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When the Royal Armouries closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak work on our Field of Cloth of Gold exhibition had to stop. However, with just a few hours until our doors closed we managed to film this behind the scenes peek to let you see all the hard work that goes into creating a museum exhibition.

Behind the Scenes: An Interrupted Exhibition, Tudor Power and Glory: The Field of Cloth of Gold

The Royal Armouries recently held the first in a series of conferences showcasing the latest research into arms and armour. Here, Katie Vernon, who was awarded a bursary to attend the conference, gives their impressions of the day.

At the conference Weapons in Society I was able to handle some of the Royal Armouries artefacts. It’s inspiring and just plain fun handling items so old and which are usually nestled behind glass screens. The museum staff provided an amazing range of objects: a spearhead from 2500-700BC, flint or wheellock muskets and pistols from the 16th to 18th centuries, and even modern prototypes of armour. Interacting with these items offered many surprises such as the heaviness of the musket barrel, or the lightness of the swords. Holding them makes you think about previous owners using and collecting arms, and I can’t help but think if it’s so thrilling to handle them now, how amazing it must have felt to own the most fashionable, technologically advanced, and wondrous weapons. Such as the 16th century double wheellock pistol (item catalogue XII.719) available in the handling session, which could be loaded with two rounds in the barrel, or the conference cover photo of the early 17th century axe and wheellock combination pistol (XIV.6).


Examining these items tells a story of their use; plug bayonets (such as X.67 and X.289) were discussed by Mark Shearwood. Even high value, decorated, bayonets that we might expect to be solely for show, often had damage marks from use. He also discussed potential research methods using replicas, to avoid damaging museum items: testing if when the gun heats from firing and subsequently cools if it is possible to get the bayonet back out of the barrel for reuse. Similarly Victoria Bartels’ paper on 16th century firearms in Florence also discussed practicalities of using these items. An audience member asked about how the weather in Florence compares to other European cities and countries, as the use of a wheellock pistol is limited by the weather. The ignition mechanism for the pistol (the wheel) is on the outside of the gun, so if exposed to water it might not light, which certainly poses a problem for many months in rainy Northern Europe! This provides a great example of how important it is to ask: what environment were these items used in, and how did it impact the way in which these weapons were used or developed?


Weapons and gender were discussed in various sessions at this conference. Weapons are often associated with masculinity: not only can swords be phallic symbols, but also guns, as Bartels discussed, because they fire “emissions”. But women using weapons was also discussed by Bartels and Dr Mark Bennett – who presented on the gift of a sword and revolver from the 19th century American ice trader Frederic Tudor to Sir Henry Havelock, a British general in India. They discussed the appropriateness for the time and location, for instance, women in countries under colonial rule might have been thought of differently to women living in Britain; or were praised in the local media when defending themselves and family. This raises so many questions about how much women knew about using weapons – to defend themselves or others they must have had some knowledge. My PhD focuses on late medieval England, and I believe there is potential here to investigate women’s use and ownership of weapons. The papers above included sources from crime and news reports, which would make a really interesting addition to the wills and probate records I intend to examine, because they can show contexts in which certain weapons were used.


My PhD investigates the connotations of specific items of arms and armour in late medieval English romance (stories about knights and their adventures). However, it’s easy to consider these only in the context of exaggerated fantasy stories, ignoring their practicalities. The artefacts at the Royal Armouries remind us that these were real arms and armour, encountered and owned by contemporary readers. Therefore, I am also comparing the items in the stories to arms and armour encountered or owned by contemporary readers. For my own research, items in the collection such as IX.15, an early 14th century sword shortened into a falchion, provide an insight into the life cycle of weapons specifically mentioned in romances. As noted on the armouries website, this item has been deliberately shorted during the time the sword was used. The tip has been sharpened into a different shape from a straight sword – falchions are curved blades. Rather than glorious examples of armour owned or given to others by royalty, I think the items that are well used, with hodgepodge modifications and repairs, are probably the most interesting. They’re the type of items you usually miss on your first visit, but centuries of history and owners have left a mark on them. It’s been reshaped and reused to suit the owner, raising questions about how the object was thought about and how it was used.

Kate Stands waste deep in snow wearing a blue woolly hat.

Katie Vernon is a first year doctoral candidate at the University of York, whose work examines how arms and armour were presented in Middle English romances

Learn more about the objects Katie got to see up close in our Collections Online site.

The Royal Armouries recently held the first in a series of conferences showcasing the latest research into arms and armour. Here, Kirsty Haslam, who was awarded a bursary to attend the conference, gives their impressions of the day

I recently attended the ‘Weapons in Society’ conference hosted by the Royal Armouries. The conference brought together museum and heritage professionals with academics for a series of engaging and thought-provoking papers and discussions which examined the manner in which weapons have shaped and symbolised the societies in which humans have lived. The nine presented papers covered a broad range of topics and time periods ranging from Chris Giamakis from the University of Sheffield discussing burials with weapons and armour in Ancient Greece to Victoria Taylor of the University of Hull/Sheffield Hallam University who presented a paper examining the collective British memory of Barnes Wallis and the ‘bouncing bomb’.  My own research, examining the social and cultural impact of warfare in Scotland, works across the late medieval- early modern divide so I was particularly interested in Victoria Bartels’ (University of Cambridge) paper examining the role of firearms in sixteenth-century Florence and Eleanor Wilkinson-Keys’ (University of Leeds/ Pontefract Castle) work looking at the role of the tournament horse, particularly as a psychological weapon. There presentations have opened up a number of avenues for further research in my own work as well as shedding some light on sources that had perplexed me – references to gunmaker’s fixing the town clocks, which appear in Scottish burgh records, made far more sense once Victoria mentioned that clockmakers originally made much of the mechanism for fire-arms.

As well as the presented papers the staff of the Royal Armouries kindly facilitated both a tour of their galleries and a handling session of a range of the objects in their collection. The gallery tour highlighted the range of the fascinating weapons and armour that the museum has on display as well as providing in-depth discussion about particular pieces in the collection. The handling session was an incredibly rewarding opportunity to see a selection of the Royal Armouries fantastic collection ranging from Roman spears through to modern body-armour. It was particularly rewarding to examine pieces that had been referenced during presented papers. Mark Shearwood’s paper on the plug bayonet, for example, was really enhanced by the opportunity to see a number of plug bayonets and contrast them with the later socket bayonet. For me, a particular highlight was, having heard Eleanor Wilkinson-Keys’ paper on the tournament horse, to then see a number of complete sets of horse armour on display in the gallery which helped to answer my question about how the armour was secured to the horse. In the handling session there was then the opportunity to handle a piece of horse armour noting that it was perhaps lighter than we might have initially expected. This opportunity to compliment academic research with the wealth of practical knowledge of the Royal Armouries’ staff was very rewarding and, I’m sure, appreciated by all attendees at the conference.

The conference was particularly rewarding for me on a personal level because the accompanying poster competition offered me, as a researcher within the first year of my PhD research, an opportunity to present my own work. Having previously worked in the heritage sector on exhibitions the poster format allowed me to present my research in a format I was relatively confident utilising. My poster examined the weapons brought to wappinschaws, or weapons-showings, hosted in Aberdeen between 1498 and 1638, and the implications for the potential status these weapons held for the burgh inhabitants.  A number of the comments made by attendees about my poster have allowed me to develop my ideas further and I really appreciate the opportunity the competition gave me to boost my own confidence in presenting my own research.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the conference organisers for facilitating such a fascinating and varied event. I would also like to thank the organisations who supported and sponsored the event including the Royal Armouries (who were fantastic hosts throughout the day) the Heritage Consortium, the Northern Bridge Consortium, the White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities and the Royal Historical Society.

Kirsty stands in from of an old stone wall

Kirsty Haslam is a doctoral candidate at the University of Aberdeen. Her work explores the social context and cultural meaning of warfare in north-east Scotland in the late medieval and early modern period

Take a look at the objects Kirsty got to handle in our Collections Online.


The Tower of London is more famous for its ravens with terrible events predicted should they leave. However, our feline friend, the cat also has many interesting connections to the Tower; one that is sometimes curious, sometimes cute, and occasionally morbid.

Cats have almost certainly been at the Tower since its early days as they had an essential role in the Middle Ages keeping rats and other vermin in check. They were also culturally crucial in Medieval stories and myths. Traditionally a cat played a pivotal role in Dick Whittington’s London political career in the 1390s and early 1400s (still celebrated in pantomime today). At the same time, amateur meteorologists used cats’ behaviour to forecast weather.


One particularly loyal moggie belonged to Lord Henry Wriotheseley, 3rd Earl of Southampton. Wriotheseley and the Earl of Essex had rebelled unsuccessfully against Queen Elizabeth I when they attempted to force her to name James VI of Scotland as her heir. As a result, Elizabeth imprisoned Wriotheseley in the Tower of London and executed the Earl of Essex. Even though it appears that Wriotheseley got off lightly, he did not enjoy his stay. Suffering from “a dangerous disease” that made his legs and lower body swell. According to legend, he had an unexpected guest in the form of his favourite cat Trixie.

“A very remarkable accident befell Henry Wriothesley, earl of Southampton, the friend and companion of the earl of Essex, in his fatal insurrection: After he had been confined there a small time, he was surprised by a visit from his favourite cat, which had found its way to the Tower; and, as tradition says, reached its master by descending the chimney of his apartment.” — Thomas Pennant writes in Some Account of London (1793).

The portrait below shows Wriotheseley with a cat thought to be his faithful Trixie. The painting is a copy of one Wriothesley commissioned and sent as a gift to James I after the death of the Queen. It is full of symbolism to persuade the new King of England that he had always been his loyal supporter and to free him from prison.

Wriotheseley’s beautiful Three Quarters field armour is on display in our War Gallery at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds.

Lord Henry Wriotheseley a long haired thin faced man dressed in Elizabethan noble clothes sits in a room. There are a cat and a book to his elbow, and a single pain of glass is broken in the window.

The painting is full of symbolism; The arm sling shows Wriotheseley’s wounded state, the book bears his family crest, and the broken pane of glass represents the violence that was committed to his companion. Credit: CC-BY-NC-ND Image Courtesy of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

A tale of two kitties

One story you might not expect is of a pair of hidden mummified ‘moggies’ found in the Tower’s walls. These were considered protective and intended to turn away evil and witchcraft.

The smaller of the pair — officially designated xviii.587 — is probably the older and still seems to be spitting defiance, but that’s perhaps because of the drying out process rather than a live burial. Although, some authorities recommended the latter for added protection. Yikes!

It was uncovered during restoration work near the foundations of the White Tower around the 1850s and given to the collection in April 1930. Unfortunately, precise details of its find-spot or any associated material have not survived. Beauchamp Tower displayed the cat after its acquisition.

A mummified cat. It is blackened and withered and appears to have an angry expression on its face.

Possibly 17th century, if not earlier. Unearthed around 1850.

Its companion (xviii.897) seems altogether more laid back, emerging in 1950 during alterations to Tower Green buildings. It is its first public outing since.

A white coated mummified cat lays in a glass display box.

Presented by the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, September 2009. Found during alterations to buildings on Tower Green in 1950.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the verb ‘mewed’ as meaning to shut away or conceal first used in 1450. It is tempting to see a link associated with this use of mummified cats.

Blitz Kitties

Fortunately, times changed at the Tower and during the Second World War the state paid to retain a live cat on the Tower Armouries staff to defend the White Tower against rodents – a true 20th-century “Mouseketeer”. Working cats like this were common for centuries, and some museums still have their cats to this day.

More Tower cats

The Tower Menagerie also housed several lions since as early as the 1200s. In the 1800s you could visit them for a fee, or donate a live animal to feed to them!

A drawing of two adult lions, a female and male, and three lion cubs. Titled The Lion Cubs.

Titled “The Lion Cubs in the Royal Menagerie, Tower of London”, dated 1st May, 1830.

A long-standing April Fool’s Day tradition was the annual ceremony of “Washing of the Lions” at the Tower of London. There are several records of large crowds gathering to watch this “annual event”. It is the world’s earliest recorded April Fool’s Day prank.

admit the bearer and friends to view the annual ceremony of washing the lions

A spoof ticket for admission to the bearer and friends to view the washing of the lions on Monday, April 1st, 1856. The year has been overwritten to read “1856” and was previously printed as “1855”. April 1st 1855 or 1856 was not on a Monday!

So you can see that the Tower of London has had its fair share of ‘moggies’ over the years; as protectors from vermin and the supernatural, and as honoured guests. It was not just people who defended this ancient bastion, but also our feline friends.

Scarlett Parry joined the Royal Armouries in January 2019 for a one-year ICON internship in the Conservation of Arms and Armour funded by the Clothworkers’ Foundation. The internship programme offers emerging conservation professionals the opportunity to develop their careers and gain practical skills and experience. Read on to find out what Scarlett has been getting up to during her time with us.

A year in the life of an arms and armour intern

By ICON Clothworkers Intern Scarlett Parry

My name is Scarlett and over the past year I have been working as an intern within the conservation department of the Royal Armouries.

I have always been passionate about history and its preservation but also wanted to have a practical approach. This is what led me into the world of conservation which allows me to use my enthusiasm and strengths every day After completing my degree I began to look for an opportunity that would help me to gain experience and to develop my skills and knowledge, which led me to where I am now

A conservation workshop with Scarlett smiling in the foreground

The collection at the museum is fantastic with such a wide variety of objects and materials, which really lends itself to being a great learning opportunity for a conservator to learn how to preserve historical objects.

I’d like to show you all a small snapshot of some of the things I’ve been up to this past year and give an insight into what happens behind the scenes at a museum

Three-Quarter child’s armour

The very first object I worked on was this armour which is said to have been made for a twelve-year-old Edward VI. Personally I am a massive fan of Tudor history so being trusted to conserve this armour was a dream come true.

This armour gave me an excellent opportunity to begin to learn all about the separate pieces that come together to make a full armour. It needed a new rivet to hold together the moving wrist component of the vambrace (arm defence). This was vital as the lack of proper support could have caused further damage to the object. It was then cleaned and given a coating of Renaissance microcrystalline wax to help protect the vambrace against any damaging environmental factors such as moisture.

Unique skill: Mail making

Three photos of a metal helmet with hanging mail protections

Mail was commonly used by many different cultures worldwide as it could provide effective protection whilst not being too cumbersome. Some Asian mail was used alongside solid plate to protect vital areas of the body, such as the stomach.

As part of my internship I was taught how to correctly repair mail by adding new rings. This is vital to the preservation of mail objects because introducing new rings to repair gaps ensures that the weight is evenly distributed and therefore the mail is no longer put under any strain or pressure.

To ensure that the repair is successful, any new rings are made to the same dimensions as the originals and the metal is aged to a sympathetic colour. Also to ensure that the rings are identifiable a small “RA” stamp is put on each new ring so that they can be distinguished in the future should they need to be identified or removed.

A chain armour spalyed on a work table decorated with carved golden coins
The four mail objects I worked on are on display in the Oriental gallery. See if you can spot them. Watch the video on YouTube for a more in depth look at the mail ‘zereh’ shirt I worked on

Parade halberd

This parade halberd is believed to date from the 1700s. It has a red and yellow silk tassel, is covered in green/black velvet and has a decorative braid running down the staff — gorgeous.

A laid out halberd, with its wooden shaft decorated with horse hair tassel.

It’s a sad truth that sometimes there is nothing that I as a conservator can do to help to improve the condition of an object. Over time, wear and light exposure can do irreversible damage, especially to textiles, and we can’t do much to help. The textile at the end of this staff is an example of this and had become very threadbare. However, what we can do is provide protection and support to what remains.

A before and after picture of a end of the halberd with the after image protected by a light green mesh. A middle picture of Scarlett dying the mesh separates the two images.

I dyed a piece of conservation-grade nylon netting so it was sympathetic to the colour of the velvet and used it to encase the end of the staff to ensure no small pieces of fabric can be pulled off and cause further damage

Rondel dagger

This 15th-century dagger had a considerable amount of damage, including a major loss to the hilt which needed to be repaired and filled for structural integrity. This treatment was fairly straightforward as we had the original pieces that had broken off. I adhered the small pieces into the hilt using 20% Paraloid B72 in acetone and then I used Milliput (an epoxy putty very similar to playdough in it’s consistency) to fill the gaps and to provide more structural support.

On the top row, three images, of a daggers hilt being gradually repaired with filler and then decorated to look like the original antique.

Filling losses in an object is a way to ensure that its structure is more stable and secure, but we have to make sure that the fill isn’t distracting to the eye so I painted it to match the original colour of the handle. See the beginning, middle and end result of this part of the treatment

Unique skill: Firearm disassembly

An armoury wouldn’t be an armoury without some form of firearm.

Another unique part of my internship has been learning how to disassemble and conserve a variety of firearms. These included matchlock, wheellock and flintlock mechanisms and also Colt 1861 Navy Revolvers, a Colt 1911 A1 and an Avtomat Kalashnikova 47 (or more commonly AK47)

Two photos of early modern firearms, being disassembled part by part.

It was difficult at the beginning to handle firearms and I almost had a fear of them as I didn’t see them as historic objects, I saw them as their true nature as weapons. Like most of the population of the UK I’ve never been exposed to firearms so handling them proved a real challenge at first. I found flintlocks to be the most difficult but also the most rewarding to disassemble and reassemble. However, the sear spring and the frizzen spring can be tricky.

Open display cleaning

Conservation is not always looking after objects behind the scenes, we are often out in the galleries cleaning the open display objects to keep them free from dust. This is very important for any object out on display as dust is hygroscopic; which means it attracts moisture to itself and this can cause a multitude of problems, especially for objects with metal parts like armour. If water is left on metal for a prolonged amount of time it can cause corrosion to form, which if left untreated can cause serious damage and even loss to the object.

Two images. On the left Scarlett cleans a full piece of armour in a open case. In the second she brushes down the area around the tusks of a full size armoured elephant armour with rider.

I clean the open display objects using museum vacuums and soft brushes to keep the dust levels as low as possible.

Sadly my time at the museum is coming to an end, but I am extremely proud of all that I have achieved by completing 50 successful conservation treatments that will forever be a part of this wonderful collection.

Watch Scarlett’s video about her experiences as an intern, conserving Indian ‘Zereh’ armour and her time at the Royal Armouries.

Royal Armouries Voices is a new series talking to our colleagues at Leeds, Fort Nelson, and the Tower of London about their experiences working with one of the world’s largest and most important collections of arms and armour. Their answers were recorded and transcribed for publication below.

Today I met with Daniel Ward, one of our Museum Assistant s here at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds. He’s not been with us very long so I was interested in his fresh insights into the museum.

What made you want to work at the Royal Armouries?

Daniel: While I was doing my degree in Military History at Sheffield Hallam, I always had the Royal Armouries in mind. Its collection fits so closely with the interests of my degree. It’s also such an old collection, so being part of that history and being able to engage with the collection was really appealing for me.

Museum Assistant Daniel stands in the foreground of a display case containing two mounted machines guns and a suit of trench Armour.

Dan’s speciality is modern military history. These machineguns are from the First World War and can be found on the third floor of the museum.

Which gallery is your favourite here at the Royal Armouries Museum Dan?

Daniel: The War Gallery on the second floor has the largest chronological range with objects from prehistorical and ancient times, and going right up to the present day. If someone only had an hour to spare I would recommend the War Gallery because of that. Also it’s nicely laid out with lots of space so interesting to explore. I also like the Oriental Gallery as it feels really peaceful up there, with the contemplation area and chessboards, even if I don’t know as much about the objects it’s still enjoyable to walk around.

A live demonstration was starting in the War Gallery as we chatted, and it started filling up with excited onlookers. We left to walk around the museum getting out of the way of the crowd and ending up in the quieter upper level of the Tournament Gallery where I asked Daniel my next question.

Do you have a favourite object in the Royal Armouries Museum?

Daniel: My favourite object is a damaged German machine gun from the First World War on the third floor. It’s tempting to pick something that’s beautifully ornate, engraved or in pristine condition. However, the reason I like that machine gun in particular is actually because of its damaged state. This object’s appearance clearly shows it was used in a conflict, giving it one of the best visual stories in the museum. For me it raised a lot of interesting questions: was it used to fire shots in anger? May have unfortunately killed someone?

A mounted Machine gun pointed towards the viewer. It is rusted from age and bent from battle damage.

Captu LMG 08/15 machine gun. From a German aeroplane shot down by the Machine Gun Corps near the village of Dadizeele in 1918.

Daniel: That in turn raises the question; is it ethical to display objects that were used to cause suffering? I find it really interesting that from this single object sprout so many questions that are not even about it; but about our museum and even how our society views certain aspects of our history. I just hope that we don’t associate displaying an object with condoning or glorifying what it was used for. When the real value in displaying it is about inspiring questions to be asked and tackle them in an open and free space. That’s why I love that object, it sums up all those interesting ethical questions about museums that are fascinating.

Daniel and I chatted some more before he returned to his duties. What he had to say about the ethics within museums and also the deeper stories behind our collection made me think about how different people see our collection so differently, and how his insights were so different to those that we normally see presented.

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Come back soon for more articles about life at the Royal Armouries. Make sure to follow our social media channels so you don’t miss our next article.

Royal Armouries Voices is a new series talking to our colleagues at Leeds, Fort Nelson, and the Tower of London about their experiences working with one of the world’s largest and most important collections of arms and armour. Their answers were recorded and transcribed for publication below.

Museum assistants Tom and Brittany stand in from of an armored horse and knight display

Brittany Ouldcott and Tom Davies are Royal Armouries museum assistants. Often, they are the first point of contact for members of the public visiting our museum in Leeds. They interact with the public, discussing and educating them about our collection. They also make sure our galleries are safe spaces for visitors. Their enthusiasm for heritage and history is palpable when you first meet them. Even before the recording equipment was set up they were explaining the story behind the items we were standing next to. For this short interview, I spent some time with them walking around our galleries. I was interested to learn what our members of staff who spend the most time amongst the gallery objects think of them.

We start in the oriental gallery on the fifth floor.

What is your favourite gallery in the Royal Armouries Museum?

Tom: “The oriental gallery is my favourite gallery because it covers such a diverse range of stuff. Our collection has so many different cultures on display together that it’s one the of best places for this kind of stuff in the country, and it’s a chance to delve into some of the cultures that we don’t often get to experience in our daily lives. In a world that’s becoming more drawn together and more globalised, the more we learn about the history of the rest of the world the more we can appreciate each others cultural heritage.”

Brittany: “Also the oriental gallery’s layout is stunning. The Royal Armouries Museum was custom built to house this collection and as such floors 4 and 2 have about 20-foot ceilings so we can house objects like the war elephant armour and 18-foot pikes can be properly stored. The oriental gallery also has some eastern-style architectural features that puts this collection in context and frames ‘where we are in the world’ when we walk around the gallery and creates a lovely environment for the museum. On floor five, the gallery has one of the best views of the canal and the city, especially if you are here on a night event and you get to see the whole area lit up.”

We walk around floor five for a few minutes, taking in the view. Both Tom and Brittany energetically describe the collection we pass. They give insights to the objects I’ve walked past before but only given a cursory glance. I have to interrupt their tour to get in my next question.

Why did you both want to work for the Royal Armouries?

Tom: “I think we’ve both got a similar story. We both have heritage-related degrees.”

Brittany: “Yeah, mine is in archaeology, that I finished this August, and I did my undergraduate dissertation on some of the museum’s collection, specifically the Walpurgis Manuscript [Tower fechtbuch I.33], which we are very fortunate to hold in our archives, and is one of my favourite pieces of primary source material. This gave me an introduction to the Royal Armouries as a museum.”

Tom: “Yeah same for me, my dissertation was on modern media’s use of history. Coming to work on the front line of a place where the public interacts with the past, and with the Royal Armouries having one of the best collections of historical objects in the world, is pretty cool.”

We leave the fifth floor, and descend one level to the main floor of the oriental gallery. It’s dimmer here than on the fifth floor, the lights are kept low to preserve the fabric. This gives the gallery a certain ambience. We walk towards Tom’s favourite object, the famous elephant armour. Before I can even ask him why it’s his favourite thing in the museum he starts talking about it.

museum assistant in front of the elephant Armour

Tom points enthusiastically at his favourite object

Tom: “It’s no surprise that this would be my favourite items. It’s one of the most important items we have, being one of the most complete armours of its type on public display.”

Brittany: “I think it’s the only one on public display.”

Brittany and Tom spend several minutes discussing various elephant armours around the world and how they compare to the Royal Armouries’ example. They conclude that ours is pretty great.

Tom: “It’s also really interesting to me, as it’s a symbol of the bond between man and animal. Elephants would take ten to twenty years to train to be competent in battle, so protecting them was important. The armour itself is all hand made, each link being put together by hand, and the result is awe-inspiring to look at.”

Brittany: “It is. I see visitors walk through the archway into the gallery and come face to face with it and just be stunned.”

Tom: “I’ve had multiple children ask me ‘Is it really armour?’ to which I say, ‘of course, it’s really armour!’ If it wasn’t this size it wouldn’t fit the elephant.”

Brittany: “I’ve had people ask me if it’s a taxidermied elephant, which it’s not, and in fact, a taxidermied elephant would not withstand the weight of the object for any length of time.”

Brittany and Tom start another discussion about the exact weight (130 kg after looking on our collection website). This leads us to a chat about misconceptions of armour being shown as overly heavy in films. Tom then shows us to a piece of cloth armour from 18th-century Mughal India to make his point.

Tom: “This [cloth] armour has been here since I started but only recently has been re-lit with white light [LED], so it’s no longer kept in as low light to preserve it. In hot continents warriors used cloth armour that gave a balance between protection and weight. The new lighting lets you see in great detail the patterns and designs, and the artistry on it is sublime.”

Brittany’s favourite gallery

We take the lift down to the war gallery to look at the English Civil War area. On the way Brittany shows us some of the prehistoric objects we have.

Brittany: “From the prehistoric era, we have several items here. Some bronze axe heads, a sling stone, and also a stone arrowhead. I had a go at chipping an arrowhead like this. It’s actually very skilled, we broke our arrowheads each time.”

We enter the war gallery. Brittany explains why for her the English Civil War area is one of the most interesting areas.


A museum assistant in front of a display

A display of English Civil War swords and helmet is a favourite of Brittany’s

Brittany: “Being an English museum the English Civil War is a very important period in our history, and also a great example of how war is not mindless conflict, but actually changes how our society works and draws a lot of parallels even today. The cuirassier’s armour shows a direct link back to the Tudor armour styles but becomes more practical over time. We also see this evolution in swords that drastically change over this period. Both rapiers and back swords with basket hilts diverge in style but keep the same protective feature of the defensive hilts. This feeds into armour evolution,  the removal of gauntlets because hand protection is present on the weapon itself.”

Due to time and battery limitations, I had to stop recording them. I have no doubt that if I had let them they would have kept talking for most of the afternoon. I thanked them for their time and left. My intention was for them to talk about their experiences at the museum, but both had been far more interested in discussing the collection and objects.

Brittany and Tom had been so interesting that I had failed in my duties as an interviewer. I left with less knowledge of their roles at the museum, but was instead impressed by their passion for history.

I highly recommend that when you visit our museum you engage with my colleagues in the galleries. They will be more than happy to discuss and explain what you are looking at.

Come back soon for more articles about life at the Royal Armouries. Make sure to follow our social media channels so you don’t miss our next article.

We’re kicking off #MuseumWeek with a celebration of all the wonderful and dedicated #WomenInCulture working for the Royal Armouries. Thank you for all the great work that you do. Here are just a few of them.

Keep up to date with our #MuseumWeek activity, and follow us on Twitter.

Lauren Piper, Conservator at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, shows us the work that goes into preparing a 16th-century English Jack of Plate for treatment.

The preparation process

No conservation treatment can be started without a considerable amount of decision making. As Ellie explained in her blog post Horsing around in the Conservation lab, it is essential to keep in mind what your intended aim is. What is in the best interest of the object? What are the needs of its constituent materials? Is your approach ethically sound? For many more routine treatments, much of the initial questioning and decision making goes on inside my head or is thrashed out through conversations with my colleagues. Some of it is intuitive: the result of knowledge and experience. But every so often something comes along that presents more of a challenge — where the process of preparing the object for treatment takes almost as long as the treatment itself.

Lady measuring a garment dressed on a mannequin in a laboratory for treatment

Measuring the Jack. Photo credit Charlotte Graham.

The Jack of Plate

One such object is III.1278, an English Jack of Plate dated from 1580. A jack of plate or ‘jack’ is a type of armour worn by the common soldier in which small ferrous plates were sewn between layers of coarse canvas. This construction means that it would have been lighter, but also cheaper than plate armour.

This canvas jack is dressed on a torso mannequin before treatment, with tissue stuffing visible around the armholes.

The Jack on its old mannequin with tissue stuffing.

Close up of the jack, showing tufts of green silk in the canvas before treatment

Detail showing tufts of green silk

III.1278 is made in the form of a doublet with a high waist at the back and a deep peascod at the front, reflecting the fashion of contemporary civilian male dress. The plates are pierced and are secured to the canvas fabric using a trellis pattern of cords which are knotted at the surface. It is still possible to see traces of the green silk tufts that covered these knots. The interior of the jack is also lined with a layer of fine canvas.

The overall condition of the jack is very poor. Many of the plates are exposed or missing and much of the cord has been lost. Indeed, it has never been weighed owing to its fragility. Textiles are particularly vulnerable to degradation caused by a combination of physical, biological, and chemical agents: exposure to light causes irreversible fading and the weakening of fibres; they are sensitive to fluctuating- and extreme levels of relative humidity as well as to high temperatures which will catalyse many other chemical reactions; they can be affected by pollutants, dust, insects, mould and mildew. Pre-existing damage can also be exacerbated by poor handling in the museum context. The jack has the additional problem that it contains metal plates which have corroded, staining and weakening the already degraded cellulosic textile.

The jack had been stored on an inappropriate mannequin for some time and desperately needed a more bespoke figure in order to fully support the fragile garment and to improve its visual interpretation. However, body shapes (or at least the forms of costume designed to fit them) have changed in the last few centuries meaning that modern fashion mannequins are rarely suitable for historical costume without further adaptation. I took careful measurements and decided to order a mannequin that was smaller than required so that padding could be added to customise the figure. From a conservation perspective, it is also important that the mannequin is made from materials that will not have a detrimental effect on the object. By working closely with the manufacturer we have been able to test the padding, adhesives and overlying fabric to ensure their suitability.

Due to the fragility of the jack, I wanted to minimise handling and movement but how could I check the form of the mannequin during its adaptation? I decided to make a toile, a basic copy of the original object that could act as a ‘stand-in’. I measured and traced around the individual sections of the jack in order to create a paper pattern and then cut the pieces out of Fosshape™, a non-woven breathable fabric with a thickness similar to that of the original armour. Once sewn together I had a working substitute for the next stage in the preparatory process.

Treatment of three pattern pieces of the toile laid out on a table in a laboratory

The pattern pieces for the toile laid on a layer of FosshapeTM.

How, then should the jack appear? How much should the skirt project? How should the front of the garment be padded? Unfortunately, there are very few, if any, contemporary painted representations of jacks, probably because they were worn by the common soldier. However, as discussed, we can look to depictions of contemporary men’s fashions. A good example is the doublet and leather jerkin in the painting of Martin Frobisher by Cornelis Ketel (University of Oxford Collections). This clearly shows how these garments were designed to highlight the narrow waist and broad shoulders whilst creating a slightly distended lower belly. Based on such images and further guided by curatorial advice I have begun to adapt the mannequin using layers of thermally bonded polyester wadding covered with black Baumann fabric to tone in with the rest of the mannequin. The base of the figure has been trimmed so that it will not be visible beneath the jack. Working with our technicians, I also hope to produce a Perspex support for the skirt section.

The jack, and the mannequin wearing the toil treated

The toile on the mannequin before adaptation.

Oil portrait of man wearing canvas jack of plate

Portrait of Sir Martin Frobisher by Cornelis Ketel (The Bodleian Libraries, The University of Oxford, LP 50).

So after the toile has been used to adapt the mannequin is it time for the actual conservation treatment to begin? Well, almost…

Broadly speaking, my treatment will involve encasing the jack in a fine layer of conservation-grade nylon net which needs to be dyed in order to tone in with the original fabric. Where appropriate I will also use colour-matched linen as a supportive backing. It is not my intention to hide the exposed metal plates as these give us information about the internal structure. Rather, the aim is to stabilise the object and reduce further deterioration. The net will support the armour whilst leaving the details of its construction visible.

Four side by side images of the mannequin being padded with polyester wadding to create a belly

Mannequin being padded with polyester wadding.

Once the mannequin adaptations are finished and the fabrics dyed the original jack can be moved into position…and then the work really begins.


By conservators Ellie Rowley-Conwy and Rebecca Hayton

It’s easy to think that pest infestations only happen in dilapidated buildings or the result of poor hygiene and bad housekeeping, but of course it’s never that simple. Even the most sanitary buildings can be struck down with unwanted creepy-crawlies and museums are no different. Once established, an infestation can be very hard to eradicate. But never fear, there are plenty of remedies and some helpful hints and tips that might be useful in your home.

Treatment of moth infestations on the Elephant Armour

Rebecca and Ellie removing dust from the Elephant Armour. Photographer: Charlotte Graham

We are going to share with you our years of knowledge and experience, combined with the most up-to-date research that we have at our disposal here at the Royal Armouries, to help you control any outbreaks. Specifically, we are focussing on moths and the potential damage they can cause.

Here in the museum we use traps to monitor the galleries and storage areas. We check these on a monthly basis so we can keep an eye on numbers and track any increases or decreases. Of course, this is  a bit extreme for the home but there are tell-tale signs you can look out for, such as small holes appearing in your favourite woollen jumper or moths fluttering around your lights.

Moths can enter your home in many ways, through openings big or small. Bird’s nests in particular are a common habitat for them so if there are any close to entry routes into your house then this could be a possible cause. Of course not all moths are a problem in the home or museum, the ones you should look out for are the webbing clothes moth, case-bearing clothes moth, brown house moth and white-shouldered house moth.

If you find any of these moths there are a number of options available to you, ranging from the cheap easy fixes to bringing out the big guns (not literally even though we are the Royal Armouries!).

Moths are attracted to dark, warm and undisturbed places, living on natural fibres and dust. Knowing the conditions that moths flourish in, gives you a starting point for tackling them. The most simple and effective method is to disturb areas in the house you use less frequently, cleaning away those dust bunnies in long forgotten corners, under the sofa and in the wardrobe.

Speaking of which, if you’re insisting on keeping that old bit of carpet because ‘it might come in useful in the future’, just make sure you vacuum it every now and again. It’s also a good idea to get unused chimneys swept semi-regularly as this is another classic port of entry for unwanted guests (not you Santa!).

Another method available for the treatment of moth infestations is the application of chemical treatments and insecticides, but don’t go rushing to your local hardware store just yet. The use of insecticides is (understandably) heavily regulated and you don’t want to be spraying all sorts of dubious chemicals around your home. Here at the museum we favour a water-based insecticide spray known as ‘Constrain’ by Historyonics. This has a neutral pH and doesn’t damage materials, though it’s always a good idea to do a test first. If you do decide to use this method at home make sure you follow all the safety instructions and keep the treated area isolated from people and animals for 48 hours. This can be highly effective, especially when used in conjunction with regular cleaning of affected areas.

Elephant armour mounted on a model elephant in the oriental gallery being cleaned by a conservator on a yellow ladder being held by an assistant

An example of the extreme housekeeping we have to do at the Royal Armouries, hopefully you don’t have anything on this scale at home.

Obviously, a museum is on a different scale to a domestic home, and can therefore require more extreme measures that are available to the public.

Here at the Royal Armouries we always try to keep up with the latest research and technology which has led us to experiment with a newly commercially available treatment called ‘Exosex CLTab’, an environmentally friendly, pheromone based product. These are tablets placed strategically around the museum in locations classed as high risk. This treatment aims to disrupt the reproductive cycle of the moths, thereby significantly reducing the population. So far we are experiencing promising results but it’s still early days.

Clear plastic mount holding a white tablet

One of the tablets for the Exosex CLTab treatment.

These methods all deal with an infestation once it has occurred, but museum collections need to be protected and preserved for future generations so we need to take extra precautions and prevent infestation occurring in first place. To meet this challenge we have developed an active quarantine procedure for all objects entering our buildings.

We inspect objects on arrival and freeze any containing organic materials down to -30°c. To prevent any damage occurring during the freezing process, we wrap objects with a layer of acid free tissue and seal them in polythene to avoid fluctuations in humidity. Whilst this is generally used as a preventive measure it is also effective for treating infested objects. Heat treatments can be used in a similar way, though this requires specialist equipment to deal with the humidity problem. We use a combination of all these methods, what we in the industry call ‘Integrated Pest Management’.

Obviously, not all of these techniques are practical or even possible to employ in your own home, but hopefully this has introduced you to some of the options out there. Remember, the first rule of combat is to ‘know your enemy’ and know that you are not alone in fighting this battle.

Read more behind the scenes posts from our conservation team.