The Forgotten Dig…

Kathleen McIlvenna, Curatorial Assistant – Tower Collections -tells us about the new pilot volunteer project which works with Artefacts from the Tower’s foreshore.

In September 1986, Royal Armouries funded an excavation on the River Thames’ foreshore, in front of the Tower of London wharf to the east of Traitors’ Gate.

The dig on the Tower Foreshore in 1986, the report details the difficult working conditions as the tide flooded the trench twice a day. © Royal Armouries

The dig on the Tower Foreshore in 1986, the report details the difficult working conditions as the tide flooded the trench twice a day. © Royal Armouries

The excavation’s aim was to determine the depth and nature of archaeological deposits in the area with the hope of identifying stratified deposits and finding evidence of the Board of Ordnance’s foundries on the bank of the Thames.

The dig was deemed successful, identifying a series of compacted sloping foreshores dating from the 15th to the 19th centuries, and uncovering a large number of weapon parts – potential evidence of the Ordnance workshops.

A report was written, the artefacts bagged and that was the end of it. Until now…

I recently met some volunteers who are going to start to help repack these artefacts to today’s best practice standards. They are also going to help me start to catalogue them so we have a better, fuller idea of what this collection contains.

How the artefacts are stored today. They are in good condition but we hope the new standards will save space and make objects more accessible. © Royal Armouries

How the artefacts are stored today. They are in good condition but we hope the new standards will save space and make objects more accessible. © Royal Armouries

To get to this stage I have been working with the LAARC (London Archaeological and Archive Centre) which has been indispensable in giving guidelines as to how the collection should be stored. This involved a tour of their amazing store and they have some brilliant literature on their website. They have also sourced some experienced volunteers to help with our pilot project here at the Tower. These volunteers have a range of backgrounds and have experience of volunteering for LAARC or the Thames Discovery Project or sometimes both!

The pilot project runs for six weeks and will hopefully give us an idea of how long it will take to complete the repacking, labelling and documentation for all the artefacts. Armed with this knowledge, we can look to completing the project and realise the full potential of this forgotten dig.

To keep up with the progress of the volunteers, follow one of their blogs.

Blogger: Kathleen McIlvenna, Curatorial Assistant – Tower Collections

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