The Diary of Private Holden: Part Two – The Remount Depot (24th May – 1st July 1915)

As part of the museums’ ongoing First World War Archives Project, we have been looking into the fascinating diary of Private Wilfred Holden In our last post, Holden described the journey to France and has now crossed the channel.

Now arriving at Rouen, the soldiers faced a 4 mile hike to Base Depot Number 5 where Private Holden was to stay for nearly 6 Weeks. The base at Rouen consisted of different camps, largely firing Infantry, and was the primary hospital centre for the British Expeditionary Forces, in addition to housing the Cavalry Remount Depot. Private Holden describes it:

“like a big canvas city, & the distance round it, would be somewhere about, six miles, so you can form from that the amount of space taken, & very little space was wasted. In our camp alone we had over 50 stables, each one having over a hundred stalls, & about half a dozen lines, & at times these had over a hundred horses on each one”

Example of a British Army Camp ©Duke of Wellington’s Regimental Archive/ Royal Armouries FWWA

Though entranced by the appearance of the ‘canvas city’, the reality of accommodation at the base seems to have left something to be desired.

“The first few weeks, we had three tents between us, but we did not have them long, & we had two between twenty of us, it was so hot …. .after that we spent most of our nights outside, with the stars for a roof. Wet nights we looked for an empty tent.”

During the day the soldiers worked at the Remount Depot. Private Holden describes a typical day:

  • 6 am               Fall in and report to designated stable to groom and take to                                        water about one hundred horses per man
  • 7:30 am          Breakfast
  • 8:30 am          Back to the stables to groom and exercise the horses
  • 12 Noon         Rest period
  • 2:00 pm          (if on Cavalry Depot duty) Saddle horses ready to move out
  • 4:00 pm          Grooming, watering and feeding the horses
  • 6:00 pm          Released from duty

Evenings at the base were typically spent in the YMCA hut writing, playing cards or watching one of the nightly concerts or performances. Private Holden was lucky enough to be at the base when it hosted one of Lena Ashwell’s famous Concert Parties. Lena Ashwell was an actress and theatre manager who organised concert parties for troops as far afield as Egypt during the war, receiving an OBE for her work in 1917.

Interior of a YMCA hut at Rouen © IWM (Q5457)

Interior of a YMCA hut at Rouen © IWM (Q5457)

When not attending camp entertainments soldiers could request a pass to go into Rouen during their free time. Private Holden seems to have been very taken with the city, describing its churches, roads and cafes, and even going as far as to comment:

“I must say that most of their public buildings are much better looking than ours in England, the churches, were all very pretty buildings, the carving being the chief thing”

On 25th June, after 5 weeks at the base, Private Holden and 12 others were warned to prepare to travel to the front, and on 1st July they finally moved out.

“this time we were on the last stage of the road to the fighting line, we again left friends”

The Diary of Private Holden: Part One, a journey to France

As part of the museums’ ongoing First World War Archives Project, we have been looking into the fascinating diary of Private Wilfred Holden

Unlike those who joined the army to become career soldiers, Private Holden was part of the Special Cavalry Reserve. Volunteers or conscripts who enlisted after the start of the war served with the reserve regiments in England, undergoing basic training before being sent overseas to supply drafts to their affiliated regiments.

Though it has not been possible to locate him in the surviving WW1 records, Private Holden most likely belonged to the 4th Reserve Regiment, based at Tidworth, which was the regiment that supplied drafts to the 7th Dragoon Guards until 1917.

Private Holden does not seem to have taken naturally to soldiering and his diary has few place names or dates and very little mention of enemy action. It does however give a wonderful picture of his everyday worries and wishes and the various mishaps that befell him.

The Journey out (22-23 May 1915)

 “It was on May the 20th, when, along with ten more men, I was warned for France, but it was not until two days later, that we were told the day for leaving. On the evening of the 22nd we got orders to parade at 8 A.M the following morning, when, I should say, about forty eight men & two NCO’s turned out, we marched down to the station, but unlike all other drafts we had no band, at the time they were on leave. At the station we were given a good send off, by our own men & also the 9th Lancers and the 18th Hussars, they were also sending men away and we were all on the same train, & we steamed out of Tidworth station, which to most people, was a thing to be remembered, the two bands of the 9th and the 18th were playing , & the chaps wishing us all good luck, & a few wondering if they would ever see their chums again, then all was left behind and the future talked about”

Cavalry Troops at southampton docks

P.269/2 Cavalry Troops at Southampton Docks ©Southampton Archives


Arriving at Southampton Docks, Private Holden had to wait for the troop ship to be prepared for embarkation and spent his time watching the boats come in.

“During the time we were waiting for the order to fall in, we saw a few hospital ships come in dock, then the question how long should we be out before we should stop one, as it is called. About 4:30 we got the welcome order fall in, then we marched on the boat, the name I have forgotten, it was some Irish name, & was an old cargo boat, & was fitted up for cattle, we all marched on, & three hundred horses were taken on. At 5:30 the boat steamed out, but, unlike the pictures of a ‘departure of a troopship’, all was quiet, no cheering and goodbyes. No one was on the dock, only workmen, & a few soldiers, & many looked longingly at old England’s shores as we went slowly down the channel”

Private Holden Diary Entry

Newsreel films of the departures of troop ships from Britain and Overseas were common during the early years of the war and presumably it is one such film that Private Holden refers to within his diary. Examples of such films can be viewed in the British Pathé online Archive, including this film of Russian Relief troops departing from London.

Many of the ships used to carry British and colonial troops during the war had been requisitioned and were fitted up as best they could be for the process of carrying large numbers of men and horses across the sea. Horses were often winched onto the ships and confined in small quarters for the voyage, with many dying from disease and injury.

Even the short journey across the channel was dangerous for both man and beast, with submarines targeting the troop ships. Only a month after Private Holden’s voyage, in June 1915 the SS Armenian was torpedoed off the British coastline and 1,400 mules and horses were left to perish while the remaining men abandoned ship.

Conditions on the troop ship were cramped and most of the soldiers took the welcome chance to sleep while they could but Private Holden stayed on deck watching the sunset.

 Seasick Soldiers on SS Euripides  ©Sea Power Centre, Australia

Seasick Soldiers on SS Euripides ©Sea Power Centre, Australia

I smile often when I think of the crowd, & picking your way over them was a very difficult task, for with the swaying of the boat, & the different positions of the men, you had a hard task, & more than one man had a rude awakening, through someone falling on the top of him.”

Seasick Soldiers on SS Euripides  ©Sea Power Centre, Australia

Passing Le Havre signalled the completion of the channel crossing and the ship turned to sail down the river towards Rouen.

“We passed several villages on the river side, some of the people seemed to be just getting out of bed, but the noise made on the boat, was enough to awake the dead, & before we reach Rouen, half the chaps could not shout, the people cheered us all the way down, but when nearing Rouen, we had to cease shouting, to give the sailors a chance to hear the orders given from the bridge.”


Marking 70 years since VE Day – The Big Guns of WWII: 25 pounder self-propelled gun

To mark the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe day, our Portsmouth site Fort Nelson will be firing the impressive 25 pounder self-propelled gun at 1pm and 3pm today. Also known as the Sexton, the gun was developed to support rapidly advancing forces in later stages of World War Two. The gun will be fired at at 1pm and 3pm today.

The 25 pounder self-propelled gun pictured on the Parade at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson ©Royal Armouries

The 25 pounder self-propelled gun pictured on the Parade at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson ©Royal Armouries

The Royal Artillery experimented with a number of designs in their attempted to improve the mobility of artillery. Self-propelled guns on tracked mountings gave much better cross-country mobility. The ‘Flanders Mud’ of the First World War made it difficult and sometimes impossible to move heavy guns. Early tanks showed the way forward, leading to the gradual introduction of self-propelled guns [SPGs]. The towed 25 pr gun, examples of which can be seen on display in the Voice of the Guns gallery and the Artillery Hall, required a towing vehicle and limber and had limited off-road ability.

Early prototypes included the ‘Bishop’, combining a mounted 25 pounder quick firing gun to chassis of a Valentine tank. The Royal Artillery also used the American M7 self-propelled 105 mm which was known as the ‘Priest’, as its gun mounting resembled a pulpit. However, the British needed a self-propelled gun which incorporated the 25 pounder.

The answer, which came to be known as the Sexton, was created by adapting a Canadian Kangaroo chassis, based on the M3 American tank, to carry a 25 pounder field gun. Manufactured at the Montreal Locomotive Works in Canada, over 2150 Sextons were produced between 1943 and 1945.

The 25 pounder self-propelled gun on display in the Artillery Hall at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson ©Royal Armouries.

The 25 pounder self-propelled gun on display in the Artillery Hall at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson ©Royal Armouries.

This example on display at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson is painted in the colours of the 90th City of London Yeomanry, which landed in Normandy on D–Day, 6 June 1944. On the final run into the beaches they fired their guns from the landing craft in support of the troops already ashore. This example was transferred to Portugal after the Second World War and reimported in the 1980s and  has been restored to running order

See the mighty 25 pounder self-propelled gun fired at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson on Friday 8th May to commemorate the 70th anniversary of VE Day. Firings take place on the Parade at 1 pm and 3 pm.

In conversation with: Strong Voices


‘Light Fever’ is a powerful new photographic exhibition showcasing the innovative and inspiring work of local teenagers, currently open at Royal Armouries Museum at Fort Nelson, in partnership with Artswork, Butterfly FX, and Portsmouth Autism Support Network.

With the exhibition coming to a close this Saturday 21 February, we asked Strong Voices member Jack Halsall to share his experiences of creating the exhibition.


© ButterflyFX


How did you become involved in the project?

I was part of the group of teenagers who did the Bronze Arts Award with Strong Voices. That was about The Lost World and we did a lot of it in the City Museum. I really enjoyed that and wanted to be part of the Silver Arts Award at Fort Nelson.

What was your favourite picture you created for the show and how did you do it?

The Creeper. I like the way it is coming towards the viewer. I’m really pleased with the way that it worked out. I did it using stencils, which was quite tricky and a lot of work so I’m glad it was worth it.

‘The Creeper’. © ButterflyFX


There are lots of different styles of light graffiti in the different pictures, did you need to use different techniques to get these effects?

Yes, for some of the pictures we used stencils, and for others outlining objects and freestyle, which was basically just throwing lights around and seeing what they looked like afterwards.

Which technique did you most enjoy doing and do you think it was the most effective?

The most fun was freestyle. Stencils were the trickiest to do, but if they were done correctly they were the most effective.

aoa wheel on fire

© ButterflyFX

dragon breathe

© ButterflyFX


When people who don’t know a lot about digital art, look at the final images, we don’t really understand how much work has gone into it at the editing stage. Tell me about what happens between the camera and the finished project.

I’d like to use the image of the skull as an example. We took lots of photos of the skull with different lights (some red, some green, some white) and then we merged them together when we were editing and it was really effective. I enjoy using Photoshop to edit and enhance images.


© ButterflyFX


Has working on this project changed your opinion of museums? If so, how?

I’ve always liked visiting museums but this gave me a whole new view of museums because I realised that there could be lots of places that I don’t normally get to see. It was really interesting to be in the museum after it was closed and the tunnels were all dark. The tunnels were epic places to do light graffiti. Not only were they really dark but also they were full of atmosphere and the feeling of being very old. We had a lot of fun things stored at Fort Nelson. We used the old skull to produce a brilliant piece of artwork. We also used swords and armour. My favourite one was when it looked as though electric was coming out of the sword.

How did you feel when you saw the final exhibition?

I was impressed by how good it looked. For the first time I could see it as a professional exhibition. I feel very proud of it and so were the other people who were putting it up.

light fever install image

© ButterflyFX


Light Fever is part of the ARTSWORK (hyperlink to artswork website) Strong Voices programme; a two year national programme funded by the Department for Education through their Voluntary and Community Sector prospectus. Strong Voices seeks to increase the numbers of young people accessing the resources offered by England’s Major partner Museums and National Portfolio Organisations.

In Love and War

In honour of this Saint Valentine’s Day, we’ve put together a special ‘loved up’ post from the Royal Armouries. We’ve chosen to highlight two special romantic items of our collection; the amorous armour of Henry VIII, currently at the Tower of London, and the heartfelt gifts of World War One soldiers at Fort Nelson.

Intertwined initials decorate the armour

love token 2

Amorous Armour

Did you know that Henry VIII declared by Royal Charter that all of England would celebrate February 14th specifically as “Saint Valentine’s Day”? In honour of this, we thought we should discuss his most amorous armour, which was made about 1515. Throughout its decoration there are constant symbolic representations of his happy marriage to Katherine of Aragon, who had been his Queen for 6 years (married 1509).


All-over the armour’s decorations are beautiful flowering Tudor roses and pomegranates of Aragon, to illustrate this happy union (for now anyway!) The wings of the poleyns (knee protection) bear the sheaf of arrows badge of Ferdinand II of Aragon, as well as the combined Tudor rose and Katherine’s pomegranate badge, while the toecaps of the sabatons have the castle badge of Castile and the Tudor portcullis.


Most noticeable is the decoration around the base of the Tonlet (skirt), where the initials of H and K are joined by true lovers’ knots in copper alloy.

di-2010-1309-1024x928This romantic representation of Henry and Katherine is continued on the accompanying horse armour.  At the rear of the crupper (back/rear protection) the initials H and K, with a rose, are supported by putti (cherubim’s). The side panels (flanchards) are decorated with winged mermen, holding shields with combined rose and pomegranate badges – flanked by portcullis and sheaf of arrows badges for the King and his Queen. The lower border of the horse armour (bard) is decorated with the King’s motto DIEU ET MON DROIT, interspersed with even more roses and pomegranates, just in case.

For more information about the armour and bard, take a look at this link:

Gifts from the Front

Donated to the Royal Armouries by local resident Mrs Shelia Borer, these heart shaped cushions show us a ‘softer side’ of the First World War.

love token 2

Heart shaped cushions dating from the First World War, donated to the Royal Armouries by local resident Mrs Shelia Borer

These Romantic heart shaped cushions were sent to the wives of two soldiers serving in France during the First World War. They were perhaps intended as love tokens for Valentine’s Day.

The velvet and silk cushions were most likely purchased in France by Frederik Branson of the Royal Artillery and Everett Freeman of the Oxford Light Infantry. They would then have personalised them and sent them home to their loved ones.

portrait image

Frederick Branson RA of the Royal Artillery

One has the Royal Artillery crest whilst the other has that of the Oxford Light Infantry. The latter has a poignant poem that reads:

“Think of me

When the Golden sun is shining

And your mind is care set free

When of others you are thinking

Will you some time

Think of me.”

close up of love token

Credits Phil Magrath



The Royal Armouries Leather In Warfare Conference

Recently the Royal Armouries played host to a wealth of knowledge and passion as we, in partnership with the Archaeological Leather Group, held the Leather in Warfare conference here in Leeds. We were fortunate to hear from a wide variety of fantastic speakers, each providing delegates with a fascinating new perspective on leather and its uses on the battlefield and in arms and armour.

IMG_4597- Leather - Yvette Fletcher - 141114

Yvette Fletcher, Head of Conservation, Leather Conservation Centre.

IMG_4557- Leather - David Nicolle - 141114

Dr David Nicolle, Honorary Research Fellow, Institute for Medieval Research, Nottingham University.

IMG_4548- Leather - Nicolas Baptiste - 141114

Nicholas P. Baptiste, Archivist-Curator Morges Castle (Swi), Doct-Researcher, University of Savoy (Fr).

Attendees were treated to a range of presentations on subjects as diverse as Roman army tents and mamaluk armour. Royal Armouries Emeritus Curator, Ian Bottomley, enthused the audience with his paper on Japanese leatherwork, and Helen Adams’ porcupine fish helmet from the Pitt Rivers museum also caused much excitement. Other Royal Armouries speakers included Senior Curator of Armour Karen Watts, Conservation Manager Suzanne Kitto, Assistant Curator of Edged Weapons Henry Yallop, and Assistant Curator of Armour Keith Dowen. Dr Thom Richardson, Deputy Master of the Royal Armouries, chaired the conference as well as providing his own paper.


Japanese leather items presented by Royal Armouries Emeritus Curator, Ian Bottomley.

IMG_4494- Leather - Thom Richardson - 131114

Deputy Master of the Royal Armouries Thom Richardson.

porcupine fish helmet

Helen Adams, Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, presenting on Ethnographic examples of animal skin armour – with a porcupine fish helmet pictured.

Debate arose on the final day of the conference when Barbara Wills, senior curator at the British Museum (department of Conservation and Scientific research) presented her project on crocodile skin ‘armour’ from Egypt.

crocodile armour

Barbara Wills, Senior Conservator, British Museum Department of Conservation and Scientific Research – presenting her crocodile skin armour project.

Fellow speaker Carol van Driel-Murray questioned whether this discovery was indeed armour at all, and if it were purely intended for ceremonial use should we not avoid describing it as such altogether? However it was also argued whether this armour was representing specific Egyptian religious beliefs through symbolising Sobek – the crocodile warrior god who signifies strength and power. Was this therefore an example of ‘costume armour’ and therefore should be called such? Was this a complex ceremonial layering of a human, dressing as crocodile, dressing as a solider? No doubt this isn’t the last we will hear of this fascinating project!

Leather - Carol van Driel-Murray- 141114

Carol van Driel-Murray, University of Leiden, presenting on Roman Military leatherwork.

IMG_4581- Leather - Barbara Wills - 141114

Barbara Wills, British Museum.

The event was organised by Curatorial Manager Alison Watson, who commented, “it was fantastic to work with the Archaeological Leather Group to produce such a successful conference and we look forward to working with them on the proceedings, due out 2015.”

A study day commemorating the Battle of Waterloo is currently proposed at the Royal Armouries for spring 2015, and Armouries staff will be speaking at a number of conferences throughout the upcoming months, for more information please contact For more images from the Leather in Warfare conference, please visit our Facebook and Twitter pages.

Curator @ War: The Curator Goes to War – an everyday story of museum ffoulkes.

Keeper of the Tower Armouries, Bridget Clifford, continues her posts on Charles John Ffoulkes, who was Curator of the Armouries from 1913-1938 – during which he took part in the World War I civil defence of London, completed the first and last complete modern printed catalogue of the Tower collection, and created a museum infrastructure within The Tower. After his retirement, he was awarded an OBE in 1925 and a CBE in 1934 in recognition of his work on the Imperial War Museum.

August 1914 – War!

Minute book, date 28th July 1914

Ffoulkes entry from the Minute book, date 28th July 1914

Ffoulkes entry in the Minute book was brief and to the point – in the Diary he compiled retrospectively from 1933 “Bulgaria and Turkey” were added to the opposition.

Unfortunately to this modern eye it still reads like a fixture in a sporting league. Which rather begs the question, how are momentous events appropriately recorded? ffoulkes was not to know the impact that this event was to have on his career, let alone the rest of the world, when he penned the entry. Its very simplicity and starkness remains striking.
In his autobiography Arms and the Tower published in 1939 with the benefit of over 2 decades of hindsight, ffoulkes was honest about his military prospects “It will be obvious that neither the Army nor Navy would have the slightest use for an entirely untrained civilian at the age of forty-six, and to me the proper course was to continue the work for which I had been appointed and await developments” (p.71).
And what developments there might be. His working relationship with Sir Guy Laking, Keeper of the King’s Armoury at Windsor Castle was flourishing. In July 1914 it had facilitated the return of Henrician material and armours associated with Sir John Smythe and the Earl of Worcester to the Tower after their migration in “the latter years of the XVIIth century”. ffoulkes trumpeted this coup as “the most important addition to the Armouries since 1661”, and he looked forward to their future collaboration. Sadly the war, ffoulkes increasing involvement in the preservation of the material it generated and Laking’s early death in 1919 scuppered these plans.
July has also witnessed the incident of the American lady digging “an overlong finger nail” into the worm eaten execution block, recorded in the Diary (17th July) but absent from the original Minute Book. However the solution to the problem in the form of a new case received on 28th July is entered in the Minute book. And the fate of the owner of the offending digit? She was dealt with by the Curator and expelled from the Armouries.
Equilibrium having been restored, apart from the outbreak of War, the only other entry for August covered the visit of the Marchesa Stampa, Count J de Salis and the Countess Philllipine de Noailles on the 25th – members of the European in-crowd –in other words back to business as usual.
It was September 1914 that was to see the War really begin to impact on the Armouries.
B Clifford
Keeper of Tower History

And the Winner is…

To coincide with the Inspired by… Heraldry exhibition currently on display at Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, we asked our visitors to create their own designs. The winning piece would then be displayed alongside the work of the Yorkshire Heraldry Society.

The competition winner was Emma Horsfield  – we spoke to her about the inspiration behind her design.


What was your motivation for entering the competition?
I decided to enter the competition as history is a great interest of mine and heraldry is one aspect of that which l thought would be interesting to learn about.  Entering the competition gave me the opportunity to learn something new and try out a new style of art, which was very appealing to me.

What was the inspiration behind your design?
Having recently joined the Pontefract Magna Carta Group, which was founded to prepare for the 800th Anniversary celebrations (in 2015), l thought that would be the ideal subject to pursue.  I decided to recreate the 25 shields of the Barons who summoned King John in 1215 to seal the Magna Carta document within my design, as this would bring unity to these facets of heraldry whilst also being a unique piece of work.  I also thought that, because of the approaching anniversary, it would be a subject which would be within the public domain.

Is this the first time you have created heraldry?
Yes it is, in fact I knew nothing about heraldry before entering the competition.  However, when l conducted some research on the subject, I was surprised to learn how complicated it is.

What did you enjoy most about creating it?
I enjoy creating art with lots of colour and contrast and it was this aspect, and the fact that it was historically based, which l enjoyed most.  I had been painting some historical scenes and events in acrylics and oils, and also designing my own medieval style manuscripts before the competition, so this was an interesting extension to this work.

How will it feel to have your work displayed in a national museum?
I am extremely pleased to be displaying my work in a National Museum, especially so because so many people will get to see and appreciate it and that is what pleases me most.  I would also hope it may contribute towards the public trying to learn a little bit about the Magna Carta and what it stands for.

Tell us a little bit about you and your background.
I am 39 years old; primarily a mother of six children but also studying for a BA (Hons) Illustration with the University of Hertfordshire (distance learning).  I studied A Level Art and Design but while travelling and bringing up my family l did little or no art at all for about 17 years.  Once my youngest son began full time education five years ago, l felt that it was high time l began being creative again.  I love drawing and painting and now take part in exhibitions and sell my art, whilst also taking commissions for portraits and other design requests.  My favourite subjects are historical and fantasy themes and this transpires through a lot of my work, but I also illustrate books and design book covers, and this is something l seek to become more involved in as l progress through my degree course.

For more information about the Inspired by…Heraldry exhibition visit our website.

A Day in the Life of…Natasha Bennett, Assistant Curator – Oriental Collections

Assistant Curator, Natasha Bennett talks climbing in cases, eccentric colleagues, being alone with the collection and why she loves her job, as we speak to her about her role as part of #MuseumWeek.

Natasha Bennett, Assistant Curator - Oriental Collections

Natasha Bennett, Assistant Curator – Oriental Collections

My primary function as Assistant Curator is to help safeguard, present and develop specialist knowledge about the Royal Armouries’ Oriental Collection. My role is very varied! It involves researching, writing and delivering publications, exhibition content, seminars and talks; answering enquiries from the public and other organisations and institutions; supervising visitors who need access to the study collections or help with identifying objects; assisting with filming projects; helping with various collections management duties such as auditing or couriering loan objects, and participating in the acquisitions process which allows the Royal Armouries to bring new pieces into the collection.

When I left school, I did a history degree at the University of Durham, before taking jobs first as a librarian and then as an editorial/publishing assistant. I didn’t feel suited to either of those careers, so I ultimately took the plunge, returned to university and pursued an MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies at Leeds, with the aim of improving my qualifications for the field in which I really wanted to work. Three years ago my dream job of working for the Oriental section of the curatorial department here at the Royal Armouries appeared on the website. I never dreamed that I would be successful with my application, but here I am, and I consider myself incredibly fortunate because I can genuinely say that I love my job.

There is no normal day for me. The ability to work flexibly is a key part of this job, in more ways than one. I usually start the day at my desk by working through emails and enquiries that have come through, but by home time I can be anywhere; up a stepladder with the elephant armour in the Oriental Gallery or climbing into a case to replace objects that have been temporarily removed for filming or research. One of the weirdest places I ended up was near the lofty ceiling of the loading bay while I was being trained to drive a ‘mobile elevated work platform’ – thankfully that was an abnormal day…

The Royal Armouries houses the national collection of arms and armour, which means that the objects we get to work with every day are literally priceless, and the events, experiences, skills and artistry connected with each piece are legion. Every time I touch one, I feel a frisson of excitement thinking about where it has been over time. Being in stores by yourself can feel quite peculiar, because the heritage that the collection carries with it, is almost a palpable presence. I am also very lucky to work with some fantastic (if slightly eccentric) colleagues – but an interesting collection will always attract interesting people!

For me, the main challenge of my role is packing in enough research about an enormously wide-ranging subject area. Here at the Royal Armouries, the Oriental Collection incorporates all non-European arms and armour, which obviously covers quite a lot of the world! But at the same time that is also the most exciting thing about my work, because there is always something new to learn or discover, and it never gets stale.

One of the main projects I am working on at the moment is a set of conference proceedings. I am currently gathering together all the material from eight papers that were given at our conference East Meets West: Diplomatic Gifts of Arms and Armour between Europe and Asia at the Tower of London last September. We are hoping to publish these proceedings in the near future.

17th century Mughal dagger  © Royal Armouries

17th century Mughal dagger
© Royal Armouries

I have a great number of favourite items within the collection, and they tend to change or increase in number, depending on what I’m working on at the time. One of my all-time favourites is our 17th century Mughal dagger with a watered-steel blade and a stunning hilt beautifully carved in the shape of a horse’s head. It is the only example that we know of with a hilt that is probably made out of serpentine.

Blogger: Natasha Bennett, Assistant Curator – Oriental Collections

To find out more about #MuseumWeek visit the Culture Themes website.

Line of Kings: The Haunting of Richard III

Kathleen McIlvenna, Curatorial Assistant – Tower Collections, delves deeper into the reasons why Richard III was not part of the Line of Kings.

The recent discovery of King Richard III’s remains in a Leicestershire car park, a project which involved our very own Bob Woosnam-Savage (read Bob’s blog), triggered a realisation for me. As the press coverage has shown, this particular King has been a dominant figure in English history, so for modern observers it could be surprising that Richard III was not represented in the historic displays of the Line of Kings at the Tower of London.

Over the centuries, a display representing Kings of England, and other curiosities, has been present within the Tower of London for visitors to enjoy, and this summer we will be opening a new exhibition exploring these displays through history. As part of our work to prepare for the new exhibition, I have recently been looking at how specific kings were represented.

Richard III’s brother, Edward IV as represented in the Line of Kings in the Penny Magazine, c.1840. © Royal Armouries

Richard III’s brother, Edward IV as represented in the Line of Kings in the Penny Magazine, c.1840. © Royal Armouries

After the discovery of Richard III in February 2013, I felt the absence of this infamous King was emphasised and began to wonder why. The representation of Richard III within cultural memory has changed over time. The last of the Plantagenet kings is no longer the despised villain of Tudor legend – today he is far more acceptable, the victim of Tudor propaganda and friendly monarch buried in the local car park. So when the line was constructed, as far back as the 1660s, it would not have been appropriate to portray or possibly celebrate his reign. However, he was always present through association.

The crowned monarchs either side of Richard III were displayed – his brother Edward IV, and Richard’s vanquisher at Bosworth, Henry VII. Though, arguably one of the most emotive and powerful displays in the Line of Kings is that of Edward V, Richard III’s nephew and one of the ‘Lost Princes’.

In my next blog I’ll discuss the depiction of the two princes in displays at the Tower of London in more detail, but in the meantime to find out more about the new Line of Kings exhibition see the previous blogs in the series.

Blogger: Kathleen McIlvenna, Curatorial Assistant – Tower Collections