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.

 

 

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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Warrior Treasures: meet Henry Yallop, lead curator of the exhibition

In just a week’s time, 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. Today we hear from Henry Yallop, Lead Curator of the exhibition and Assistant Curator of Edged Weapons at The Royal Armouries.

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

IMG_3519 - FWW YEP Photocall - 110714 - FWW YEP Photocall - 120714We are now very close to opening of our exciting summer exhibition Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold from the Staffordshire Hoard.  The marvellous new exhibition space will bring visitors face to face with one of the most important discoveries of early Anglo-Saxon material culture; which in addition to being hugely important to historians and archaeologists is comprised of exquisitely crafted objects of outstanding beauty.

I truly believe this is going to appeal to a wide range of visitors for a whole host of reasons. If you already have an interest in the early medieval period, or are a regular visitor to our National Collection of Arms & Armour and are interested in historic weapons, then I am sure you are already planning to come.  However, you don’t need to be a military history enthusiast to enjoy this particular exhibition. Those with a passion for jewellery and the decorative arts will be impressed by the craftsmanship and artistic quality of these stunning objects. I am sure many others will be coming to our Leeds site for the first time; drawn by the lure of gold, our interpretation of an Anglo-Saxon mead hall and our varied series of events.  Whatever your interest or age, I urge you not to miss the opportunity view this fascinating part of Britain’s cultural heritage.

If you’re thinking ‘what does Staffordshire Hoard have to do with me?’ I answer with this; the hoard has both national and local relevance. The hoard is from the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia, which at the time of its burial (650-675 AD) was one of the largest and most powerful kingdoms in what later would be known as England.  At various points as its power waxed and waned, Mercia contained large parts of modern day Yorkshire.  In addition, the objects that comprise the hoard came from a variety of sources, both domestic and foreign.

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K328 – Cloisonné bird with garnets, probably from a hilt grip © Birmingham Museums Trust

The hoard’s discovery is not just something that will interest archaeologists but is of universal appeal: unearthing buried treasure of international importance is a story I defy anyone not to be excited by!  The objects themselves really are unique in terms of their number, quality and condition.  You don’t have to be especially interested in swords to be awed by the Hoard.  When considered as standalone art objects each hilt plate, pommel cap or sword pyramid is a breath-taking object, crafted from the finest of materials by the most skilled of hands. Yet these objects fitted together to be beautiful, yet crucial functional parts of weapons of the 7th century AD, which brings an additional level of appreciation to them. Ornate, prized possessions of the elite these objects certain were, but a warrior elite who wore these weapons and used them in war.  Despite the absence of blades in the hoard many of the hilt fittings show signs of use.  These were parts of quite literally cutting edge weapon systems; not simply status symbols for ceremonial use.

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K108 and K699 – Pair of collars from a sword hilt decorated with fine gold filigree wires © Birmingham Museums Trust

The decorative arts, craftsmanship of the highest standard using precious materials often went hand in hand with arms and armour, but can be a forgotten part of the subject. In any period the most masterful of crafts people applied their skills to the creation and adornment of high status arms and armour. Even unadorned swords, due to the materials and complex processes involved in their creation would have been the rare objects owned only by the few; yet the richly decorated weapon fittings of the Staffordshire Hoard speak of the very highest ranks of these warrior elites.

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K1497 – Decorative filigree mount from a sword hilt, probably in the shape of a horse © Birmingham Museums Trust

For me, it is a great privilege to be involved in this project.The Staffordshire Hoard was not only an amazing discovery due to the materials and age of the objects, but also their purpose.  Unusually for a hoard it is mainly comprised of military equipment, specifically hilt fittings from swords. As someone fascinated by the early medieval period, and whose ‘day job’ is as Assistant Curator of Edged Weapons this exhibition presents a special combination. At the Royal Armouries we have 18,000 edged weapons from all periods and places, but of course relatively few survive from the early Anglo-Saxon period. As such, the hoard which contains the parts of over 100 swords, including hitherto unknown forms, is of huge significance to our knowledge of arms and armour of the period and of great interest to the National Museum of Arms & Armour. What has previously been discovered in terms of Anglo-Saxon weapons typically come from grave goods, and the arrival of the Staffordshire Hoard has enabled us to showcase one such group which the Royal Armouries generously has on long term loan from the owners. The Wollaston warrior is a high status warrior grave, which like the Staffordshire Hoard came from the Anglian kingdom of Mercia and is 7th century in date, which will also be available to view in the exhibition space.

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.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Warrior Treasures: Meet Jenni Butterworth, Project Coordinator

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. Here, Programme Coordinator Jenni Butterworth talks about her involvement in the project so far and her favourite elements of the hoard. Discover more at our exhibition conference day, Saturday 11th June, find more details on our micro-site http://warrior-treasures.uk/

IMG_1231I am the Programme Coordinator for the Staffordshire Hoard- I help the two museums that look after it with administration of the collection. I’ve done this job for over three years, but I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with the hoard on and off since it was discovered- I worked on the very first television programme made about it in 2010. It was a real privilege to interview the people who had been involved in the discovery- the farmer and the finder, and the archaeologists who were called in to deal with this extraordinary treasure. For everyone involved, it was a once in a lifetime event- tremendously exciting, but a huge responsibility as well.

I can still remember the very first time I saw the hoard in 2010- it was a few months after it had been discovered, and it was laid out so a number of experts could view it. The objects were still muddy and gathered together in bags and boxes. It was mind-boggling, the sheer number of items as much as the incredible craftsmanship and the gold and garnets. I remember thinking that the hoard was a bit like a comet. There were some fabulous, bright and shining objects at the front- the ones I’d seen pictures of in the newspapers. But there was also a very long ‘tail’- thousands of broken bits and small items that were much less glamorous but just as interesting. I wondered then how it would ever be sorted out!

Today, the ‘tail’ is a lot smaller than it was in 2010- lots of those broken fragments have been reassembled into larger objects- thanks to the amazing work of the conservation team and the archaeologists. The damage to the objects happened before they were buried and the way they are broken gives us vital information about the hoard- so every broken fragment is carefully recorded by the scientists and the conservation team before it is rejoined.

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Xray plate SH_L80a_2013. ©Barbican Research Associates/ Lincolnshire Archives. All the hoard objects have been x-rayed. This plate shows small filigree items, some of which have since been joined to larger objects.

There are still a lot of small objects remaining, and my particular favourites are the rivets, pins and nails. There are quite a lot of objects which still have their pins and nails attached, and you can see them on some of the mounts and pommels in the Warrior Treasures exhibition if you look carefully.

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K16 with pin and mounting tab still attached (2 views)

The way the pins are bent has prevented them from falling out of their housing. Maybe they were bent when the pommel was levered off the sword hilt.

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K16 with pin and mounting tab still attached (2 views)

But there are many gold and silver nails for which we’ll probably never know which object they came from originally- because lots of objects have similar pins, it would be hard to be sure which pin came from which object exactly. Kayleigh has a ‘rivet box’ in which they all reside. I’m not sure she’s as fond of it as I am…

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These tiny pins and rivets really remind me that the objects we have in the hoard only tell us part of the story. Originally, the objects were all attached to other, bigger composite items like swords, and these pins help us understand how they were all fixed together. There are astonishing range of pins of all shapes and sizes, each presumably to do a very specific task.

A selection of pins and nails (x3). The scales show how small some of these objects are.

A gold nail isn’t a very functional object though- gold is so soft that striking it with a hammer wouldn’t work- the craftsmen must have drilled a tiny hole into the bone or horn fitting first to hold the gold nail. We know from scientific analysis that various glues and cement-type fillers were used in the assembly of the objects, so maybe they were used to help hold the pins in place. The pins and nails also show us the attention to detail shown by the smiths who crafted the objects too- many are tiny works of art in themselves. The Saxon craftsmen were lavishing their skills on making the right nails and pins for the objects, just as much as on the fine filigree and garnet decoration.

Staffordshire Hoard - group shot

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 this link https://www.royalarmouries.org/events/events-at-leeds/calendar/2016-06-11/warrior-treasures-conference-1

 

 

 

 

Warrior Treasures: The Grave of the Wollaston Warrior

As part of our blog series surrounding our upcoming exhibition ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’  Claudia Rogers – PhD placement student at the Royal Armouries in Leeds – writes on the grave discoveries of the Wollaston Warrior. Discover more at our exhibition conference day, Saturday 11th June, find more details on our micro-site http://warrior-treasures.uk/

Claudia picThe Wollaston Warrior’s grave was first discovered in 1997 just outside the town of Wollaston in Northamptonshire. Alongside the scarce remains of the warrior himself, this seventh-century Anglo-Saxon grave contained a helmet (at the time, only the fourth Anglo-Saxon helmet to be recovered from England), a sword, knife, three iron buckles, a dress hook, and a copper alloy hanging bowl, with one surviving decorative mount.

During my PhD placement at the Royal Armouires in Leeds, I’ll be helping with the upcoming exhibition ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold from the Staffordshire Hoard’ – a collection of gold and silver military ornaments unearthed by an amateur metal-detectorist in 2009. In this exhibition, the Wollaston Warrior’s grave goods will be displayed alongside the small but stunning objects of the Staffordshire Hoard. Whilst the Warrior’s grave goods may not be as dazzling to the eye, they’re a precious collection of great archaeological and historical importance, and, I think, rather captivating in their own way.

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This is the Warrior’s small knife.

I’ve spent the first part of my placement in the Collections department, undertaking research on the Wollaston grave goods. After receiving object handling training, it was a pleasure to view the objects in stores for the first time. A number of the goods were quite hard to ‘see’, due to the state of their preservation: I was quite reliant on labels on the artefact’s cases when it came to identifying the knife and buckles, which were encapsulated in centuries of natural deposits. The copper alloy hanging bowl (see below) however, was instantly recognisable, with its striking green-blue copper colouring almost glowing. Unfortunately, the bowl (like many of the artefacts) was damaged in the grave before its discovery, most likely due to the shallowness of the grave itself. Although it was sad to see the bowl in various pieces rather than intact, I was amazed that I was handling an artefact that had been buried for over 1300 years – it’s incredible such a delicate object has survived at all.

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This is the largest buckle of the three. Found next to the scabbard, it likely functioned as part of the suspension system for the scabbard.

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This beautiful object is a basal escutcheon, a mount attached to the underside of the bowl for decoration. It originally featured about 24 squares of millefiori, a kind of ornamental glass.

Firgure 4

After viewing the grave goods, I was intrigued to learn more about who the Wollaston Warrior actually was. As the archaeological findings and excavation report established*, his skeletal remains are very fragmentary and poorly preserved, which really limits what we can find out about him. Most likely, though, he was a lightly-built adult who died before he reached the age of 25. Following the examination of his skeletal remains, Wollaston’s mystery man has been resting peacefully in Northamptonshire archaeological stores.

We can also learn more about the Warrior from the grave goods themselves, which indicate that the grave belonged to a male of high status. The hanging bowl, for example, was made from one sheet of bronze, requiring the talents of a highly-skilled craftsman. The bowl would have originally been suspended from three hooks and decorated with escutcheons: these embellishments would have been made of brass or high-tin bronze – rare alloys used sparingly to adorn high-status objects in the early Anglo-Saxon period. This bowl, then, certainly reflects the standing of the Wollaston Warrior, although it remains unclear what uses the bowl had. Historical research into early medieval hanging bowls generally focuses on their Romano-British origins, for which they’re often associated with Christianity and liturgical contexts. How the Anglo-Saxons adopted them for use, though, is still largely uncertain. Accordingly, what the Wollaston Warrior used his hanging bowl for remains a mystery (for the time being).

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The Hanging Bowl: Notice the holes along the rim section here – this is one of the points where the bowl would have been suspended from.

Along with researching the historical context of the Warrior and his grave, I’ve completed a number of different tasks during my time in the Collections department, as well as having the privilege of taking part in planning meetings and other ‘behind the scenes’ things. I found that one of the most challenging jobs was to draft exhibition labels for the hanging bowl, buckles, and dress hook – something completely new to me. Writing object labels definitely encouraged me to think about what’s most important about each of these precious artefacts, but trying to tackle all the key points about the artefact in question – age, production, physical description, state of preservation, purpose… – in less than 60 words made for an exasperating afternoon of word counting and calculations. Yet, despite the maths-related trauma, it was an enjoyable lesson in prioritisation and writing concisely; I hope it’s worth it in the end! I’ve certainly been kept on my toes.

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The next part of my work placement will be with the Interpretation team, focusing on the staging of the ‘Warrior Treasures’ exhibition. I’ll keep you posted with how I get on!

*Ian Meadows, An Anglian Warrior Burial from Wollaston, Northamptonshire (Northampton: Northamptonshire Archaeology & Northamptonshire County Council, 2004 [digital edition 2010])

 

Hall of Steel Cleaning: a ‘Call to Arms’

Written by Andrew Brown, Head of Estates and Facilities at the Royal Armouries in Leeds.

After a number of years the Hall of Steel desperately needed a spring clean. This in itself posed a challenge due to the height and access difficulties to the Hall, in addition to closing down the area and restricting visitor access.

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An external cleaning company Cleanbright Ltd were commissioned to undertake the internal high level areas and our own Facilities staff tackled the outer staircase, all of which was overseen by the Conservation team to ensure protection of the artefacts. Feather dusters proved to be the best tool for the job.

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Technology came to the fore in accessing the high levels through the use of a tracked aerial platform called a spider.

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This remarkable piece of kit could be transported through our main entrance but then unfolded to allow a two man cage to rise up to the highest points of the Hall of Steel. It was an impressive sight. All works were successfully completed ahead of schedule and the hall now noticeably free from dust.

Conservation Live! Siborne’s Waterloo model: Treating a corroded figure

Conservation of Captain William Siborne’s large-scale Waterloo model is nearing completion ahead of the upcoming exhibition Waterloo 1815: The Art of Battle, opening at the Royal Armouries on 22 May 2015.

While most of the lead/tin figures on the model were in excellent condition, it was evident that some had corroded in the past. A small number were actively corroding – a few quite severely. One such figure was a soldier lying in the road. Voluminous, powdery corrosion products could be seen encompassing the figure. At this point it was not clear how much of the figure had survived.

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The first step was to remove the corrosion products mechanically and assess the level of loss.

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Fortunately, the figure was in better condition than expected. Much of the paint had flaked off, the top surface of the body had corroded away and the left foot had been lost completely, but the surviving metal was fairly solid and the figure as a whole was still recognisable.

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As much corrosion as possible was cleared away and the surface was cleaned with alcohol.

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The next step was to consolidate the affected areas by applying a dilute acrylic adhesive in a solvent mixture. This accomplished two things: it lent the figure strength by filling any porous gaps in the metal and it sealed and protected the surface.

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Following consolidation I made a replacement foot for the figure using Milliput epoxy putty. When freshly mixed it was the consistency of modelling clay, but within a few hours it set into a hard, durable fill.

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After the Milliput had set the final step was to touch in the paint. The colour is slightly different than the original – this is intentional so that my touch-up will not be confused with original paint in the future.

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The final result is below. My goal in this treatment was to preserve as much of the original figure as possible, stabilise it and make some cosmetic improvements so that the damage was not readily visible. While the figure is not exactly as it was before it corroded, it is still clearly identifiable and now in a stable condition.

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The newly conserved Siborne model will be a key element of our Art of Battle exhibition, which opens 22nd May.

Cymbeline Storey
Waterloo Model Conservator