Collecting Cultures: M-41A ‘Aliens’ Pulse Rifle

large_di_2015_4935‘I’d like to introduce you to a close personal friend of mine. M-41A pulse-rifle. 10 millimeter, with over and under 30 millimeter…pump-action grenade launcher’.

So Corporal Hicks tells Ellen Ripley in Aliens (1986). In reality, of course, that weapon doesn’t exist yet, and this prop ‘rifle’ disguises a .45 calibre M1 Thompson sub-machine gun with parts from a SPAS-12 shotgun.

Like much of the military equipment in ‘Aliens’, the M-41A was personally designed by director James Cameron. As is usual in the movie world, the job of realising this futuristic but realistic-looking military rifle was passed to prop builders, in this case, British armourer Simon Atherton.

The sleek MP5 sub-machine gun originally chosen by Cameron to serve as the rifle’s base turned out not to have an impressive enough muzzle flash, and so the old World War Two Thompson sub-machine gun was chosen as the basis. To this, he attached parts of two shotguns, the heat-shield and pump grip of the SPAS-12, and on the few examples with a working ‘grenade launcher’, a cut-down Remington 870 shotgun, concealed inside the other parts – our example doesn’t have this. Over the top went a custom housing originally made by a car body manufacturer, and a few custom parts including the wonderfully dramatic ammunition counter, which was only fitted to a few guns. A number of lightweight solid ‘stunt’ guns were also made, no doubt to the relief of the actors as this is a heavy gun.

large_di_2015_4933

Our M-41A also appeared in Alien 3 (1992). After Aliens, all but one Pulse Rifle were disassembled. When the sequel called for two more ours was rebuilt and sprayed black to equip the Weyland-Yutani operatives who appear at the end of the movie. Prior to sale, it was resprayed a more recognisable colour, although the original paint, which we believe is still there under the later coats, was more of a brown colour. Although it has sustained wear and tear over the years, it had a ‘beat up’ appearance even when new, as Cameron asked for the props to be deliberately bashed up in order to look like real military service weapons. This suited his intended aesthetic, a sort of ‘Vietnam in space’, and the tale of military might defeated by the primal horror of the alien.

large_di_2015_4937

Heritage Lottery FundThis object was acquired as part of the Royal Armouries’ Heritage Lottery Fund ‘Collecting Cultures’ project. It’s an ongoing project, but I think this will always be one of our star pieces; I don’t think it gets much more iconic than this. We believe that there are only six of these ‘hero’ props surviving, and ours is the only one in a museum collection. In the coming years, we hope to collect and preserve more examples of movie history alongside the more traditional arms and armour that we’re known for, and of course to display them for our visitors.

Get a closer look at this piece of silver screen history on our Collections Online website where you can see images in deep zoom.

Object of the Month for January: The Ming Sword

To celebrate the Chinese New Year and Spring Festival, and to kick-off our Eastern Warriors: China theme for February half-term, the Ming sword has been chosen as February’s Object of the Month by Natasha Bennett, Acting Curator of Oriental Collections.

The Ming Sword

This sword is one of the greatest treasures in the Oriental Collection at the Royal Armouries. It is heralded as one of the most beautiful, detailed, and intricate examples of ornate metalwork still in existence from the early Ming period. It is particularly precious because armour and weapons from the time of the Ming dynasty (1368 to 1644) rarely survive. The name ‘Ming’ was adopted as a dynastic title because it means ‘bright’ or ‘shining’, and this stunning sword certainly lives up to that association.

large_di_2010_1545

A Sword can mean many things…

Chinese swords tended to fall into two main types; the straight, double-edged jian, and the single-edged dao. By the time of the Ming era, the dao dominated as the practical choice for both military and civilian use, but the more archaic jian retained great significance as a symbolic object. It could be used to demonstrate social and professional rank, respect, power, wealth, favour, and artistic taste. Swords such as this played an important role in courtly culture and diplomacy, helping to forge and even sever links through the processes of gift-giving or intimidation.

This particular sword is clearly a high-status object. The hilt and scabbard are richly ornamented in gold, silver and semi-precious stones. The three-dimensional monster-mask forming the guard is exquisitely worked with its flaming, curling mane and jaws which seem to clamp around the top of the blade. Sinuous, beautifully detailed dragons furl within cartouches on the pommel and scabbard.

At either side of the pommel are the Eight Buddhist Emblems of Good Augury (‘ba jixiang’): the wheel of law, the standard, the treasure jar, the pair of fish, the endless knot, the lotus, the parasol, and the conch shell of victory. The Sanskrit inscription halfway down the scabbard has been translated by specialists in the past as ‘Honorific Sword’ or ‘Precious Sword’; this could be a reference to Buddhist symbolism and the jewels or emblems associated with monarchy.

Picture 667

Picture 667

Tibetan Buddhism had become established in China during the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1279–1367) and became further entrenched during the early Ming period.

Features of the decoration present on the hilt and scabbard are closely aligned with the ornamentation of other iron ritual objects which were commissioned by the early Ming emperors to send as gifts to one or other of the great Tibetan monasteries.

It is therefore highly likely that this sword was produced in the court workshops of the Yongle emperor (1403–24). Moreover, the sword suggests distinct Tibetan influence in its overall form, and the pattern-welded blade is probably a later replacement which seems to be of Tibetan manufacture. It may well have been bestowed on an allied Tibetan ruler to promote diplomatic relations, or presented to a powerful monastery to gain favour. Alternatively, it may have been made for the Yongle emperor himself.

Visit our collection online to discover more about this object.

Behind the scenes at the Leeds museum

Museum Maintenance Week

16 – 22 January

Throughout Maintenance Week, our Museum Maintainers will be doing what they normally do behind closed doors in front of our visitors at the Leeds museum.

Looking after the national collection of arms and armour is a big job and an even bigger responsibility. Many of our objects are extremely important in the history of arms and armour, and though they might not look it, many of them are quite fragile too. We have to make sure that the conditions we keep then in are just right.

This means keeping the galleries and the cases clean and dust free (dust attracts pests, which can cause untold damage to our objects), monitoring the environment carefully so that our many metal objects don’t start to rust, and making sure that our textile objects are kept safe from damaging light levels.

As well as looking after our objects, we also have a responsibility to help people learn and discover more about them. This means making sure that all of our object labels are up to date with current information.

We work hard to make sure that our objects are looked after to the highest standards. Usually this work is done behind the scenes, once our visitors have left for the day, but we wanted to share with everybody the kind of work we do on a day-to-day basis to care for our collection.

All Maintenance Week our Museum Maintainers will be carrying out this important work while the museum is open, and will be on hand to chat to visitors about the work we do. From 16-22 January, all week we will be:

  • Checking that our objects are not being damaged
  • Cleaning inside and outside the cases
  • Making sure our lighting levels are just right
  • Checking and replacing any labels
  • Checking our pest traps

If you see us at work please feel free to ask any questions. We’re easy to spot in our Museum Maintainer T-shirts!

sadie rs blog.jpg

Museum Maintainer (Interpretation Officer) Sadie all ready for Maintenance Week – and #MuseumSelfie day!

A picture that tells a story: Object of the month for November

In this monthly blog series, our collections team will write about their Object of the Month, chosen from our collection. This November, Karen Watts, Senior Curator of European Armour and Philip Abbott, Archives and Records Manager, tell us about a recently purchased picture which tells a fascinating and heroic story.

Visit our collection online to discover more about this object

The marvellous escape from death of Lt. Hugh Kinred and the picture that tells the story

The Royal Armouries has recently purchased a picture that tells a story. It happened a century ago in 1916. The picture contains the front page of the Daily Mirror, an officer’s rank pip and a piece of shattered body armour.

di-2015-4172-rs-blog

Hugh Cowell Kinred, a young clergyman, joined the 14th Glo’sters (‘Bristol Bantams’) as a soldier, not as a chaplain. In 1916, while walking along a trench he saw a bomb come over and drop near seven soldiers who were fast asleep. In his own words:

“In a moment, I saw the danger they were in, and that no time could be lost in picking it up: so I decided to smother it by lying on it. No sooner had I lain on it than it exploded, blowing me from the corner of the trench at an angle of about 30 degrees on to it’s top, and I should doubtless have been killed but for the lucky chance that I was wearing a Whitfield steel waistcoat.”

His heroism was immediately reported:

From the supplement to the London Gazette, 27 July, 1916.

His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to confer the Military Cross on the undermentioned Officers and Warrant Officers, in recognition of their gallantry and devotion to duty in the field: 

Temp. Lt. Hugh Cowell Kinred, 14th Bn. Glouc. R:
“For conspicuous gallantry. When a bomb thrown by the enemy fell at his feet in the trench, he at once threw himself on it, and was blown into the air and much bruised and cut by the explosion, his life being saved by his steel waistcoat. His plucky action saved many casualties.”

He was also promoted to Captain in the field. The body armour saved his life!

Kinred had purchased a Dayfield Body Shield made by the Whitfield Manufacturing Company shortly before the battalion sailed for France in January 1916. The Dayfield was one of the most popular body armour’s, and was widely available from military outfitters and department stores.

It consisted of a breastplate and a backplate, each composed of four steel plates, sewn into a canvas waistcoat, and weighed about five and a half pounds.

The body armour was intended to be proof against spent bullets, shell splinters and grenade fragments, but even its inventors were probably surprised that it had survived such a close encounter. Whitfield made good use of testimonials from satisfied customers in its marketing campaign, and it wasn’t long before they were using Kinred’s story in newspaper adverts all over the country observing, “The Dayfield Body Shield saves officer who threw himself on exploding bomb”.

KinredBlownUp rs blog.jpg

Copyright Unknown – Source: Frenchay Museum

Kinred was a remarkable character who returned to clergy life and had a colourful private life. To find out more about ‘The Amazing Life of the Revd. Hugh Cowell Kinred’, read the article at Winterborne Family History Online.

Visit our collection online to discover more about this object

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s campaign for better armour on the Western Front: Part one

Part One, Conan Doyle’s letters to The Times

Written by Philip Abbott, Archives and Records Manager at the Royal Armouries.

Conan Doyle

Arthur Conan Doyle Collection, Lancelyn Green Bequest, Portsmouth City Council

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is best known as the creator of the great detective Sherlock Holmes, although he received his knighthood not for his contribution to English literature, but for defending Britain’s conduct of the Boer War (1899-1902). When the First World War broke out he was one of a number of famous authors who were secretly recruited by the War Propaganda Bureau to write in support of the Government’s view of the war, and to promote Britain’s interests at home and abroad. However, Conan Doyle also used his fame to campaign on behalf of British soldiers who were “fighting for the freedom of the world”.

In the first half of 1915 the British Army suffered 65,250 casualties during the Second Battle of Ypres (22 April – 25 May), and a further 27,809 in the Second Battle of Artois (9 May – 18 June). Conan Doyle wrote to The Times suggesting that either the generals change their tactics, or the troops be supplied with helmets and armour to reduce the number of casualties. He reminded readers of the Australian outlaw, Ned Kelly, who had used homemade armour to resist arrest, and the numerous instances where a bullet had become lodged in a watch, cigarette case or bible carried in a breast pocket, and so had saved a man’s life. He also proposed that on those occasions where troops were asked to attack a heavily defended positions, large shields made of armour plate and mounted on wheels could be used, linked together in a manner similar to a Roman testudo, to provide a large body of troops with complete protection from enemy fire.

conan doyle Jul 27 1915

Credit: The Times, published 27th July 1915.

Conan Doyle’s received a number of responses to his letter, and after making a summary of the ideas he had received, he forwarded them to the War Office. He eventually received a reply from Ernest Moir, (see below) Comptroller of the Munitions Inventions Department (MID) at the new Ministry of Munitions. Moir explained some of the difficulties of producing bullet proof armour, and the additional burden that infantrymen would have to carry on top of their existing weapons and equipment. However, he was not entirely unsympathetic to Conan Doyle’s concerns, and asked his views on the usefulness of light shrapnel proof armour, which was then “under consideration”. Conan Doyle was evidently willing to engage in an exchange of ideas, but the next letter he received from the MID this time from Colonel Henry Goold Adams was less than cordial. Goold Adams calculated that the weight of armour required to protect a man completely would be 300 pounds, and concluded rather brusquely, “it is obvious that such a weight would be prohibitive”.

Moir 1

Credit: Royal Armouries, Conan Doyle Papers DOY 1/3.

Moir 2

Credit: Royal Armouries, Conan Doyle Papers, DOY 1/3.

A lesser man might have been persuaded to drop the matter, but Conan Doyle’s concern was not entirely impersonal. His wife’s brother, Captain Malcolm Leckie, Royal Army Medical Corps, had died of wounds during the retreat from Mons in 1914; his nephew, Lieutenant Oscar Hornburg, Essex Regiment, was killed on 6 July 1915 when the trench he was sheltering in was struck by a shell, and his brother-in-law, L.W.S. Oldham, Royal Engineers, was shot by a sniper a few days later.

When his son, Kingsley, was seriously wounded twice in the neck by shrapnel, on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, he wrote again to The Times and The Observer reviving his ideas. This letter, seen below, was published one hundred years ago today on the 28th July 1916. Conan Doyle pointed out that the adoption of the steel helmet had already significantly reduced instances of head wounds from shrapnel, and maintained that armour, either in the form of a large heavy plate covering the body from the neck to the thigh, or a smaller plate covering just the heart, would have a similar impact in minimising casualties from rifle and machine gun fire. He further developed his ideas about infantry attacking heavily defended positions, and argued that the assault troops should be equipped with either armour or shields, and armed with grenades and automatic pistols, which they would use to suppress the enemy’s fire; the follow-up wave being armed with rifles to capture the trench.

conan doyle Jul 28 1916

Credit: The Times, published 28th July 1916.

Conan Doyle also wrote personally to David Lloyd George and at the end of July he received a brief letter from the Secretary of State for War, assuring him that, “I am at the moment paying special attention to the subject of Shields”, and adding, “If you have any ideas on this subject I shall be very grateful if you will let me have them, and you may depend upon it that they shall receive careful consideration”.

Lloyd George 0

Credit: Royal Armouries, Conan Doyle Papers, DOY 1/1.

At the beginning of September he received a lengthier response from Lloyd George (see below) informing him that serious efforts were being made to develop armour and assuring Conan Doyle that he would not lose sight of the matter, promising to discuss it with Sir Douglas Haig when he visited France in the next few days. Lloyd George noted that, “strange to say, our great difficulty is to get the soldiers at the Front to take [body armour] into use”, and had to admit that the production of bullet proof armour remained difficult, “without throwing an impossible weight on the soldier”.

Lloyd George 1

Credit: Royal Armouries, Conan Doyle Papers, DOY 1/2.

Lloyd George 2

Credit: Royal Armouries, Conan Doyle Papers, DOY 1/2.

Conan Doyle had one further opportunity to press his case when he was invited to have breakfast with Lloyd George, now Prime Minister, in April 1917. It was an informal affair, and while the premier poured out the tea, he helped himself to bacon and eggs, and then dished up the same for Lloyd George. They discussed a number of subjects, including the use of armour, and as he was leaving Downing Street, Conan Doyle sat down in one of the hall chairs, much to the surprise of the butler, and wrote out a few notes on the subject, which he asked to be delivered to the Prime Minister. It was his last contribution to the campaign he had begun two years previously.

His concern over the heavy casualties being suffered on the Western Front were prompted by Conan Doyle’s humanitarian nature and personal loss, and his ideas on body armour and shields were a thoughtful response to the unusual circumstances brought about by trench warfare. However, the nature of warfare had already begun to change with the appearance of the first tanks on the battlefield at Flers-Courcelette on 15 September 1916. His interest was not forgotten, and in June 1917 he was invited to a secret meeting with Sir Albert Stern, who briefed him on their development. The following year, during a visit to the Front, he witnessed an attack by the Australian and Canadian Divisions, “with the tanks leading the British line, as Boadicea’s chariots did of old.”

 

The arrival of the FH70 at Fort Nelson – another new acquisition!

IMG_2726

Written by Phil Magrath, Curator at Fort Nelson, Portsmouth.

The Royal Armouries collection of artillery was recently enhanced with the addition of a Field Howitzer of 155mm calibre (FH-70). This system was originally a collaborative project between the UK, USA and Germany, all desirous to change older systems, which, in the case of the UK, was the 5.5-inch Medium Gun (also in the collection).

The FH-70 is able to fire NATO standard ammunition including those with extended range base bleed capabilities and rocket assistance and providing a range of up to 30,000 metres (18.6 miles). The detachment was comprised of eight men and the firing rate between 3 and 6 rounds per minute. It was accepted into British service in 1976 and used until 1999. Several countries worldwide still count it amongst their artillery capability. This gift comes courtesy of Hesco Bastion Ltd, a Leeds based company who manufacture modern gabions or collapsible wire mesh containers used for flood control or military fortifications.

IMG_2747

The FH70 will be included in Fort Nelson’s astonishing collection of different artillery and guns ranging across centuries. Over 700 items of artillery from many countries and spanning 600 years are brought to life whilst sensitively telling the unique stories behind them.

FH70FH70 2

Built between 1860 and 1870, Fort Nelson, along with Fort Wallington, Fort Southwick, Fort Widley, and Fort Purbrook were one of the biggest defense projects ever undertaken in Britain, Fort Nelson and the other Portsdown forts were dedicated to provide the fire power to deter an enemy attack on Portsmouth from inland, although it never saw action against the French.

The Royal Armouries Museum was opened in 1984 for the first time, and today is one of the largest artillery museums in the UK.

guns_editedFN aerial 2007 aMain entrance Fort Nelson

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.

208-2

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.

 

 

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.

conservation2

conservation1

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

conservation4

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: Conserving the Staffordshire Hoard

A selection of the Staffordshire Hoard will be shown in Leeds as part of the Royal Armouries ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’ temporary exhibition, running from the 27th May until the 2nd October 2016. The Royal Armouries is therefore 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 Kayleigh Fuller, Staffordshire Hoard Conservator, talks about her work with the collection and the exhibition so far.

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

IMG_0567Myself and Lizzie Miller are objects conservators working on Stage 2 of the Staffordshire Hoard Project in Birmingham. Our job involves facilitating the research aims of the project through stabilisation, re-assembly, documentation and cataloguing of the 4000 fragments of Anglo-Saxon treasure found in 2009. Most recently we have been involved in preparation for the touring exhibition ‘Warrior Treasures’. I will visit in May to install the objects and Lizzie will be talking about the conservation work in Leeds on the 11th June.

I’m really excited about the opening of the Warrior Treasures tour in Leeds. First of all because the Staffordshire Hoard Project team have put a lot of work into this touring exhibition, and it shows some of the most stunning and unusual sword adornments we have been reassembling over the last year. Secondly, being from the North, it gives my close friends and family the opportunity to travel and see some of the incredible objects I have been lucky enough to work on.

Horse mount

Decorative filigree mount from a sword hilt, probably in the shape of a horse, which is included in the Warriors Treasures exhibition.

Throughout my time working on the Hoard, we get to look at the objects and fragments under a greater magnification and through this are able to see the objects in a completely different light. It is very likely that you will see the promotional images for the exhibition and then be astounded at the true size of the objects in reality. I feel that one of my personal favourite items, a horse mount, demonstrates the extreme skill in the craftsmanship of these items. If you look at the magnified image above, a scroll is around 1mm in width and 2mm in length. Each of these scrolls are perfectly curled and made from individually beaded wire.

This year we have been reassembling some complexly designed objects from a mixed array of fragments. The below object is one of three rare pommels with two sword rings attached to either side (http://www.staffordshirehoard.org.uk/three-very-special-pommels). Two of these items are in the Warrior Treasures exhibition.

Initial selection of fragments for the pommel

Initial selection of fragments for the pommel.

Fragments lined up, ready to be joined

Fragments lined up, ready to be joined.

As we have progressed in the task of reassembling the fragments, the objects have developed over time with us. This cast silver-gilded pommel is a prime example of this and shows the unique benefit of close working relationships between the conservators and the archaeological finds expert throughout the execution of the work.

Organic material inside on the right

Organic material inside on the right

The pommel also has some hidden organic material inside the sword rings which we have ensured is stable and preserved in situ, before fully assembling by mounting. See if you can spot it in the exhibition. This is the only item to have a rock crystal as part of its design.

Silver Gilt  pommel

Silver and gilt pommel.

Another of my favourite pommel caps in the exhibition is the garnet cloisonné one below. If you look at each side in turn, you can see a noticeable different in the stylistic design on either side. One with a geometric arranged pattern and, the other with zoomorphic designs and a curled leaf either side. This makes me think that these items are truly bespoke to the Anglo-Saxon warrior that wielded them.

Geometric design on the back of the pommel

Geometric design on the back of the pommel.

Although initially it might seem counter-productive, one of the most brilliant things about the Staffordshire Hoard is that the objects have been ruthlessly damaged when they were removed from their original mounts. This has enabled us to carry out a thorough and intensive program of research to understand more about the craft techniques and materials used by the mystery Metalsmith’s of the period.

Two-fragments-with-the-brea

Two fragments with the break where you can see the construction of the cloisonné cells.

The object above was originally in two fragments before re-assembly. Thorough documentation of every fragment within the Hoard has enabled us to keep a clear record of important details before assembling the final object.
These objects are overall helping to expand our understanding of the Anglo-Saxon period and the society which lived during that time. The exhibition is well worth a visit, whether it is to learn more about Anglo-Saxon warriors, the incredible craft skills and technology of the period or even just to view some incredibly beautiful objects from this unique and astounding archaeological discovery.

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 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.

“Sent under plain wrapper – Killer Chrysanthemum included”

Behind the scenes as the Royal Armouries at the Tower prepare for Christmas, by keeper of Tower Armouries Bridget Clifford.

‘Tis the season when Santa’s little elves are packing as if their lives depended on it – and museum curators are not immune from the bug.  In the Royal Armouries case, the jewel that is the ‘Battle of Agincourt‘ exhibition will close on 31st January 2016 and the unique assemblage of objects, archive material and books will depart back to their parent organisations never to meet again. In October a new interactive gallery will re -occupy the vacated space, but in the interim the Tower Armouries has a chance to display some of its more quirky pieces which usually lurk in the furthermost corners of its reserve collections and rarely see the light of day.

As the oldest visitor attraction in the world and heir to the Office of Ordnance stores and traditions, the Royal Armouries has collected a wealth of curious objects through the centuries. Unfortunately rather than telling a joined up story, more often than not they present a patchwork quilt of Ordnance history and interests. One gets the distinct impression that some objects found a home in these stores because no one else knew quite what to do with them.

IMG_2657_edited

A relic of an 18th century naval disaster

The sinking of the Royal George in 1782 while undergoing routine maintenance cost over 800 lives.

Exhibitions do not display themselves – a lot of behind the scenes work has to go on before the public are invited to view. Currently we are unable to make mounts on site at the Tower, so the objects have got to go to the museum in Leeds to be fitted up for their mounts with both then returning to the Tower. This has posed quite a prickly problem for the curators on site, as everything has to be packed securely – both for their own  and everyone else’s safety.  Despite our best hopes, the blue fairy failed to materialise and magic it all done, so we found ourselves cast in the role of Santa’s helpers.

I must say, the wrapping paper left something to be desired – very plain and a bit bobbly –and much ingenuity was required to render some of the pieces travelling North less lethal.  My favourite was the Killer Chrysanthemum – a vaguely floral number constructed from the tips of old socket-bayonet blades.  No matter how much packing we arranged around this deadly bloom, we still managed to find a spike.

IMG_2651_edited

Cactus – nothing compared to the killer chrysanthemum!

IMG_2665_edited

…and under wraps

Meanwhile, Tower curator Malcolm Mercer turned out to be a dab hand with masking tape, securing errant tissue snakes before they uncoiled and slid off the objects they were supposed to be protecting.  His dexterity with the gibbet – a two- parter with decided wriggle – will be the talk of the Tower for some time to come.

The gibbet before – with supporting elf lurking…

…and after – tamed and now with over excited elf to one side.

IMG_2663_edited

We are also very proud of the swine’s feathers also known as brandistocks – transformed from a mid-17th  Century spikey number into  a workmanlike (and blunt) paddle through the magic of bubble wrap and tissue, with a stiffener of plastazote.  What the colonists of Virginia made of these strange 3-pronged staff weapons when 1,500 of “the best swynnes ffeathers” were produced by the Board of Ordnance from stores in October 1676 to equip the military expedition sent there is not recorded, but this is probably their the last military issue.  They remained among the stores in America “left att Virginia as a standing Trayn & Magazine and nott to be returned againe for England” and one wonders if they were put to a more domestic use and helped foster local enthusiasm for spit-roast barbeques? (For more information on this episode of American history, see Geoffrey Parnell’s article “The Artillery Train Sent to Virginia in 1676” in Man at Arms  (vol 17, no 2)March/ April 1995 pp 10-17).

IMG_2645_edited

Suprise! A cages and unleashed swim’es feather. (You’ll just have to imagine the paddle transformation – no photographs available)

Finally everything was packed, and the majority of items cocooned in a flight case for their trip.  Certainly a Christmas delivery with a difference, and Malcolm and I will find present wrapping 2015  a doddle in comparison.

IMG_2666_edited

A Christmas hamper with attitude!