Ask A Curator Day Wednesday 17 September 2014

Have you ever wondered what it is like to be a curator of artillery? Perhaps you have always wanted to know what was in a ‘vampire killing kit’, or speculated as to why the White Tower has two mummified cats in its collection! Well now’s your chance to find out and ask the experts directly as the Royal Armouries team will be taking part in the annual #AskaCurator Day tomorrow.

Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms

Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms

Organised by cultural blogger @MarDixon, this social media event creates an unique opportunity for members of the public to communicate directly with curators and people who work behind the scenes in cultural venues. Last year 622 museums from over 37 countries took part, answering questions about collections, objects and histories from participants around the world.

Royal Armouries will have a range of experts on hand to answer your arms, armour and artillery related questions:

Leeds

Natasha Bennett, Acting Curator Oriental Collections

Natasha obtained her BA in History from the University of Durham (2007), and a MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies at the University of Leeds (2010). Before coming to the Armouries, she worked as an intern at the V&A and the Green Howards Regimental Museum. Prior to her MA she worked as an editorial and publishing assistant, and as a librarian.

Natasha works with our wide range of arms and armour from Asia and Africa, spanning multiple countries, cultures and time periods. Past research projects have included papers analysing Asian matchlock mechanisms and the substantial gift of Indian arms and armour bestowed on the Tower of London in 1853 by the East India Company. Currently she is looking at the textiles incorporated into Japanese armour, and is also interested in how a study of Asian and African arms and armour can provide insight into the complexities of trading relations across the world over time.

Henry Yallop, Assistant Curator European Edged Weapons

Having completed his first degree in History (BA, King’s College London 2001-2004), Henry went on to focus on the early medieval period at the University of York (MA, Medieval Studies, 2004-2005). Henry then began his museum career as a long-term volunteer at the Norwich Castle Museum, whilst working part time. He moved back to London to work for the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, firstly with the Export Licencing Department and then for The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest.   When MLA relocated, Henry took the opportunity to do a Museum qualification at the University of East Anglia (MA, Museum Studies & Cultural Heritage, 2010-11) which he received after further voluntary work with the National Army Museum.

He took up the post of Assistant Curator (European Edged Weapons) in 2012 after a lifelong fascination with arms, armour and military history. He is particularly interested in the development, use and effect of historical weapons.

Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms

Having completed a first degree in Archaeology (BA, Exeter 1997-2000), Jonathan began his museum career as a volunteer at Coldharbour Mill Museum in Devon. After further voluntary work with the National Museum of Ireland, he received his postgraduate diploma in Museum Studies from the University of Leicester in 2002, and found work at Colchester Museum documenting the archaeological and oral history collections there.

In 2006 he joined the Collections Department at the Imperial War Museum’s Duxford site, sourcing objects and carrying out research for the major ‘AirSpace’ redevelopment. He then became Assistant Curator of Military History at the National War Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh Castle where he curated the exhibition ‘Call to Arms’ in 2008.

He took up the post of Curator of Firearms at the Royal Armouries in 2009. Based at the National Firearms Centre, his research interests are in the area of use and effect of firearms, and gun-related mythology and folklore. He has been researching so-called ‘vampire killing kits’ since 2007.

Lisa Traynor, Assistant Curator of Firearms

Lisa completed her degree in History and Museum Studies (BA, Huddersfield 2006-11), and in particular focused on the history of arms and armour 1750-1918.  She began her museum career as a volunteer at Museums Sheffield in (2007-09), whilst studying. In 2012 she joined the Visitor Experience team at Royal Armouries Leeds, devising talks for visitors on the history of firearms and the different conflicts in which they were used. She then became the Firearms Documentation Assistant at Royal Armouries in December 2012. Through documenting the former MOD collection, Lisa studied pistols in depth, noting their actions, operating systems and calibres.

She took up the post of First World War Researcher in December 2013. Along with her two colleagues she is curating ‘Bullets, Blades and Battle Bowlers’ a gallery exhibition telling the story of the rise of weapon technology during 1914-18. She is currently working on her paper: ‘The bullet-proof vest and the Archduke: 19th-century innovation versus 20th-century firepower’. Her research involves practical ballistic testing in order to test the claims of 19th-century inventor, Casimir Zeglen. The primary aim of this research is to assess the capabilities of a 19th-century bullet-proof vest against the FN Browning Model 1910, the model of pistol used to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

The White Tower

Bridget Clifford, Keeper of the Tower Armouries

Bridget joined the National Maritime Museum after graduating in History from Manchester University in1977, having cut her museum teeth as a volunteer in her ‘local’ at Hereford. Four years later, she moved to the Armouries and the Department of Edged Weapons, spending the first year battling with ‘old Tower stock’ of the pointy kind in the Brick Tower.

Four children and 20 years part-time curating later, having worked on projects ranging from re-storage of the Armouries collections in the Tower in the mid 80s, to taking over the Tower Library and Archive in celebration of the new millennium, and several Tower exhibitions in between, she returned to full-time work as Keeper of Collections South (and library!) in September 2006.

Fort Nelson

Philip Magrath, Curator of Artillery

Philip read for an Honours Degree in History at the University of Sussex, followed soon after by a Masters Degree in Museum Studies at University College London, a Diploma in English Local History and a Further and Adult Education Teaching Certificate.

Previously employed by English Heritage and Gosport Borough Council at Explosion! The Museum of Naval Firepower. He joined the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson in 1991 working in various capacities and was appointed Curator of Artillery in 2001.

Nicholas Hall, Keeper of Artillery

Nicholas read History of Art at the Courtauld Institute, London and joined the then Tower Armouries in 1972. He was fortunate to be mentored by Howard Blackmore, Russell Robinson and Alan Borg, leading scholars in the arms & armour field and to spend valuable time in the workshop with craftsmen Ted Smith and Arthur Davies.

In 1978 Nicholas became Keeper of Metalwork at Hampshire County Museums, opening a community museum in Havant. When the County bought Fort Nelson, a derelict Ancient Monument, he was asked to help decide its future. The Fort was restored and eventually became the Royal Armouries’ artillery museum. In 1988 Nicholas re-joined the Royal Armouries to develop Fort Nelson and prepare the museum displays for opening in 1995. The use of historic artillery became a particular interest, involving participation in TV programmes and consultancy on behalf of the museum.

Our curators will be available between 10am and 1pm and 3pm and 5pm to take your questions. All you have to do is tweet your questions to @Royal_Armouries or @Fort_Nelson and a curator will respond. If it is a complex question about the collection it may take a little time to research and respond, but we will certainly try and get back to you as soon as possible!

To find out more about this event please visit www.mardixon.com

Line of Kings: Exhibiting in the 21st century

Karen Whitting, Head of Creative Programmes, talks about bringing the Line of Kings exhibition into the 21st century.

While the work on display mounts such as the figures from H&H has been continuing off site, the installation of the exhibition has been taking shape in the White Tower over the past three weeks.

One of the main design aims has been to allow visitors to enjoy the iconic building of the White Tower as well as the new Line of Kings exhibition housed within it. This work has included removing modern interventions, such as operations cupboards, which has transformed the space, reconnecting the east and west sides of the entrance floor through high stone archways.

High stone archways in the White Tower © Royal Armouries Museum

High stone archways in the White Tower
© Royal Armouries Museum

Exhibition craftsmen from the cultural and heritage fit-out company, the hub, have been working around the clock to turn our 2D paper designs into 3D reality.

Paul Lee, site supervisor, from the hub examines designs in the White Tower. © Royal Armouries Museum

Paul Lee, site supervisor, from the hub examines designs in the White Tower.
© Royal Armouries Museum

New wooden display plinths have been painstakingly constructed to have no impact on the historic structure of the White Tower and to sit sympathetically inside it. They fit so well with the existing floor that it almost looks as though they have always been part of the site – and they reveal none of the effort that has gone into their installation.

The hub team install wooden plinths in the White Tower. © Royal Armouries Museum

The hub team install wooden plinths in the White Tower.
© Royal Armouries Museum

As soon as the first plinth was complete, a team of skilled engineers was brought in from Beck & Pollitzer to move the original carved wooden horses into their new exhibition positions.

During the project’s research phase, a photograph was discovered in the Royal Armouries’ archive which is at least 100 years old. It shows wooden plinths and a wooden horse on the top floor of the White Tower – another visceral connection with the redisplay history of the Line of Kings and one which makes everyone involved in the project today part of this continuing story.

A wooden horse and wooden plinths on the top floor of the White Tower pre 1914 © Royal Armouries Museum

A wooden horse and wooden plinths on the top floor of the White Tower pre 1914
© Royal Armouries Museum

Engineers from Beck and Pollitzer move an historic wooden horse from the Line of Kings supervised by Chris Smith, Royal Armouries’ Conservator © Royal Armouries Museum

Engineers from Beck and Pollitzer move a historic wooden horse from the Line of Kings supervised by Chris Smith, Royal Armouries’ Conservator
© Royal Armouries Museum

Blogger: Karen Whitting, Head of Creative Programmes

A Curator and his times – the continuing story of museum ffoulkes

Bridget Clifford, Keeper of Tower Armouries continues with her tale of Charles John ffoulkes…

When I embarked on this blog, armed with the Minute book and best of intentions, I hoped that it would unfold month by month providing a unique “then and now” experience.  Unfortunately, the book and I have got somewhat out of sync.

However, in true Pollyanna tradition, it is too good a chance to miss, so I’ll play catch-up and take this opportunity to look back to January 1913 and how it all started for the curator, ffoulkes (who, unusually, spelled his surname without an initial capital letter).

Charles ffoulkes and Viscount Dillon at St. James' Palace  - 1913. © Royal Armouries

Charles ffoulkes and Viscount Lord Dillon at St. James Palace on 13 February 1913
© Royal Armouries

“1913 : Jan 1 Curator took over the Armouries on appointment (dated 21 Nov 1912) in succession to Viscount Dillon, Curator 1895 -1913.  Annual inventory checked and completed.” So Charles John ffoulkes, aged 44 1/2, recorded his first day in office in the Tower Armouries Day book (I.189).

Dillon was the pre-eminent arms and armour scholar of his day, and when he announced his impending retirement from the Tower, he recommended ffoulkes as his successor.  These were the days of the gentleman curator, and ffoulkes learned of the forthcoming vacancy while walking in the woods at Ditchley with Dillon.  Mr ffoulkes recounted the event in his autobiography. Dillon abruptly asked, “Will you take over the Tower?” and when ffoulkes expressed reservations, urged him, “I want you to keep the flag flying – don’t let me down”.  Mr ffoulkes noted later, “It was rather an unusual appointment with a nominal salary, no age limit and no fixed hours of duty”.

Viscount Lord Dillon, Curator Tower Armouries 1895 – 1913.  ffoulkes predecessor and champion, complete with White Tower cravat pin.

Viscount Lord Dillon, Curator Tower Armouries 1895 – 1913. ffoulkes predecessor and champion, complete with White Tower cravat pin. © Royal Armouries Museum

How unlike the modern curatorial post openly advertised with fixed terms and conditions, and measurable objectives to be achieved. No woodland handovers with the unqualified endorsement of the incumbent today.

Now 21st century curators, bristling with qualifications and bulging portfolios, battle in open (often global) competition for diminishing numbers of public service jobs. Today there is a pay structure and pension on offer – 30 years ago when I joined the profession on the lowest rung, great emphasis was placed on the fact that even the most junior Museum Assistant received a salary, not a weekly wage (little comfort for the first impoverished month!) – and the idea of nominated succession has no place in the modern world of equal opportunity and inclusion. They even let gals in nowadays!

Mr ffoulkes had come to Dillon’s attention through his studies and interest in armour fabrication, a relatively unexplored field at the time.  Leaving Oxford where he admitted his principal interest had lain in rowing, ffoulkes dabbled in painting, the Arts and Craft Movement and theatrical pageants before concentrating his energies on metalwork, specifically arms and armour. From 1907, he researched the collections of the Pitt Rivers and Ashmolean museums, and in 1912 published a major study “The Armourer and his Craft from the  XIth – XVIth century”.

The tableau of Queen Elizabeth, page and horse was originally displayed in the White Tower crypt (modern entrance floor) but moved to join material from the New Horse Armoury on the top floor of the White Tower after 1882.  This photograph gives a sense of the exuberant displays that Dillon and then ffoulkes tamed and refined to produce a more modern,  glassed exhibition. Elizabeth and company wandered about the White tower galleries before being loaned to the Museum of London in 1916, and falling victim to enemy action in WWII. Today only the queen’s head survives.

This photograph gives a sense of the exuberant displays that Dillon and then ffoulkes tamed and refined to produce a more modern, glassed exhibition. Queen Elizabeth and company wandered about the White tower galleries before being loaned to the Museum of London in 1916, and falling victim to enemy action in WWII. Today only the queen’s head survives. © Royal Armouries Museum

His introduction to the Tower Armouries was relatively gentle – touring dignitaries and a little light armour movement.  On 10 January, he recorded the visit of “Delegates from the Turko-Bulgarian War” peace conference which London was hosting (even without the benefit of hindsight, it would seem a doomed enterprise).  29 January saw a half armour moved “from the centre to the upper end of the top room on the left side” in the White Tower.

However February was far more feisty offering ffoulkes an introduction to the iconic nature of the site and all that brings with it. As I said, the book and I have slipped out of sync, so if you haven’t already, please do look back at February’s blog (Suffragette outrage at Tower – read all about it!), and I’ll hope to be catching up by June!

Blogger: Bridget Clifford, Keeper of Tower Armouries

Further reading: ‘Arms & the Tower ‘ C J ffoulkes (John Murray, 1939).

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

Here be Dragons

Today (Monday, January 23) sees the coming of the Year of the Dragon, and any Chinese Dragon stopping off to visit London’s sights might care to look up some of his occidental relatives among the exhibits in the Royal Armouries’ galleries at the Tower of London.

Henry Tudor – On entering the White Tower, Henry VIII’s silvered and engraved armour (II.5; VI.1-5) sports dragons on both the man’s and horse’s harness. Unfortunately both are being vanquished by St George – the one on the breast plate by George on foot; the other on the chest of the horse armour appropriately enough by the saint mounted.

Engraving of St George and the dragon

Engraving of St. George slaying the dragon on the horse armour of Henry VIII

Agincourt – Hurrying onwards, the first floor contains a veritable flight of dragons. Perhaps the most obvious – and certainly the oldest – are squeezed onto inlaid decorative plaques on the saddle of the Hungarian Order of the Dragon (VI.95). Those joining the order founded by King Sigismund of Hungary in 1408, were presented with a sword and saddle. Indeed this may be the saddle given to Henry V of Agincourt fame in 1416.

Decorated saddle

Saddle of the Hungarian Order of the Dragon possibly presented to King Henry V

Charles I – Continuing the Royal association, the case opposite the Gothic dragons of the 15th century holds the tiny 17th century armour (II.126) possibly associated with Charles I as a child. A spitting dragon crouches on top of the helmet, its tail curling down to the back of the neck. If you look carefully, the helmet surface is scaled, and a fearsome monster frames the wearer’s face, with growling companions adorning the pauldrons or shoulder pieces. At only 95 cm tall, this is still something of mystery armour. 18th century visitors were told that it had belonged to Richard, Duke of York – brother of the uncrowned Edward V persuaded into the Tower for security in 1485 and never seen alive again. By the 19th century, the armour was more accurately dated but attributed to Jeffrey Hudson, dwarf to the court of Charles I.

Dragon in steel on top of helmet

Dragon perched on the helmet of the armour possibly belonging to Charles I

More dragons – Darting back in time, the World Treasures’ case contains a roaring dragon’s head (VI.319). Made by the German armourer Kunz Lochner in about 1550, it was designed as part of a crupper fitting along the horse’s back, with the tail flowing from between its jaws. Today the rest of the dragon rests in Poland.

Dragon shaped decoration for a horses tail

Part of a horse’s armour for protecting the tail

Passing around the end of the case, and along the side of the main case to the displays of the Great Collectors, another dragon lurks, clinging to the side of a German horse muzzle dated 1569 (VI.400) . The fashion for such things was short-lived from the end of the 16th to the early 17th century, but they remain popular among collectors and this example was bequeathed to the museum by Dr Richard Williams in 1974.

Horse muzzle

Pierced steel horse muzzle decorated with dragons

The beasties decorating the sides of the wheellock pistols (XII.1250/1) slightly further along may be related to the wider dragon family, but only distantly.

pistol with dragon decoration

Detail of decoration which may be a stylised form of dragon

Power House – However, the most impressive of the White Tower dragons welcomes visitors to the Power House display on the top floor – a fitting reward for toiling up so many twisty stairs. Its body is formed from elements of all the Tower institutions celebrated in the wider gallery – from weapons of the Ordnance to coins from the Mint and much else between – it greets you with a dragon-like roar if you pass by its far side.

Dragon constructed from arms, armour, maps, coins and guns.

Impressive – 4m high, 3.5m long with a wing span of 5m and weighing 1200 Kg!

New displays – Finally on the way out, lurking in the shadows under the staircase in the Basement but moving to a more prominent position in the coming redisplay of the area, are a pair of Burmese dragons. Fabulously moustached, they sit atop a bronze bell (XVIII.19) dated 1797 and presented in 1874 by the Constable of the Tower Field Marshal Sir William Gomm, previously Commander-in Chief of British forces in India from 1850 – 1855.

Bronze bell with Burmese dragons

Bronze bell with Burmese dragons

The new displays open at the beginning of April, and this pair provides a fitting celebration of the Year of the Dragon.

Blogger: Bridget Clifford, Keeper of Collections South, Tower of London

Collections Up Close Special

With Royal Wedding celebrations in full swing this month we’re exploring armours which relate to one of the most influential marriages in British history. The Royal Armouries at the Tower of London is home to ornate armours which belonged to King Henry VIII and commemorate his marriage to Katherine of Aragon.

Henry was crowned and married Katherine in 1509 when he was 17 years old and she was 23. Katherine had previously been married to his elder brother, Prince Arthur who had died. However, Henry and Katherine’s union ended when after 24 years together Henry sought an annulment of their marriage in his quest for a male heir instigating one of the most turbulent periods in British history.

Henry VIII's armour and detail of tonlet decoration

Henry VIIIs armour and detail of tonlet decoration

The suit of armour is decorated with Katherine’s pomegranates and also has a border of intertwined letters H and K for Henry and Katherine. The armour also features scenes from the lives of the royal couple’s patron saints, St George and St Barbara.

Horse armour made for Henry VIII

Horse armour made for Henry VIII

This ornately engraved, gilded and embossed horse armour was a gift to Henry from Emperor Maximilian I, the ornamentation features both her badge, the pomegranate, and Henry’s Tudor Rose. The elaborately decorated suit of armour and this horse armour was partly imported from Flanders and some parts were probably made in Henry’s own armourer’s workshop at Greenwich in 1515.

The Tower of London also houses military uniform and polo kit belonging to Prince Charles, on display in the Power House exhibition in the White Tower.

Blogger: Angela Clare, Researcher

Collections Up Close April

As the well-known Bond theme goes ‘Diamonds Are Forever’. Diamonds have a long history as treasured gemstones and are April’s birthstone. Diamonds are used as engraving tools as they have the highest resistance to scratching of any material known. Some of the Royal Armouries’ more ornate collection items are decorated with diamonds.

Most notably are two guns on display in the Treasures of the Royal Armouries in the White Tower’s 1st floor gallery at the Tower of London. The first is a pistol made in Germany in 1991, a SIG P226, which is decorated with white gold and blue enamel and an astonishing 1,517 diamonds.

SIG P226 decorated with diamonds

SIG P226 decorated with diamonds

The second is a six shot revolver made in American about 1992. It is a Smith & Wesson model 586 and decorated in red gold, red enamel and diamonds. Both guns were decorated by a London jeweller for their owners.

Smith & Wesson 586 decorated in red gold, red enamel and diamonds

Smith & Wesson 586 decorated in red gold, red enamel and diamonds

Blogger: Angela Clare, Researcher