossible – although the onlooker to the far right may be ffoulkes (prominent high white collars are a distinguishing part of his wardrobe in other photographs), and the supervisory, flat- capped gentleman in front of him may be Foreman Buckingham.

Glimpsed occasionally in the background of unofficial photographs and recorded in the Receipts and Issues Books of the 1860s for payments due to them, the first comprehensive listing of the Armouries staff appears in the front of the Minute Book in 1913.  Employed by H M Office of Works, they were responsible for the maintenance of the displays and cleaning of the collection.  If objects were loaned out – and these were the days of gentleman’s agreements as well as formal loans when the military and diplomatic services could turn up and decorate their respective messes and embassies with material from stores – they would set up and dismantle selected displays off site. The high spot of this service was the decoration with Tower arms and armour of the annexe built onto the front of Westminster Abbey for the coronations of Edward VII and George V.  There were also annual trips to dress the Guildhall for the Lord Mayor’s festival in November.

Foreman Buckingham started life at the Tower as a Carpenter, and his involvement with the Volunteer Artillery undoubtedly proved useful. We have a number of his trophies  from repository exercise competitions showing his prowess in manoeuvring artillery over difficult terrain using minimal equipment – handy skills when relocating cannon about the site.  Both Dillon and ffoulkes praised his care and involvement with the collection, albeit a tad patronisingly.

A rare behind the scenes illustration from the Graphic of 1893 shows the team at work cleaning exhibits before opening, and is the only other illustration of this period showing the staff we have so far uncovered.

The tradition of facial hair among male members of the Armouries collections staff continues today, although the practice of wearing hats indoors has been discarded.

The tradition of facial hair among male members of the Armouries collections staff continues today, although the practice of wearing hats indoors has been discarded.

So what else do we know of these men?

Ffoulkes lists Foreman Buckingham, and cleaners T. Bishop, W. Williams, H. Evans, W. Brown, T. Riddles, G. Stewart and F. Davey; A.H Prince is noted in the Ticket Office, D. Nash in the parcels office (set up after the Suffragette outrage of February 1913 to accommodate visitors’ larger hand baggage during their visit) and W. Johnson as lavatory attendant.

Evans had served 20 years and reaching the age limit for employment received a 12 month extension on the 9th December. Following his death two weeks later he was awarded a “bonus” of £32-5-8d. Buckingham and Williams went off to war in September 1914.

Nash moved from the Parcels office and was appointed Foreman in July 1915. In April 1916 ffoulkes thanked Foreman Nash and cleaners Bishop, Davey, Riddles, Moncks and Stewart for their hard work arranging the new displays as all the White Tower floors were finally opened to the public. In October the Armouries staff was formally placed under the Curator’s control and Nash departed on active service with the London Regiment. He was replaced by T. Bishop.

From 1917 Nash was detailed to the War Trophies Section at G.H.Q in France collecting material for the War Museum. He returned from France early in 1919 and was promoted Armoury Supervisor enjoying an Armouries career of over forty years.  Bishop is recorded as leading man in 1922, resigning in April 1923.

F. Davey transferred to the National War Museum as Storekeeper in October 1917. Stewart remained at the Tower and retiring in April 1923 aged 71 years, while cleaner Moncks is first appears in the Diary in May 1915 gifting books to the Armouries.

And Mr Spooner?  He was suspended on 9th February 1915 “thro’ intemperance”.

The Curator @ War: “Bah Humbug – stripping the Armouries decorations for Christmas” December 1914

Keeper of the Tower Armouries, Bridget Clifford, continues her posts on Charles John Ffoulkes, who was Curator of the Armouries from 1913-1938 – during which he took part in the World War I civil defence of London, completed the first and last complete modern printed catalogue of the Tower collection, and created a museum infrastructure within The Tower. After his retirement, he was awarded an OBE in 1925 and a CBE in 1934 in recognition of his work on the Imperial War Museum.

In 1914, as the rest of the country prepared for the festive period and the realisation began to dawn that the war would not be over by Christmas, ffoulkes continued on his mission to modernise the White Tower displays, following on from the work started by Dillon. Having judiciously pruned some of the more exotic elements of the collection in November, despatching Oriental, Classical and Prehistoric material to the British Museum, and with the prospect of the small arms stores being removed from the Entrance floor of the White Tower, he began to clear the decks – literally.

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The photographs below give an impression of the ebullient displays from the later 1880s after the demolition of the New Horse Armoury. They come from The Photographic View Album of the Tower of London published by Valentine and Sons of Dundee but sadly undated.  This specific copy was annotated by ffoulkes and presented to HMS Tower 27th April 1917. Built by Swan Hunter and launched 5th April 1917, HMS Tower was an R class destroyer and is probably most famous for having the first modern ship’s badge, co-designed by Mr George Richardson, director of the shipyard, and Major Charles ffoulkes. The badge consisted of the White Tower and motto “God Save King George and his Tower” within a rope border, topped with a naval crown and with the ship’s name beneath.

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This is the Council Chamber (today more prosaically titled second floor west gallery) before the removal of the sword railings (1913) and the filling in of the light wells in the floor. Perhaps the lights installed in 1884 were somewhat unsubtle – in his autobiography ffoulkes described them as “great arc lights like a modern railway station” (p.64) – and obviously space was at a premium as the exhibits crowded together in their new home.

At the Northern end Queen Elizabeth I and her page found temporary refuge before moving back to the crypt and thence to pastures new. Both look resigned to their lot – perhaps recognising worse was yet to come after their move to the Museum of London. Today the only survivor of this tableau is Queen Elizabeth’s head.  The rest were consigned to a museum store room in the 1930s where they remain immured (if not shattered) by enemy action during the Second World War.

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However it was the Banqueting Hall (today’s first floor) that ffoulkes was targeting in December 1914. Finally he could be rid of the “elaborate trophies ….. and geometrical patterns of composed of tortured swords, bayonets and gun-locks bent and twisted in the Ordnance forges to conform with the lines of required designs. These were produced by Mr Stacy, Armoury Keeper, as a feeble imitation of the wonders produced by one Harris in the Storehouse which was burnt in 1841”. A little harsh on Mr Stacy, but ffoulkes had very determined views on the subject regarding “these typical products of nineteenth-century military art”  as “symptomatic of a period which could not produce simple railings without designing them as cast-iron spears with iron tassels”.

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So the scrolling motifs of re-formed gun-locks around the light wells, pendant bayonets and other trophies of arms attached to the ceilings were removed, and the great flower heads (a little something for the lady visitor?) seen here flanking the opening in the North face of the White Tower were swept away.  A few decorations lingered on in more inaccessible places, but ffoulkes had placed his finger on the continuing dilemma of how best to display the interior of the White Tower? As he put it “Firstly it is a magnificent specimen of eleventh-century architecture, and secondly it houses a collection of arms and armour, many pieces having been exhibited here since the sixteenth century, if not earlier.”   Finding a satisfactory balance continues to exercise the minds of curators and architectural historians to this day, as these two aspects can at times be mutually exclusive.

(A footnote for the pedants among us – this view is of the first floor east leading to the Chapel of St John, while traditionally the Banqueting Hall refers to the west side of the floor. Even ffoulkes had to think twice – but it is clear from the new Guide Book produced in 1916 when the whole of the White Tower was given over to Armouries displays that the Sword floor was on the east side , with the Weapons room on the west. Happy Christmas!)

The Royal Armouries Leather In Warfare Conference

Recently the Royal Armouries played host to a wealth of knowledge and passion as we, in partnership with the Archaeological Leather Group, held the Leather in Warfare conference here in Leeds. We were fortunate to hear from a wide variety of fantastic speakers, each providing delegates with a fascinating new perspective on leather and its uses on the battlefield and in arms and armour.

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Yvette Fletcher, Head of Conservation, Leather Conservation Centre.

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Dr David Nicolle, Honorary Research Fellow, Institute for Medieval Research, Nottingham University.

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Nicholas P. Baptiste, Archivist-Curator Morges Castle (Swi), Doct-Researcher, University of Savoy (Fr).

Attendees were treated to a range of presentations on subjects as diverse as Roman army tents and mamaluk armour. Royal Armouries Emeritus Curator, Ian Bottomley, enthused the audience with his paper on Japanese leatherwork, and Helen Adams’ porcupine fish helmet from the Pitt Rivers museum also caused much excitement. Other Royal Armouries speakers included Senior Curator of Armour Karen Watts, Conservation Manager Suzanne Kitto, Assistant Curator of Edged Weapons Henry Yallop, and Assistant Curator of Armour Keith Dowen. Dr Thom Richardson, Deputy Master of the Royal Armouries, chaired the conference as well as providing his own paper.

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Japanese leather items presented by Royal Armouries Emeritus Curator, Ian Bottomley.

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Helen Adams, Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, presenting on Ethnographic examples of animal skin armour – with a porcupine fish helmet pictured.

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Deputy Master of the Royal Armouries Thom Richardson.

Debate arose on the final day of the conference when Barbara Wills, senior curator at the British Museum (department of Conservation and Scientific research) presented her project on crocodile skin ‘armour’ from Egypt.

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Barbara Wills, Senior Conservator, British Museum Department of Conservation and Scientific Research – presenting her crocodile skin armour project.

Fellow speaker Carol van Driel-Murray questioned whether this discovery was indeed armour at all, and if it were purely intended for ceremonial use should we not avoid describing it as such altogether? However it was also argued whether this armour was representing specific Egyptian religious beliefs through symbolising Sobek – the crocodile warrior god who signifies strength and power. Was this therefore an example of ‘costume armour’ and therefore should be called such? Was this a complex ceremonial layering of a human, dressing as crocodile, dressing as a solider? No doubt this isn’t the last we will hear of this fascinating project!

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Carol van Driel-Murray, University of Leiden, presenting on Roman Military leatherwork.

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Barbara Wills, British Museum.

The event was organised by Curatorial Manager Alison Watson, who commented, “it was fantastic to work with the Archaeological Leather Group to produce such a successful conference and we look forward to working with them on the proceedings, due out 2015.”

A study day commemorating the Battle of Waterloo is currently proposed at the Royal Armouries for spring 2015, and Armouries staff will be speaking at a number of conferences throughout the upcoming months, for more information please contact enquiries@armouries.org.uk. For more images from the Leather in Warfare conference, please visit our Facebook and Twitter pages.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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