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.

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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.

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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!

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

In Memoriam: Thomas Cross

In Memoriam

In the past, it was common for institutions such as schools, railway companies, post offices and even private businesses to create their own war memorials. They remembered those staff who had fallen in the service of their country.

This year, as part of the Royal Armouries commemoration of the Armistice, we decided to research the history of our own families. We wanted to find out how the lives of our grand-parents and great grand-parents were shaped by the two world wars.

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Arran Cross, Retail Special Projects and Buying Manager, Royal Armouries © Fern Merrills

Arran Cross, Retail Special Projects and Buying Manager

I have always had an interest in military history, particularly the First World War and Second World War.

For this project, I researched what both of my great-grandfathers did during the First World War. The things I found out about Cecil Darling are on display in the Royal Armouries museum at Leeds.

I knew that many of my ancestors had served in both wars and wanted to know more about the medals and battlefield trophies I have inherited.

It was interesting to learn about the battles that both Thomas and Cecil fought in. Reading the war diaries of their units was fascinating. Family stories of how of how badly Thomas was affected by his experiences are explained by the horror of what he experienced at the Somme.

I want my relatives to be remembered because they both have fascinating stories and the battles they fought in across the different theatres played a key part in winning the war.

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Private Thomas Cross © Arran Cross

In Memoriam: Private Thomas Cross

8th (Service) Battalion, Yorks & Lancaster Regiment

Thomas Cross was my great grandfather.

He grew up in Sheffield and was a Hot Roller in a metal strip mill before he joined the Army. Thomas volunteered to join the Sheffield Pals Battalion as a private and served the entirety of his war as part of the 8th Yorks and Lancs.

He saw action at the battle of the Somme, near the village of Ovillers where only 68 of the 680-strong battalion survived. He also saw action at Passchendaele in the battle for Messines and with the Italian resistance effort, fighting on the Asiago Plateau and at the Battle of Vittorio Veneto where he served until the end of the war.

To discover more stories, visit the In Memoriam exhibition at the Leeds museum and at Fort Nelson.

In Memoriam: Lawrence Austen Impey

In Memoriam

In the past, it was common for institutions such as schools, railway companies, post offices and even private businesses to create their own war memorials. They remembered those staff who had fallen in the service of their country.

This year, as part of the Royal Armouries commemoration of the Armistice, we decided to research the history of our own families. We wanted to find out how the lives of our grand-parents and great grand-parents were shaped by the two world wars.

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Edward Impey, Director General and Master of the Armouries © Paul Cockerill. Light Space Photography TM

Edward Impey, Director General and Master of the Armouries

Impeys have always been interested in family history as we have all heard a lot about it. Both my paternal grandparents wrote engaging memoirs, but these are full of tantalising gaps…

This project offered an opportunity to discover some firm facts through access to official documents, while reading around the subject added a lot of context. Lawrence’s First World War experiences were unusual and certainly interesting, but not conventionally distinguished.

In relation to the First World War, I would like Lawrence to be remembered mostly for what he represented rather than for himself. He was a good example of the British young men of the period, particularly in the early part of the war, who were desperate to get to the Front and tried any means to do so, but for whom delusion was so rapidly followed by disillusion.

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Lawrence Austen Impey © Impey Family Archive

In Memoriam: Lawrence Austen Impey

Private in French Army, July 1917;
Second Lieutenant in the Coldstream Guards, from July 1918.
Captain, Coldstream Guards, 1940

Lawrence was my father’s father. He was born in January 1900, the son of an Eton schoolmaster. The year of his birth meant that he served in both wars, though doing very different things.

Lawrence was fourteen at the outbreak of war and so remained at school. In 1917 he heard of a scheme whereby boys of seventeen or over who could drive a car could serve at the front as ambulance drivers . In the teeth of parental resistance, he absconded to France. From July to December 1917 he served as a driver for the British Committee of the Red Cross, a unit which was commanded, paid, fed and clothed by the French Army. Lawrence wrote numerous letters home, many of which survive, but after the war he rarely spoke of his experiences.

His unit of about twenty men – mostly under- or over-age and from all corners of the Empire – lived in the trenches or behind the lines, wherever their work took them. They drove in pairs; Lawrence’s co-driver being an Englishman of his own age called Knight. Their ambulances were Model T Fords. Long overhanging bodies were added to the rear, making room for ten sitting wounded (‘assis’) or five stretcher cases (‘couchés’). Red crosses were painted on the sides and roofs to discourage enemy fire but which ‘served the Germans nicely for target practice’.

The unit transported wounded soldiers from the trenches or front-line dressing stations to the clearing stations behind the lines. They almost always drove at night, without lights and on tracks pitted with enormous shell-holes and busy with other traffic. They suffered regular breakdowns, were frequently under shell fire, and occasionally strafed by ‘boche’ aeroplanes.

The Model T’s crude suspension did little to ease the jolting of the roads, and the cries and agonies of the wounded left a lasting impression. Amidst all this, working 24-hour shifts and more, they often fell asleep at the wheel, and had to take turns to shake each other awake.

In late summer 1917, the unit was sent to Verdun. It participated in the actions at Fort Douaumont, Fort Souville, and the French recapture of Le Mort Homme. Lawrence described the living and fighting conditions as they overran the German positions. He admired the sophistication of the German dug-outs, complete with underground railways, electric light and hospital wards. His main impression, though, was of the attack; hand-to hand fighting in the dark tunnels, with flares, bayonets, clubs and grenades, and its horrific aftermath:

“As we got within 200 yards of it the stench of old blood and dead Germans became unbearable…the clothes and bodies of the dead… were lying each side quite saturated…. and if you slipped off the duck boards …it came over your boots”.

Lawrence and other Englishmen were awarded the Croix de Guerre for their actions at Verdun. The award ceremony was memorable for Lawrence because the French officer, who kissed him on both cheeks, hadn’t shaved. He was later also awarded the Victory Medal, ‘for service as ‘Driver’’ (although the dates covered his whole war service)

Towards the end of 1917, Lawrence fell victim to Phosgene gas. A barrage of gas shells was intermixed with explosives to mask its arrival and delay its detection. This, coupled with inadequate and worn-out gas masks (‘…a wad of absorbent material soaked in some useless chemical’) made the French troops hopelessly vulnerable. The family story relates that Lawrence was left for dead by the roadside, only later attracting attention by faint, unconscious stirrings. Months of recuperation followed, first in French hospitals, and finally in England. Miraculously, he recovered.

Lawrence was then drafted into an Officer Cadet Unit, and on 31 July 1918 was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Coldstream Guards . The Armistice came before he could be posted abroad, and he was demobilised on 30 December, when he took up a place at Oxford.

Between the wars, Lawrence worked as a Director of a mining company and was a County Commissioner for the Scouts.

At the outbreak of the Second World War he was considered too old for active service. In 1940, though, he reported for duty as a 40-year old ex-soldier keen to do something useful. On 4 March1941 he was re-commissioned as Second Lieutenant . He soon became aide-de-camp to Robert Bridgeman, first Director General (1941-44) of the Home Guard (familiar to many as ‘Dad’s Army’). This involved gruelling if often hilarious tours of inspection to all corners of the British Isles.

In his last years, with the onset of dementia, he suffered nightmares, reliving his experiences in the trenches and the hospital he was taken to in 1917. Like many of his generation he felt that the First World War had a bigger impact on the world than the Second, and recognised, if underestimated, the impact on himself and other survivors.

He died in 1989.

To discover more stories, visit the In Memoriam exhibition at the Leeds museum and at Fort Nelson.

In Memoriam: Commemorating our family’s contributions to the First World War

In Memoriam

In the past, it was common for institutions such as schools, railway companies, post offices and even private businesses to create their own war memorials. They remembered those staff who had fallen in the service of their country.

This year, as part of the Royal Armouries commemoration of the Armistice, we decided to research the history of our own families. We wanted to find out how the lives of our grand-parents and great grand-parents were shaped by the two world wars.

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From all walks of life and from all over the country, our relatives fought. Students, mechanics, doctors, bank clerks, textile workers, accountants, publicans, gardeners, lovers of cricket and chess, all found a role to play.

They became ambulance drivers, pipers, commanders, nurses and soldiers. Each of these men, in their own small but significant ways shaped the course of the First World War.

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Some of our research is on display at the Royal Armouries museums at Leeds and Fort Nelson, but not all of our research would fit onto these walls. Over the next few months, we will share this extra research here.

A series of eight posts will focus on an underage ambulance driver, a dispatch cyclist who embodied the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ attitude of the day, a commander in the navy, a member of the Sheffield Pals battalion, a man who joined up with his older brother, a chess lover who finished his training just as the War ended, a private who saw action at the Battle of Paschendale, and another soldier who refused to talk about the amputation of his leg.

Please join us in remembering these men, and many other people like them.

If you have been Inspired By… this exhibition, why not start researching your own family history?

Starting to find out more about your relatives can be challenging. Here are some hints and tips that helped us to research our own family histories.

  1. Write down everything you know.

Jot down everything you can remember about your family. This will remind you of what you know, and reveal the gaps.

  1. Speak to your family.

Family members can be a wealth of knowledge. Watch out for pet names. ‘Uncle Jack’ may have been born ‘Michael John Smith’, and non-relatives may be awarded ‘aunt’ or ‘uncle’ status.

  1. Look for physical clues.

You can uncover a lot by looking through drawers and boxes. Certificates, wills, military service papers, books, photographs and letters can all be really helpful.

  1. Make your family tree.

Start with your name near the bottom, and work upwards through the generations. A family tree will highlight gaps in your knowledge, and help you develop a research plan.

  1. Develop a research strategy.

Make a plan before you start. Don’t just rush straight in!

  1. Start to search for more information.
  • The National Archives has lots of free guides.
  • County archives and local record offices might help if your family are from a particular place.
  • Regimental or corps museums might have information if you had relatives in the armed services.
  • The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website can help locate servicemen who lost their lives.
  • Websites such as Find My Past, Ancestry and Family Search hold transcriptions of censuses and Birth, Marriage and Death records among other useful information.

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

 

Part Three: Private Companies

Written by Philip Abbot  Archives and Records Manager for the Royal Armouries in Leeds.

At least eighteen designs for armour using steel plate, mail and even textiles were manufactured commercially in Britain during the First Word War, and no less than forty patents for helmets and armour were taken out in Britain between 1914 and 1918. It comes as no surprise therefore to learn that Conan Doyle also received letters from a number of private companies who were already producing armour for private purchase.

John Pullman, the retired owner of R. and J. Pullman Limited, leather-dressers of London, Godalming and Woodstock, sent Conan Doyle an improved version of his A1 Shield, which was on sale for 25 shillings at the Army and Navy Stores, Harrods and Selfridges.  Pullman’s shield was made of steel, “Government tested and found proof against shrapnel bullets at 700 feet per second velocity, and enemy service revolver at point-blank, and against bayonet or lance”, and weighed just less than 3 pounds. It provided protection to the chest and abdomen, and consisted of four overlapping steel plates, which were attached to one another by means of canvas webbing, and secured by adjustable straps at the neck and the waist. Each individual plate measured 12 inches by 5 inches, was curved to fit the contours of the body, and riveted to a stout canvas backing. When not being worn it folded up neatly into a canvas or leather case, which could be carried over the shoulder in the same manner as a haversack.

Credit: Royal Armouries. DOY 1-1A Pullman 1 and DOY1-1B Pullman 2.

Conan Doyle also received an example of the Dayfield Body Shield, which was made by the Whitfield Manufacturing Company. The Dayfield was probably the most popular of all of the privately manufactured body armours, and was widely advertised in newspapers and magazines as “an invaluable gift to send to your soldier father, brother, husband, son or friend”, and claimed to be proof against bayonet, sword, lance, spent bullets, shrapnel, shell splinters and grenade fragments.

Dayfield Body Shield Heavy Model 1916

Credit: Royal Armouries. Dayfield Body Shield, Heavy Model, 1916.

Its advertisements and promotional literature certainly carried an impressive number of unsolicited testimonials. One Lieutenant Colonel recalled:

“When wounded on March 17th I consider that the Dayfield saved me from a very ugly wound in the back or right shoulder. I was going along a front line trench when an officer immediately behind me was killed outright and something hit me hard on the right, below the shoulder, knocking me on my knees. Some splinters from a bullet casing got in above the steel plate, causing small wounds.”

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Credit: ROyal Armouries. DOY 1-9B Dayfield 3.

The original version of the Dayfield Body Shield was fairly simple, and consisted of a breastplate and a backplate, each composed of four steel plates, sewn into a canvas waistcoat with metal bands taped over the unprotected seams, but it was quickly modified so that the front plate was extended up to the shoulders and shaped at the neck. It could be purchased as either a single shield to protect the chest only (weighing 3 pounds) for 21 shillings, or a double shield to protect the front and back (weighing 5 pounds 8 ounces) for 52 shillings and 6 pence.

Credit: Royal Armouries. DOY 1-9A Dayfield 1 and 2.

Roneo Limited drew Conan Doyle’s attention to two designs for body shields that they had produced in association with the Miris Steel Company, which were then being tested in the field by 12th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Martin Archer Shee, MP. The first was a breastplate shaped to cover the left side of the body, which was more often exposed by an advancing soldier than the front, and provided protection to the heart and abdomen. The second was a large breastplate with shoulder straps and belt, which covered the whole of the chest. Both shields were made of Miris steel, a 1/3 inch (about 7.5mm) thick, which it was claimed would stop a Mauser rifle bullet at 40 yards, and were padded to help absorb the shock of impact.

DOY 1-8B Miris steel

Credit: Royal Armouries. Miris steel.

Conan Doyle was a keen rifleman, and tested the armour and shields he had been sent in his garden at Crowborough with his own service rifle. His younger sons, Denis and Adrian, were forbidden to come close, when their father was engaged in his experiments, but could hear the sounds of bullets being deflected or thudding into their target. He probably included a summary of the results of his experiments in his letter to Lloyd George on 8 August.

 

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.