From Leeds to Oman…

Royal Armouries is staging an exhibition of iconic matchlock guns in the Sultanate of Oman as part of its ongoing commitment to showcase global heritage to the Islamic world.

The firearms played a crucial role in the history of both Europe and Asia and some were originally displayed in our Leeds museum. They are now part of a new exhibition at Bait al Rudaydah Museum, a recently restored Omani fort, which has its own diverse collection of small arms.

Royal Armouries Technician, Giles Storey tells us about the journey from Leeds to the Middle East.

Transporting the objects from the museum in Leeds and mounting the exhibition in Oman took eight full-on days. The first stop on our journey was London and the Constantine Warehouse, where three packed crates of the objects awaited. Once we arrived the crates were loaded onto custom-made wagons, with air-ride suspension and temperature-controlled storage to ensure the objects travelled safely.

The eight-hour overnight flight left on time with our precious cargo on board! We touched down in Muscat airport at 8am local time, and quickly made our way into the cooler air-conditioned terminal, remembering to obtain a 10-day visa in exchange for 5 Rials, before heading through security to meet up with Dihan Dole, the representative from CEVA.

We arrived at Bait al Rudayah Fort at around 4.30pm, and got ready to unload the crates into a secure area, ready for customs to inspect each crate. By the time we had worked our way through the object manifest and packed everything away in a secure room it was getting on for 8pm.

The next day was Install day. The room for the exhibition was quite small, so we were restricted slightly in terms of how much space we had to move about. The six large graphic wall-panels were the first to go up, relatively easy, though one panel did need a little alteration with a hacksaw, so it could be positioned to hide a fuse-box.

After lunch, we made a start on installing objects; my colleague, Senior Conservator Nyssa Mildwaters, condition checked each object as we unpacked them, and I started the process of placing them in the cases. We had layout drawings to work from, though the depth of the case was slightly shallower than anticipated, due to a couple of battens that were fitted to allow the glass frames to be screwed into position.

Day two involved fitting the glass for the display cases, and installing the object mounts into the table top case, bonding them in place and leaving them overnight to cure.

On the final day of installation we had to crack on with putting the finishing touches to the cases. The mirrors had to be carefully taped and bonded into position. Luckily I had brought a spare mirror, as my first attempt resulted in a scratch straight down the back of the first one. Object numbers were taped and installed, then it was a case of cleaning, cleaning, and more cleaning, ready for the glass to go in.

The glass had to be bonded into its frame, and then carefully carried through the doorway at an awkward angle. It was a five-man job to manoeuvre the glass into position – where it will stay for the next 12 months.

Once the install was finished we still had to prepare all the crates for storage. The heat in Oman can make wood warp pretty quickly so they have to be stored built up rather than as flat panels. Special seals around the crates ensure that we won’t bring any bugs back with us in a year’s time.

The return trip was relatively smooth with only the small hiccup of me losing my boarding card in the airport!

It was a tight project time-wise but we have successfully exhibited a small piece of our Leeds collection in the Middle East!

Blogger: Giles Storey, Technician

Kate’ll Fix It…

Kate Perks is on a 12-month internship in the Royal Armouries’ Conservation department. She talks about getting to grips with firearms, handling holsters and why there’s never a dull day in conservation.

Kate Perks, Conservation Intern

I have always had an interest in history and my path into conservation started after studying History of Decorative Arts and Crafts at Brighton University. I knew I wanted to work closely with historical objects, I am a hands-on person and I like to physically work with objects, so conservation ticked all the boxes. The element of the job I enjoy the most is getting something that is broken and fixing it or getting something that is looking a bit sad and making it happy again! There are also challenges of the job, as we must make sure everything we do is reversible, the methods used do not harm the object and will last.  Therefore if another conservator comes across the object 50 years later, when technology has moved on and processes have changed, they can undo my work. It’s not just simply fixing things.  It is also about making sure the methods used can be reversed, using materials that have been tested and proven not to react with the object, such as making sure it won’t cause it to corrode, and that the materials are stable enough that they will carry on doing their job for decades to come.

I recently had my first experience of firearms with the Matchlock guns that are going on loan at the Small Arms Centre for Excellence, Nizwar, Oman, in October. This was a challenge because you have to make sure they’re not loaded and I had to learn about the firing mechanism.  It was interesting getting to understand how they work.

I have also been getting a handle on holsters, I was presented with a box of around 18, all jumbled up, so I have been going through them and looking at the best ways to store them. At the moment I am trying to work out how they can keep their shape, even just things like lining them with tissue can work. I’ve also been doing some research to find out what type of leather they are made from. This depends on the hair follicles, and how they are positioned, from that you can work out whether it’s leather from a cow or a sheep. This is found with a little microscope, with a light on it, you place it over the object, with LED lights, the image appears on the computer, and you can then take a photograph to study more closely.

After my internship, I would love to get a full time position here or at another museum but at the moment I am making the most of every opportunity.

To find out more about the Conservation Department visit our website here.

Find out why Kate is searching for the missing link in a coat of mail in her next blog instalment…

Blogger: Kate Perks, Conservation Intern