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.


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.


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

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

Conservation, Museums and Blacksmithing

As part of the National Heritage Ironwork Group’s Heritage Blacksmiths Bursary, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund’s ‘Skills for the Future Programme’, I have had the pleasure of spending three weeks working in the Conservation Department of the Royal Armouries. Coming from a background in blacksmithing, where often the delicate work simply requires the use of a slightly smaller hammer, it was a bit of a change swapping to cotton wool buds!

The craftsmanship and skill of the weaponsmiths and armourers that made the Museum’s objects is unbelievable. The time and care that has been spent on some of the pieces is so impressive you can see why a suit of armour could have cost as much as a small farm.

Matthew working on removing corrosion from a breastplate

Matthew working on removing corrosion from a breastplate

While working here I have been lucky enough to get involved in behind the scenes aspects of the Museum, from putting objects on display to cleaning and conserving items in the collection. The conservation of the brass nipple-studded breast plate, pictured above, required removing corrosion without disturbing the original patina in unaffected areas. This can be quite challenging and the conservation work that the department does is vital in maintaining the collection for future generations.

I will be using the skills and conservation techniques which I have learned at the Royal Armouries to protect and maintain the heritage ironwork I hope to be working on in the future.

Blogger: Matthew Boultwood, Student Work Placement – Conservation Department

Neigh-ly Done

Previously on the Royal Armouries blog we posted a story about an equine project our Conservation Team have been working on. This life-size papier-mache horse was created by the early 20th century craftsman Felix Joubert. The horse came up to Leeds from the Tower of London to undergo repair work earlier this year.

Repair work on the horse's ear

Repair work on the horse's ear

Since our initial report the Joubert horse is starting to look a little better after a lot of filling, sanding, consolidating and infill painting. His ear is firmly back in place and the damage to his neck, sides and legs have been stabilized and fixed.

The horse awaiting transportation to our Stores area

The horse awaiting transportation to our Stores area

Now it is only the tail which needs conserving, this in itself will be a big project as great care needs to be taken so as not to damage it any further.  In the meantime the horse will be stabled in our Stores area.

Blogger: Alex Cantrill, Conservator

Lion Armour on Tour

The Lion Armour is one of most finely decorated and recognisable armours in the Royal Armouries’ collection. As its name suggests the armour is decorated with embossed lion’s heads and is intricately damascened in gold. The armour is thought to have been made for the French King Henri II sometime between 1545 and 1550.  How the armour came to England isn’t known but there a number of 17th-century portraits surviving showing different sitters wearing the armour including General George Monck, Duke of Albemarle (1706–70) in a painting by John Michael Wright.

Lion Armour (Circa 1545-50)

Lion Armour (Circa 1545-50)

As one of the treasures of the Royal Armouries’ collection the Lion Armour rarely goes on loan, however earlier this year the armour was part of a temporary four-month loan to the Musée de l’Armée in Paris for a special exhibition ‘Under the Aegis of Mars: Armoury of the Princes of Europe’ which ran from March until June. The Exhibition was a unique opportunity for the Lion Armour to take its place along side some of Europe’s most important 16th-century armours from collections across the world.

Technician Giles Storey reinstalls the Lion Armour in the Tournament Gallery

Technician Giles Storey re-installs the Lion Armour in the Tournament Gallery

In preparation for the loan the armour was removed from display and carefully separated in to its eighteen component parts. Each of the parts was extensively photographed before and after conservation and a detail report describing the condition of each piece was produced. These condition reports, which are created whenever an object leaves the collection on loan, travel with their objects and are used to help us to identify and record any changes to the objects which may or may not take place. On arrival back in Leeds in July the armour was checked against the condition reports produced in January for the fourth and final time, after which the armour was carefully re-assembled and placed back on display in the Tournament Gallery of our Leeds Museum.

Blogger: Nyssa Mildwaters, Conservator

Serious Leg Work

This mail leg, also known as a chasse, is probably Mughal, from 17th century India. It consists of alternating rows of riveted and welded rings tapering towards the ankle.

Mail chasse before conservation

Mail chasse before conservation

Over time many rings have broken leaving holes in the object. As well as being visually disruptive, the holes pose structural problems to mail as if a ring is missing the weight of heavy mail is not distributed evenly putting the remaining rings under strain. The effects of this strain can be seen on this piece where several rings have bent or even separated surrounding the existing holes.

Delicate work inserting new rings

Delicate work inserting new rings

Missing rings need to be replaced in order to prevent further damage to the object. How the replacement rings are made has to be carefully considered. The rings must be of a comparable diameter and thickness to the original rings in order to properly distribute the weight. From a distance they should blend in with the original rings so as not to disrupt the appearance of the object, however they must be easily identifiable as a repair when closely examined in order to avoid confusion with the original material. To comply with the requirements three different sizes of rings were used depending on the location on the chasse.

Repaired chasse after conservation

Repaired chasse after conservation

The replacement rings are butted, meaning the ends of the ring are hammered over each other but not riveted, and stamped with a tiny ‘RA’ symbol to distinguish them from the original rings, before being carefully inserted into the mail. When repairing a piece of mail it is important to follow the original pattern and layout of the links. If a ring is put in the wrong orientation the surrounding rings will tend to bunch together, disrupting the object visually and structurally.

Blogger: Sean Belair, Student Work Placement – Conservation Department