Weird and Wonderful

Henry VIII was well-known for his interest in technological innovation when it came to armour and weaponry, whether it was for personal use or for equipping his army. The sixteen gun shields which survive in the collections of the Royal Armouries are a prime example of his fascination with new or unusual developments. These shields formed part of a group of thirty-five such contraptions listed in the inventory made of Henry’s armoury after his death in 1547, which recorded them as ‘targets steilde wt gonnes’. They are thought to have been produced for the King by Giovanbattista of Ravenna around 1544. He may have supplied them complete, or possibly just the shields, in which case they would then have been fitted with guns in England.

All the surviving shields are of similar form. They are circular, measure approximately 50cm in diameter, and are fitted with breech-loading matchlock firearms which protrude either from the centre of the convex face, or slightly above the centre point. In most of the shields with centrally mounted guns, there is a small aperture covered by a grill, which must have been used for sighting and aiming. The main shield bodies were constructed from two layers of thin strips of wood, possibly oak, ash or elm. The bases were then edged and faced with iron or steel plates. Some of the shields have the remains of textile linings, which seem to have been woollen cloth covering a layer of tow or hemp fibre which acted as padding for the arm holding the shield. Leather straps provided attachments for the arm, and the guns were braced with an iron bracket.

Shield front and rear view

Shield front and rear view

A further inventory of the armoury in 1676 shows that over time, the number of gun shields had increased to sixty-six. To have been present in such numbers, they seem to have had some credibility as military weapons, even if this was short-lived. This theory is supported by the recovery of fragments of gun shields from the wreck of the Mary Rose, because it is unlikely that they would have been on board if they were not considered potentially useful for offensive and defensive purposes. There has been speculation that their presence on the Mary Rose meant that they were specifically intended for naval use. However, it seems more likely that they had been packed to be transported as part of the royal arsenal, because they were placed in storage in the ship’s orlop deck rather than positioned for immediate use as part of the ship’s armament.

These gun shields never experienced widespread usage. This was probably due to their unwieldy nature and the risk of injury to the face, eyes and hands from the blast of combustion gases when the guns were fired. However, the shields are of exceptional interest today because they provide an early example of breech-loading firearms which used pre-loaded iron cartridges tapered to match the taper of the breech of the gun. Firearms were becoming increasingly versatile in the sixteenth century, and gun shields provide an important indication of this.

Blogger: Natasha Roberts, Curatorial Assistant

STEN – Now and Then

Mass-produced military firearms rarely survive with much of their service histories intact. At the Royal Armouries in Leeds we recently discovered an exception that has been hiding a lot of history – in plain sight – in the markings stamped and scratched into its metal body.

Close up of the engraving on the Mk.II STEN

Close up of the engraving on the Mk.II STEN

It is a rare type of Mk.II STEN made in 1943 using a new, cheaper, wrapped steel body. These were found to be faulty and were all recalled – just like a car would be today. This particular STEN survived because it had been supplied to South Africa and ended up in Cyprus sometime in the 1960s.

An explanation for this is that lots of young Greek men went to South Africa during the Second World War to fight with both the South African and the Greek armies, and the STEN must have left with them at the end of the war.

Mk.II STEN on the production line

Mk.II STEN on the production line at BSA assembly facility plant at Tysley, 1942

Having been cut and welded internally to prevent it firing, it was then purchased by the Royal Armouries and spent 17 years being used for education and live interpretation. We don’t normally collect deactivated firearms, you wouldn’t blunt a medieval sword after all, but we have now added this example to the permanent collection due to its rather interesting history.

Blogger: Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms

Exploded Firearms

As a soldier it was, and still is, important to be familiar with your personal issued weapon in order to be able to keep it clean and keep it functioning correctly. Before multi-media learning aids the best way to learn about the functionality of a weapon was to take apart the real thing and mount it on a wooden board, much like a 3-D exploded diagram today.

Board

Webley Mk.I and II revolvers of 1895 and several devices called 'Morris Tubes'

Three boards in the Royal Armouries’ collection contain all of the separate components for several iconic British military firearms. The first shows the Magazine Lee-Metford Mk.II and Lee-Enfield Mk.I rifles, both introduced in 1895. The next board focuses upon the Short Magazine Lee-Enfield of 1903 and the Pattern 1907 bayonet. The last contains the Webley Mk.I and II revolvers of 1895 and several devices called ‘Morris Tubes’. These were designed to allow military rifles in .450 .303 calibre to fire cheaper small-bore .22 rimfire ammunition for training purposes. All of these are pre-First World War, though versions of the SMLE and Webley revolver were standard issue right through to the Second World War.

Rifle board

Short Magazine Lee-Enfield of 1903 and the Pattern 1907 bayonet

We don’t know for sure where these particular boards originated but they were made to instruct soldiers and officers in the component parts of their issued weapons and would have been hung on the wall of a classroom in one of the army’s training establishments.

Blogger: Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms

Collections Up Close August

The Royal Armouries’ collection contains several items belonging to Ernst August I (1688-1748), Duke of Saxe-Weimar, later Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach in Germany from 1728–1748. Ernst August was noted for his extravagant spending and love of splendour.

The Duke maintained a standing army that was disproportionately large for the duchy’s financial resources, which resulted in him having to rent out some of his soldiers to other leaders. He spent much of his reign desperately seeking resources, even arresting rich subjects in exchange for ransoms. However, legal proceedings were mounted against him and he was eventually bankrupt.

A selection of guns belonging to August

A selection of guns belonging to August

He had eight children with his first wife but none of their sons survived into adulthood, leading him to remarry after her death to try again for a male heir. He fathered four more children and an illegitimate son, but only one survived to adulthood- Ernst August II.

Several items of the Duke’s possessions are on display at the museum. These include a saddle from about 1720, typical of those used by cavalry in Europe during the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The Duke’s EA monogram can be seen on the gilt brass fittings of the saddle, which is on display in the War Gallery.

Close up of August's saddle on display

Close up of August's saddle on display

The museum also displays a set of hunting weapons and accessories made for the Duke by artist craftsman. It was popular for wealthy sportsmen of the 17th and 18th centuries to have a complete set like this. The items were made by various craftsmen from across Europe, including double-barrelled flintlock pistols (Flemish, made by Daniel Thiermay), single barrelled flintlock pistols (Italian, made by Gioanni Botti with barrels by Lazarino Cominazzo), a flintlock over-and-under sporting gun (French), and a German hunting sword.

The Duke’s passion for hunting was so extravagant that when he died, aged 59, he had 1,100 hunting dogs and 373 horses. However, August had left a financially ruined duchy, and his one surviving son, Ernst August II, succeeded aged just eleven.

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

A Short Sharp Shock

The most well-known form of Japanese bow is usually the long war bow which was the original prime weapon of Samurai warriors on horseback. These impressive bows were constructed from a layer of deciduous wood sandwiched between layers of bamboo, and could measure up to two and a half metres in length. The eighteenth-century Japanese bow shown here, however, is made from whalebone and is much smaller, measuring a mere 63cm when strung.

It is a kago hankyu, also known as a riman kyu after Riman Hayashi of Kii province who invented this miniature device. The bow fits into a lacquered carrying frame, and eleven arrows are slotted in alongside it. The arrows are constructed from dark red bamboo, and most of them have gilding between the fletchings. Six of them retain their small armour-piercing heads, whilst another has a small broadhead pierced with a heart shape.  The base of the case is decorated with a triple overlapping diamond kamon (family crest) in gold.

Palanquin bow

Palanquin bow

The diminutive proportions of the kago hankyu could almost suggest that it was made for a child as a plaything. However, the bow and arrows were actually fully functional and potentially lethal. Indeed, their small size was a crucial part of their practical use. They had to be short because they were carried as defensive weapons by Japanese daimyo (nobles) and their senior staff when they were travelling inside palanquins (a covered sedan chair).

During the Edo period (1603–1868), the daimyo had to spend a lot of time in transit, complying with the demands of sankin kotai, the enforced biannual attendance at the court of the shogun. This resulted in a lot of long journeys in procession with large retinues of samurai and servants. If they were attacked on the road, a daimyo would be confined inside the palanquin, folded up into a kneeling position, and therefore had to be able to use his bow and arrows rapidly and effectively in very cramped conditions.

Kago yari short spear

Kago yari short spear

The daimyo also employed other weapons made on a smaller scale for the same reason, such as this kago yari (short spear) from the early Edo period, which is just over 80cm long.

Blogger: Natasha Roberts, Curatorial Assistant

Quoit Dangerous

This cumberjung is a unique weapon within the collections of the Royal Armouries. It is a double-ended flail, consisting of a wooden shaft turned with mouldings for gripping, and sharpened discs or quoits attached to the brass chains at either end. The faces of the quoits are padded and covered with knotted thread in concentric bands of white, faded red and blue. In its entirety, the flail weighs just over 1 kilogram. It was made in Gujarat on the west coast of India in the late 18th/early 19th centuries.

Gujarati quoit flail

Gujarati quoit flail

To use the cumberjung one would grip the handle at either end and manipulate it so that the quoits whirled through the air at either side, slicing into an opponent. It could be a ruthless weapon in close combat, but much skill and practice were needed for it to be properly effective.

Blogger: Natasha Roberts, Curatorial Assistant

Flintlock Repair Work

This English flintlock is a William III Land Service musket dating from approximately 1689-1702. The lock-plate is engraved with the cipher of William III and Mary II and the maker’s mark ‘WP’ is stamped on the right side of the lower breech and repeated near the muzzle. The barrel is also marked ‘EG’ crowned, referring to Edward Godward, c.1695-96. The dog-catch of the lock has been previously restored.

Flintlock musket before conservation

Flintlock musket before conservation

The metal components on the flintlock were in very good condition prior to entering the conservation lab as they were only showing yellowed oil on the metal surfaces. The wooden stock was structurally unstable due to multiple large horizontally running cracks appearing mostly around the lock and around the muzzle. A large area of wood loss was present where the barrel is pinned to the stock. Some earlier repair material was present suggesting previous attempts on the cracks with what seemed to be wax. Tinted wax had also been used to fill a deep dent near the muzzle at some point in the past.

After carefully checking that the musket was not loaded, the lock-plate was taken off and disassembled in order to remove superficial dirt and residues with solvent swabs. The barrel was similarly cleaned and the stock was given a mechanical cleaning to rid it of superficial loose dirt. Any previous repair material was carefully removed as it had failed and no longer provided any adherence. The cracks were then refilled with adhesive.

Repairing the damage - before and after conservation

Repairing the damage - before and after conservation

The large area of wood loss was a problem as the pin located at the centre of the area of loss was loose as a result. To fix this problem it seemed best to try and refill the gap with a suitable material. The fill needed to be strong but also flexible in order to not get damaged with the wood’s natural movement. The material used needed to be reversible which in addition would make it easier to redo the fill if the first attempt was unsuccessful due to the critical location of the gap. The colour of the fill was also taken into consideration in order to achieve the best colour-matching result.

Tinted polyester webbing provided great support on the inside and helped mould the internal shape of the fill. To help estimate the trajectory of the pin a slightly wider cocktail stick was pushed through the opposite end of the hole which could serve as an outline for the pin and which could be easily removed half-way through drying time.

Blogger: Leila Mazzon, Student Work Placement – Conservation Department

A Perfect Pair

Thanks to the generosity of a member of the public the Royal Armouries has recently able to reunite this pair of big double-barrelled Victorian pistols. Custom-ordered from Adams of London (more famous for their revolvers) in around 1880, they had been split up around 60 years ago. The owner’s initials are engraved on both pistols. Although we may never know who ‘H.C.’ was, we can assume that he was a big-game hunter in India or Africa.

The reunited pistols

The reunited pistols

Weapons like these are known as ‘Howdah’ pistols, a howdah being essentially a saddle for an elephant that could be used as a firing platform. You can see a life-sized recreation of this outside the Hunting Gallery at our Leeds Museum. The pistols weren’t for hunting but for self-defense against dangerous and fast-moving game animals like lions and tigers. They were a compromise between the power of a rifle and the small size and handiness of a pistol, the two barrels allowing for two quick shots without reloading. They were more powerful and reliable than a multi-shot revolver.

Hunting diorama, Royal Armouries Leeds

Hunting diorama, Royal Armouries Leeds

Many howdah pistols are chambered in large calibres for better ‘stopping power’, but our pair is unusual. One is in a commonly available revolver and lever-action carbine cartridge (.44-40) – also a favourite in the Old West. The other, recently donated, is smooth-bored (20 bore) like a shotgun, so of less use against large animals. One possibility is that it was for defense against venomous snakes, the spread of shot giving a better chance of hitting the soft-skinned creature.

You can see pistols like these in the 2009 movie adaptation of ‘Sherlock Holmes’, fired at Robert Downey Jr as he escapes into the Thames from the Houses of Parliament. An over-and-under version appears in ‘The Ghost and the Darkness’ (1996) starring Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas as hunters called in to protect railway workers from two ’man-eating’ lions.

Blogger: Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms

Collections Up Close July

The Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds displays several archery prizes, one of which is a medal from the Stockwell Archers, presented to George Ellis Esq., “for the skill displayed by him in Archery on the 9th July 1832”.

Archery medal in the Royal Armouries collection

Archery medal in the Royal Armouries collection

Archery has a long-standing place in history as both a method for hunting and for warfare. It later developed into a competitive sport. The first known organised competition in archery was held at Finsbury in 1583 and had 3000 participants.

By the 17th century, due to the introduction of guns, the bow was no longer used as a primary weapon. Archery as a sport was later revived in the 18th century. This was attributed to the Prince of Wales, later George IV, who took up the sport. He became patron of many societies established during the late 1700s in which both men and women took part.

Female toxopholite in competition

Female toxopholite in competition

Competitions have always formed an important part of archery, the most significant being the Grand National Archery Meeting, first held in York in 1844. Archery prizes have included engraved arrows, archers bracers and medals. The museum’s displays include medals from the Derbyshire Archers dated 1823, the Tottenham Archers dated 1825, the Stourbridge Archery Society dated 1850 and the Grand National Archery Society dated 1880.

In 1900 archery was introduced into the Olympics but was then dropped after 1908. Other than a single appearance in 1920 the sport was not re-introduced until 1972. In 2012 the archery contest will be held at Lord’s Cricket Ground with 128 competitors taking part.

Blogger: Angela Clare, Researcher