Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s campaign for better armour on the Western Front

Part One, Conan Doyle’s letters to The Times

Written by Philip Abbott, Archives and Records Manager at the Royal Armouries.

Conan Doyle

Arthur Conan Doyle Collection, Lancelyn Green Bequest, Portsmouth City Council

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is best known as the creator of the great detective Sherlock Holmes, although he received his knighthood not for his contribution to English literature, but for defending Britain’s conduct of the Boer War (1899-1902). When the First World War broke out he was one of a number of famous authors who were secretly recruited by the War Propaganda Bureau to write in support of the Government’s view of the war, and to promote Britain’s interests at home and abroad. However, Conan Doyle also used his fame to campaign on behalf of British soldiers who were “fighting for the freedom of the world”.

In the first half of 1915 the British Army suffered 65,250 casualties during the Second Battle of Ypres (22 April – 25 May), and a further 27,809 in the Second Battle of Artois (9 May – 18 June). Conan Doyle wrote to The Times suggesting that either the generals change their tactics, or the troops be supplied with helmets and armour to reduce the number of casualties. He reminded readers of the Australian outlaw, Ned Kelly, who had used homemade armour to resist arrest, and the numerous instances where a bullet had become lodged in a watch, cigarette case or bible carried in a breast pocket, and so had saved a man’s life. He also proposed that on those occasions where troops were asked to attack a heavily defended positions, large shields made of armour plate and mounted on wheels could be used, linked together in a manner similar to a Roman testudo, to provide a large body of troops with complete protection from enemy fire.

conan doyle Jul 27 1915

Credit: The Times, published 27th July 1915.

Conan Doyle’s received a number of responses to his letter, and after making a summary of the ideas he had received, he forwarded them to the War Office. He eventually received a reply from Ernest Moir, (see below) Comptroller of the Munitions Inventions Department (MID) at the new Ministry of Munitions. Moir explained some of the difficulties of producing bullet proof armour, and the additional burden that infantrymen would have to carry on top of their existing weapons and equipment. However, he was not entirely unsympathetic to Conan Doyle’s concerns, and asked his views on the usefulness of light shrapnel proof armour, which was then “under consideration”. Conan Doyle was evidently willing to engage in an exchange of ideas, but the next letter he received from the MID this time from Colonel Henry Goold Adams was less than cordial. Goold Adams calculated that the weight of armour required to protect a man completely would be 300 pounds, and concluded rather brusquely, “it is obvious that such a weight would be prohibitive”.

Moir 1

Credit: Royal Armouries, Conan Doyle Papers DOY 1/3.

Moir 2

Credit: Royal Armouries, Conan Doyle Papers, DOY 1/3.

A lesser man might have been persuaded to drop the matter, but Conan Doyle’s concern was not entirely impersonal. His wife’s brother, Captain Malcolm Leckie, Royal Army Medical Corps, had died of wounds during the retreat from Mons in 1914; his nephew, Lieutenant Oscar Hornburg, Essex Regiment, was killed on 6 July 1915 when the trench he was sheltering in was struck by a shell, and his brother-in-law, L.W.S. Oldham, Royal Engineers, was shot by a sniper a few days later.

When his son, Kingsley, was seriously wounded twice in the neck by shrapnel, on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, he wrote again to The Times and The Observer reviving his ideas. This letter, seen below, was published one hundred years ago today on the 28th July 1916. Conan Doyle pointed out that the adoption of the steel helmet had already significantly reduced instances of head wounds from shrapnel, and maintained that armour, either in the form of a large heavy plate covering the body from the neck to the thigh, or a smaller plate covering just the heart, would have a similar impact in minimising casualties from rifle and machine gun fire. He further developed his ideas about infantry attacking heavily defended positions, and argued that the assault troops should be equipped with either armour or shields, and armed with grenades and automatic pistols, which they would use to suppress the enemy’s fire; the follow-up wave being armed with rifles to capture the trench.

conan doyle Jul 28 1916

Credit: The Times, published 28th July 1916.

Conan Doyle also wrote personally to David Lloyd George and at the end of July he received a brief letter from the Secretary of State for War, assuring him that, “I am at the moment paying special attention to the subject of Shields”, and adding, “If you have any ideas on this subject I shall be very grateful if you will let me have them, and you may depend upon it that they shall receive careful consideration”.

Lloyd George 0

Credit: Royal Armouries, Conan Doyle Papers, DOY 1/1.

At the beginning of September he received a lengthier response from Lloyd George (see below) informing him that serious efforts were being made to develop armour and assuring Conan Doyle that he would not lose sight of the matter, promising to discuss it with Sir Douglas Haig when he visited France in the next few days. Lloyd George noted that, “strange to say, our great difficulty is to get the soldiers at the Front to take [body armour] into use”, and had to admit that the production of bullet proof armour remained difficult, “without throwing an impossible weight on the soldier”.

Lloyd George 1

Credit: Royal Armouries, Conan Doyle Papers, DOY 1/2.

Lloyd George 2

Credit: Royal Armouries, Conan Doyle Papers, DOY 1/2.

Conan Doyle had one further opportunity to press his case when he was invited to have breakfast with Lloyd George, now Prime Minister, in April 1917. It was an informal affair, and while the premier poured out the tea, he helped himself to bacon and eggs, and then dished up the same for Lloyd George. They discussed a number of subjects, including the use of armour, and as he was leaving Downing Street, Conan Doyle sat down in one of the hall chairs, much to the surprise of the butler, and wrote out a few notes on the subject, which he asked to be delivered to the Prime Minister. It was his last contribution to the campaign he had begun two years previously.

His concern over the heavy casualties being suffered on the Western Front were prompted by Conan Doyle’s humanitarian nature and personal loss, and his ideas on body armour and shields were a thoughtful response to the unusual circumstances brought about by trench warfare. However, the nature of warfare had already begun to change with the appearance of the first tanks on the battlefield at Flers-Courcelette on 15 September 1916. His interest was not forgotten, and in June 1917 he was invited to a secret meeting with Sir Albert Stern, who briefed him on their development. The following year, during a visit to the Front, he witnessed an attack by the Australian and Canadian Divisions, “with the tanks leading the British line, as Boadicea’s chariots did of old.”

 

The arrival of the FH70 at Fort Nelson – another new acquisition!

IMG_2726

Written by Phil Magrath, Curator at Fort Nelson, Portsmouth.

The Royal Armouries collection of artillery was recently enhanced with the addition of a Field Howitzer of 155mm calibre (FH-70). This system was originally a collaborative project between the UK, USA and Germany, all desirous to change older systems, which, in the case of the UK, was the 5.5-inch Medium Gun (also in the collection).

The FH-70 is able to fire NATO standard ammunition including those with extended range base bleed capabilities and rocket assistance and providing a range of up to 30,000 metres (18.6 miles). The detachment was comprised of eight men and the firing rate between 3 and 6 rounds per minute. It was accepted into British service in 1976 and used until 1999. Several countries worldwide still count it amongst their artillery capability. This gift comes courtesy of Hesco Bastion Ltd, a Leeds based company who manufacture modern gabions or collapsible wire mesh containers used for flood control or military fortifications.

IMG_2747

The FH70 will be included in Fort Nelson’s astonishing collection of different artillery and guns ranging across centuries. Over 700 items of artillery from many countries and spanning 600 years are brought to life whilst sensitively telling the unique stories behind them.

FH70FH70 2

Built between 1860 and 1870, Fort Nelson, along with Fort Wallington, Fort Southwick, Fort Widley, and Fort Purbrook were one of the biggest defense projects ever undertaken in Britain, Fort Nelson and the other Portsdown forts were dedicated to provide the fire power to deter an enemy attack on Portsmouth from inland, although it never saw action against the French.

The Royal Armouries Museum was opened in 1984 for the first time, and today is one of the largest artillery museums in the UK.

guns_editedFN aerial 2007 aMain entrance Fort Nelson

Somme 100 – Huddersfield Drill Hall Commemoration

On the 1st July 2016 a commemoration was held by the Lord Lieutenant of West Yorkshire at Huddersfield Drill Hall to honour the Yorkshire Regiments that had been engaged in the Somme Offensive 100 years earlier.

110716_Huddersfeild Somme Commemoration 1

Somme 100 commemoration

After the presentation of the colours a traditional Drumhead service was held by Canon David Wilkes (Chaplain to the Yorkshire Regiment) and moving letters from the front were read by current members of the Yorkshire Regiment.

110716_Huddersfield Somme Commemoration 2

Return of the Colours after the Drumhead Service

The band of the Yorkshire Regiment played the regimental marches and members of the Light Infantry Buglers Association performed a fanfare for the Colours, and later the Last Post. The commemoration ended with a poignant Volley Salute by two soldiers using Lee Enfield Mark III rifles; each shot marking the death of 2,000 soldiers on the Somme.

110716_Huddersfield Somme Commemoration 3

Volley Salute using historic Lee Enfield rifles

The First World War Archives Project team from the Royal Armouries museum and partners from Bankfield Museum, Clifton Park Museum, Doncaster Museum and York Army Museum, were invited to present displays of archive material relating to the Somme offensive and to share upcoming events commemorating World War One. Reproductions of Battalion Orders, personal accounts, Battalion War Diaries, Trench Maps, recruiting material and other contemporary items were displayed to give a fuller picture of the ‘Big Push’. The displays and material provoked a great amount of interest, with many attendees sharing their own Somme connections.

110716_Huddersfield Somme Commemoration 4

First World War Archives Project Display

Our thanks go to Angela Clare from Bankfield Museum, Lisa Broadest from Clifton Park Museum, Steve Tagg and Victoria Ryves from Doncaster Museum, and Major Graham Green and Hannah Rogers from York Army Museum for their hard work.

110716_Huddersfield Somme Commemoration 5

Victoria Ryves with the Doncaster 1914-1918 Display Stand (Photo used courtesy of Doncaster 1914-1918).

New acquisition: the Missaglia Breastplate

On 29th June, at the Thomas Del Mar sale, the Royal Armouries purchased a rare breastplate by a famous family of armourers, the Missaglia family.

208-1The breastplate is stamped with the armourer’s mark of the Missaglia family: a Lombardic ‘M’ under a split cross on the right shoulder. The Missaglia’s were the foremost armourers of the Middle Ages, working from their famous workshop in Milan. This breastplate was made by Giovanni Angelo Missaglia (recorded 1504-1529), a third generation armourer of the Missaglia family. Giovanni was the eldest son and heir of Antonio Missaglia, who himself was the eldest son and heir of Tomasso Missaglia – who first adopted both the Missaglia name and mark.

208-2

This breastplate bears the same armourer’s mark as that on the great bacinet of the Royal Armouries’ Henry VIII Tonlet armour, which Henry wore at the Field of Cloth of Gold tournament in 1520. For the tournament, this great bacinet made by Giovanni Angelo was fitted onto a Greenwich cuirass for the king. Henry VIII had clearly ordered it sometime previously, and retained it in his private armoury. Find out more about this armour in the clip below (1 minute 21 seconds in).

The Missaglia  breastplate is key component of the history, development and use of arms and armour, and compliments many other Missaglia items in our collection – including a kettle hat and visor, a right and left pauldron, a lance rest, a sallet and an upper backplate dating from 15th to the early 16th century.

 

 

Yorkshire Regiments on the Somme: 1 July 1916

“… two years in the making and ten minutes in the destroying.”

The Battle of the Somme was one of the bloodiest encounters of the First World War. It is chiefly remembered for the 57,470 casualties suffered by the British Army on the first day.

Buchan-Somme-Phase-One-044

Soldiers go over the top at the Battle of the Somme

The battle, which raged for four and a half months, was fought to relieve pressure on the French forces, who were engaged in the fierce struggle for Verdun, and to reduce by attrition the German army’s ability to fight.

The British Army that fought on the Somme lacked experience. There were only a handful of Regular battalions that had crossed the Channel with the British Expeditionary Force in 1914, and a few more Territorials that had already seen action in 1915. The majority of the troops were volunteers of Kitchener’s New Armies: ordinary men from all walks of life, who were enthusiastic but poorly trained. For many of the men who had volunteered to serve in the ‘Pals’ and ‘Chums’ battalions, it was their first experience of war.

In the 7 days before the battle, the British artillery fired 1,508,652 shells against the first German defensive position. A further 230,000 shells were fired in the hour before the attack, and when the attacking troops rose from their trenches ten huge mines were exploded. The aim was to cut the barbed wire, destroy the trenches and dugouts, and silence the enemy’s gun batteries.

In the south, where the bombardment was effective, the Allies advanced rapidly and captured the villages of Montauban and Mametz. In the north, however, German defences were largely undamaged, and the attacking infantry suffered heavy casualties. Some troops managed to reach their objectives, but others were unable to cross No Man’s Land in the face of heavy machine gun fire.

The volunteers of the New Armies advanced into battle in long, close-formed lines, presenting a perfect target to the German machine gunners. The Yorkshire regiments who took part in the attack on the first day lost 9,000 men killed, wounded and missing, more than any other region in the UK. The worst casualties were suffered by:

Regiment Casualties
10th West Yorkshire (Prince of Wales’ Own) 22 officers, 688 men
8th York and Lancaster 21 officers, 576 men
8th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry 21 officers, 528 men
15th West Yorkshire (Prince of Wales’ Own)

(Leeds Pals)

24 officers, 504 men
16th West Yorkshire (Prince of Wales’ Own)

(1st Barnsley Pals)

22 officers, 493 men
12th York and Lancaster (Sheffield City Battalion) 17 officers, 495 men
1st East Yorkshire 21 officers, 478 men
10th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry 21 officers, 428 men
2nd West Yorkshire (Prince of Wales’ Own)   8 officers, 421 men
9th York and Lancaster 14 officers, 409 men
9th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry 21 officers, 383 men

Over the next few days, a series of smaller attacks developed. The British captured La Boiselle, Contalmaison and Mametz Wood, and a night attack on 13/14 July broke through the second German defensive position at Bazentin. There followed weeks of bitter fighting at Pozieres, High Wood, Delville Wood, Guillemont and Ginchy before the third position was breached.

In mid-September, the Allies resumed their general offensive. Tanks were used for the first time at Flers-Courcelette, but they were few in numbers and mechanically unreliable. Thiepval was finally captured, and in October the British attacked the high ground overlooking Le Transloy and the River Ancre. On 13 November, they launched their last attack across the Ancre. They captured Beaumont-Hamel, but failed to take the village of Serre. When winter brought the offensive to a halt, the Allies had advanced about 6 miles. The British lost 419,634 men, the French 204,253 and the Germans an estimated 415,000.

Buchan-Somme-Phase-Two-097

A soldier and his horse struggle through the mud at the battle.

To find out more, book a place on our ‘Yorkshire Regiments on the Somme’ study day at the Royal Armouries in Leeds on Saturday 2 July 2016.

Conservation in action: The German 25 cm trench mortar (Minenwerfer ) 1917

In 2004 a former member of the Royal Armouries staff collected this German 25 cm trench mortar from a Farm in Norfolk, where for a number of years it had been exposed to the elements and was in need of some tender loving care.

conservation2

conservation1

On site at Royal Armouries Fort Nelson in Portsmouth, the trench mortar remained in the Artillery Hall, where it continued to suffer from the adverse conditions until Mick Cooper (Fort Nelson Technician)  began the lengthy conservation process last year. Mick jumped at the opportunity to restore the rare object, and was not deterred by its level of degeneration.

On initial inspection, due to the extensive level of corrosion, the mortar had completely seized.  To aid in the dismantling process, a releasing agent was used. The Mortar was dismantled into three main sections: the gun, the chassis and the wheels. PH neutral chemicals and sensitive abrasive cleaning techniques were primarily utilised to remove the corrosion, however due to the extent of the decay, grit blasting was applied to larger areas. The chassis had deteriorated extensively, both the rear end and the middle section were missing. New rear chassis sections were reconstructed out of fiberglass.

The wheels comprised of different sections and materials, including a metal tyre and wheel hub, and wooden spokes and fellies. Once removed from the metal tyre, the wooden spokes were initially rubbed down and put in the freezer for a minimum of one month to kill all bugs and termites.

Mick sourced wood to manufacture the five fellies and two spokes which had rotted and obtained a high level of satisfaction in applying his previously learnt wheelwright carpentry skills into practice.  The metal tyre and wheel hub were fortunately intact. Sensitive abrasive techniques were used to remove any traces of corrosion.

When all areas had been successfully stripped back and restored where appropriate, a zinc phosphate primer and authentic paint was carefully applied to all metal and wood surfaces.conservation5

conservation4

Now, fully reconstructed, the 25 cm Minenwerfer looks robust. It is carefully positioned in the Voice of the Guns to prevent future risk of corrosion.

conservation3

 

 

Warrior Treasures: Inspired by the Hoard

image1

Jemma Churchill as Deb – and Deb Klemperer, New Vic Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent May 2015 ©Joshua Val Martin (Twitter)

At the Royal Armouries in Leeds, visitors can see our new temporary exhibition ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’, running from the 27th May until the 2nd October 2016. In parallel with the exhibition, the museum is running a blog series providing behind the scenes details on how these fascinating items were discovered, conserved, and prepared for the exhibition. In this post, Deb Klemperer, Principal Curator at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent, (with the help of Paul Bailey, Cultural Development Officer, Stoke-on-Trent City Council) talks about how the Staffordshire Hoard has inspired a variety of artistic responses.

7800743050_0a2968f8a1_o

Paul Bailey (centre back), Nick Dodds Chief Operating Officer Cultural Olympiad London 2012 (back left) and artist Katharine Morling (centre front) Image © Jas Sansi, Flickr

Introduction

Since the discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard in July 2009, there has been an outpouring of artistic responses to the fabulously intricate seventh-century gold and silver weapon fittings and Christian regalia. Visitors to the Hoard exhibitions, craft-workers, jewellers, artists, poets, potters, re-enactors, sculptors and playwrights have all felt inspired to produce work, or have gained funding to develop their work. Some of this has happened spontaneously and some in collaboration with the Hoard’s owners, Stoke-on-Trent City Council (SOTCC), The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Birmingham City Council (BCC), and Birmingham Museums Trust.

It has been a really fascinating part of my work over the past seven years to see the many and varied responses to the Hoard. A small sample are highlighted here:

‘Wake the Warrior’  by Naseem Derby

“Wake the Warrior” is a very fine, hollow filigree work stitched from thousands of black threads. The artist adopted the Raven from the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf as her messenger to explore the mythology and culture of the Hoard. Internally lit on a plinth, her Raven symbolises death as a part of life. It is really moving and powerful.

New Vic Theatre Hoard Festival  

In the summer of 2015, the New Vic Theatre in Stoke-on-Trent, led by artistic director Theresa Heskins, and funded by Arts Council England, put on an ambitious programme of plays, playlets and storytelling all based on the Staffordshire Hoard. It was incredible to watch the process from afar– the research, the interviews, the call for playwrights, the rehearsals – which took place over 16 months of feverish activity. Theresa Heskins wrote a documentary play about the Hoard’s discovery, ‘Unearthed’ which was selected as one of the Guardian’s top ten shows of 2015 http://www.newvictheatre.org.uk/2130-2/

image4

Jemma Churchill as Deb in ‘Unearthed’ © The Sentinel newspaper Stoke-on-Trent

One of the strangest things for me was to attend a launch evening at the New Vic, feel a tap on my shoulder, and turn to a smiling woman who said ‘Hello Deb Klemperer, I’m Deb Klemperer’ (see top photo, taken shortly after our meeting).

Some of my favourite work was to be found in the table plays – very short pieces performed at one’s table in the bar. The actress Suzanne Ahmed, dressed in a red and gold sari, talking emotionally of being torn away from her southern Indian homeland – and then the slow realisation that she was a garnet, describing her journey from a mine or quarry, to being inset into a piece of the Staffordshire Hoard – was really, really good (The Foreigner by Lydia Adetunji).

See http://www.newvichoardfestival.org.uk/12tableplays/

image5

image6

Images © Andrew Billington from New Vic’s Hoard Festival ‘Unearthed’ and ‘The Gift’

‘Morling and the Hoard’:
image7edited

As part of the London 2012 Festival and Cultural Olympiad SOTCC commissioned Katharine Morling, an award-winning ceramic artist, to create a body of work in response to the Staffordshire Hoard. It was a pleasure to spend time with Katharine, and let her hold the treasure, and answer her many enthusiastic questions. Katharine’s large unglazed ceramic pieces explores the mystic world of animal enchantment and the magic and the power embedded in our ancient beliefs. They are displayed near the Hoard, and elsewhere in The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery.

The Last Dragon Hunter:

image8The Last Dragon Hunter’ is a short film commissioned by SOTCC for broadcast in The Potteries Museum & Art gallery’s ‘Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia’ exhibition. Taking inspiration from the Staffordshire Hoard and Saxon myth and legend, the lively film is aimed at children and families. It was brought to life using a mix of live action filmed in the beautiful north Staffordshire countryside and animation by local filmmaker Chris Stone and BigRED Studios. The film tells the mythical story of the Staffordshire Saxon, a  bronze statue by Andy Edwards that stands in the foyer of the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery. It also explores why the hoard may have been buried in antiquity. image9

image10

Clay, Fire and Gold is a book of poetry commissioned by SOTCC to reflect on the city centre. Staffordshire Poet Laureate Tom Wye wrote 11 poems excerpts from which have been engraved into the city centre pavements. The book will be launched at the Hot Air Stoke-on-Trent Literary Festival at the Emma Bridgewater factory in June 2016. http://www.stokeliteraryfestival.org/

Quotations from ‘The Hoard’ appear in the pavement adjacent to The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery. It is a marvel to me how much this chance find in a Staffordshire field by a metal detectorist  has touched so many lives, inspired so many people:

“Steeped in mystery from beyond the mists.

Buried through years on a scarred field,

Reborn is the Staffordshire Hoard.”

To find out more about the Royal Armouries exhibition ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’ please visit our exhibition microsite http://warrior-treasures.uk/

Images not credited are ©Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

‘Do nothing or go the Full Hog and Build a Replica’

canon1

The Dutch Composite gun sometimes known as a Minion Drake being lowered into the desalination tank.

Fort Nelson Conservator Matthew Hancock is presenting a paper at the triennial Institute of Conservation conference in Birmingham this afternoon.

The paper titled ‘Do nothing or go the Full Hog and build a Replica’, investigates current treatment trends in conservation in line with the conference theme.   The presentation uses one of the Fort’s most interesting and recent acquisitions, the mid 17th century Composite gun, as a case study for this academic presentation. The Composite gun was chosen because a minimum of two different conservation techniques could be utilized to conserve it. Additionally, due to the history associated with the gun, it would be desirable to build a replica for preservation of skills and historic research.

The paper presented by Matthew will look at the conservation treatments options for this gun and the issues arising from managing complex conservation projects.

The presentation identifies the pros and cons behind administrating different conservation treatments, for example why in certain situations building a replica which conserves skills may outweigh moving the gun from storage in a desalination tank  for future generations to enjoy. Frequently a combination of different treatment techniques is utilised as shown below.

canon2This image captures the level of corrosion on the Composite gun. Treatment methods to conserve the intricate design would include washing out the chloride ions; pacifying the corrosion using either a pH neutral chemical or sensitive abrasive treatment. Finally a protective wax would be applied.

The paper briefly discusses the authenticity of the gun and the science combined with historical research used to establish that the gun was in fact genuine. The combination of historical and scientific research is another current treatment trend within conservation.  In this case, forensic XRF (x-ray fluorescence) technology was used to identify the different types of metal that make this gun a composite gun.

To find out more about the Dutch Composite gun, check out Matthew’s previous blog post here: https://blog.royalarmouries.org/2015/07/16/new-to-fort-nelson-a-stunning-composite-drake-gun/

Warrior Treasures: ‘Look beyond the gold!’ meet Chris Fern, Lead Specialist.

IMG_1010At the Royal Armouries in Leeds, visitors can see our new temporary exhibition ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’, running from the 27th May until the 2nd October 2016. In parallel with the exhibition, the museum is running a blog series providing behind the scenes details on how these fascinating items were discovered, conserved, and prepared for the exhibition. In this post,  Anglo-Saxon specialist Chris Fern, lead researcher on the Staffordshire Hoard, encourages to ‘look beyond the gold’ of this Saxon treasures… 

The Staffordshire hoard is an extraordinary treasure of the 7th century, found in 2009, that is providing a new window on England’s early history in a time of forming kingdoms and changing beliefs.  In the period, the eastern half of the country was split into numerous Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, many in regions still recognised today, including East Anglia, Northumbria, Kent and Mercia. These kingdoms fought each other frequently, and also campaigned against British kingdoms in the west. The competition was for territory and resources, but casual raiding for livestock and in pursuit of slaves was probably also commonplace. Above all gold was the prize most desired, and at this period, when coinage was still rare in England, the metal was transformed into beautiful objects. Kings used these treasures to reward loyal warriors, creating bonds of fealty which underpinned political power.

Gold — noblest of metals, bright and incorruptible – is the instantly defining attribute of the hoard. Similarly it is woven through the fabric of the famous Anglo-Saxon poem, Beowulf. Not since the great kingly treasure of Sutton Hoo was discovered in 1939 has a single find so captured the imagination of Anglo-Saxon scholars and the public alike. Each of the finds of the hoard would ordinarily be a rare prize. Yet, the find from a field in Staffordshire makes clear as never before that the warrior ranks of early England were bedecked with golden weapons, transformed by expert artisans into beautiful works of art. The glittering blood-red garnets inlaid on many of the objects were also well suited to the business of the battlefield (Fig. 1).

K284_K327_scale 2_1_CF edit

Figure 1. Pommel no. 52 (K284, K327) in gold and garnet cloisonné. One end was found torn off. © Birmingham Museums Trust.

Quite literally the ‘devil’ is in the detail. To see this one must look beyond the gold of the objects. By closely examining them, deeper messages are revealed, wrought in the metal. The art of the hoard was not simply decoration, but conceals in many cases creatures and other symbols that relate to the traditional pre-Christian ‘pagan’ and new Christian beliefs of the warriors. In many periods in the past, soldiers have worn or carried symbols of belief, to give divine protection on the battlefield. The objects of the hoard served the armies of kingdoms in a time of great change, with the coming of Christianity to pagan England, that challenged long-held beliefs.  In some cases, sword pommels and other objects bear motifs from both traditions, depictions of battling beasts that relate to paganism, as well as crosses. Pommel no. 52 is one example (Fig. 2). In these cases the individuals who owned the weapons may have been seeking protection from the gods of both faiths. Paganism was not an exclusive doctrinal faith like Christianity and there is one famous account of an Anglo-Saxon ruler setting up altars to pagan ‘devils’ and Christ (Bede HE II.15).

The manufacture of the objects is also incredible to behold, though a magnifying glass is often a necessary aid to appreciating this. The gold wires used in the filigree decoration were handmade to as little as 0.2mm, and each garnet stone was individually shaped. Some of the garnets may have come from as far away as India. We know little of the craftsmen who made the objects. The famous legend of Weland, tells of a smith hamstrung and forced to work on an island by a king. It is possible the smiths who made the hoard objects were also bondsmen in royal service, tasked with creating kingdom styles.

K284_1_1

Figure 2. Pommel no. 52 (K284, K327) showing the combining of religious beliefs. One side has a geometric pattern of rounded and triangular arches, evoking classical architecture, and at the ends are Christian crosses; the other side shows a motif of a pair of embattled beasts, with disembodied bird beaks at the ends, and probably had pagan meaning. © Drawing Chris Fern/Barbican Research Associates.

As the lead specialist working on the collection, it has been my privilege to work on unlocking the secrets of the hundreds of objects, a process that will long continue.

Remember to look beyond the gold!

To find out more about the Royal Armouries exhibition ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’ please visit our exhibition microsite http://warrior-treasures.uk/

Join our Warrior Treasures exhibition conference Saturday 11th June to hear from leading experts in the field, who will explore the many aspects of this remarkable Anglo-Saxon find and explain how it is adding to our understanding of the people that made, used and buried this magnificent hoard. Please see full details and purchase tickets via the Royal Armouries website.

Conference-Web-Banner.jpeg

Warrior Treasures: hear from the blacksmith, Stuart Makin

At the Royal Armouries in Leeds, visitors can see our new temporary exhibition ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’, running from the 27th May until the 2nd October 2016. In parallel with the exhibition, the museum is running a blog series providing behind the scenes details on how these fascinating items were discovered, conserved, and prepared for the exhibition. In this post, we heard from blacksmith and artist Stuart Makin who has made a stunning sculpture inspired by the objects of the Staffordshire Hoard which you can see in the exhibition.

PMC_2703

My name is Stuart Makin, I run a blacksmithing company called Iron Forged Designs in Northamptonshire and I was commissioned to design and make a piece of metalwork inspired by elements from the Staffordshire Hoard. This piece of work is currently being exhibited alongside artefacts from the Hoard in the Royal Armouries exhibition ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’.


I have been a blacksmith for 13 years, both of my parents are engineers, a path I wanted to follow myself, however I was gifted with being quite good with my hands but lacking in the intelligence needed to be an engineer. Blacksmithing presented a balance that was more hand craft than engineering but still contained enough of the latter to convince myself that I was following in my parents’ footsteps. Numerous evening classes, college courses and an apprenticeship later I found myself as an arrogant and talented young man who believed I could do better than any of the employers I had worked for. So I put my money where my mouth was and set up my own business with a fellow blacksmith, Ben Landucci. Running my own business has made me a slightly older and slightly humbler man.

Picture1I am trained as an Artist Blacksmith; I love to combine traditional techniques with more contemporary designs to produce unique pieces of metalwork. However, I have another love, one that has been nurtured since being old enough to pretend sticks were swords and bin lids were shields, history, particularly Anglo-Saxon history. I make historical replicas, researching an original object and trying to reproduce it as accurately as possible, I love the connection it makes between me and an ancient craftsman from hundreds of years ago. The reason this slightly rambling tangent is important is because the commission from the Royal Armouries had enabled me to combine those two facets of my blacksmithing into one sculpture. I have had the opportunity to indulge myself in research of the artefacts from the Staffordshire Hoard (in work time too!!!) and flex the creative muscles to design and create something that pays homage to the skills of the Anglo-Saxon craftsman.

Gold Hoard Images created by BM&AG

K370 – Gold and garnet hilt collar from a seax or single-bladed knife © Birmingham Museums Trust.

K1084

K1084 – Gold and garnet cloisonné bird mount from a hilt © Birmingham Museums Trust.

The objects from the Hoard are so tiny, intricate and beautifully made, however, I decided to produce a large sculpture 2.5 metres tall and the purpose for this sheer size in comparison to the original artefacts is that I wanted to convey the magnitude of importance that the Staffordshire Hoard has on our understanding of Anglo-Saxon warrior culture, history and craftsmanship. My design was influenced by some of the artefacts I found most inspiring from the Staffordshire Hoard. The pieces that stood out to me the most were the seax hilt fittings and the eagle mount. I kept going back to those intertwining beasts on the seax fittings and wondered how I could incorporate something like that in my work.

Picture3It was important to me to try and give a glimpse to viewers of my sculpture the various stages of how the beautiful cloisonné sword fittings would have been made. The central portion of the sculpture acts as a visual pathway drawing the eye upwards from the bottom where the design is engraved to the centre where the design is cut out to demonstrate the cutting of cells ready to have garnets inlaid. The top of the piece has the cells fitted with red transparent Perspex to show the fitting of the garnets. The transparent red Perspex also allows light to pass through making a stained glass window effect and really emphasizing the colour that makes the objects from the Staffordshire Hoard so distinctive.

I feel I have had the opportunity to get as close as possible to the real Anglo-Saxons who made and used these artefacts, even though technology and equipment may have changed (I am blessed with power tools those poor fellows were not) skills and techniques used are still similar. I like to think that the Saxon craftsman would have sat back after finishing his work and have a sense of quiet pride in what he had accomplished in the same way I have done with this sculpture. I hope that my work will help people who come to view the exhibition get that same feeling that I have, that the Anglo-Saxons are not just skeletons to be resigned to glass cases in museums but that they were human beings, some with the talent to produce beautiful warrior treasures.

PMC_2704