Moving the Guns

Project focus at the Royal Armouries has moved from the historic White Tower in London to the equally stunning Victorian Fort Nelson near Portsmouth. This project offers a new set of challenges, combining an historic site with a new build – including  exhibition installation.

Interestingly, work within the existing galleries has turned out to be more straightforward than in the new build. Mainly because the design team and installers are working with a known quantity. To date, progress has been made in ripping out the old exhibition content, making good the gallery spaces and prepping electrics. The new art gallery space has also received its display plinth – made to measure on site and painted up ready to receive its cannon.

Moving the guns into position

Moving the guns into position

Over recent weeks we have seen installation of gun moving equipment in the new gallery – the Voice of the Guns – by engineering company Beck and Pollitzer. They have extraordinary experience of moving historic artifacts – including cannon at Greenwich and fine art such as the ship in a bottle in Trafalgar Square and sculpture by Anish Kapoor at the Royal Academy – so our collection should be in safe hands. The installation culminated in a test lift and move of the 88 German Anti-aircraft gun which was carried out successfully.

We are looking forward to moving the remaining guns to their permanent homes within the galleries, which is scheduled to take place in July.

Blogger: Karen Whitting, Head of Creative Programmes

An Admirable Armour

Over the last six weeks we’ve had two students from the University of Huddersfield, Jonathon and Vikki, in residence within our Curatorial Department. Whilst working behind the scenes Jonathon found this suit of armour to be of particular interest.

This stunning armour was made for foot combat at the barriers for Cosimo de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. The main decoration is gilded and etched, symmetrical scrolling of foliage intertwined with grotesque figures of animals, human and mythical hybrids.

Cosimo de Medici's armour

Cosimo de Medici's armour

This is done in the ‘Mannerist’ style, notable for its bizarre and contorted figures. The secondary ornamentation consists of scrolling foliaged which sprouts off and ends in floral shapes or personified figures, with the same figures intertwined. This was originally gilt and has now been polished bright, the rest of the armour has a blackened dogtoothed appearance which makes the decoration more obvious to the eye.

The helmet is impossible to remove without help due to the manner in which it is attached to the armour. Also when the armour was first made the helmet was too heavy for its wearer to keep his head up, therefore an extra support had to be attached to help support the weight.

Blogger: Jonathon Ellis, Student Work Placement – Curatorial Department

Fort Nelson Re-development

Fort Nelson houses the Royal Armouries’ collection of artillery, with over 350 big guns and historic cannon on display. The Fort was built on the direction of Victorian Prime Minister Lord Palmerston, as part of a chain of fortifications protecting the great Naval harbour of Portsmouth and its Royal Dockyard from French invasion – a fear that never materialised.

Panorama of visitor centre under construction

Panorama of visitor centre under construction

Fort Nelson is nearing the end of a £3.5m project to transform the heritage site into a museum fit for the 21st century. Part funded by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant, the project will include spectacular new galleries; visitor centre and extended free parking; new modern café; and state of the art learning centre.

Lower Gallery Artist's Impression

Lower Gallery Artist's Impression

The new glass-sided galleries will showcase the most impressive and iconic Big Guns, covering the most colourful periods of history from every corner of the globe. Key exhibits will include Saddam Hussein’s infamous Supergun, and the Great Turkish Bombard of 1464, that once protected The Dardanelles.

As the project nears completion over the coming weeks we’ll be following our Projects Team throughout the closing stages of the redevelopment.

Collections up Close June

On 18 June 1815 the opposing forces of Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington, joined by the Prussian Army met at Waterloo. The battle began just after 11am and the conflict continued throughout the afternoon. Both sides suffered heavily.

Napoleon had returned to France and resumed the throne as Emperor. However, his aims to dominate Europe were impeded by Allied armies advancing on several fronts. Napoleon had planned to advance into Belgium and separate Wellington’s army from the Prussians and then destroy them both. However, after a long day of battle, Napoleon’s army was defeated, and the battlefield was strewn with 40,000 dead and wounded men.

Wellington's sword

Wellington's sword

The White Tower at the Tower of London is home to the Duke of Wellington’s uniform coat, telescope and sword. The Duke was Constable of the Tower from 1826–1852. The coat is finely made with blue fabric with scarlet facings and has epaulettes of gold thread decorated with crossed batons under a crown in silver. The gilt buttons bear an image of the White Tower in silver. His telescope has a brass plate attached which reads, ‘TELESCOPE BY BERGE OF LONDON USED BY THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON AT THE BATTLE OF WATERLOO, PRESENTED BY THE DUKE TO SIR ROBERT PEEL’.

Napoleon's Sword

Napoleon's Sword

Also in the Royal Armouries collection is a sword presented to Napoleon I by his friend Alexandre Des Mazis. Des Mazis was a contemporary of Napoleon at the École Militaire and was his close friend. They later served together as officers in the Regiment de la Fère at Valance in 1796. The sword is on display in the War Gallery in Leeds, near a large model of the battlefield made in 1842–43.

Blogger: Angela Clare, Researcher

Waterloo: A Family's Story

On 18 June 1815 at the battle of Waterloo, the Allied armies under Lords Wellington and Blücher defeated the French, bringing to an end the Napoleonic Wars which had raged for over 15 years. Amongst the Royal Armouries’ archives is a collection of papers relating to the military careers of three brothers; William, Henry and Charles Dawson, which comprises extracts from official publications and from the letters they sent home. The archive was put together by their father, Pudsey Dawson, and their younger brother Pudsey Junior.

Extract from the officer’s list of the 52nd Regiment, including Lieutenant Charles Dawson

Extract from the officer’s list of the 52nd Regiment, including Lieutenant Charles Dawson

William Dawson joined the Royal Navy and served with distinction, on one occasion taking command when his captain was killed and capturing a French frigate. He rose to the rank of Captain and the command of his own ship, but died from fever in Madras in 1811, aged 29. Henry and Charles were officers in the 52nd (Oxfordshire) Regiment, serving during the campaign in Portugal and Spain. Both were wounded in the terrible siege of Badajos, and Henry was killed in 1812 during the retreat from Burgos, aged 24. Charles survived the Peninsular campaign to fight at Waterloo, where he was again severely wounded.

Hand drawn colour map of the Battle of Waterloo, showing the dispositions of both armies on the night before the battle

Hand drawn colour map of the Battle of Waterloo, showing the dispositions of both armies on the night before the battle

The archive includes four maps relating to the Waterloo campaign, showing the countryside of the surrounding area and the troop dispositions on the day. The 52nd fought on the right of the line, close to the famous Chateau Hougoumont, and took part in the repulse of the Imperial Guard which finally broke the French army. Although Charles had survived the war he died aged 25 in 1817. This remarkable collection acts as a sad memorial of a father to his sons, and gives us an insight into some of the personal stories of the Napoleonic Wars.

Blogger: Stuart Ivinson, Library Assistant

A Model Battle

The Royal Armouries in Leeds is home to a model of part of the battle of Waterloo; the model was made by Captain William Siborne in 1842–43. Siborne had not been at the battle but on hearing that the site was to be altered he decided to make a model of the site exactly as it was on 18 June 1815 at 2pm.

A section of the Battle of Waterloo model

A section of the Battle of Waterloo model

The model of the battlefield is 18 ft 4 in. by 7 ft 5 in and made up of ten sections. The model is made to a scale of 15 feet to 1 inch and the figures are to a scale of 6 feet to 1 inch in order that they might remain identifiable. The farm buildings are also this scale to avoid incongruity.

The model shows the area around the Brussels-Wavre crossroads, including the farm of La Haye Sainte, which was a critical position during the battle. The farmhouse was key to the centre of Wellington’s position. It was held by an Allied German garrison who fought bravely. When they ran out of ammunition they went on fighting with rifle butts and throwing stones, but eventually the French captured this important position. The Duke of Wellington and his staff are shown in the model to the North-West of La Haye Sainte.

Close up of Battle of Waterloo model

Close up of Battle of Waterloo model

The model was first exhibited in London in 1844 but we do not know for certain where the Royal Armouries model moved then until 1868 when it was shown in Germany. Further exhibitions on the continent were then abandoned due to representations from the French Government.

The model returned to Dublin in possession of a Mr Evans, who seems to have put up the money for it and to have foreclosed. It was later rediscovered in the possession of a Mr Barrington in a storehouse near Dublin in 1907. Mrs Barrington-Malone inherited the property, and transferred the model to the Staff College, Camberley.

In 1925 it was taken into charge of the Tower Armouries, and moved to the Tower of London in 1935, where it was restored by a Mr Cawood. The model was displayed in the Small Arms Room of the White Tower until 1949. Then it was cleaned again, possibly by Russell Robinson, and stored until 1962 when it was moved to Dover Castle. It was returned in 1982, and finally put back on display in Leeds in 1996.

Blogger: Angela Clare, Researcher

Fake Spotting – Top Tips

Fakers and forgers have always sought to deceive collectors with cleverly constructed copies, but would you be able to tell the difference? Standard thickness plates and screw threads, and spots of metal and scratches from electric or gas welders and evidence of the use of grinding tools are all obvious signs of modern methods. If the clues are more difficult to spot, scientific analysis through x-rays and microscopes can help to reveal the underlying composition of an object.

Duck's Foot Pistol

Duck's Foot Pistol

Here are our top tips on how to spot a fake:

1. Does it work?

Do visors lift as they are supposed to, do hinges open and close, do gun mechanisms operate? Often, logic and common sense are lost in the fabrication of fakes!

2. Does it use the correct materials?

Bronze is often a good indicator; old bronze is yellower, whilst more modern bronze tends to have a reddish hue.

3. Is it like the real thing?

For example, Samuel Pratt’s fake helmets were often much bigger, heavier and more intractable than the genuine articles. It was often impossible to actually wear them due to their weight and shape, and the vision slits were often in the wrong places.

4. Is the style of decoration of the right period and the right subject matter?

Modern aesthetics often feature in later fabrications, particularly in the decoration, as ideas about what looks good change over time.

5. Does it exhibit the right amount of wear/damage?

For example, with Japanese swords, original scabbards are often discoloured/blackened inside from use over time. Modern reproductions are often convincing on the outside, but remain clean on the inside.

6. Is the corrosion/patination in the right place?

These processes tend to reflect how an object has been used and kept over time, showing evidence of where it has been resting, whether it has been exposed, or kept in something, or damaged. With real objects, corrosion and patination is often localized and can be quite severe in places, with areas rusting away to almost nothing. With fakes, corrosion and patination is often evenly spread and too regular. Also, it is very rarely anything other than superficial; fakers are generally loath to spoil their hard work!

Blogger: Natasha Roberts, Curatorial Assistant

Fake, Forgery or Replica?

Ever wondered how sneaky forgers managed to dupe and deceive the experts with fake arms and armour? Our Curators Emeritus Ian Bottomley and Peter Smithurst in their Fakes, Forgeries and Replicas Seminar sought to uncover some of the forger’s duplicitous tactics.

Fakes and forgeries often become more prolific when the demand and prices are high; consequently, the gothic revival and the rise of romanticism during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries provided ideal conditions for the fakes market to thrive as the craze for medieval pieces grew.

Examples of Samuel Pratt's handiwork

Examples of Samuel Pratt's handiwork

One of the most infamous fabricators of fakes of the 19th century was Samuel Pratt of Bond Street. Pratt was originally a vendor of antique furniture, but he colluded with a metalworker called Grimshaw and began to deal in ‘antique’ arms and armour. Some of the armour that he sold was real, but much was fake, being either copies or ‘improved’ items, such as a fifteenth-century sallet which Pratt modified into a basinet in around 1850.

Blogger: Natasha Roberts, Curatorial Assistant

A Quite Interesting Outing

As the National Museum of Arms and Armour we regularly get asked to share our expert knowledge on all kinds of items in our vast collection. The BBC’s QI boffins recently contacted us to find out if during WWI soldiers had been known to urinate on their hot machine guns to keep them cool – rather unpleasant business!

qi-logoWe were able to confirm that soldiers did indeed collect urine to refill the water jacket of their guns in emergencies: “…Often, in a pinch, when water was short we were forced to fill the barrel jacket with urine – it helped make the war a bit personal…” Cpl John Young, 12th Machinegun Company, 4th British Division, First World War. It’s often said that soldiers used their machine-guns to boil water for tea when fresh water was scarce. This was first suggested by war poet Robert Graves in his memoirs and is now thought to be untrue, though one soldier did report using cooled ‘greasy’ water for his tea! In any case, you would want to give the water jacket a very thorough wash before considering a bit of a brew… To ‘demonstrate’ this quite interesting fact we took a Vickers machine gun to meet Stephen Fry and the QI gang, making sure that no one put history into practice!

 

 

Vickers Machine Gun on the QI set with Curators Angela Smith, Jonathan Ferguson and Conservator Nyssa Mildwaters

Vickers Machine Gun on the QI set with Curators Angela Smith, Jonathan Ferguson and Conservator Nyssa Mildwaters

 The Vickers machine gun was the British First World War version of the Maxim gun, which was named after its designer, Hiram Maxim. The Vickers gun wasn’t declared obsolete until April 1968, seeing over five decades of military action.  The Maxim was the first practical design for a machine gun and fired at a rate of 600 rounds per minute. However, belts contained only 250 rounds, and machine guns were generally fired in short bursts to conserve ammunition and prevent overheating. The popular idea of machine guns mowing down enemy soldiers point blank was the exception, and in fact they were used mainly at long range, like miniature artillery pieces. Blogger: Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms

Are they real?

Dotted around the galleries of our Leeds Museum are a number of life-sized dioramas depicting animals in war, sport and hunting poses. One of the most commonly asked questions the gallery staff hear is “Are they real?”

Horse models in the War Gallery

Horse models in the War Gallery

This is because the horses, elephants, tiger and rhinoceros are all incredibly lifelike, and do look like fine examples of taxidermy. However, the animals in question are not real, but are excellent examples of the model-maker’s art.

These photos were taken during the building phase of our Leeds Museum, which opened in 1996, and show the models under construction. The various models were made by several different workshops. Most of the animals were produced by Gerry Embleton and David Hayes.

Model rhinoceros being created

Model rhinoceros being created

The true craftsmanship is in the detail – every fold of skin on the elephant’s hide or hair of the horse’s mane is modeled perfectly. Sometimes it feels as if they might actually leap off their displays and gallop off into the distance!

Bloggers: Stuart Ivinson, Library Assistant and Chris Streek, Image Librarian