The Vampire Killing Kit: Object of the Month for October

In this new monthly blog series, one of our curators will write about their Object of the Month, chosen from our collection. To start us off, Curator of Firearms, Jonathan Ferguson has picked a very unique item indeed… our Vampire Killing Kit (perfect for Hallowe’en!)

Visit our collection online to see more images and discover more about this object ext-link

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Curator of Firearms, Jonathan Ferguson, with the Vampire Killing Kit

Vampire Killing Kit

Our Object of the Month is a Vampire Killing Kit that was acquired by the museum in 2012. The kit includes a crucifix, stakes, a mallet, rosary, a prayer book, and a pistol along with a range of other items to ward off or kill vampires.

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The Vampire Killing Kit, which includes a crucifix, a mallet, rosary, a prayer book and a pistol alongside a range of other items to ward off or kill vampires.

Vampires, the myth…

Vampires have been a staple of popular culture for two centuries, from the publication of Polidori’s ‘The Vampyre’ in 1819 to Stoker’s 1897 classic ‘Dracula’, to the many movies and video games produced in the 20th and 21st centuries.

The belief in real vampires is of course far older, and even persists to the present day. As recent as 2004, a Romanian family exhumed the body of a relative, cut out his heart with scythe and pitchfork, and burned it. This was a continuation of folklore that existed elsewhere in Eastern Europe for centuries.

When the Habsburg Empire invaded Serbia in 1718, it encountered these strange superstitions and spread news of them, providing the demand for vampire entertainment and literature in Western Europe.

How to kill a vampire…

The business of killing vampires was deadly serious, and historical accounts emphasised the need for particular methods and tools. Historically iron implements like knives, nails, skewers, ploughshares and scythes could be used to ‘stake’ the body or to remove the heart. The wooden stake through the heart was perhaps borrowed from fictional interpretations.

Decapitation and/or dismemberment was another common method, but rarely was a specialist weapon used. Next to the simple wooden stake, the sexton’s or gravedigger’s spade would have been the preferred vampire slaying weapon. If these measures were insufficient, the heart would be removed and burned, and/or the entire corpse would be cremated.

None of these typical vampire-killing weapons survive in museums or private collections today. As everyday items, they would have been discarded or returned to their normal domestic or agricultural use.

The rise of the killing kit…

In 1986 an unusual cased pistol was offered for sale in the United States as an ‘anti-vampire kit’ of the nineteenth century. It contained a percussion pocket pistol with accessories, a combined cross and stake in wood and ivory, and two silver bullets. A dog-eared label in the lid attributed this fascinating object to a Professor Blomberg and the gunmaker Nicholas Plomdeur of Liège.

A series of kits came to light in the years that followed, and values began to climb as the big auction houses got involved and speculated on their likely provenance. The consensus reached was that they were expensive novelties for enlightened western travellers to Eastern Europe. This seemed plausible enough, especially as real vampire killers were not wealthy and did not use expensive weapons.

Opinion in the antiques world remained divided, however. Many scoffed at the very idea of such a thing. One auctioneer in 1994 stated definitively that ‘there was never a vampire kit’ and that the lot in question had been created ‘to make money’. Yet others were prepared to pay into tens of thousands of dollars for these curios.

Some pieces were obviously of recent manufacture, exhibiting tell-tale signs of being put together from genuine antique parts and materials. Even those appearing absolutely ‘right’ could easily have been put together recently.

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The Vampire Killing Kit, which can be seen in the Hunting Gallery at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds

Is this a real kit…?

To answer this question, I completed a thorough survey of vampire slaying in both folklore and fiction. In the process it became clear that kits like our one could not have existed until the era of ‘Hammer’ horror films in the 1950s – 70s. Our kit is inspired by the movies, not Victorian stories and folklore.

This may come as a disappointment to some, and one would think this would affect the trade in these kits, if they are increasingly known to be ‘fake’. Yet in reviewing sales, something curious becomes apparent. Even kits catalogued as pieces of art or whimsy command high prices.

We in the museum world recognise the importance of ‘contemporary collecting’; after all, art galleries have been doing it for centuries. At the Royal Armouries we also collect modern pieces, including those made for stage and screen, often to the same standards as medieval originals.

We also collect the weird and unusual. The vampire kits clearly fall into this category. However, I maintain that they are valid pieces of material culture in their own right. With no other physical means of representing the historical conflict between people and imaginary creatures like vampires, these manufactured substitutes, themselves a good generation or two old already, are a way to interpret that lost part of history.

It is fitting, therefore, that the Armouries should preserve this example for the nation. It was purchased in full awareness of its uncertain origins, shortly after I published my research on the ‘Blomberg’ kits in ‘Fortean Times’ (see issue #288). It’s not impossible that it, and others, could pre-date the cinematic golden age of vampires. Chances are, though, that it’s a product of the 1970s or 80s.

Whatever its age, it remains an invented artefact that reflects our cultural obsession with the vampire and tells the story of the people that believed in, and tried to fight, our favourite monster.

Visit our collection online to see more images and discover more about this object ext-link

1066: Interpreting the Norman Conquest in 2016

1066 and landscape change post-Conquest

This October, to mark 950 years since the Norman Conquest, the Royal Armouries is hosting a public lecture and a two day conference at the Tower of London to celebrate the anniversary – 1066: Interpreting the Norman Conquest in 2016 (14-16 October)   

The conference aims to present the huge changes that have taken place in the interpretation of the Norman Conquest, bringing together distinguished scholars; experts in many fields. The conference will explore the history of the year 1066 itself and the general significance of the Conquest for English, British and French history. 

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On Day 2 of the conference, the Royal Armouries will be welcoming speaker Professor Robert Liddiard of the University of East Anglia, for 1066 and landscape change post-Conquest.

This special blog post, written by Professor Robert Liddiard, discusses his recent visit to Castle Hedingham in Essex, which got him thinking about the impact of the Norman Conquest on the landscape, and his upcoming paper at the conference…

It is a pleasure to be invited to speak at the Norman Conquest at the White Tower, but such invitations always draw my attention to the inadequacies of my image bank. As a late convert to digital technology most of the images I use comprise scanned old-fashioned slides, which increasingly show their age when used with modern projection equipment.

As a consequence I need no excuse to go to pleasant places on the pretext of getting superior pictures and as fieldwork took me to south Suffolk last week, I took the opportunity to nip over the border into Essex and visit Castle Hedingham. Not only was I able to replace the old slides with digital images, but the experience inevitably got me thinking about the impact of the Norman Conquest on the landscape and my paper at the conference.

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Castle Hedingham, Essex © Robert Liddiard

Castle Hedingham is best known for its well-preserved keep, probably raised by Aubrey De Vere III, 1st Earl of Oxford about 1141, and possibly the building in which his investiture as Earl took place. Much has been written about it as a keep, but my interest lies more in the castle’s landscape context: by the thirteenth century, and probably much earlier, two deer parks (the great and little park) were attached to the castle and the adjacent village was originally connected to the castle by enclosing banks and ditches; the precise date of which are frustratingly unknown.

When put into its contemporary setting, the whole site was truly vast. In recent years landscape historians have been able to show that, as settlements, castles tend to reflect the characteristics of their wider regional landscapes, and in this respect the configuration of the various elements that made up medieval Hedingham is typically ‘Essex’ – the ‘nucleated’ settlement of the village lying in the river valley, with the castle parks situated between the more dispersed hamlets and farmsteads on the valley sides and tops.

But Hedingham is also important because, while it is a remarkable survival of a ‘Norman’ building, it has little to do with the events of 1066 per se; rather, it belongs to a different generation – one that did not experience the Conquest at first hand. At the time of the keep’s construction, England was sliding into civil war and its ruling French-speaking aristocrats were thinking of using their castles to fight each other; rather than for keeping down a hostile English population opposed to Norman rule.

Thinking about monuments in terms of generational change is a reminder that historians of landscape tend to emphasise longer term trends in their analyses and so often play down the significance of short-term events, especially political ones. Of course, it would be immensely foolish to do so when it comes to 1066, especially at a conference taking place within the walls of the Conqueror’s own trophy monument to conquest, but places like Hedingham draw attention to the fact that not all of what we call ‘Norman’ in the countryside was an immediate consequence of the battle of Hastings.

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Castle Hedingham, Essex  ©  Robert Liddiard

The period 1000-1200 was one of enormous changes to the landscape, not all of which were related to the activities of the Normans. The castles, churches, parks and warrens of eleventh- and twelfth-century England frequently owed their existence to more subtle and drawn out trends in the development of the English countryside. How we tease out what was genuinely new in the landscape after 1066 and how they related to ongoing processes is the subject of my paper at the conference.

After all, how, if at all, would we recognise the ‘Norman’ in a place like Hedingham if it didn’t have a castle…?

Professor Robert Liddiard

Biography

Robert Liddiard lectures in landscape history at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. His chief research interest is the landscape context of castles, but also in the wider impact of the Norman Conquest on the countryside. His publications include Anglo-Norman Castles (2003) Castles in Context (2005) and The Medieval Park (2007).

The Royal Armouries Museum celebrates 20 years in Yorkshire

Today, 15th March 2016, marks twenty years since the official opening of the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds by HM Queen Elizabeth II in 1996. The doors were opened to the general public the following April.

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HM Queen Elizabeth II meets Royal Armouries interpreters Andy Deane and Keith Ducklin. Keith and Andy are still integral members of our Visitor Experience team today.

The building, designed by renowned architect Derek Walker (chief architect for Milton Keynes development), became the first national museum with its headquarters based outside of London. The museum was developed under the leadership of the Director General and Master of the Armouries during that period, Guy Wilson. The construction project, which cost a total of £42.5 million, took two years to complete and its development was supported by national and local government, businesses, the University of Leeds, as well as press and media.

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Leeds Dock as it was from above, featuring the skeleton of the Leeds museum

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A news feature from the Yorkshire Evening Post on the newly opened museum

The Royal Armouries’ history stretches back over 900 years to its early role as the main royal and national arsenal housed in the Tower of London. It is one of the world’s oldest museums with a collection which has been on display to visitors for over 500 years.

Over time, as the world-class collection expanded and with limited display space available at the White Tower, a new home was required. The extensive search for a new site was focused in the north of England and led to the choice of Leeds as the best location for Royal Armouries new purpose-built museum after an initial scoping in Sheffield.

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Laying the foundations: the blessing of the Royal Armouries museum site prior to opening to the public with HRH Prince Michael of Kent.

Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds has become an integral part of the cultural landscape in Leeds and Yorkshire, with a major impact on the regeneration Leeds. It continues to build positive relationships with a wide range of organisations, which include businesses and other cultural and educational organisations.

Behind the scenes filming the museum’s ‘Agincourt’ short film shown in our War Gallery.

Today, the museum has five main themed galleries which display 8,500 objects from weapons of the Bronze Age right up to those supplied to today’s armed forces. The museum includes the Hall of Steel, the architectural centrepiece of the museum with 2,500 items which represent the largest mass display of arms and armour assembled since the 19th century, and the record-breaking Elephant Armour.

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The Royal Armouries record-breaking Moghul Empire Elephant armour, seen in our Oriental Gallery

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The Hall of Steel contains 2,500 examples of 17th and 19th century arms and armour

A recent film of the Hall of Steel undergoing a spring clean

The Royal Armouries Museum has established a unique reputation for its event programme, with 1,800 performances, combat demonstrations, talks and workshops each year. Jousting and tournaments have been a highlight of the Royal Armouries event programme ever since it’s opening. Below is a short film featuring one of the earliest jousts in the museum’s specifically designed tiltyard in 1996.

This year’s Easter Tournament will run from 25 – 28 March as part of the museum’s twentieth anniversary celebrations. To find out more details our 20th anniversary Easter Tournament and book tickets, please visit our website.

The museum is also developing a new special exhibition schedule. Last year the Royal Armouries presented the highly-acclaimed Art of Battle exhibition, to mark the bicentenary of the battle of Waterloo and Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold from the Staffordshire Hoard (27 May – 2 October) will be a highlight of 2016.

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The Royal Armouries ‘Art of Battle’ temporary exhibition

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

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…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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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; http://briandavidstevens.com/ .

 

How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse…

With Halloween imminent and the chance of a so-called Zombie Apocalypse increased, our Visitor Experience Team have been exploring the different weapons and methods, that could be used to battle the living dead.

The Visitor Experience Team at Royal Armouries, Leeds get into the Halloween spirit...

The Visitor Experience Team at Royal Armouries, Leeds get into the Halloween spirit…

In a light-hearted blog, our team have identified the best and worst weapons within the Royal Armouries’ collection to defeat a zombie….

Short Magazine Lee Enfield/SMLE MK.III*
Country of origin: United Kingdom
Calibre: .303 in
Rate of fire: 12-15 rpm (rounds per minute)
Capacity: 10 rounds
Effective Range: about 500 -550 yards
Year: 1916
Pros: Easy to use, accurate at range and has a bayonet attachment.
Cons: Only carries 10 rounds, slow rate of fire compared to more modern guns, single shot.
Zombie Rating: 6.5/10

Mills Bomb No.5
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Effective Range: 30 yards
Pros: Potential to “kill” a large amount of zombies with one hit.
Cons: Only as good as your throwing arm. High possibility of accidentally blowing yourself up.
Zombie Rating: 2/10

Bren Gun Mk.I
Country of Origin: Czechoslovakia / United Kingdom
Calibre: original BREN .303 in changes to 7.62 mm in 1954 when we joined NATO
Rate of fire: 500 rpm
Capacity: magazine box 30 rounds or pan 100 rounds
Effective Range: 1800 yards
Year: 1937
Pros: Works with single fire or burst so you can either mow down en masse, or pick off targets. Accurate at long range. The bi-pod can be used to set up a defensible position. The handle allows the user to run and gun, Rambo style!
Cons: It’s very heavy; this is the heaviest version of the BREN gun and is prone to jamming if not loaded correctly. You may need to buddy up if there’s anyone left alive.
Zombie Rating: 9/10

Mosin-Nagant M1891/30
Country of Origin: Russia
Calibre: .303 in
Rate of fire: 12-15 rpm
Capacity: 5 rounds
Effective Range: 730 yards with optics/ 500 yards without (of course the usual trajectory, conditions and marksmanship principles apply)
Year: 1938
Pros: It’s all about head shots when it comes to zombies so you have to be accurate. This weapon has a very good effective range and takes a large round, which is good for stopping power. This is a sniping rifle in 7.62 x 54 Russian, it has a turned down bolt to allow for its PU sight, which is quite accurate.
Cons: Relatively slow rate of fire. Not very helpful at close range. Also the Mosin-Nagant – unlike most B/A rifles – has no holes in the bolt body for gases to escape should there be a catastrophic cartridge failure.
Zombie Rating: 7/10

Liberator Pistol
Country of Origin: United States
Calibre: .45 in
Rate of fire: Single shot weapon
Capacity: 1 round
Effective Range: HAHAHAHAHAHA
Year:1941
Pros: It’s very light.
Cons: Useless in a zombie horde, terrible accuracy, unusable after one shot. You are better off with a water pistol!
Zombie Rating: 1/10

Our resident “zombie expert” aka Curator of Firearms, Jonathan Ferguson couldn’t resist joining in with his own suggestions…

“The obvious choice to fit the bill is the famous Kalashnikov rifle (AK47), particularly the Chinese Type 56 version which has a permanently attached, folding spike bayonet that would make short work of a zombie’s skull when the 30 round magazine runs out. Weapons like this aren’t necessarily available in all countries, so the next best thing is the humble 12-gauge shotgun. Nothing is more devastating at close range and the right type of ammunition increases the chance of a hit. Some are available in semi-automatic guise, like the Franchi SPAS 12 pictured.

However, guns are loud, difficult to use precisely, and require ammunition and maintenance. You might be better off with an edged or impact weapon. There’s the cutting power of the legendary Japanese katana, or the British basket-hilt with its built-in hand protection. A staff weapon like the halberd pictured below would keep grasping hands and gnashing teeth at bay! All of these would require a degree of skill to ‘remove the head or destroy the brain’, as the famous quote goes, so a handier alternative would be something like the flanged medieval mace.”

If you can think of a better weapon or method to survive a zombie attack, let us know on twitter using #ZombieWeapon.

Join us all this week (26 Oct – 3 Nov) at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds for a variety of spooky activities including daily talks on how to defeat a zombie. For further details visit the website.

Japanese Wakizashi Sword

As part of the Ingham case renovation in the Oriental Gallery, a large number of Japanese swords required cleaning and conservation at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds.

The swords had a variety of accessories and the highly ornate ones required more in-depth work. One of the most elaborate Japanese swords had approximately fourteen pieces to it – all of which required individual attention.

The object is a Japanese Wakizashi sword and dates back to the 17th century. The blade is signed ‘Hizen kuni ju Tadahiro’ and is accompanied by a wooden replica blade and two sets of scabbards and hilts; one simple and wooden, the other coated in lacquer and highly decorative with accessories.

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The decorative hilt was the main area of concern as the ray skin coating was fragile in a number of places and the gold dragon decorations showed evidence of copper corrosion. The metal blade collar, washers, utility knife and hair implement all showed signs of discolouration and copper corrosion. The decorative scabbard, while in good condition, had a small fragment of lacquer detached from the surface.

Before Conservators could start work on the sword, it had to be taken apart so that each item could be treated on individually. We took care to note the order and position of the accessories, so that it was not put back together incorrectly. Taking photographs helped with this process.

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The metal accessories were cleaned using cotton wool swabs with a solvent specific for metals. This removed the corrosion and discolouration, without causing further damage to the objects.

The hilt’s decorative dragons were cleaned by brushing on an appropriate solvent, in order to fully penetrate the uneven surface and remove corrosion.  The fragile ray skin coating was stabilised using a suitable adhesive that was applied using capillary action, to strengthen the bond to the base material.

The decorative scabbard was cleaned using an alternative solvent, which would not damage the original lacquer, to remove the surface dirt. The detached fragment was re-attached using a suitable adhesive to secure it back to the wooden base, without damaging the lacquer exterior. The wooden scabbard and hilt, along with the remaining metal accessories, were dry cleaned to remove the surface dust and dirt

To clean the blade, traditional Japanese methods were used, including the application of a dry powder to remove any previous oil. This was then wiped with Japanese tissue to remove it. Finally, the blade was coated with a specially tested traditional Japanese oil to protect it and prevent deterioration.

Blogger: Conservator, Vicky Garlick

Living History Day: English Civil Wars

We spoke to Dave Lister, a member of the English Civil War Society, to find out what is in store for the Living History Day this weekend.

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Colonel Edward Montagu’s Regiment of Foote from the Roundhead Association, part of the English Civil War Society..

Can you tell us a little bit about the group and what you do?
We are Colonel Edward Montagu’s Regiment of Foote from the Roundhead Association, part of the English Civil War Society. We recreate the everyday life of the English Civil Wars. Our display will provide an insight into how the civilians and military went about their everyday business during the 17th century.

How long have you been established?
We have been part of the English Civil War Society for 35 years now, so we have been around a while. We even have a few members that have been in the society and regiment for nearly as long!

What can people expect from the Living History day?
We will have a variety of stations showcasing everyday life during the English Civil War. These stations will include a cooks’ area providing examples of the diet of the 17th century, a military area with an officer’s post and soldiers demonstrating their duties.

We also have more stations reflecting other areas of civilian life in the 17th century, these include the various crafts such as sewing, spinning and weaving. We also have a scribe – there will even be a chance for you to try out some writing yourselves!

During the day we will be performing a full military drill to demonstrate the weapons used during the English Civil War. There will also be a children’s drill where we can teach the young ones how to be a soldier.

Why do you enjoy doing events such as this one?
It’s good to interact with the audience; you get to see their reactions to hearing what life was like in the 17th century. It also gives our members a chance to learn new skills from others within the regiment and the society.

The English Civil War Society and Colonel Edward Montagu’s Regiment of Foote will be at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds on Saturday 9 February, 10am – 4pm. Visit our website for more information.