About Royal Armouries

The Royal Armouries is the United Kingdom’s national museum of arms and armour, and one of the most important museums of its type in the world. We will be blogging about all aspects of our three museums - our head office in Leeds, our historical home in the White Tower at the Tower of London, and Fort Nelson in Hampshire. Content comes from many contributors throughout the Museum including the Communications, Conservation and Curatorial teams.

Somme 100 – Huddersfield Drill Hall Commemoration

On the 1st July 2016 a commemoration was held by the Lord Lieutenant of West Yorkshire at Huddersfield Drill Hall to honour the Yorkshire Regiments that had been engaged in the Somme Offensive 100 years earlier.

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Somme 100 commemoration

After the presentation of the colours a traditional Drumhead service was held by Canon David Wilkes (Chaplain to the Yorkshire Regiment) and moving letters from the front were read by current members of the Yorkshire Regiment.

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Return of the Colours after the Drumhead Service

The band of the Yorkshire Regiment played the regimental marches and members of the Light Infantry Buglers Association performed a fanfare for the Colours, and later the Last Post. The commemoration ended with a poignant Volley Salute by two soldiers using Lee Enfield Mark III rifles; each shot marking the death of 2,000 soldiers on the Somme.

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Volley Salute using historic Lee Enfield rifles

The First World War Archives Project team from the Royal Armouries museum and partners from Bankfield Museum, Clifton Park Museum, Doncaster Museum and York Army Museum, were invited to present displays of archive material relating to the Somme offensive and to share upcoming events commemorating World War One. Reproductions of Battalion Orders, personal accounts, Battalion War Diaries, Trench Maps, recruiting material and other contemporary items were displayed to give a fuller picture of the ‘Big Push’. The displays and material provoked a great amount of interest, with many attendees sharing their own Somme connections.

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First World War Archives Project Display

Our thanks go to Angela Clare from Bankfield Museum, Lisa Broadest from Clifton Park Museum, Steve Tagg and Victoria Ryves from Doncaster Museum, and Major Graham Green and Hannah Rogers from York Army Museum for their hard work.

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Victoria Ryves with the Doncaster 1914-1918 Display Stand (Photo used courtesy of Doncaster 1914-1918).

New acquisition: the Missaglia Breastplate

On 29th June, at the Thomas Del Mar sale, the Royal Armouries purchased a rare breastplate by a famous family of armourers, the Missaglia family.

208-1The breastplate is stamped with the armourer’s mark of the Missaglia family: a Lombardic ‘M’ under a split cross on the right shoulder. The Missaglia’s were the foremost armourers of the Middle Ages, working from their famous workshop in Milan. This breastplate was made by Giovanni Angelo Missaglia (recorded 1504-1529), a third generation armourer of the Missaglia family. Giovanni was the eldest son and heir of Antonio Missaglia, who himself was the eldest son and heir of Tomasso Missaglia – who first adopted both the Missaglia name and mark.

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This breastplate bears the same armourer’s mark as that on the great bacinet of the Royal Armouries’ Henry VIII Tonlet armour, which Henry wore at the Field of Cloth of Gold tournament in 1520. For the tournament, this great bacinet made by Giovanni Angelo was fitted onto a Greenwich cuirass for the king. Henry VIII had clearly ordered it sometime previously, and retained it in his private armoury. Find out more about this armour in the clip below (1 minute 21 seconds in).

The Missaglia  breastplate is key component of the history, development and use of arms and armour, and compliments many other Missaglia items in our collection – including a kettle hat and visor, a right and left pauldron, a lance rest, a sallet and an upper backplate dating from 15th to the early 16th century.

 

 

Yorkshire Regiments on the Somme: 1 July 1916

“… two years in the making and ten minutes in the destroying.”

The Battle of the Somme was one of the bloodiest encounters of the First World War. It is chiefly remembered for the 57,470 casualties suffered by the British Army on the first day.

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Soldiers go over the top at the Battle of the Somme

The battle, which raged for four and a half months, was fought to relieve pressure on the French forces, who were engaged in the fierce struggle for Verdun, and to reduce by attrition the German army’s ability to fight.

The British Army that fought on the Somme lacked experience. There were only a handful of Regular battalions that had crossed the Channel with the British Expeditionary Force in 1914, and a few more Territorials that had already seen action in 1915. The majority of the troops were volunteers of Kitchener’s New Armies: ordinary men from all walks of life, who were enthusiastic but poorly trained. For many of the men who had volunteered to serve in the ‘Pals’ and ‘Chums’ battalions, it was their first experience of war.

In the 7 days before the battle, the British artillery fired 1,508,652 shells against the first German defensive position. A further 230,000 shells were fired in the hour before the attack, and when the attacking troops rose from their trenches ten huge mines were exploded. The aim was to cut the barbed wire, destroy the trenches and dugouts, and silence the enemy’s gun batteries.

In the south, where the bombardment was effective, the Allies advanced rapidly and captured the villages of Montauban and Mametz. In the north, however, German defences were largely undamaged, and the attacking infantry suffered heavy casualties. Some troops managed to reach their objectives, but others were unable to cross No Man’s Land in the face of heavy machine gun fire.

The volunteers of the New Armies advanced into battle in long, close-formed lines, presenting a perfect target to the German machine gunners. The Yorkshire regiments who took part in the attack on the first day lost 9,000 men killed, wounded and missing, more than any other region in the UK. The worst casualties were suffered by:

Regiment Casualties
10th West Yorkshire (Prince of Wales’ Own) 22 officers, 688 men
8th York and Lancaster 21 officers, 576 men
8th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry 21 officers, 528 men
15th West Yorkshire (Prince of Wales’ Own)

(Leeds Pals)

24 officers, 504 men
16th West Yorkshire (Prince of Wales’ Own)

(1st Barnsley Pals)

22 officers, 493 men
12th York and Lancaster (Sheffield City Battalion) 17 officers, 495 men
1st East Yorkshire 21 officers, 478 men
10th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry 21 officers, 428 men
2nd West Yorkshire (Prince of Wales’ Own)   8 officers, 421 men
9th York and Lancaster 14 officers, 409 men
9th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry 21 officers, 383 men

Over the next few days, a series of smaller attacks developed. The British captured La Boiselle, Contalmaison and Mametz Wood, and a night attack on 13/14 July broke through the second German defensive position at Bazentin. There followed weeks of bitter fighting at Pozieres, High Wood, Delville Wood, Guillemont and Ginchy before the third position was breached.

In mid-September, the Allies resumed their general offensive. Tanks were used for the first time at Flers-Courcelette, but they were few in numbers and mechanically unreliable. Thiepval was finally captured, and in October the British attacked the high ground overlooking Le Transloy and the River Ancre. On 13 November, they launched their last attack across the Ancre. They captured Beaumont-Hamel, but failed to take the village of Serre. When winter brought the offensive to a halt, the Allies had advanced about 6 miles. The British lost 419,634 men, the French 204,253 and the Germans an estimated 415,000.

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A soldier and his horse struggle through the mud at the battle.

To find out more, book a place on our ‘Yorkshire Regiments on the Somme’ study day at the Royal Armouries in Leeds on Saturday 2 July 2016.

Conservation in action: The German 25 cm trench mortar (Minenwerfer ) 1917

In 2004 a former member of the Royal Armouries staff collected this German 25 cm trench mortar from a Farm in Norfolk, where for a number of years it had been exposed to the elements and was in need of some tender loving care.

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On site at Royal Armouries Fort Nelson in Portsmouth, the trench mortar remained in the Artillery Hall, where it continued to suffer from the adverse conditions until Mick Cooper (Fort Nelson Technician)  began the lengthy conservation process last year. Mick jumped at the opportunity to restore the rare object, and was not deterred by its level of degeneration.

On initial inspection, due to the extensive level of corrosion, the mortar had completely seized.  To aid in the dismantling process, a releasing agent was used. The Mortar was dismantled into three main sections: the gun, the chassis and the wheels. PH neutral chemicals and sensitive abrasive cleaning techniques were primarily utilised to remove the corrosion, however due to the extent of the decay, grit blasting was applied to larger areas. The chassis had deteriorated extensively, both the rear end and the middle section were missing. New rear chassis sections were reconstructed out of fiberglass.

The wheels comprised of different sections and materials, including a metal tyre and wheel hub, and wooden spokes and fellies. Once removed from the metal tyre, the wooden spokes were initially rubbed down and put in the freezer for a minimum of one month to kill all bugs and termites.

Mick sourced wood to manufacture the five fellies and two spokes which had rotted and obtained a high level of satisfaction in applying his previously learnt wheelwright carpentry skills into practice.  The metal tyre and wheel hub were fortunately intact. Sensitive abrasive techniques were used to remove any traces of corrosion.

When all areas had been successfully stripped back and restored where appropriate, a zinc phosphate primer and authentic paint was carefully applied to all metal and wood surfaces.conservation5

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Now, fully reconstructed, the 25 cm Minenwerfer looks robust. It is carefully positioned in the Voice of the Guns to prevent future risk of corrosion.

25 cm trench mortar (Minenwerfer )

25 cm trench mortar (Minenwerfer )

 

 

Warrior Treasures: Inspired by the Hoard

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Jemma Churchill as Deb – and Deb Klemperer, New Vic Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent May 2015 ©Joshua Val Martin (Twitter)

At the Royal Armouries in Leeds, visitors can see our new temporary exhibition ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’, running from the 27th May until the 2nd October 2016. In parallel with the exhibition, the museum is running a blog series providing behind the scenes details on how these fascinating items were discovered, conserved, and prepared for the exhibition. In this post, Deb Klemperer, Principal Curator at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent, (with the help of Paul Bailey, Cultural Development Officer, Stoke-on-Trent City Council) talks about how the Staffordshire Hoard has inspired a variety of artistic responses.

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Paul Bailey (centre back), Nick Dodds Chief Operating Officer Cultural Olympiad London 2012 (back left) and artist Katharine Morling (centre front) Image © Jas Sansi, Flickr

Introduction

Since the discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard in July 2009, there has been an outpouring of artistic responses to the fabulously intricate seventh-century gold and silver weapon fittings and Christian regalia. Visitors to the Hoard exhibitions, craft-workers, jewellers, artists, poets, potters, re-enactors, sculptors and playwrights have all felt inspired to produce work, or have gained funding to develop their work. Some of this has happened spontaneously and some in collaboration with the Hoard’s owners, Stoke-on-Trent City Council (SOTCC), The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Birmingham City Council (BCC), and Birmingham Museums Trust.

It has been a really fascinating part of my work over the past seven years to see the many and varied responses to the Hoard. A small sample are highlighted here:

‘Wake the Warrior’  by Naseem Derby

“Wake the Warrior” is a very fine, hollow filigree work stitched from thousands of black threads. The artist adopted the Raven from the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf as her messenger to explore the mythology and culture of the Hoard. Internally lit on a plinth, her Raven symbolises death as a part of life. It is really moving and powerful.

New Vic Theatre Hoard Festival  

In the summer of 2015, the New Vic Theatre in Stoke-on-Trent, led by artistic director Theresa Heskins, and funded by Arts Council England, put on an ambitious programme of plays, playlets and storytelling all based on the Staffordshire Hoard. It was incredible to watch the process from afar– the research, the interviews, the call for playwrights, the rehearsals – which took place over 16 months of feverish activity. Theresa Heskins wrote a documentary play about the Hoard’s discovery, ‘Unearthed’ which was selected as one of the Guardian’s top ten shows of 2015 http://www.newvictheatre.org.uk/2130-2/

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Jemma Churchill as Deb in ‘Unearthed’ © The Sentinel newspaper Stoke-on-Trent

One of the strangest things for me was to attend a launch evening at the New Vic, feel a tap on my shoulder, and turn to a smiling woman who said ‘Hello Deb Klemperer, I’m Deb Klemperer’ (see top photo, taken shortly after our meeting).

Some of my favourite work was to be found in the table plays – very short pieces performed at one’s table in the bar. The actress Suzanne Ahmed, dressed in a red and gold sari, talking emotionally of being torn away from her southern Indian homeland – and then the slow realisation that she was a garnet, describing her journey from a mine or quarry, to being inset into a piece of the Staffordshire Hoard – was really, really good (The Foreigner by Lydia Adetunji).

See http://www.newvichoardfestival.org.uk/12tableplays/

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Images © Andrew Billington from New Vic’s Hoard Festival ‘Unearthed’ and ‘The Gift’

‘Morling and the Hoard’:
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As part of the London 2012 Festival and Cultural Olympiad SOTCC commissioned Katharine Morling, an award-winning ceramic artist, to create a body of work in response to the Staffordshire Hoard. It was a pleasure to spend time with Katharine, and let her hold the treasure, and answer her many enthusiastic questions. Katharine’s large unglazed ceramic pieces explores the mystic world of animal enchantment and the magic and the power embedded in our ancient beliefs. They are displayed near the Hoard, and elsewhere in The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery.

The Last Dragon Hunter:

image8The Last Dragon Hunter’ is a short film commissioned by SOTCC for broadcast in The Potteries Museum & Art gallery’s ‘Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia’ exhibition. Taking inspiration from the Staffordshire Hoard and Saxon myth and legend, the lively film is aimed at children and families. It was brought to life using a mix of live action filmed in the beautiful north Staffordshire countryside and animation by local filmmaker Chris Stone and BigRED Studios. The film tells the mythical story of the Staffordshire Saxon, a  bronze statue by Andy Edwards that stands in the foyer of the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery. It also explores why the hoard may have been buried in antiquity. image9

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Clay, Fire and Gold is a book of poetry commissioned by SOTCC to reflect on the city centre. Staffordshire Poet Laureate Tom Wye wrote 11 poems excerpts from which have been engraved into the city centre pavements. The book will be launched at the Hot Air Stoke-on-Trent Literary Festival at the Emma Bridgewater factory in June 2016. http://www.stokeliteraryfestival.org/

Quotations from ‘The Hoard’ appear in the pavement adjacent to The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery. It is a marvel to me how much this chance find in a Staffordshire field by a metal detectorist  has touched so many lives, inspired so many people:

“Steeped in mystery from beyond the mists.

Buried through years on a scarred field,

Reborn is the Staffordshire Hoard.”

To find out more about the Royal Armouries exhibition ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’ please visit our exhibition microsite http://warrior-treasures.uk/

Images not credited are ©Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

‘Do nothing or go the Full Hog and Build a Replica’

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The Dutch Composite gun sometimes known as a Minion Drake being lowered into the desalination tank.

Fort Nelson Conservator Matthew Hancock is presenting a paper at the triennial Institute of Conservation conference in Birmingham this afternoon.

The paper titled ‘Do nothing or go the Full Hog and build a Replica’, investigates current treatment trends in conservation in line with the conference theme.   The presentation uses one of the Fort’s most interesting and recent acquisitions, the mid 17th century Composite gun, as a case study for this academic presentation. The Composite gun was chosen because a minimum of two different conservation techniques could be utilized to conserve it. Additionally, due to the history associated with the gun, it would be desirable to build a replica for preservation of skills and historic research.

The paper presented by Matthew will look at the conservation treatments options for this gun and the issues arising from managing complex conservation projects.

The presentation identifies the pros and cons behind administrating different conservation treatments, for example why in certain situations building a replica which conserves skills may outweigh moving the gun from storage in a desalination tank  for future generations to enjoy. Frequently a combination of different treatment techniques is utilised as shown below.

canon2This image captures the level of corrosion on the Composite gun. Treatment methods to conserve the intricate design would include washing out the chloride ions; pacifying the corrosion using either a pH neutral chemical or sensitive abrasive treatment. Finally a protective wax would be applied.

The paper briefly discusses the authenticity of the gun and the science combined with historical research used to establish that the gun was in fact genuine. The combination of historical and scientific research is another current treatment trend within conservation.  In this case, forensic XRF (x-ray fluorescence) technology was used to identify the different types of metal that make this gun a composite gun.

To find out more about the Dutch Composite gun, check out Matthew’s previous blog post here: https://blog.royalarmouries.org/2015/07/16/new-to-fort-nelson-a-stunning-composite-drake-gun/

Warrior Treasures: ‘Look beyond the gold!’ meet Chris Fern, Lead Specialist.

IMG_1010At the Royal Armouries in Leeds, visitors can see our new temporary exhibition ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’, running from the 27th May until the 2nd October 2016. In parallel with the exhibition, the museum is running a blog series providing behind the scenes details on how these fascinating items were discovered, conserved, and prepared for the exhibition. In this post,  Anglo-Saxon specialist Chris Fern, lead researcher on the Staffordshire Hoard, encourages to ‘look beyond the gold’ of this Saxon treasures… 

The Staffordshire hoard is an extraordinary treasure of the 7th century, found in 2009, that is providing a new window on England’s early history in a time of forming kingdoms and changing beliefs.  In the period, the eastern half of the country was split into numerous Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, many in regions still recognised today, including East Anglia, Northumbria, Kent and Mercia. These kingdoms fought each other frequently, and also campaigned against British kingdoms in the west. The competition was for territory and resources, but casual raiding for livestock and in pursuit of slaves was probably also commonplace. Above all gold was the prize most desired, and at this period, when coinage was still rare in England, the metal was transformed into beautiful objects. Kings used these treasures to reward loyal warriors, creating bonds of fealty which underpinned political power.

Gold — noblest of metals, bright and incorruptible – is the instantly defining attribute of the hoard. Similarly it is woven through the fabric of the famous Anglo-Saxon poem, Beowulf. Not since the great kingly treasure of Sutton Hoo was discovered in 1939 has a single find so captured the imagination of Anglo-Saxon scholars and the public alike. Each of the finds of the hoard would ordinarily be a rare prize. Yet, the find from a field in Staffordshire makes clear as never before that the warrior ranks of early England were bedecked with golden weapons, transformed by expert artisans into beautiful works of art. The glittering blood-red garnets inlaid on many of the objects were also well suited to the business of the battlefield (Fig. 1).

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Figure 1. Pommel no. 52 (K284, K327) in gold and garnet cloisonné. One end was found torn off. © Birmingham Museums Trust.

Quite literally the ‘devil’ is in the detail. To see this one must look beyond the gold of the objects. By closely examining them, deeper messages are revealed, wrought in the metal. The art of the hoard was not simply decoration, but conceals in many cases creatures and other symbols that relate to the traditional pre-Christian ‘pagan’ and new Christian beliefs of the warriors. In many periods in the past, soldiers have worn or carried symbols of belief, to give divine protection on the battlefield. The objects of the hoard served the armies of kingdoms in a time of great change, with the coming of Christianity to pagan England, that challenged long-held beliefs.  In some cases, sword pommels and other objects bear motifs from both traditions, depictions of battling beasts that relate to paganism, as well as crosses. Pommel no. 52 is one example (Fig. 2). In these cases the individuals who owned the weapons may have been seeking protection from the gods of both faiths. Paganism was not an exclusive doctrinal faith like Christianity and there is one famous account of an Anglo-Saxon ruler setting up altars to pagan ‘devils’ and Christ (Bede HE II.15).

The manufacture of the objects is also incredible to behold, though a magnifying glass is often a necessary aid to appreciating this. The gold wires used in the filigree decoration were handmade to as little as 0.2mm, and each garnet stone was individually shaped. Some of the garnets may have come from as far away as India. We know little of the craftsmen who made the objects. The famous legend of Weland, tells of a smith hamstrung and forced to work on an island by a king. It is possible the smiths who made the hoard objects were also bondsmen in royal service, tasked with creating kingdom styles.

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Figure 2. Pommel no. 52 (K284, K327) showing the combining of religious beliefs. One side has a geometric pattern of rounded and triangular arches, evoking classical architecture, and at the ends are Christian crosses; the other side shows a motif of a pair of embattled beasts, with disembodied bird beaks at the ends, and probably had pagan meaning. © Drawing Chris Fern/Barbican Research Associates.

As the lead specialist working on the collection, it has been my privilege to work on unlocking the secrets of the hundreds of objects, a process that will long continue.

Remember to look beyond the gold!

To find out more about the Royal Armouries exhibition ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’ please visit our exhibition microsite http://warrior-treasures.uk/

Join our Warrior Treasures exhibition conference Saturday 11th June to hear from leading experts in the field, who will explore the many aspects of this remarkable Anglo-Saxon find and explain how it is adding to our understanding of the people that made, used and buried this magnificent hoard. Please see full details and purchase tickets via the Royal Armouries website.

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Warrior Treasures: hear from the blacksmith, Stuart Makin

At the Royal Armouries in Leeds, visitors can see our new temporary exhibition ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’, running from the 27th May until the 2nd October 2016. In parallel with the exhibition, the museum is running a blog series providing behind the scenes details on how these fascinating items were discovered, conserved, and prepared for the exhibition. In this post, we heard from blacksmith and artist Stuart Makin who has made a stunning sculpture inspired by the objects of the Staffordshire Hoard which you can see in the exhibition.

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My name is Stuart Makin, I run a blacksmithing company called Iron Forged Designs in Northamptonshire and I was commissioned to design and make a piece of metalwork inspired by elements from the Staffordshire Hoard. This piece of work is currently being exhibited alongside artefacts from the Hoard in the Royal Armouries exhibition ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’.


I have been a blacksmith for 13 years, both of my parents are engineers, a path I wanted to follow myself, however I was gifted with being quite good with my hands but lacking in the intelligence needed to be an engineer. Blacksmithing presented a balance that was more hand craft than engineering but still contained enough of the latter to convince myself that I was following in my parents’ footsteps. Numerous evening classes, college courses and an apprenticeship later I found myself as an arrogant and talented young man who believed I could do better than any of the employers I had worked for. So I put my money where my mouth was and set up my own business with a fellow blacksmith, Ben Landucci. Running my own business has made me a slightly older and slightly humbler man.

Picture1I am trained as an Artist Blacksmith; I love to combine traditional techniques with more contemporary designs to produce unique pieces of metalwork. However, I have another love, one that has been nurtured since being old enough to pretend sticks were swords and bin lids were shields, history, particularly Anglo-Saxon history. I make historical replicas, researching an original object and trying to reproduce it as accurately as possible, I love the connection it makes between me and an ancient craftsman from hundreds of years ago. The reason this slightly rambling tangent is important is because the commission from the Royal Armouries had enabled me to combine those two facets of my blacksmithing into one sculpture. I have had the opportunity to indulge myself in research of the artefacts from the Staffordshire Hoard (in work time too!!!) and flex the creative muscles to design and create something that pays homage to the skills of the Anglo-Saxon craftsman.

Gold Hoard Images created by BM&AG

K370 – Gold and garnet hilt collar from a seax or single-bladed knife © Birmingham Museums Trust.

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K1084 – Gold and garnet cloisonné bird mount from a hilt © Birmingham Museums Trust.

The objects from the Hoard are so tiny, intricate and beautifully made, however, I decided to produce a large sculpture 2.5 metres tall and the purpose for this sheer size in comparison to the original artefacts is that I wanted to convey the magnitude of importance that the Staffordshire Hoard has on our understanding of Anglo-Saxon warrior culture, history and craftsmanship. My design was influenced by some of the artefacts I found most inspiring from the Staffordshire Hoard. The pieces that stood out to me the most were the seax hilt fittings and the eagle mount. I kept going back to those intertwining beasts on the seax fittings and wondered how I could incorporate something like that in my work.

Picture3It was important to me to try and give a glimpse to viewers of my sculpture the various stages of how the beautiful cloisonné sword fittings would have been made. The central portion of the sculpture acts as a visual pathway drawing the eye upwards from the bottom where the design is engraved to the centre where the design is cut out to demonstrate the cutting of cells ready to have garnets inlaid. The top of the piece has the cells fitted with red transparent Perspex to show the fitting of the garnets. The transparent red Perspex also allows light to pass through making a stained glass window effect and really emphasizing the colour that makes the objects from the Staffordshire Hoard so distinctive.

I feel I have had the opportunity to get as close as possible to the real Anglo-Saxons who made and used these artefacts, even though technology and equipment may have changed (I am blessed with power tools those poor fellows were not) skills and techniques used are still similar. I like to think that the Saxon craftsman would have sat back after finishing his work and have a sense of quiet pride in what he had accomplished in the same way I have done with this sculpture. I hope that my work will help people who come to view the exhibition get that same feeling that I have, that the Anglo-Saxons are not just skeletons to be resigned to glass cases in museums but that they were human beings, some with the talent to produce beautiful warrior treasures.

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The Battle of Jutland: an eyewitness account of the largest sea battle in history

The 31 May/1 June marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland. It was the only major First World War fleet action fought between the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet, and the largest sea battle in history.

Our Archives and Records Manager, Philip Abbot, uncovers some of the details of this important battle through the journals of Gerald Slade, midshipman on HMS Inflexible.

Gerald Slade was born in Hong Kong in 1899, and entered the Royal Naval College, Osborne, Isle of Wight, as a cadet shortly before his thirteenth birthday. After completing his education and training he joined the battlecruiser, HMS Inflexible, as a midshipman on 8 September 1915.

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HMS Inflexible. Source: US Library of Congress. Public Domain.

During the Battle of Jutland he was stationed on the ship’s fighting top high up on the main mast, where he had an excellent view of the action. He left a personal account of his experiences in the form of a journal:

 

May 30th 1916

Proceeded from Scapa Flow ahead of Battle Fleet at 8.15.

May 31st 1916

3.0 PM closed up at action stations.

4.0 PM were given half an hour for tea. Heard that the “Lion” was engaging the enemy. The 5th B.S. Sqn Queen Elizabeth was with them. We were now proceeding at full speed (about 27 kts). It was 3.50 when the “Lion” reported that she was engaging the enemy.

5.29 heard the sound of firing right ahead + a short time later saw numerous gun flashes.

5.40 sighted enemy light cruisers and destroyers. These were all concentrating on the “Chester” + she was having a very hot time of it.

5.55 opened fire on enemy light cruisers + succeeded in sinking at least one. She blew up in a dense cloud of steam.

On the evening of 30 May 1916, the Third Battle Cruiser Squadron under the command of Rear Admiral Hood (flagship HMS Invincible) sailed from Scapa Flow, and steamed south westwards at high speed, followed at intervals by the rest of the British Grand Fleet.

The opening phase of the action was fought between the German battlecruisers under the command of Admiral Hipper (flagship SMS Lutzow) and their British counterparts under Admiral Beatty (flagship HMS Lion), supported by the 5th Battle Ship Squadron, consisting of the Queen Elizabeth class battleships (the most modern and powerful ships in either fleet). Two of the British battlecruisers, HMS Indefatigable and HMS Queen Mary, blew up with heavy loss of life, and a number of the German ships were badly damaged.

Shortly after 4.00 PM, Admiral Jellicoe (flagship HMS Iron Duke), in command of the Grand Fleet, ordered the 3rd Battle Cruiser Squadron to increase speed and join Beatty’s hard-pressed forces. HMS Chester, scouting ahead of the squadron, was engaged by four German light cruisers, and badly damaged. When the battlecruisers opened fire, the German light cruiser, SMS Wiesbaden, was quickly disabled, but despite Slade’s claim she remained afloat.

Additional entries in Slade’s journal describe the battle:

6.0 check fire. A Torpedo passed under our stern.

6.15 we are to starboard in order to avoid a Torpedo which passed about 10 yds away along out port side. We watched it from the Fore Top + could even see the propellers moving. The Torpedo Lieut was afraid that the Gyro would fail + she might turn + bump us.

6.20 openned fire on a Battleship of the “Kaiser” class. We landed one salvo on her fore turret + appeared to have flatenned it out.

6.35 the Grand Fleet openned fire on the enemy. It was a fine sight to see them. They were so formed as to be able to bring every gun to bear. Indom. [HMS Indomitable] and Inflex. [HMS Inflexible] formed astern of the B.C.s.

6.30 the “Invincible” was blown up. She went up in a tremendous cloud of yellow cordite smoke. She broke in half + bows and stern were left floating but I saw no survivors. Apparently a salvo pitched amidships + blew up her P + Q magazine. Huge pieces of steel + iron were falling everywhere but none touched us. We have heard that six were picked up after + I think were all part …

Several torpedos were fired at the British battlecruisers, but they managed to dodge them all. As the main body of the High Seas Fleet under the command of Admiral Scheer (flagship SMS Fredrich der Grosse) were enemy’s observed ahead, Hood ordered his ships to alter course to port, and opened fire at a range of about 8,000 to 9,000 yards. Inflexible’s Gunnery Officer later reported that the first salvo hit the target. The battlecruisers themselves came under heavy fire, and although Inflexible was not hit, Slade later admitted in a letter to his mother that “we had a good many shells bursting pretty close to us & we got a few splinters from one. Invincible was sunk with the loss of all but six of her crew of 1,032 officers and men. The Inflexible had to alter course to avoid the wreckage.

HMS-invincible-being-blown-

HMS Invincible exploding at the Battle of Jutland, 31 May 1916. Source: Fighting at Jutland: The personal experiences of forty five officers and men of the British Fleet, (London: Hutchinson and Co, Ltd, 1921). Image is available online at Internet Archive.

Battlecruisers were large ships designed to scout ahead of the main battle fleet and find the enemy, to protect the battleships from torpedo armed cruisers and destroyers, and to pursue the enemy fleet and use their guns to damage or slow opposing ships. They were armed with heavy guns (similar to those of the battleships) but were forced to compromise protection in favour of speed. The vulnerability of the battlecruisers combined with the practice of storing shells in gun turrets, ammunition hoists and other working areas to increase the rate of fire poor shell resulted in the loss of three battlecruisers at Jutland.

 

The Inflexible and Indomitable formed astern of the Beatty’s ships as the main body of the Grand Fleet finally appeared and engaged the enemy. Jellicoe ordered his squadrons to alter course in an attempt to bring all guns to bear (in a manoeuvre known as Crossing the ‘T’), and the High Seas Fleet was forced to turn away. Outnumbered and outgunned Scheer decided to break off the action.

… of their Fore Top’s crew (52 4 N, 6 6 E).

7.25 opened fire on a flotilla of German destroyers which were probably going to attack with Torpedoes. They were successfully driven off. Light cruisers + destroyers were now ordered to proceed at full speed + attack with Torpedoes.

7.45 a Torpedo passed 150 yds astern.

8.20 opened fire on Enemy Battle Cruisers + a Battleship of the “Kaiser” class. I think we made a few hits but the light was so bad + the mist so thick that it was extremely hard to see any fall of shot. As it was we were only firing at the flashes. We were not firing for very long. But the Indomitable carried on firing at something for about another 10 salvoes.

8.30 check fire. 3 ships appeared to be firing at “Inflexible”.

8.35 a Torpedo missed out bow by about 50 yds.

8.40 there was a violent shock felt under the ship.

8.45 a submarine broke surface? about 100 yds on the starboard beam. She may have been struck by the ship or the ship may have run on some submerged wreckage.

9.30 A/C south.

Was in the Fore Top until 10.15 then on the Bridge…

As the High Seas Fleet headed south at high speed under cover of a smoke screen the German light forces mounted a torpedo attack. The Inflexible had to alter course sharply to avoid being hit, and Slade admitted to his mother that they were “pretty lucky”. The British battlecruisers caught up with their German counterparts at dusk, and opened fire at 6,000 yards.

HMS Inflexible carried eight 12-inch guns mounted in four twin turrets, one forward (A), one aft (X), and two amidships on either side of the ship (P and Q). The guns fired shells weighing 850 pounds at a maximum muzzle velocity of 2,725 feet per second. They could be elevated to an angle of 13.5 degrees, which enabled a maximum range of 18,850 yards. The control of the guns was centralised under the ship’s Gunnery Officer in the Director Tower.

 

HMS_Indomitable

The 12-inch guns on HMS Indomitable. Source: US Library of Congress Bain Collection. Public Domain.

Powerful optical systems (9-foot coincidence range-finding equipment supplied by Barr and Stroud) were used to establish the range and bearing to the target. The results were then fed into a fire-control table (Dreyer table Mark I), a form of mechanical computer, which combined the Inflexible’s and the target’s courses, bearing and speeds, and presented a firing solution. The guns were then trained and elevated on the target, and fired together in a salvo.

 

 

Barr and Stroud Range Finder

9-foot Barr and Stroud Range Finder.

The fall of shot was observed (the shells caused huge splashes) and corrections made in the firing solution until the target was straddled. It was a complicated process, and made more difficult in action by poor visibility, rough seas, the ship’s own violent manouveres, and by the enemy’s fire. The Grand Fleet’s gunnery was much criticised after the battle.

 

… until 12.0. Managed to get 1/12 hours sleep + then closed up at action stations at 2.15 AM.

June 1st

3.15 AM Sighted a Zeppelin on the starboard quarter about 17-18000 yds away. The “Indomitable” fired two rounds of shrapnel at her but they did not burst anywhere near her. She then turned away + very nearly went out of sight but again turned + came towards us. A light cruiser squadron opened fire on her. Most of the shells were short except about two which burst just ahead of her. By the she was going full speed away.

11.45 passed the wreck of a big shop on the starboard side, Name unknown.

2.24 PM Passed a boat of German design marked “V29” (she is on of their latest destroyers).

2-30 – 2.50 passed through a large area of dead bodies (all German I think). Some of them had their part of the watch bade on their shoulders. All had cork life belts on. One lief buoy we passed had the letters S.M.S ____ pn it but a body was lying acorss the name of the ship.

2.45 passed the wreck of the Invincible again + a destroyer was sent to sink it.

3.15 we passed through a large track of oil which was probably from the Invincible + a large amount of wreckage probably from a destroyer.

Jellicoe was unwilling to risk a night action, and ordered his fleet to steer a course that would intercept the High Seas Fleet at dawn. However Scheer altered course during the night to cross the wake of the Grand Fleet, and although the British light forces made a series of torpedo attacks throughout the night, they failed to receive support from the main body. By daylight the High Seas Fleet had escaped.

Both sides claimed victory after the battle, but the result was inconclusive. The Imperial German Navy had hoped to surprise and destroy a portion of the British fleet, but although it inflicted heavier losses in both men and ships, Scheer was forced to withdraw. The Royal Navy had hoped for a decisive battle, but Jellicoe was unable to prevent the enemy from breaking off the engagement, and lost contact with the enemy during the night.

The Inflexible sustained no damage or casualties during the battle, other than a small indentation in the ship’s out skin cause by the collision with the underwater wreckage (Slade’s report of a submarine is not confirmed), and a crack in the right gun of “Q” turret, which had been caused during the gun’s calibration and was enlarged.

Gerald Slade continued to serve aboard the Inflexible until March 1918 when he volunteered for the submarine service. He served in submarines until 1935, when he became the Fleet Photographic Officer in the first the Mediterranean and then with the Home Fleet. He retired in 1944 with the rank of Commander.

Warrior Treasures: meet Dr Sue Brunning of The British Museum

British-Museum-Sue-BrunningThe Royal Armouries ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’ temporary exhibition opens TODAY until the 2nd October 2016. To complement the exhibition, Royal Armouries is running a blog series providing behind the scenes details on how these fascinating items were discovered, conserved, and prepared for the exhibition. In this post Dr Sue Brunning of The British Museum talks about what about the Anglo-Saxons attracted her studies.

Find out more at our exhibition conference day, Saturday 11th June, see details on the Warrior Treasures exhibition website.

When I was growing up, fantasy movies were my thing. Something about these strange worlds of heroes, villains, magic and monsters captivated me – especially when legendary swords were involved. I spent hours in my garden trying to perfect my sword-swirling skills with a gardening cane, imagining I was Red Sonja or She-Ra. So when I went to study History at university, it was inevitable that the Anglo-Saxons would draw me in. Their way of looking at their world, as painted by Bede and Beowulf, echoed my beloved fantasy movies – but it was real! There were heroic kings like Edwin, terrifying warriors like Penda, monsters lurking in fens and – crucially for me – revered, ancient swords that seemed to have characters of their own. While I knew I was viewing these things through the lens of third parties, I grew determined to find out if such swords truly existed, or were just poetic motifs. The seeds of my PhD were sown.

As a way in, I looked for evidence of ancient swords in the Anglo-Saxon archaeological record. I hunted physical signs of wear, repair and modification in the belief that these weapons had probably been around for some time if these changes had taken place. To my excitement, I found plenty of evidence. I saw lots of worn-down sword pommels (the fitting at the end of the hilt), often appearing in patterns that showed the sword’s owner had rested his hand on it when the sword was sheathed at his side. In a couple of cases the wear-patterns were so distinctive that I could make an educated guess as to whether the owner was right (usually) or left (rarely) handed.

Silver Gilt pommel

Silver and gilt pommel

I also found swords that had been modified over time by having fittings added to or removed from them. A few had differently-decorated fittings from different times, making them like visual timelines of their histories. Others had holes drilled into their pommels to attach a curious ring-type fitting. Experts think these rings were given to warriors when they swore an oath of allegiance to their lords. Empty holes on pommels show that some rings were removed later on. Had the sword’s owners broken his oath in some shameful incident? Or was the sword passed on after his death, its new owner not inheriting the same oath?

I felt I was building a picture of swords that could ‘live’ long lives, have many owners and maybe could become famous among those who encountered them. We can’t know for sure if the Anglo-Saxons thought their swords were really ‘alive’, but this long circulation, the building of memories and relationships, is a form of ‘life’. It becomes clearer if we think of our relationships with objects today. Own an object for long enough and it takes on a character of its own. Think of your car – do you talk to it? Do you curse and praise it depending on how it ‘behaves’? Have you given it a name? I’ve done this. When an HGV hit my car several years ago, the most upsetting thing was watching my faithful old friend, crushed and unrecognisable, being raised onto the recovery truck. All those memories, the trips taken together, the scratches and dents, and the stickers I’d put in the windows, were all gone. Black Shuck had done his job by protecting me so that I walked away uninjured, but I was devastated to have lost my companion.

Staffordshire Hoard - group shot

A selection of items of the hoard

I wonder whether the Anglo-Saxons had similar thoughts about their swords. Maybe they took on life because they were precious heirlooms linking owners to beloved ancestors or friends; they became a boast of oaths sworn, allegiances made; they protected you through rough adventures; they were literally attached to your side, proclaiming your standing and success. These ideas make my hairs stand on end when I think about what the torn-off sword fittings in the Staffordshire Hoard might represent. Imagine the owners of those swords, probably losers in battle, watching as their cherished swords were stripped of the fittings they knew so well, that had become worn down by their hand or added to mark some proud occasion. It would be a heart-breaking, demoralising experience. Perhaps the victors knew it would be, and that was why they did it – a way to inflict total and utter conquest upon an enemy: a soul- as well as a bone-crushing defeat.

When we visit the Staffordshire Hoard in the Royal Armouries Warrior Treasures exhibition (opens Friday 27th May), it’s easy to marvel at the craftsmanship of the individual fittings and be dazzled by the glittering precious metals and gemstones. But take a moment to look closer, and you’ll remember that these weapons once belonged to real warriors and carried so much meaning beyond their silver and gold. ‘Living’ swords were not limited to the world of fantasy movies – they existed in the hands of the Anglo-Saxons.

Gold Hoard Images created by BM&AG

K1497 – Decorative filigree mount from a sword hilt, probably in the shape of a horse.

All images © Birmingham Museums Trust unless otherwise indicated.

To find out more about the Royal Armouries upcoming exhibition ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’ please visit our exhibition website http://warrior-treasures.uk/

Join our Warrior Treasures exhibition conference Saturday 11th June to hear from leading experts in the field, who will explore the many aspects of this remarkable Anglo-Saxon find and explain how it is adding to our understanding of the people that made, used and buried this magnificent hoard. Please see full details and purchase tickets viathe Royal Armouries website.