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.

The Force Awakens: The Weapons Behind Star Wars.

IMG_3490-FWW-YEP-PhotocalIn light of the recent teaser trailer for the eagerly anticipated ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’, our curator of Firearms Jonathan Ferguson, couldn’t resist inspecting the new trailer’s weapons for both changes and similarities to their alien predecessors. Below are his expert thoughts and ponderings of the weapons of Stars Wars both past and future.

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When George Lucas was looking for imaginary weapons to arm his heroes & villains in ‘Star Wars’, he had a relatively small budget to work with. Although he wanted his swords & guns to project pure energy; he turned to real-world technology to make his ideas a reality. His ‘lightsabers’ were built from camera flash tubes and various found objects including jet fighter parts, whilst the ‘blasters’ were modified from conventional firearms of the 1940s and 50s. These were plentiful in 1970s Britain, where much of production took place. Master propmakers Bapty & Co were engaged to turn these mundane weapons into futuristic (yet ancient!) plasma-firing wonders.

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A lightsabre and its camera components.

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Han Solo’s (modified) gun.

One of the most iconic designs in the Star Wars universe is the Imperial blaster used by the Stormtroopers. This was actually the Sterling Mk.4 submachine gun, or L2A2 in British Army parlance. Still a service weapon at the time of production, this was modified with additions including a WW2 German machine gun sight, black flanged ribs (actually plastic drawer runners from B&Q!) and a photocopier part. The distinctive curved magazine of the ‘Sterling’ was also cut down to hold only a few rounds, to alter the fairly well-known silhouette of the weapon and suggest a ‘power pack’ in place of a conventional box magazine.

Left: a Stormtrooper blaster. Right: a Sterling sub-machine gun from the Royal Armouries collection

Left: a Stormtrooper blaster. Right: a Sterling sub-machine gun from the Royal Armouries collection.

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The firing versions used blank rounds, which produce no real recoil, but the design of the Sterling meant that a big heavy metal bolt was cycling back and forth every time an actor pulled the trigger. This caused the gun to jump slightly, making the energy bolts that it ‘fired’ (a pre-CGI optical effect) appear more real. The heavy steel guns also made for convincing weighty props in the hands of the actors.

The prequel movies featured precursor blaster carbines in the hands of Battle Droids and later Clonetroopers, but these were bespoke designs quite far from the low budget yet iconic originals.

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When the new sequel movies were announced, fans wondered how much would change. As we now know, many of the classic vehicles and even the white armour of the Stormtroopers have received major facelifts, inspired by the original movie’s concept art by Ralph McQuarrie.

But as the teaser trailer for Episode VII shows, the classic blaster carbine has survived almost intact. Some components, like the end cap and folding stock (which, of course, Stormtroopers don’t know how to use!) are now white in colour, there’s a new optical sight, and for some reason the magazine appears on the wrong side – possibly a case of flipped film – or perhaps with no brass to eject, Imperial forces have moved the power source to the right hand side.

Screenshot from the new Star Wars Trailer 'The Force Awakens'

Screenshot from the new Star Wars Trailer ‘The Force Awakens’

There is a red glowing light; possibly a means of checking ammunition/power levels. But all the main features of the host weapon remain. Even if these upgraded blasters no longer fire blanks for that authentic look and feel, one of cinema’s most recognisable weapons is alive and well.

We’re certainly looking forward to seeing what other new, or old, Star Wars weapons will be making an appearance in the highly anticipated ‘The Force Awakens’.

The Curator @ War: “The enemy within” November 1914

Author: Bridget Clifford, Keeper of Tower Armouries.

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Three months into the war, as the combatants on the Western Front learnt the grim reality of trench warfare in the 1st battle of Ypres, the Tower found itself once more a place of execution.

Three hundred years after Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex and former favourite of Queen Elizabeth I became the last man beheaded on site (25th February 1601), Carl Hans Lody faced an eight man firing squad at the Tower having been found guilty of war treason against Great Britain.

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Born and educated in Germany, Lody completed a year’s service in the German Navy from 1900-1901 then joined the merchant fleet while remaining a naval Reservist. Working on English, Norwegian and American ships he travelled extensively, latterly as a tourist agent running excursions for the Hamburg – Amerika line.  In 1912 he met and married a wealthy American lady of German descent and they planned to make their home in the States. Unfortunately the marriage was short-lived and in July 1914 Lody found himself aged 39, unattached and $10,000 dollars richer thanks to his former father in law and determined to emigrate. He contacted the general office of the Naval Office seeking release from the Reserve, citing an illness in 1904 which had rendered him unfit for active service.

Summoned for interviews in August it was suggested that he might undertake some naval intelligence gathering in England before relocating to America.  Despite his reservations as to his suitability for the role, the 27 August saw him disembarking at Newcastle as Charles Inglis an American tourist. Moving to Edinburgh he sent his first telegram to Adolf Burchard in Stockholm on 30th August.

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Lody was unaware that the address was known to the British authorities who were already conducting stringent and very successful postal censorship, and who would monitor his future correspondence. Cycling round Edinburgh he relayed observations, gossip and newspaper cuttings in further letters to Burchard. Trips to London, Liverpool and Killarney in Ireland followed and the increasing quality of information aroused sufficient alarm for the Royal Irish Constabulary to be alerted. Charles Inglis was detained on 2nd October under the Defence of the Realm Act as a suspected German agent. Instituted 8th August 1914, the Defence of the Realm Act made espionage a military offence to be tried by Court Martial punishable with death penalty.

Brought to London and held at Wellington Barracks, Lody’s court Martial was conducted at the Middlesex Guildhall, Westminster Broadway from Friday 30th October to Monday 2nd November.  The proceedings were open to the public but the court was cleared for sentencing. On the 4th November secret written instructions were issued to the general officer commanding London district, stating that His Majesty confirmed the findings of the court, and that Lody should be told of his fate the following morning.  At least 18 hours must elapse before sentence was carried out, with every consideration afforded the prisoner for religious consolation and an interview with his legal adviser. However there was to be no leakage to the press before the official communique was issued. The Tower was the approved place of execution given the constraints of time and secrecy, and on the evening of 5th November a police van brought Lody to the site.

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He wrote two letters on the eve of his death – one to the commanding officer of the 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards at Wellington Barracks thanking him and his staff for their kind and considered treatment “even towards the enemy” and signing himself Senior Lieutenant, Imperial German Res. II; the second was to relations in Stuttgart stating “I shall die as an Officer, not as a spy”.

Ten further spies were executed at the Tower, the last Ludvico Hurwitz-y-Zender on 11th April 1916. The majority including Lody died in the Rifle Range in the outer ward of the Tower between the Constable and Martin Towers – an area closed to the public. As ffoulkes wrote in Arms and the Tower (1939 ) “it is worthy of note that although London was filled with hysterical rumours of spies, secret signalling and expected sabotage, the authorities kept their heads as far as the Tower was concerned.  All through the War the Tower was open to the public at 6d. a head, or on certain days free, in spite of the fact that spies were imprisoned and shot within the precincts.”

Ernest Ibbetson’s engraving of the Tower site in 1916 with the buildings open to the public is highlighted below.  From North to South – Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula (not Saturday afternoons); White Tower (1st and 2nd floors only); Wakefield Tower (Crown Jewels); Beauchamp Tower (prisoner’s inscriptions).

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They That Are Left: the Royal Armouries hosts a stunning Remembrance photographic exhibition

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…They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old.

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them…”

from Laurence Binyon’s ‘The Fallen’ (first published in The Times, 21 September 1914)

Last week the Royal Armouries hosted the opening of photographer Brian David Stevens’ ‘They That Are Left’ exhibition, an inspiring ten-year project comprising of portrait photographs of war veterans, taken each Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph from 2002 to 2012. The project consists of 100 portraits, a selection of which is currently on display at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds until 1 February, as part of our First World War Centenary commemorations.

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As with each passing year our war veterans do grow older, and age both wearies them and condemns their valuable memories, they are thus at risk of becoming unknown. With this in mind, Brian took inspiration from Binyon’s famous poem, saying “the viewer is given no information, just a portrait. These faces then are as of unknown soldiers; no cap badges, no ribbons of spooling medals, no insignia for military rank. They are faces only. Each deep-etched with who they are and what they did, that we might look, and think – and thank them.”

“As the years pass, the number of veterans from World War I has dwindled to nothing and the number from World War II is steadily reduced, but their places are taken by other veterans from newer conflicts, who are also included.”

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Below is a short interview with Brian at the Royal Armouries about his collection, currently showing until 1 February.

The exhibition – which forms part of Royal Armouries’ ‘Inspired by…’ programme – transfers in March to Fort Nelson, Portsmouth, home to the national collection of artillery. For more information about Brian David Stevens’ work, please see his website here; http://briandavidstevens.com/ .

 

Line of Kings: The Opening…

One week after the opening of Line of Kings, Karen Whitting, Head of Creative Programmes, tells us why the launch is only the beginning…

The past two weeks have passed in a blur and only now, back at head office in Leeds and looking ahead to our next projects, is it possible to draw breath and reflect accurately.

With one week to operational handover, we were in remarkably good shape – able to backfill areas from which we had drawn objects for the new Line of Kings’ exhibition while ensuring that final objects were installed and final snagging carried out.

This included the straightening of each of the 266 breast and back plates, painting black every silver bolt and fixing, and cleaning relentlessly. Everyone pulled together, to ensure that we handed over to Historic Royal Palaces’ operations team on schedule – and with the exhibition in a world-class format.

The final object is placed within the exhibition.  © Royal Armouries

The final object is placed within the exhibition.
© Royal Armouries

We unveiled the new-look Line of Kings at a “soft opening” on 6 July to excellent feedback from both staff and visitors. Tower of London visitor numbers were up to around 12,000 people per day, so the exhibition was well and truly “stress tested”, with only one label coming adrift to be quickly re-installed.

At the same time, our team in Leeds were putting final touches to extensive web pages to support the physical exhibition, which also went live for 6 July. Please visit http://www.royalarmouries.org/visit-us/tower-of-london/line-of-kings to see the results of our research.

On 9 July, the exhibition was closed again as we showcased Line of Kings to the media, plus Historic Royal Palace (HRP) members – followed by a private view in the evening, attended by RA and HRP stakeholders.

It was a real privilege to be able to recount some of this extraordinary exhibition’s historic story and many treasures, as well as to thank the dedicated and passionate joint project team and the many expert external contractors who supported us on this journey. All have become part of Tower history – and the exhibition owes its success to every one of them.

The newly re-displayed Line of Kings at the Tower of London. © Royal Armouries

The newly re-displayed Line of Kings at the Tower of London. © Royal Armouries

With the exhibition now officially open, you might think this would be the end of the story. However, as this is a permanent exhibition we are looking ahead, with further improvements planned for September. We are also monitoring visitor feedback at #LineofKings.

Meanwhile, project meetings for our next exciting Tower exhibition have just begun…

Blogger: Karen Whitting, Head of Creative Programmes

Historical Memories…

Oral Historian Tracy Craggs has been working in partnership with the Royal Armouries Museum to complete a two-year European Union-funded project, contributing towards a methodology on teaching historical memory in schools. Tracy tells us more about the project.

The Royal Armouries’ team worked with a class of Year Nine History students (aged 13-14) for one term. The students were from the Co-operative Academy of Leeds, a mixed-ability comprehensive school near the city centre. The students studied the Second World War, focusing on the history and memories of D-Day.

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Students interview D Day veteran, Alf Ackroyd

Students learnt about the background to the Second World War, then spent a lesson focusing on D-Day from the perspective of one man, Wilf Todd, who took part in the invasion on Sword beach in Normandy. Using photographs, historical documents relating to Wilf’s service, a letter he wrote to his wife Mary, and extracts from Wilf’s and Mary’s memoirs, students analysed the difference between history and memory sources.

They then used a wide range of eyewitness accounts of D-Day, together with photographs, films and archive sources, to broaden their understanding and assess why the invasion of Normandy was ultimately a success. The class spent a day at the Royal Armouries Museum, where they worked in the museum galleries and handled Second World War weapons and uniforms.

After interview skills training, students met and interviewed D-Day and Second World War veterans in school. Using their interview results, students created digital stories based on the interviewees’ experiences, interpreting their stories in the context of the Second World War and giving their own views on the relationship between ‘official’ history and memory sources.

The Royal Armouries team found that students had a far more mature response to the museum’s collection, particularly difficult objects such as Second World War weapons, when they understood the memories those objects held for people who used them. Meeting living witnesses was an important part of the learning process for young people. However, oral history was more powerful for the students when they had the opportunity to question and compare different narratives rather than seeing it as a piece of evidence telling them ‘what really happened’. Getting young people to deconstruct how interpretations are made, and how social memory is created, made them appreciate the relevance of history to their own lives.

Our team worked with staff from museums and cultural organisations from Spain, Norway, Italy, Slovenia and Poland to create a methodology to teach historical memory that would work in schools across Europe. This methodology has now been made available and interested teachers can access it at http://memoriesatschool.aranzadi-zientziak.org/methodology/

Blogger: Tracy Craggs, Oral Historian

Behind the scenes: Kings of Cloth of Gold

We will be giving you an exclusive glimpse behind the scenes of a new production, Kings of Cloth of Gold by Angus & Ross Theatre Company, which premieres at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds in September.

Emanuel Brierley as King Frances I and Dominic Goodwin as King Henry VIII

Emanuel Brierley tells us what its all about and why the Royal Armouries makes the perfect stage…

There are three of us at the heart of Angus & Ross Theatre Company: Em Whitfield Brooks (director) Dominic Goodwin and myself (actors).

Kings of Cloth of Gold is the fourth show that Goodwin and I have worked on together and the third project for Em, we work really well together and bring different things to the creative mix. As they say “three is the magic number”.

Kings of Cloth of Gold, funded by Arts Council Englandis an exciting new play written by Tony Lidington. The year is 1520. In this brand new family comedy, Henry VIII of England meets Frances I of France at the most magnificent tournament ever held: the ‘Field of Cloth of Gold’. (So many pavilions were made of costly gold cloth that it became the byword for extravagance) These two kings compete to outdo each other in displays of wealth, wit, feasting and sporting prowess. Each king is proud, intelligent, and the epitome of chivalry. But who will eventually win this battle of vanity?

What makes a man? 
Why does he do what he does? 
How absurd and terrifying battle is…”

We’ve been fortunate enough to consolidate a partnership with Royal Armouries and have taken inspiration from their Tournament gallery, which houses Henry IIIV original suits of armour and is well worth seeing.

We’re really excited by what this partnership offers, as all their expertise, curatorial advice and fight training will help to create a gripping, funny and interesting piece of theatre and something I’m really looking forward to starting. The fact that we’re able to rehearse fights in Royal Armouries Tournament gallery will add to the atmosphere and create a buzz and interest around the show, right from the very beginning. I’m sure that the production’s premiere at Royal Armouries will be incredible both for the audience and us, knowing we are surrounded by such historic artifacts.

Make sure you don’t miss it.

Blogger: Emanuel Brierley, Angus & Ross Theatre Company

Kings of Cloth of Gold
The Bury Theatre, Royal Armouries, Leeds
Saturday 29 September, 2pm & 7.30pm
Sunday 30 September, 2pm

To book your tickets visit our website.