The Curator @ War: “Bah Humbug – stripping the Armouries decorations for Christmas” December 1914

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.

In 1914, as the rest of the country prepared for the festive period and the realisation began to dawn that the war would not be over by Christmas, ffoulkes continued on his mission to modernise the White Tower displays, following on from the work started by Dillon. Having judiciously pruned some of the more exotic elements of the collection in November, despatching Oriental, Classical and Prehistoric material to the British Museum, and with the prospect of the small arms stores being removed from the Entrance floor of the White Tower, he began to clear the decks – literally.

bahumbug blog

The photographs below give an impression of the ebullient displays from the later 1880s after the demolition of the New Horse Armoury. They come from The Photographic View Album of the Tower of London published by Valentine and Sons of Dundee but sadly undated.  This specific copy was annotated by ffoulkes and presented to HMS Tower 27th April 1917. Built by Swan Hunter and launched 5th April 1917, HMS Tower was an R class destroyer and is probably most famous for having the first modern ship’s badge, co-designed by Mr George Richardson, director of the shipyard, and Major Charles ffoulkes. The badge consisted of the White Tower and motto “God Save King George and his Tower” within a rope border, topped with a naval crown and with the ship’s name beneath.


This is the Council Chamber (today more prosaically titled second floor west gallery) before the removal of the sword railings (1913) and the filling in of the light wells in the floor. Perhaps the lights installed in 1884 were somewhat unsubtle – in his autobiography ffoulkes described them as “great arc lights like a modern railway station” (p.64) – and obviously space was at a premium as the exhibits crowded together in their new home.

At the Northern end Queen Elizabeth I and her page found temporary refuge before moving back to the crypt and thence to pastures new. Both look resigned to their lot – perhaps recognising worse was yet to come after their move to the Museum of London. Today the only survivor of this tableau is Queen Elizabeth’s head.  The rest were consigned to a museum store room in the 1930s where they remain immured (if not shattered) by enemy action during the Second World War.


However it was the Banqueting Hall (today’s first floor) that ffoulkes was targeting in December 1914. Finally he could be rid of the “elaborate trophies ….. and geometrical patterns of composed of tortured swords, bayonets and gun-locks bent and twisted in the Ordnance forges to conform with the lines of required designs. These were produced by Mr Stacy, Armoury Keeper, as a feeble imitation of the wonders produced by one Harris in the Storehouse which was burnt in 1841”. A little harsh on Mr Stacy, but ffoulkes had very determined views on the subject regarding “these typical products of nineteenth-century military art”  as “symptomatic of a period which could not produce simple railings without designing them as cast-iron spears with iron tassels”.


So the scrolling motifs of re-formed gun-locks around the light wells, pendant bayonets and other trophies of arms attached to the ceilings were removed, and the great flower heads (a little something for the lady visitor?) seen here flanking the opening in the North face of the White Tower were swept away.  A few decorations lingered on in more inaccessible places, but ffoulkes had placed his finger on the continuing dilemma of how best to display the interior of the White Tower? As he put it “Firstly it is a magnificent specimen of eleventh-century architecture, and secondly it houses a collection of arms and armour, many pieces having been exhibited here since the sixteenth century, if not earlier.”   Finding a satisfactory balance continues to exercise the minds of curators and architectural historians to this day, as these two aspects can at times be mutually exclusive.

(A footnote for the pedants among us – this view is of the first floor east leading to the Chapel of St John, while traditionally the Banqueting Hall refers to the west side of the floor. Even ffoulkes had to think twice – but it is clear from the new Guide Book produced in 1916 when the whole of the White Tower was given over to Armouries displays that the Sword floor was on the east side , with the Weapons room on the west. Happy Christmas!)

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.

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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.

They That Are Left: the Royal Armouries hosts a stunning Remembrance photographic exhibition


…They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old.

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them…”

from Laurence Binyon’s ‘The Fallen’ (first published in The Times, 21 September 1914)

Last week the Royal Armouries hosted the opening of photographer Brian David Stevens’ ‘They That Are Left’ exhibition, an inspiring ten-year project comprising of portrait photographs of war veterans, taken each Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph from 2002 to 2012. The project consists of 100 portraits, a selection of which is currently on display at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds until 1 February, as part of our First World War Centenary commemorations.

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IMG_8483- TTAL - 111114

As with each passing year our war veterans do grow older, and age both wearies them and condemns their valuable memories, they are thus at risk of becoming unknown. With this in mind, Brian took inspiration from Binyon’s famous poem, saying “the viewer is given no information, just a portrait. These faces then are as of unknown soldiers; no cap badges, no ribbons of spooling medals, no insignia for military rank. They are faces only. Each deep-etched with who they are and what they did, that we might look, and think – and thank them.”

“As the years pass, the number of veterans from World War I has dwindled to nothing and the number from World War II is steadily reduced, but their places are taken by other veterans from newer conflicts, who are also included.”

They That Are Left

Below is a short interview with Brian at the Royal Armouries about his collection, currently showing until 1 February.

The exhibition – which forms part of Royal Armouries’ ‘Inspired by…’ programme – transfers in March to Fort Nelson, Portsmouth, home to the national collection of artillery. For more information about Brian David Stevens’ work, please see his website here; .


Something to get your teeth into…

The Royal Armouries has just acquired a very unusual piece – a vampire killing kit that was recently put up for auction in North Yorkshire.

Vampire Slaying Kit - a mahogany casket with pistol, crucifix, rosary beads, three glass bottles, mallet and four wooden stakes

The complete Vampire Slaying Kit, recently acquired by Royal Armouries, Leeds comprises a mahogany casket complete with pistol and bullet mould, crucifix, prayer book, rosary beads, glass bottles labelled holy water and holy earth, a mallet and four wooden stakes

This intriguing kit comprises a mahogany casket, packed with everything a vampire hunter might need. The box is split into two tiers. The top layer contains a percussion cap pistol with an octagonal barrel – for firing silver bullets and a bullet mould. The lid holds a crucifix and rosary beads, to ward off ‘evil spirits’.

Other compartments contain three glass bottles, two of which are labelled ‘holy water’ and another ‘holy earth’. As a last resort there’s a mallet and four wooden stakes, plus The Book of Common Prayer, dated 1857.

The Book of Common Prayer opened to the title page, and a wooden crucifix

The Book of Common Prayer from the Vampire Slaying Kit, dated 1857

A handwritten extract from the Bible, quoting Luke 19:27, reads, ‘But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.’

I’m really pleased to be able to add this fascinating object to our world-class collections, which as well as conventional arms & armour, also contains a number of unusual objects. One category within our collections is known as ‘Firearms Curiosa’ – unusual and quirky pieces sometimes made to test new technology and ideas, sometimes to deceive, and sometimes just for fun! This kit definitely falls into this category.

Although often claimed to either be made for genuine vampire slayers, or as novelties for travellers to Eastern Europe, this is probably not the case with this piece. I’ve been researching vampire-killing kits for five years, and there is no evidence of their existence prior to 1972, around the time of the famous ‘Hammer’ horror movies. For some people, this makes them ‘fakes’, but is it possible to have a fake if there is no original to copy?

I argue that they are instead ‘invented artefacts’ – movie props without a film. We will be subjecting our kit to some sensitive scientific analysis to see if we can find out more about it, but chances are that it was made relatively recently. This is not a bad thing – museums today collect far more widely than just traditional art and historical pieces, and the level of interest generated by this kit shows how culturally important it is. It’s hard evidence of the undying love people have for supernatural fiction, from Dracula to Twilight and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. It also reflects centuries of folklore relating to vampires and the best ways to dispose of them, which for some people, even in the 21st century, remains a frightening reality.

We hope to put the kit on display by Halloween. In the meantime it will be available for researchers to examine by appointment.

Take a look at my article in issue 288 of the Fortean Times – ‘To Kill a Vampire’ for further details.

Blogger: Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms, Royal Armouries, Leeds

Southampton and Shakespeare reunited!

The armour of the 3rd Earl of Southampton took a trip last week, from its home at the Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds to appear in a new exhibition, Shakespeare: Staging the World, at the British Museum in London.

The Earl of Southampton is the only acknowledged patron of William Shakespeare, and this three-quarter armour was recorded being worn by the Earl in a portrait. From this evidence historians were able to accurately establish the provenance of the piece. This beautiful armour has intricate gilded decoration in the Mannerist style fashionable in 16th-century Europe etched onto its original blackened steel surface.

Two people packing an armour

Packing the Earl of Southampton’s armour

The meticulous packing process took around 31/2 hours as each piece had to be cushioned in custom-made foam protection to ensure they were not damaged whilst in transit.

Three members of British Museum staff check the armour after transit

British Museum staff check the Southampton armour after transit

On arrival at the British Museum the condition of the armour was thoroughly checked. Royal Armouries Keeper of Armour, Thom Richardson, who had accompanied the armour on its journey, and Chris Smith, Deputy Head of Conservation based at the Tower of London , then reassembled it ready for display.

The Southampton armour will be on display in London from 19 July to 25 November.

The final assembled suit of Southampton armour ready for display at the ‘Shakespeare: Staging the World’ exhibition at the British Museum

What a corker!

XVI.258A – Tower Hamlets Rifle Volunteers Officer’s Helmet

Conservation work has recently commenced on a Tower Hamlets Rifle Volunteers Officer’s regimental helmet, which will shortly be going on display at the Tower of London. The helmet is of the Home Service Pattern design, introduced in May 1878.

Black and silver helmet with chin strap and spike

XVI.258A – Tower Hamlets Rifle Volunteers Officer’s Helmet

The body of the helmet is made of cork, covered in black cloth, with two seams on each side. The chin chain is made of interlocking silver-plated rings, backed with leather and velvet. This was attached to the helmet on two side rose bosses and, when not being worn, the chain would have been attached to a rear hook. All the metal components on the helmet are silver-plated.

There is a metal crosspiece with a spike and base on the top of the helmet and a metal plate badge on the front. The badge’s design comprises an eight-pointed star surmounted by a crown. A Garter belt is around the outside, inscribed with the motto ‘Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense’ (Shame upon him who thinks evil upon it). The centre of the badge features the White Tower in the Tower of London as a symbol of the Tower Hamlets Regiment.

Silver badge with representation of White Tower and the motto Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense

Silver badge with the White Tower in the centre

The helmet’s interior has a leather layer and also a pink silk lining. The helmet features two retail labels for the hatters ‘W. Cater & Co. Established 1776, 56 Pall Mall, London’. The silk lining also features a name label for the helmet’s owner, ‘G.E. Colebrook’. George Colebrook was part of the 1st Tower Hamlets Rifle Volunteer Brigade and was promoted to Lieutenant in June 1901. Sadly he is recorded as having died in a motorcar accident in 1903.

Silver chin strap with detached leather backing

Silver chin chain with detached leather strap

The helmet arrived in the conservation lab with tarnished metal components and a partially detached chin strap, where the original thread had broken leaving some of the rings hanging loose from the leather backing. Stay tuned to hear about the conservation treatment and repair to the chin strap, ready for the helmet to go on display.

Blogger: Philippa Beesley, Conservation Student

Here be Dragons

Today (Monday, January 23) sees the coming of the Year of the Dragon, and any Chinese Dragon stopping off to visit London’s sights might care to look up some of his occidental relatives among the exhibits in the Royal Armouries’ galleries at the Tower of London.

Henry Tudor – On entering the White Tower, Henry VIII’s silvered and engraved armour (II.5; VI.1-5) sports dragons on both the man’s and horse’s harness. Unfortunately both are being vanquished by St George – the one on the breast plate by George on foot; the other on the chest of the horse armour appropriately enough by the saint mounted.

Engraving of St George and the dragon

Engraving of St. George slaying the dragon on the horse armour of Henry VIII

Agincourt – Hurrying onwards, the first floor contains a veritable flight of dragons. Perhaps the most obvious – and certainly the oldest – are squeezed onto inlaid decorative plaques on the saddle of the Hungarian Order of the Dragon (VI.95). Those joining the order founded by King Sigismund of Hungary in 1408, were presented with a sword and saddle. Indeed this may be the saddle given to Henry V of Agincourt fame in 1416.

Decorated saddle

Saddle of the Hungarian Order of the Dragon possibly presented to King Henry V

Charles I – Continuing the Royal association, the case opposite the Gothic dragons of the 15th century holds the tiny 17th century armour (II.126) possibly associated with Charles I as a child. A spitting dragon crouches on top of the helmet, its tail curling down to the back of the neck. If you look carefully, the helmet surface is scaled, and a fearsome monster frames the wearer’s face, with growling companions adorning the pauldrons or shoulder pieces. At only 95 cm tall, this is still something of mystery armour. 18th century visitors were told that it had belonged to Richard, Duke of York – brother of the uncrowned Edward V persuaded into the Tower for security in 1485 and never seen alive again. By the 19th century, the armour was more accurately dated but attributed to Jeffrey Hudson, dwarf to the court of Charles I.

Dragon in steel on top of helmet

Dragon perched on the helmet of the armour possibly belonging to Charles I

More dragons – Darting back in time, the World Treasures’ case contains a roaring dragon’s head (VI.319). Made by the German armourer Kunz Lochner in about 1550, it was designed as part of a crupper fitting along the horse’s back, with the tail flowing from between its jaws. Today the rest of the dragon rests in Poland.

Dragon shaped decoration for a horses tail

Part of a horse’s armour for protecting the tail

Passing around the end of the case, and along the side of the main case to the displays of the Great Collectors, another dragon lurks, clinging to the side of a German horse muzzle dated 1569 (VI.400) . The fashion for such things was short-lived from the end of the 16th to the early 17th century, but they remain popular among collectors and this example was bequeathed to the museum by Dr Richard Williams in 1974.

Horse muzzle

Pierced steel horse muzzle decorated with dragons

The beasties decorating the sides of the wheellock pistols (XII.1250/1) slightly further along may be related to the wider dragon family, but only distantly.

pistol with dragon decoration

Detail of decoration which may be a stylised form of dragon

Power House – However, the most impressive of the White Tower dragons welcomes visitors to the Power House display on the top floor – a fitting reward for toiling up so many twisty stairs. Its body is formed from elements of all the Tower institutions celebrated in the wider gallery – from weapons of the Ordnance to coins from the Mint and much else between – it greets you with a dragon-like roar if you pass by its far side.

Dragon constructed from arms, armour, maps, coins and guns.

Impressive – 4m high, 3.5m long with a wing span of 5m and weighing 1200 Kg!

New displays – Finally on the way out, lurking in the shadows under the staircase in the Basement but moving to a more prominent position in the coming redisplay of the area, are a pair of Burmese dragons. Fabulously moustached, they sit atop a bronze bell (XVIII.19) dated 1797 and presented in 1874 by the Constable of the Tower Field Marshal Sir William Gomm, previously Commander-in Chief of British forces in India from 1850 – 1855.

Bronze bell with Burmese dragons

Bronze bell with Burmese dragons

The new displays open at the beginning of April, and this pair provides a fitting celebration of the Year of the Dragon.

Blogger: Bridget Clifford, Keeper of Collections South, Tower of London

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree…

One of the most popular symbols of the festive season is the Christmas tree, with its familiar fir-tree shape. Interestingly, the blades of three 16th-century Italian partizans in the Armouries’ collection all have a design in pointillé decoration which distinctly resembles this same recognisable outline of a fir tree. There is no evidence that this is what the design was actually intended to represent, but the similarity is striking. The outline of the staggered branches is depicted in small punched dots around the medial ridges of the blades.

Christmas tree partizan close up

Christmas tree partizan close up

Partizans were amongst a variety of European two-handed staff weapons that developed and experienced widespread usage in the 15th and 16th centuries. During this time, foot soldiers became increasingly important on the battlefield, and infantry militias from Switzerland, Italy and the Netherlands successfully fought against armies of mounted knights. These three partizans were part of the group of staff weapons that were imported from Italy by King Henry VIII, and formed part of his arsenal. Their long ‘ox-tongue’ type blades have a spear point and projecting, upturned lugs at the base. They are mounted on wooden shafts which are approximately nine feet (nearly three metres) long.

Christmas tree partizan

Christmas tree partizan

By the 17th century, the manufacture of partizans and their practical use as battlefield weapons was declining, but they continued to have a role as ceremonial weapons associated with military rank. For this purpose the blades were often shortened and highly ornamented. In this guise they came to be known as ‘spontons’ or ‘spontoons’.

The decoration on these particular partizans is not especially elaborate though, which may suggest that they were intended to be more functional than ornamental. The design on the blades seems immediately familiar to contemporary audiences as the outline of a fir tree, but why it was used is an intriguing question to which we cannot yet provide an answer. Was it simply a popular decorative motif for this type of weapon, or did it possess a greater symbolic meaning than we realise? It is unlikely to be a reference to a Christmas tree as we would understand it, because when these partizans were made in the 16th century, the custom of the Christmas tree was not well established outside Northern Germany; the rest of Europe only embraced the tradition a few centuries later.

Blogger: Natasha Roberts, Curatorial Assistant

Bite the Bullet

In 1857 native soldiers of the Indian Army rose up against the British Empire in what became known as the Indian Mutiny. It’s often said that the cause of this unrest was the paper cartridge issued for use with the new Pattern 1853 Enfield rifle. These were greased at one end to lubricate the bullet, which had to be pushed down the barrel from the muzzle end for loading. In order to open the cartridge, soldiers were instructed to tear it with their teeth, resulting in the ingestion of some of the grease. Rumours spread that this grease was derived from pig fat, forbidden to Muslims, or from cows, which would be a serious issue for Hindus. Moreover, the rumours suggested that this was a deliberate practice intended to degrade and even to force conversion to Christianity.

Paper cartridge issued for use with the P'53 rifle, containing a lead 'Minié syle bullet

Paper cartridge issued for use with the P’53 rifle, containing a lead ‘Minié syle bullet

In fact, the causes and background to the mutiny were rather more complicated than this, but historians agree the cartridge rumours were one of the main triggers or tipping points for the mutiny. Some have disputed the claim of pig and/or cow fat, but although it is clear that their use was not intentional, both types of grease were indeed used on the cartridges. Although many officers in India recognised this serious oversight and attempted to address it, the offence and concern had already been caused. The result was widespread violence, bloodily put down by the Imperial authorities, with ringleaders being ‘blown from guns’, or tied to the muzzle of cannon which were then fired.

The tangent backsight of the Pattern 1853 rifle, graduated up to 900 yards, and the Pattern 1859 musket for native troops with its basic 'V' notch

The tangent backsight of the Pattern 1853 rifle, graduated up to 900 yards, and the Pattern 1859 musket for native troops with its basic ‘V’ notch

One less obvious result of the mutiny was the introduction of a new pattern of arm. Though it outwardly resembled the Enfield rifle, the rifling lands and grooves themselves were machined away, and a much more basic rear sight fitted. These new Pattern 1858 and 1859 smoothbore muskets effectively put ‘Brown Bess’ back in the hands of Indian troops. This was a deliberate attempt to limit the effectiveness of any future uprising, as they would be much less effective at range, and make the targeting of officers far more difficult.

Blogger: Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms

Weird and Wonderful

Though it looks like something out of a video game with its twin bayonets, this is a real gun. It is the Sterling S11 sub-machine gun, designed in 1965 as a follow-up to the classic Sterling Mk.4/L2A3 of the 1950s (the latter of which doubled as the Stormtrooper’s blasters in ‘Star Wars’). It was meant to compete with the then-new and now famous Heckler & Koch MP5, and took a few design cues from the equally well-known Israeli Uzi.

Dual bayonet experimental Sterling S11 sub-machine gun

Dual bayonet experimental Sterling S11 sub-machine gun

Due to falling sales of sub-machine guns in general and to reliability problems with the gun, only one example was ever made; ‘EXP 001’. This was presented to the Ministry of Defence Pattern Room in 1989 and came to the Royal Armouries with the accession of that collection in 2005.

Why two bayonets? One is of the type fitted to the SLR rifle and the other for the previous Sterling SMG. We can’t be sure why the S11 was fitted for both; the trouble Sterling went to suggests that it was intended to give export customers a choice. We can be certain of one thing however; you would never have used both at the same time!

Blogger: Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms