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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.

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. 


Our collection comprises approximately 75,000 objects, covering a complete range of arms, armour and related material, including guns, swords, armour, artillery, and polearms. The maintenance and preservation of these objects is a critical role within the museum. Lauren Piper, Conservator for the museum,  tells us a little more about some recent changes to the conservation laboratory in Leeds, and the important work carried out there.

Conservator examining an object

Conservator Lauren Piper examining an object

Preserving our collection

The preservation of the collection is one of the Royal Armouries’ fundamental responsibilities to the nation and future generations. It is also vital to the presentation, interpretation and research of the collection. The Royal Armouries has conservators at its three sites: Leeds, the Tower of London and Fort Nelson.

What we do

The Conservation team at Leeds comprises two Object Conservators who carry out physical treatments on objects such as removing dirt or corrosion, as well as a Preventative Conservator, who cares for the collection by monitoring and controlling environmental factors (e.g. relative humidity, temperature, light levels, pollutants and pests).

In the Autumn of 2017, it was decided that the conservation laboratory at Leeds was in need of a bit of a re-vamp. This was no mean feat, involving removing large numbers of objects, furniture and shelving so that the walls and floor could be painted. However, now that the work is complete it seems the perfect opportunity to showcase the new space and to explain a bit about what we do as a department.

wide shot of conversation lab

The conservation laboratory in Leeds

The main laboratory is now a bright and spacious area to work in with double workbenches for the two objects conservators as well as a bench for our current student placement from Durham University.
Each bench has localised extraction (the yellow ‘trunks’ that you can see in the photographs) which allows us to work with solvents and adhesives. We also keep a vast array of tools, materials and equipment in the mobile storage units under the long shelving. These include specialist gunsmith’s tools for the disassembly of firearms and also the equipment and wire that we use to make new rings to stabilise mail objects. Each new ring is stamped with a tiny ‘RA’ so that it can be distinguished from the originals.

Chain shirt conservation

The conservation of a nineteenth century mail shirt from India showing newly made rings.

We also have an adjacent room where we can carry out messier (and noisier) tasks such as the re-leathering and re-riveting of armours as well as air abrasion of archaeological metalwork. Re-leathering/re-riveting is only carried out when the stability of the object is at risk due to the irreparable deterioration of older replacement leathers (those added in the 1960s being particularly vulnerable).

releathering station in conservation

Our adjoining space for re-leathering, re-riveting and air abrasion

The laboratory houses a large fume cupboard which is used principally for decanting chemicals such as solvents into smaller dispensers that are suitable for use on the bench. However, we also use it for tasks where effective, prolonged extraction is essential such as dyeing new fabric that can be used to stabilise objects with textile components.

We also have a furnace and an oven which allows us to test materials before they are brought into contact with objects. This is particularly important when preparing for a new exhibition, allowing us to determine whether paints, adhesives and other products are suitable for use in cases and in the galleries.

pan at dyeing station in the conservation lab

Fabric being dyed on an induction hob inside the fume cupboard.

furnace in the conservation lab

The furnace (top) and laboratory oven.

Other important aspects of a conservator’s job include photography, written documentation and scientific analysis. To facilitate this we have a small photography studio, a range of digital microscopes and a walk-in X-ray facility. We are also fortunate enough to have the technician’s workshop adjacent to the laboratory. Our two display technicians make custom mounts for objects in-house and we collaborate closely on exhibitions, loans and new displays.

Looking ahead

The coming year will be a busy and varied one for the team but we feel extremely privileged to be responsible for the conservation of the National Collection of Arms and Armour. If you are interested in hearing more about our work please do look out for upcoming blog posts which will focus in more detail on specific objects and projects.

Find out more about the conservation team and the work they do.


Not all the conservation work carried out at the Royal Armouries is undertaken in the lab. Within the galleries of the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, we have a number of objects on open display, including detailed dioramas, individual objects, and treasures of the collection such as the Elephant Armour in the Oriental Gallery and the Gothic Armour in the War Gallery. In this blog post, we speak to Rebecca Hayton, a preventive conservator at our museum in Leeds, about the threat of dust to open display items.

The impact dust can have on our objects

As with your priceless mantelpiece ornaments, the objects in the museum on open display are prone to the accumulation of dust and dirt which, if left undisturbed, could cause irreversible damage and have a dramatic impact on the wider collection. Not only does dust leave an unpleasant grey layer on the objects, it can also be a contributor to their deterioration.

Accumulated dust on an object on open display

Macro shot of dust accumulating on a museum exhibit

Why is dust a risk?

Dust attracts moisture which can promote the corrosion of metal objects. This highlights the need for an effective cleaning programme and efficient environmental monitoring. Additionally, dust attracts and harbours pests which in the right environmental conditions and with the correct food source, could turn into a costly infestation affecting the museum collection (a topic we will come onto at a later date).

This is the reason why we have an open display cleaning programme, regulating the cleaning of open display objects; preventing the accumulation of dust, lowering the risk of damage and prompting conservators to conduct regular condition assessments.

Before I began my pitched battle with dust, I conducted an assessment of the open displays and their surrounding areas. This observational exercise allowed me to carry out condition assessments of the objects while identifying accessibility of the displays, working out the treatment, materials and staff required, as well as locations of electrical points and times when cleaning can be conducted. Together with my observations and information gathered about other activities in the museum, I was able to prioritise.

The removal of dust

We use a variety of equipment to ensure all dust is removed from the object safely: soft brushes to remove the dust from the surface of the object, and a special vacuum to eliminate the dust from the atmosphere. Not your average domestic cleaning method I know, but best practice for the objects. Removal of this dust not only makes the objects on open display look more aesthetically pleasing from a visitor’s perspective, it also lowers the risk of objects deteriorating and becoming food sources for little beasties.

The removal of historic dust has provided me with the opportunity to carry out dust research. Although in its primary stages, this research will involve the collection and analysis of dust particles collected from different areas of the museum. Not only will this allow me to determine how quickly dust is accumulating, therefore allowing a more accurate schedule for the cleaning programme, but I will also be able to identify the type of dust in the atmosphere and how this might be damaging for the collection. So watch this space.

What can you do to help preserve this collection for the nation?

For us as humans, touch is an important way to gain information about the world around us and that includes making tangible connections to the past through historic objects. Unfortunately, it is this desire to touch and interact that is making it increasingly difficult to preserve the collection for future generations. Although metals may look to be in a stable condition, they are vulnerable to corrosion caused by sudden changes in relative humidity and temperature combined with other aspects including moisture, dust and dirt introduced to the surface through touching.

Touching an object introduces dirt and oils from the skin to its surface – the same reason a crime scene has fingerprints. So although it looks like we in the museum are preventing you from physical experiences with ‘DO NOT TOUCH’ signs, we are in fact inviting you to contribute to the preservation of the collection.

Two conservators using a soft brush to clean dust from the embossed panels on an armour for an elephant

Dusting the Elephant Armour. © Charlotte Graham Photography

Read our conservation series to learn more about our conservation team and the important work they do to keep our objects safe.

Objects brought to us in Conservation can be chosen for treatment for a number of reasons. Sometimes it is because they are in a fragile state and interventive action is required for the long-term preservation of the piece, and sometimes it is so they can be better displayed and understood by the public. In fact, both of these reasons are true for this next object that is currently being treated in the conservation lab.

If you were faced with this….

pieces of an old shaffron

XXVIH.5 – Sudanese Shaffron

Would you be able to begin to identify and make sense of it?

Those ‘horsey’ people among you might be able to recognise the pieces as a horses shaffron. This is armour that is used as the head defence for your horse during combat and sometimes for ceremonial purposes. It is made up of the main face plate and two separate cheek pieces. This particular shaffron is Sudanese in origin and dates from the 19th century. General interest in Sudanese arms and armour increased at this time as the British were undertaking military campaigns in the region. This led to an influx of these types of objects finding their way into British collections, either as spoils of war or picked up by travellers wanting a curio from their holidays.

photograph of man on horseback in chain mail armour next to a young man holding a flag

Lieutenant C.F. Wanhill wearing a suit of chain mail armour looted from the battlefield at Karari after the Battle of Omdurman [Source] Durham University Library Archives and Special Collections, ref. SAD.A1/182

So where does a conservator start with something like this?

Well that’s a very good question…

It is usually a good idea to establish what the aim of the conservation process is for the specific object in question, what exactly are we trying to achieve? This shaffron is to be photographed so it can be used by our curator of Asian and African arms and armour for future publications and also for our collections online. The ideal end point for this object would be for it to be photographed in a way that it can be best understood, that is on a horse head shaped mount. The fragility and stiffness of the leather straps means that it is far too delicate to be mounted like that currently, my job is to decide if and how we can make this a possibility.

Firstly, I need to assess the condition of the object and get an idea about the types of materials it is made up of, as this will directly affect what techniques and products I use. I can see this piece is made up of a mixture of organic and inorganic materials, often these will need different, and sometimes conflicting, types of treatment which can complicate matters.

The copper alloy metal is in good condition, though it is quite soiled and could definitely do with a clean. I often use solvents on cotton swabs to clean metal surfaces as they are usually very effective when used in a controlled manner and dried properly afterwards. You may notice that I referred to the metal as ‘copper alloy’, but I can’t really distinguish any further than that without having analysed it. We are very lucky to have a portable XRF (X-ray fluorescence) which can determine the elemental composition of materials in a non-destructive way.

person using a scanner to scan a metal helmet

Our Portable XRF, it gives you a spectrum on the computer of what elements are present allowing you to identify the alloy type.

The coarse cloth lining and padding seem to be okay too, though again they will need a clean. I will probably stick to dry cleaning methods here as introducing water or other solvents can create tidelines, and if the padding gets damp it could hold moisture against the back of the metal plates.  It will be nice if I can identify the textile type, hopefully, I can do this visually under microscopy.

The real issue is with the leather straps, they’re so fragile and have become really stiff over the years as the leather has dried out. Every time they are moved, small pieces are becoming detached. I’m pretty sure it will need some humidification to get it back to a shape that can work on a mount, but you often have to leave the leather in a humidified atmosphere to soften it, which isn’t going to agree with the metal. So I’m going to have to think of a way to target only the leather, perhaps by forming some kind of tent.

The leather is also going to need some cleaning up, and I usually try to stick to dry cleaning with leather for the same reason as with the textile. This may seem strange after having used humidification as a method, but that process uses water in a vapour rather than in the liquid form. I hope to be able to visually determine the animal species the leather has come from but it will depend on how deteriorated it is. The string towards the muzzle end is likely to be a crude historic ‘repair’ rather than being an original element, so there’s an argument for removing this.

woman looking through a microscope at the shaffron

Conservation work on the Sudanese Shaffron. Photo credit: Charlotte Graham

By thinking all of this through, I can come up with a treatment plan for the shaffron which will guide me during the process of conservation. However, it can all change at the last minute. That’s the beauty of conservation, you can use all your experience and scientific knowledge and things still won’t go as planned. It’s a real test of your patience and you have to be prepared to abandon everything you thought you knew, it’s all about being able to adapt as you go. There’s no one-size-fits-all technique and if you ask another conservator, they may well go about treating this shaffron in a completely different way.

metal studding detail of the Sudanese Shaffron close-up.

The beautiful detail of the Sudanese Shaffron close-up.

Finally, once I’ve completed the treatment I then have to record everything. We use photographs of before, during and after treatments, and we write up a treatment record for every object that we conserve. It can be quite a long process and I’m sure you can appreciate that with over 70,000 objects in the collection, it keeps us pretty busy.

Hopefully this has given you an insight into how we approach the conservation process here at the Royal Armouries. It’s never boring, which is my mantra when things are getting tricky. Though we are really lucky being able to work with such interesting objects and the problem solving can be very rewarding.

I’ll be doing an ‘after’ blog once this treatment is finished to let you all know how it went, wish me luck.

These guns were recovered from the wreck of the Royal Navy ship HMS London and are interesting guns for several reasons. They were acquired by the Royal Armouries in 2017 and form part of a major conservation project at Fort Nelson known as the 17th century Marine Salvage Project. There is a third gun in this project, a 17th century composite drake gun.

Visible corrosion damage

Deterioration on the rim of the gun

Conserving a piece of history

Understanding the object’s history is important as it can affect the condition of the object and, in turn, the conservation treatments required. These guns are a very good example of how this works. The London guns have an interesting history. Divers began salvaging treasures from the wreck of the HMS London in 2007, however due to an incorrectly completed declaration there was a subsequent court case. The guns have since been acquired by the Royal Armouries with assistance from the Receiver of Wreck.

The first question to ask is where and which HMS London? This might seem an obvious question, however there have been 13 ships called HMS London. The guns were in fact recovered from the second HMS London, which is often confused with the first. The second HMS London was built in Chatham in Kent for the Navy and captained by John Lawson. She was a 76 gun second-rate ship of the Royal Navy, built in 1656, one of three second-rate large ships built between 1642 and 1660. She gained some of her fame as one of the ships that escorted Charles II from Holland back to England during the English Restoration. The huge vessel sank in the Thames Estuary after mysteriously exploding on a journey from Chatham, Kent. It is believed a sailor took a candle below deck, sparking an explosion in the ship’s gunpowder stockpile. Three hundred people died when she sank.

The famous diarist Samuel Pepys, who was also an administrator of the navy of England and Member of Parliament, recorded the loss of the London on the 8 March 1665 in his diary,

‘But a little a’this side the buoy of the Nower, she suddenly blew up. About 24 men and a woman that were in the round-house and coach saved; the rest, being above 300, drowned; the ship breaking all in pieces, with 80 pieces of brass ordnance’.

On the 11 March Pepys recorded, after the results of an inspection of the wreck, that the hull was lost but the guns could be got. Treasury papers from May 1694 show that the guns were still a subject of some interest, almost 30 years after its sinking.

The rediscovery of the wreck

The wreck of the London was rediscovered in 2005 and the Port of London Authority changed the shipping route to allow archaeological investigation of the site. On the 24 October 2008 the site was given protection under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973.

This information tells us that the guns have been underwater for over 300 years and out of sea water for approximately 10 years. During the past 10 years we are aware that the guns were not stored in desalination tanks. This puts the guns at an increased risk of bronze disease and alters the condition as it makes the details less sharp, for example any lettering on the guns (image 1).

Visible corrosion damage

Deterioration on the rim of the gun

The conservation treatment for these guns will be a diffusion process then a barrier treatment. This prevents oxygen entering into the gun after treatment reduces the risk of bronze disease, followed by a light polish and then a drying process. The conservation is expected to take about five years as the diffusion process alone will take approximately 24 months.

Cannon in water tank

The Gill gun positioned in the conservation tank

Another area of information that the conservator will be interested in is the markings on the guns. Markings provide an indication of how important the guns are. This information can be used by conservators to aid in acquiring objects for the museum’s collection and to obtain funding for the required conservation treatments; this is particularly helpful when budgets are under pressure.

The marking on the London guns indicate that they are highly important. One of the guns is stamped ‘Peter Gill’ and the other has the harp of Commonwealth on the chase.

Peter Gill

This gun is stamped ‘Peter Gill’.

Harp of the commonwealth

Marked with the harp of Commonwealth on the chase.

Marked with the harp of Commonwealth on the chase.The 17th century Marine Salvage Project focuses on three guns recovered from the river Thames and Goodwin Sands, off the Kent coast, all of which require technical conservation treatments.

This project has been made possible with funding from The Arms & Armour Heritage Trust, The Radcliffe Trust and The Leche Trust.

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.

German 25 cm trench mortar
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 Fort Nelson technician, Mick Cooper, 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.

A badly corroded and neglected German 25 cm trench mortar

Conserving the mortar

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.

Front view of a fully conserved German 25 cm trench mortar
Rear view of a fully conserved German 25 cm trench mortar
Now, fully reconstructed, the 25 cm Minenwerfer looks robust. It is carefully positioned in the Voice of the Guns gallery to prevent future risk of corrosion. Visit our Collections Online to read more.

fully reconstructed gun on display in the Voice of the Guns gallery

25 cm trench mortar (Minenwerfer )

The 17th century Marine Salvage Project focuses on three guns recovered from the river Thames and Goodwin Sands, off the Kent coast, all of which require technical conservation treatments. Fort Nelson Conservator Matthew Hancock’s paper titled ‘Do nothing or go the Full Hog and build a Replica’, investigates the current treatment trends in conservation, the options available to this gun and the issues arising from managing complex conservation projects. The paper was presented at the triennial Institute of Conservation conference in Birmingham in 2016.

Corroded cannon being prepared for conservation

The Dutch composite gun (XIX.983) sometimes known as a Minion Drake being lowered into the desalination tank.

Composite minion drake

The presentation used one of the Fort’s most interesting acquisitions, a mid-17th century composite ‘minion drake’ as a case study. This composite gun was chosen because a minimum of two different conservation techniques could be utilised to conserve it. Due to the history associated with the gun, it would also be desirable to build a replica for preservation of skills and historic research.

There are pros and cons behind administrating different conservation treatments. For example, 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 are utilised.

This 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.

corrosion on canon

Many levels of corrosion shown on the gun’s intricate decoration

There was also a case of identifying the authenticity of the gun. Science combined with historical research was 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.

This project has been made possible with funding from The Arms & Armour Heritage Trust, The Radcliffe Trust and The Leche Trust.

Fort Nelson has recently received a donation of a composite drake gun sometimes known as a minion drake. The gun is believed to be Dutch, possibly originating from Amsterdam. Dutch patents of 1627 and 1633 cover this kind of construction. According to the inscription behind the vent, it weighs 260 Amsterdam pounds and was produced in the mid-17th century.

corroded gun in lifting slings

Drake gun being lowerd into desalination tank

The gun was found in inshore waters off the Kent coast by divers Paul Aaronovitch, Vince Woolsgrove and John Webb.

corroded gun in lifting slings

Rear view of Drake gun being lowered into desalination tank

This gun is a light version of a minion or roughly 3 pounder, built up of copper alloy and iron, and probably soldered using lead alloy. The copper alloy has been decorated with bands of interlace from the muzzle (head) of the gun down to cascabel (rear) – where arresting ropes are tied to limit the gun’s movement due to recoil when firing. The handles located on the mid-section of the gun have been cast in the form of dolphins which was common for guns of this type

Line drawing of a gun

Diagram showing the parts of a gun


The gun will be on public display in a desalination tank which will be used to wash the chloride ions out of the gun and to keep it underwater to prevent rapid corrosion until the conservation treatment is completed. This process will take several years in the Artillery Hall at Fort Nelson.

Fort Nelson Conservator Matthew Hancock said

“Fort Nelson is delighted to be able to add this fine and rare gun to the collection, although it presents some conservation challenges.  It is impossible to put a precise timescale on the project as the amount of chloride ions in the gun cannot be calculated. The process is further complicated by the reactions of the different metals in the gun.

The public will be able to view the gun during the conservation treatment as the gun will be on display in its tank in the Artillery Hall.”

A view inside the corroded gun

Muzzle of the Drake gun


The Royal Armouries would like to thank the Receiver of Wreck for their assistance with this donation.