Collections Up Close October

This Halloween many people will be carving lanterns from pumpkins, a long-standing Halloween tradition. We’ve even had a go at making our own bespoke Royal Armouries pumpkin!

Royal Armouries pumpkin

Royal Armouries pumpkin

Meanwhile in our collection on display on the First Floor of the White Tower at the Tower of London is a shield fitted with a lantern. The shield, or buckler, is Italian and dates to around 1550, and the lantern, added later, dates from about 1600. A lantern fitted to a shield would be very useful when walking in the narrow unlit streets of an Italian city at night. It could also possibly be used to dazzle an opponent in a duel. In The School of Fencing first printed in 1763, sword master Domenico Angelo gives instructions on defending against an opponent with a sword and ‘dark lanthorn’.

Shield lantern

Shield lantern

The shield is 56.5 cm (22.25 inches) across and is made of wood covered on both sides with canvas coated with gesso (the white mineral gypsum used as a ground or preparatory layer to ensure a smooth surface for painting or gilding on wood). The outside surface is black with a gold decorated border and it has a large plain gold panel in the centre, which may have originally been decorated. The inside of the shield is painted to show scenes from the life of Camillus, who saved Rome from the Gauls. The small cylindrical iron lantern has been inserted later, and is decorated with cast brass human heads on its top. It has a rotating shutter and a clear horn window.

On the subject of lanterns; the Lanthorn Tower at the Tower of London is the second largest tower. Its name comes from the lantern placed in the small turret on top of the Tower, which served as a guide for ships on the Thames.

Blogger: Angela Clare, Researcher

Arcade Games

The Royal Armouries in Leeds is now home to four retro arcade games. The games have been selected for their links to our wide-ranging collection – from medieval armours, Japanese swords to the Second World War.

You can try your hand at piloting a Second World War plane in 1942, playing Arthur the medieval knight in Ghosts ‘N Goblins,  hand-to-hand combat in two-player game Street Fighter, and being a legendary samurai warrior in Samurai Shodown.

Arcade Games at the Royal Armouries, Leeds

Arcade Games at the Royal Armouries, Leeds

Arcade games became popular in the 1970s, spurred on by the smash hit ping-pong video game PONG released in 1972. Space Invaders, released in 1978, proved to be an even greater success. During the 1980s video gaming became a worldwide industry, with popular games including Pac-ManBattlezone and Donkey Kong and the advent of two-player fighting games, such as Street Fighter.

However, advances in home video game console technology followed on, and eventually overtook, arcades. By the late 1990s and early 2000s, networked gaming across the Internet had also appeared, replacing the need for a venue for head to head competition, once provided solely by arcades.

Video games grew from simple moving block graphics to a global industry of enormous proportions, now played by hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Even today, there is still a keen interest and nostalgia for these earlier games.

Blogger: Angela Clare, Researcher

Tales of the Tournament

This August Bank Holiday weekend will witness a clash of knights fighting it out at the Royal Armouries in Leeds in a spectacular Tournament.

Few things can compare with the colour, theatre, and spectacle of a Medieval tournament which at the time were hugely popular. The archetypal image is of armoured knights on horseback galloping towards each other with lances. However tournaments took place over a period of about 600 years, evolving from military exercises and including courtly displays of wealth and sportsmanship.

Image of two knights in heraldic finery, from the Turnierbuch of Maximilian I (Hans Burgkmair the Younger, ca. 1540)

Image of two knights in heraldic finery

The tourney probably began in the 11th century, as opposing groups of Norman knights practiced tactics for the battlefield. These early combats used swords and lances, and were highly dangerous.

The earliest form of jousting, known as the Joust of War, was fought between combatants on horseback. They attempted to unhorse their opponent, or at least hit their head, shield or body. Blunted weapons became popular, and so began the Joust of Peace. Hollow lances shattered dramatically on impact; the frog-mouthed helm was designed to protect the eyes from flying splinters. Unfortunately these helmets also restricted the horseman’s view at the moment of impact. A barrier called a tilt was erected to prevent the horses from crashing into each other.

Tournaments also included events such as individual foot combat with a variety of weapons and the foot tourney which pitched two teams against each other across a barrier.

Knights Jousting at the Royal Armouries Museum

Jousting at the Royal Armouries Museum

Combatants with their faces hidden are hard to identify, so brightly coloured heraldic designs were displayed on their shields, the crests of their helmets, both their own and the horses’ ‘coats-of-arms’. Vast sums of money were spent on armour, feasts, ceremonial processions, and pageants. King Henry VIII was an enthusiastic participant and host of several tournaments, including the extravagant Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520, with Francois I of France, which you can find out more about in the Tournament Gallery of our Leeds Museum.

You can find out more about our Tournament and book tickets on the Royal Armouries website.

Blogger: Victoria Adams, Curatorial Assistant

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

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.

Keeper of the Tower

Royal Armouries Head of Creative Programmes, Karen Whitting dreamed up the idea for a mighty dragon, inspired by the small figures of a dragon and a hydra in the scale model of the Grand Storehouse at the Tower of London. Working with the creative team at Haley Sharpe Design a concept drawing was produced which York-based Paragon Creative have brought wonderfully to life.

Building on the tradition of trophies of arms and armour created at the Tower of London from the late 17th century, this new dragon has been constructed using objects and materials that represent nine institutions which were housed in the Tower and took 500 hours to design, assemble and install.

From concept to construction

From concept to construction

The spectacular 4.5m tall dragon forms the centrepiece of the Royal Armouries’ permanent new exhibition at the White Tower – Power House. We felt that such a magnificent beast deserved a befitting name. Thanks to all those who entered the Royal Armouries and History™ competition, we are delighted to reveal the dragon will be called Keeper.

The mighty mythical beast is 3.5m long and comprises over 2,672 items – all representing the great organisations of state that took refuge behind the mighty Tower’s walls.

Keeper of the Tower

Keeper of the Tower

The dragon, weighing 1,200kg, comprises the following:

  • Ordnance Office – armour, swords, firearms and cannon to create the back legs and body, including 22 antique pistols, four swords, four rifles, two bronze cannon and 20 bayonets
  • Menagerie – a cage for the ribcage
  • Prison – 30m of chain to create the tail
  • The Royal Mint – 2,000 gold and silver coins, representing the dragon’s fire
  • The Observatory – 26 telescopes
  • The Records Office and Ordnance Survey – parchments and maps for wings
  • The Jewel House – 400 glass rubies, plus a replica King Henry VIII collar.

Other items include eight breastplates, six muskets, 15 poleaxes, 10 mail vests, four shields and bucklers and 50 replica trial plates.

Blogger: Beckie Senior, Communications Officer

Power House – Object Conservation 4

Object: Uniform Coat of the Duke of Wellington c.1835 (xvi.8)

Blogger: Suzanne Dalewicz-Kitto, Conservation Manager

This blue cloth uniform with white lining and scarlet facing was worn by the Duke of Wellington when he was Constable of the Tower of London. It has gilt buttons bearing a miniature of the White Tower in silver, and epaulettes made of gold and silver thread.  The coat is in reasonable condition with only a few small holes and surface grazing of the cloth, probably caused by moths.  The main area of interest to our Conservators were the tarnished metal threads and spangles (sequins) on the epaulettes.

Duke of Wellington's uniform

Duke of Wellington's uniform coat

Metal threads are fragile at the best of time.  Some are made from twisted fine metal wire and others are formed by twisting wire around a cotton or silk thread.  When applying treatments to remove the tarnish Conservators have to be careful not to leave residues behind that will ‘rot’ the thread over time.  On these epaulettes there are eight different types of thread design including: dull purl, pearl purl, bright check and Lizardine close.

Detail of the left epaulette before and after treatment

Detail of the left epaulette before and after treatment

The tarnish was removed by gently cleaning the surfaces with a damp swab using a mixture of carefully chosen chemicals.  This was carried out under a microscope to make sure no metal threads were being pulled away from the epaulette.  Residues where removed again by careful swabbing using deionised water – very pure water that has had any minerals filtered out of it.

This object will be featured in our forthcoming Power House exhibition at theTower of London which opens on Saturday 2nd April. Find out more about the work of our Conservation Team on our website.