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In this monthly blog series, our collections team will write about their Object of the Month, chosen from our collection. Karen Watts, our Senior Curator for Armour and Art looks at a magnificent armour made for Henry VIII to wear at the greatest and most romantic tournament that ever took place, the Field of Cloth of Gold.

Henry VIII’s foot combat armour

Steel armour covering entire body holding a pollaxe

Foot combat armour of Henry VIII

Consider Henry VIII as a chivalrous hero. Banish all images of him as a fat, bloated, lumbering, bad-tempered, crude king hurling meaty bones at his dogs. Imagine instead a tall, muscular, fit king who took part in tournaments and was particularly good. He complained when he did not have good enough opponents and score-sheets survive that show he was a very good jouster.

We know exactly what Henry’s physique was in 1520. He was 29 years old, 188 cms (6ft 2ins) and very athletic. Amazingly, a suit of armour has survived (II.6) that fitted the King as a close as a second skin. It is on display in the Tournament Gallery at the Royal Armouries museum in Leeds. It brings Henry VIII back to life better than any portrait. This suit of armour was made for Henry VIII to wear at the Field of Cloth of Gold.

An amazing feat of engineering

buttock area of the armour

There are no gaps in the armour

There is no chink in this armour. It completely encloses his body front and rear. It was made for fighting on foot in a tournament. The armour is also ‘tailored’ in the latest fashion of the period. This can be seen in the steel foot-defences called sabatons. Their broad shape around the toes follows the ‘bear-paw’ shoe that we can see in contemporary portraits. The large cod-piece is also a fashion statement not a boast.

This armour is an amazing feat of engineering. All the parts lock together with internal turning joints. The helmet rotates on the collar which is bolted to the back and front of the cuirass (chest defence). The gauntlets and sabatons fit under and over the cuff and ankle-defences respectively. A fully articulated breech-piece encloses the rump. The armpits, the inner elbows and the rear of the knees have narrow lames each linked to the next without a gap.

It is very rare for an armour to completely enclose the body. There is no other armour in the Royal Armouries collection like it. This is because of the consequent additional weight of all those extra plates. The armour weights 42.6kg (approximately 94lbs) which is twice the weight of a normal battle armour. Only a fit and strong man such as the young Henry VIII could have worn such an armour.

One small, last detail to note: the armour was not quite finished. The right neckguard has not been fitted and the armour was described as still being ‘black from the hammer’ a century later. Why? Read on.

The Field of Cloth of Gold

The Field of Cloth of Gold was a tournament at which more that 150 French and English courtiers including Henry VIII, King of England and Francis I, King of France, jousted, tourneyed and fought on foot. The Field of Cloth of Gold was named after the magnificent (and very costly) cloth of gold pavilions that embellished an otherwise drab setting in the Pale of Calais. Cloth of gold is a textile woven with a weft of gold and a warp of silk. The ‘Field’ was one of the most extraordinary tournaments of the period.

Turrets and procession of kings and knights on horse back

‘Le Champ de Drap d’Or’ [The Field of Cloth of Gold] 18th century print. I.224.

The tournament proper began on Monday 11th June and lasted for eleven days. The three main forms of combat were the tilt (jousting over a barrrier), the tourney (mounted team event) and the foot combat. Tilting was the predominant form of combat, lasting over a week. The object of the course was to break a lance on an opponent, and for this purpose rebated (blunted) lances were used. This did not, however, prevent injury: one French knight died tilting against his brother.

The last day of the tournament was given over to the foot combat at the barrier. In this contest the combatants were separated by a long bar erected the length of the field. They fought first with spears and then with large swords. The swords were rebated (blunted). Some fought with the two-handed sword which was optional as it was deemed dangerous.

The two armours

In the Royal Armouries museum in Leeds are, strangely, two armours made for King Henry VIII that were both made for the King to wear at the Field of Cloth of Gold. Both armours were made in the Royal Workshops at Greenwich. Both are for foot combat, yet are different from each other. One armour, seen above, completely encloses the body, front and rear.

The second armour (II.7) made for Henry VIII to fight in at the Field of Cloth of Gold tournament is very different. It is distinguished by a tonlet (deep skirt) and a great basinet (helmet). The armour shows signs of being hastily assembled using elements from several earlier armours drawn from store. Why?

Armour with a skirt

Tonlet Armour, II.7. This armour was used instead of the Foot Combat armour after Francis I changed the rules.

Both were made in 1520 for Henry VIII to wear at the Field of Cloth of Gold tournament. The first, fully enclosing armour is for fighting within an enclosure (like a boxing ring) with a pollaxe (staff-weapon). The other was for fighting on foot over a barrier with a big sword.

Why did Henry VIII have two different armours for foot combat?

The answer is that the French king, Francis I, changed the rules. It had been agreed that the foot combats would be fought within the enclosure and Henry had his wonderful articulating armour made. Only three months before the tournament the French king changed the rules. The foot combats were now to be fought over the barrier wearing armour and weapons that kept the combatants further apart, which required a new style of armour.

The Field of Cloth of Gold became a byword for chivalry and extravagance. All those who were lucky enough to be there were amazed and astounded by what they saw. They described it with enthusiasm and passed the story through generations down to today.

Visit our Collections Online to discover more about Henry VIII’s foot combat armour.

triang toys

The outbreak of war in 1939 required manufacturing companies to stop making peacetime goods like children’s toys and start churning out deadly weapons and ammunition. One of these firms was Lines Brothers, based in Merton in south-west London. Lines Bros was better known under its tradename ‘Tri-ang’, named for the three sides of a triangle and the three founding brothers Walter, William and Arthur Lines. Some readers will remember the ‘Tri-ang’ range of colourful sheet metal toy cars, trucks, and other vehicles. Successive generations grew up playing with these toys from their launch in 1919 until well after 1971 when the company ceased trading. Today the toys are collectors’ items.

By 1939 Lines had one of the largest and most modern factories in the world, which made it a prime candidate to be repurposed by the British government for war work. Lines started taking on contracts for small arms ammunition, artillery shell fuzes, and parts for weapons. In 1941 Walter Lines offered to do more than just make parts of weapons. As well as a capable factory, Lines’ company were specialists in making things out of ‘pressed’ sheets of steel. Walter proposed a new version of the Sten submachine gun that made extensive use of sheet steel. Lines himself redesigned the already cheap Sten to suit the machinery and processes used in his factory, reducing manufacturing time down to just 5 ½ hours per gun. The War Office approved the design as the Sten Mark III. This differed from the better-known Mark II in several ways. Its sheet metal body was longer, extending out along the barrel and replacing the separate hand guard of the Mark II. The sheet metal construction resulted in a long distinctive rib along the top of the gun where the two ends of the sheet were welded together. The Mk. II magazine housing, designed to rotate for storage, was replaced by a simpler welded-on version. Because the barrel was permanently welded into the body, the barrel could not be replaced when it wore out – this was a truly disposable gun and so less cost-effective in the long run. The gun could also no longer be fitted with a bayonet, although these were rarely used anyway.

Second World War Sten gun without magazine

Centrefire automatic submachine gun – Sten Mk.III (about 1943-1944) Late pattern model, British. PR.7575

The new Sten was put into production in Spring 1942, and an initial contract of 500,000 guns was completed on time only by employing three shifts of workers on 24 hour per day production. As they did in other arms factories, many women worked in the critical roles of welding and final hand assembly of the guns, whilst men with prior manufacturing experience (and in a reserved occupation) tended to set up and operate the machine tools that made the individual components. Another 500,000 gun contract was won from the government as a result. Unfortunately the adaptation to stamped steel was not without problems. This was hardly surprising given the record time in which Lines were turning out a product that they had never before made. Still, a delicate balance of cost, speed, and effectiveness was being attempted, and more defects were found with Mark IIIs than the Mark II. As the need for guns was easing, with production of Mk. II guns now sufficient in other factories, the decision was taken to cut the second contract short. Minimising the chance of additional reliability problems in the field (the Mark II was hardly the most dependable gun as it was), Mark IIIs were prioritised for issue to the Home Guard. In Home Guard service the guns would be shielded from the sand, mud and hard service of frontline combat. Despite this, Mk. III guns did see widespread foreign service, and were also dropped to partisan fighters in Europe. When production ceased in Autumn 1943, an astonishing 876,886 had been made at Merton. Walter Lines and his company had made a significant contribution to the nation’s defence – just as they did to its collective childhood.

You can see an example of the Mark III Sten alongside its tinplate toy forerunner in our permanent War Gallery display ‘Firefight: Second World War’.

In the world of arms and armour, the objects featured in contemporary popular culture are often underrepresented. Much of the public perception of arms and armour is coloured by the cultural mainstream, yet manyf museums have been slow to appreciate and preserve the wonderful things made for films, games and other media. For many, popular culture is the primary means of exposure to such objects and for museums, this area is key to developing a successful future events programme.

Captain Nemo’s Steampunk Submachine Guns

The movie firearms in the collection are all products of the famous Bapty & Co prop house who have been providing weapons, armour and other props for stage, film, television and music videos since 1919.

First up are two guns from the 2002 fantasy action film ‘League of Extraordinary Gentlemen‘, loosely based on the ground-breaking graphic novel series by Alan Moore. For the brilliant and infamous Captain Nemo, Bapty were tasked with creating a number of retro-futuristic ‘Steampunk’ sub-machine guns inspired by decorative styles of the Indian subcontinent. Like many of the other firearms featured in the movie, weapons of this type did not exist in the real world of 1899. The sub-machine gun did not appear in military use until 1918.

Chrome 'steam-punk' submachine gun

Prop submachine gun from the 2003 movie ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’. (XII.11937)

The resulting silver and white guns matched elements of Nemo’s Nautilus vessel and also his large 1930s-style touring car. In order to have functioning guns that would fire blanks for the cameras, British-designed Second World War Sten guns were dressed up after this fashion. The guns and magazines were substantially disguised with wood, plastic, and paint, and even the tubular metal stocks were altered to hide the real-world heritage of these wacky weapons. Our example (XII.11937) was made at Long Branch in Canada, but Chinese markings show that it was supplied to China during the Second World War to aid in the fight against Japan. Sometime later, it returned to the UK and may well have appeared in an earlier production in its wartime form, as houses like Bapty lend and re-use weapons regularly.

Chrome 'steam-punk' pistol

Prop pistol used in the movie by Captain Nemo and some of his crew. (XII.11938)

For Captain Nemo himself, a Russian Tokarev TT33 pistol (XII.11938) was similarly dressed up to match the other guns and disguise its Cold War heritage. The weapon’s slide was shrouded with a cylindrical moulding similar to that used on the sub-machine gun, and an unusual turret feature was affixed where the rear sight would normally be. The magazine was cosmetically extended to look like those on the Stens, and capped with a conical stud, inspired by the real-world ‘skull crushers’. This weapon was unique to Nemo, although, in common with other movie props, four examples were made in case of reliability problems or damage that might be sustained during filming. This does mean that the Royal Armouries is lucky to have one of only four guns made.

Whatever some may think of the movie itself, which had a famously troubled production (it was Sean Connery’s last) and met with a frosty reception from critics and fans, these guns are great examples of the propmaker’s art. They are also fully intact, live-firing movie guns that cannot be found in any other UK museum, and precious few overseas, since the vast majority of firearms used in film and TV are deactivated prior to sale. The Sten is complete with its threaded barrel restrictor used to generate sufficient internal pressure to operate the working parts of the gun. Without these adaptors most movie guns cannot function since there is no bullet to build up pressure. The pistol is also modified with a restrictor, and a further internal modification to allow it to operate normally on camera.

M41A ‘Aliens’ Pulse Rifle

Pulse rifle from the film 'Aliens'

M-41A Pulse Rifle made for the film ‘Aliens’ (XII.11846)

For me as a firearms specialist, the star of our collection so far is the M41A ‘Pulse Rifle’ (XII.11846) from one of my favourite films, ‘Aliens‘ (1986), rebuilt and used in ‘Alien3‘ (1992). This was another Bapty-made piece, produced by Simon Atherton (who opened his own prop house called ‘Zorg Ltd‘ in 1997) to a design by ‘Aliens’ director James Cameron. You can read more about this piece in my other post: ‘Collecting Cultures: M-41A ‘Aliens’ Pulse Rifle’.

The pulse rifle has become one of the most iconic movie weapons of all time for its realistic, gritty ‘used and abused’ look. Together with the famous Blade Runner ‘blaster’ pistol and the Smart Gun also seen in Aliens, it showed that sci-fi guns did not have to shoot animated laser bolts and go ‘pew’. Given the pace of technological development in the field, it seems likely that if weapons are taken into space, they will resemble the Pulse Rifle more than the laser weapons of ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Buck Rogers’. But that is probably a topic for a future post.

Get a closer look at these pieces of silver screen history and other Collecting Cultures objects on our Collections Online website where you can see images in deep zoom.

75 years since the Normandy landings and D-day we take a look at the weapons carried by soldiers on both sides.

British infantry section on Gold, Juno and Sword beach, 6 June 1944

These are the weapons which would have been carried by a British infantry section which landed on Gold, Juno and Sword beaches on D-day. Allied armies including the Canadians and Polish also used British equipment.

A section was the smallest unit of the army: 8-10 men who fought together and worked as a team. Their main firepower was the highly accurate Bren light machine gun. Each section had one Bren gun and everybody helped carry ammunition to keep it in action.

The section leader, a corporal, carried a Sten submachine gun and everybody else used the Enfield No. 4 rifle. Even some training manuals implied that the rifle was for personal protection, but it was an accurate and reliable weapon of war.

To give the section increased firepower against tanks or fortified positions, they could carry the platoon PIAT anti-tank launcher. This could also be fired against infantry – with devastating effect. Everybody was trained to use the Bren and PIAT, as keeping these weapons in the fight was vital to British tactics.

Sten Mk. III – PR.7575
Bren Mk. I – PR.6948
Enfield No. 4 Mk. I rifle – PR.5899 (this is a nice sectioned rifle, sectioning being used for instructional purposes to show soldiers what the inside of their weapons looked like)
PIAT Mk. I – PR.1551

German infantry gruppe defending the Atlantic Wall, 6 June 1944

These are the weapons which would have been used by a German infantry gruppe defending the Atlantic Wall on D-day.

The gruppe was the German infantry section. Comprised of 10 men, this was the smallest unit of military organisation. Its members lived, trained and fought together. Most of their firepower came from the MG 42 – a versatile weapon which could be fitted to a variety of bipods, tripods and anti-aircraft mountings to engage different targets. One man fired the machine gun but was assisted by two men who helped carry and load the ammunition. These men carried pistols, either Lugers or Walther P38s, for their own defence.

The section leader carried the iconic MP 40 submachine gun. Both these weapons were popular with Allied troops who sometimes made use of German weapons they found on the battlefields.

The rest of the gruppe were riflemen. By the time of D-day, they would have been equipped with a combination of the Kar98K bolt action rifle, the Gewehr 43 self-loading rifle and possibly the Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifle.

British intelligence reported that every German gruppe had one sniper rifle, but it is difficult to be certain if this was true.

MP 40 – PR.13314
MG 42 – PR.79
Walther P38 – PR.10741
Kar98K – PR.6438
Gewehr 43 (with telescopic sight) – PR.6661
Sturmgewehr 44 – PR.5364

British Airborne section behind enemy lines, 5-6 June 1944

The night before D-day, British and American airborne soldiers dropped by parachute or landed by glider behind enemy lines. Their mission was to secure strategic objectives, such as bridges, to prevent the Germans from reinforcing the beaches.

The Airborne section consisted of 8-10 fighting men, just like its infantry equivalent. However, they were frequently much better armed. They carried at least one Sten submachine gun and one Bren light machine gun, possibly drawing more from company stocks prior to entering combat.

They used the same Enfield No. 4 rifle as the infantry, but it was commonplace for Airborne forces to give one sniper rifle to each section. In the regular infantry, telescopic rifles were reserved for well-trained specialist snipers who operated with more independence.

Airborne forces also carried a variety of pistols. One of the most common and popular was the American Colt 1911.

A special lightweight version of Britain’s 2 inch mortar was designed for Airborne soldiers. This could fire high explosive bombs, but was often used to create a smokescreen to cover the section’s assault.

Sten Mk. V – PR.7342
Bren Mk. I – PR.6948
.45 Colt 1911 – XII.3661
Enfield No. 4 Mk. I rifle – PR.5899
Enfield No. 4(T) – PR.5947
2 inch mortar Mk. VII* – PR.172

Peter Smithurst, Curator Emeritus of Historical Firearms at the Royal Armouries shares an insight to the cutlery trade and how to cut escutcheon recesses by hand with a ‘two-legged’ parser.

If you aren’t familiar with pocket or pen knife terminology then you should definitely check out Peter’s earlier post about the differences between a pen knife and a pocket knife.

How many times have you seen old, or sometimes new, pocket or pen knives with a decorative escutcheon set into the scales? Something like this.

pocket knife

Pocket knife with a rectangular escutcheon or shield on the handle scale. © Peter Smithurst

Have any of you ever thought how it was fitted? I suppose many would imagine it was done very carefully by hand.  The recess created with minute chisels and gouges into which it fit . That would have been even more difficult for more complex shapes, like shields.

The Sheffield cutlers had a very clever tool that could cut any shape of recess. It was known as a ‘shielding’ parser or ‘two-legged’ parser.

Two-legged parser

A bobbin like handle with two steel legs protuding

Two-legged parser. © Peter Smithurst

The two legs were made of tempered steel. Two small projections can be seen at the tips. By closing the legs together, these tips could be inserted into a hardened ‘shielding plate’. The shoulders of the blades fit tightly up against the plate and the small sharpened tips projected beyond it.

The plate was clamped tightly against the piece of ebony or bone or, dare I say it, ivory, and the parser pressed hard in place and rotated by a bow. Because the ‘legs’ were sprung they were forced to follow the outline of the ‘shielding plate’.  As it turned, the projecting tips scraped a recess in the material it was clamped to.

shield plate with two legged parser inserted

Shielding plate with tips of two-legged parser inserted. © Peter Smithurst

It was a fiendishly clever tool — probably the first profile milling machine or router — but no-one knows who invented it. It was also ideal for inletting escutcheons into the stocks of guns, or such as keyhole escutcheons into boxes.  But I have never heard mention of them oustide of the cutlery trades. Now a thing of the past.

Red brick clock tower

Clock Tower above the Machine Shop at Enfield Island Village © R Tuthill

Any visitor to the site of the old Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield Lock (now Enfield Island Village) will be immediately drawn to the Machine Shop, which stands at the heart of the complex, and is one of the oldest surviving buildings. At the centre of the building is the clock tower with its bell, which chimes on the hour, every hour, to tell the time for local residents and those working at Enfield Island Village.

The history of the clock has always been something of a mystery as it is dated 1808, eight years before the factory at Enfield was officially commissioned. Now records uncovered at the National Archives have revealed that the clock was originally installed at the Royal Small Arms Manufactory at Lewisham in 1808, and then moved to Enfield in January 1819 almost exactly 200 years ago.

Architectural drawing of the clock tower at the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield

Plans and elevation of the Clock Tower for the RSAF at Enfield Lock

On 2 February 1808 the Board of Ordnance, which was responsible for the supply of equipment to the armed forces, ordered a common turret clock from the clockmaker, John Thwaites, for the manufactory at Lewisham for which they later paid £95 14s 0d (about £4,450 in today’s money). Thwaites was one of the most renowned clockmakers of the day, and supplied time pieces all over the world. His turret clocks were designed to be mounted in church towers, town halls, and other public buildings, and would have been essential in factories to ensure that workmen kept to time. The Lewisham clock was able to run a full 8 days without rewinding and was linked to a bell.

Turret clock mechanism

The name of the clockmaker and date of manufacture can be seen stamped on the clock © RSA Trust

The records further reveal that when the Board decided to close the factory at Lewisham in 1818, and to transfer the workmen and machinery to the new Royal Manufactory at Enfield Lock, the clock was also relocated. The minutes of the meeting of the Board of Ordnance held on 18 January 1819 relate that the:

Storekeeper [George Lovell] at Enfield having by letter of the 9th instant stated that in obedience to the Board’s Orders of the 28th October 1818, the Clock from the Royal Manufactory at Lewisham had been removed to the above Station and recommended that the same might be regulated and kept in repair by Mr. Thwaites the Ordnance Clockmaker.

It is not known where the clock was originally located, but when the factory was modernised in 1856 it was moved and mounted in the tower above the new Machine Shop, where it remains today, and linked to a new bell, called Albert after the husband of Queen Victoria.

Bronze bell with the name Albert cast on it

The bell of the Enfield clock tower © RSA Trust

Enfield’s eight day turret clock is one of the earliest surviving clocks of its type still in working order, and is still maintained by the original manufacturers, Thwaites and Reed. It is the oldest surviving relic of the Royal Small Arms Manufactory at Enfield Lock… and perhaps the only surviving relic from the factory at Lewisham.

This post is based on a detailed history of the clock compiled by Ray Tuthill, the current President and Heritage Officer of the RSAF Apprentices Association, and a former apprentice at the RSAF from 1952 to 1957; and are supplemented by research carried out by Philip Abbott, the Archives and Records Manager at the Royal Armouries at Leeds.

When the empires of Europe clashed in 1914, military commanders struggled to adapt to the new weapons available on an industrial scale. Military technology was further developed, and new ways found to use it. In this blog post, we take a look at the No.5 Mark 1 Mills grenade, first British hand grenade ever to be issued on a large scale.

Development of the No.5 Mark 1

During the First World War, the War Department believed that the Belgian designed self-igniting hand grenade would be a valuable asset for British soldiers in the trenches. Patented in 1912 by Captain Leon Roland of the Belgian Army, the Compagnie Belge de Munitions (CBdM) was established in order to market the grenade to a British manufacturer.

The task was given to William Mills of Mills Co. An experienced engineer, he was given the task of redesigning the grenade, making it safer and more efficient than its Belgian counterpart.

Shiny black painted hand grenade

Hand grenade – No.5 Mk. 1 Mills Bomb (about 1915) XX.2204

After a few false starts, Mills in 1915 sent prototypes to the troops in France of his cast iron bodied, egg shaped grenade. Eventually this prototype became the No.5 Mark 1 and was the first British hand grenade ever to be issued on such a large scale.

Resembling a small pineapple due to its segmented outer form, these segments were originally designed to fragment. Due to the nature of explosives, however, they failed to do so, but instead provided a firm grip in the wet conditions of the trenches.

How was it used?

To detonate the grenade the safety pin had to be removed. Once the pin was pulled out, by use of the attached ring, the user would hold the lever down and prepare to throw. When thrown the lever would release. As the lever released the striker would drop onto a percussion cap, the blast from which lit the fuse. This burned for five seconds before it reached the detonator.

A good bomber would have to be able to throw a bomb to a distance of around 30.5 m (100 feet), thus protecting themselves from the blast. It was deemed that cricketers, especially those with a good bowling arm, made the most effective bombers.

The No.5 grenades were supplied to the infantry in wooden chests, each containing 12 grenades, with a tin of igniter sets. These complete detonator units each comprised the detonating charge, a 5-second fuse, and a cap chamber housing the initiating percussion cap, along with a base plug key.

Diagram of a No 5 Mills hand grenade

Instructional diagram showing the Mills Hand Grenade, Godstone Grenade School, Britain, 1917, taken from a loose-leaf notebook belonging to Lieutenant J.M.Y Trotter, No.2 Officer Cadet Battalion, relating to his training.

Arming a Mills bomb was straightforward, requiring only that the base plug be unscrewed, the detonator assembly inserted and the plug screwed back down. This was always done ahead of time and whilst in cover, but remained an inherently risky task. Private Clarrie Jarman, a scout bomber of the 7th Queen’s Regiment recalled: “There was a bang and screams and the stretcher bearers went at the double to some poor devils who had let their concentration wander.”

Personal recollections

Private J. Curdie, 6th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry/Royal Flying Corps

Private Curdie describes how to make improvised hand grenades out of jam tins (mp3, 2 MB). [download transcript (txt, 2 KB)].

Private Thomas Nash, Manchester Regiment

Private Thomas Nash gives a gruesome account of the effects of throwing a Mills bomb hand grenade at a German soldier (mp3, 3 MB) [download transcript (txt, 2 KB)] being under machine gun and artillery fire, and going ‘over the top’ with bayonets fixed. He enlisted in 1916 and served on the Western Front.

What effect did they have on trench warfare?

These grenades were an essential part of trench warfare, in particular during raids. Interestingly, notes from a bombing course that took place at the School of Arms in Hythe in January 1920, still taught the tactics of bombing a trench. It has to be concluded that the lessons learned from the War impacted on the future of bombing and what tactics to use to gain optimum effect.

In order to storm a trench you would need eight men and one NCO  in the following formation:

Like many of the weapons developed for industrial scale use during the First World War, the Mills bomb defined a class of grenade that remained the standard British fragmentation grenade for over 55 years.

Written by Lisa Traynor, Curator of Firearms.

You can read more about the origins and use of the Mills bomb and other arms of the First World War on our collections online feature.

Assistant Curator Scot Hurst traces the fascinating history of the Ii Naomasa Kabuto.

When faced with such a visually arresting display of brightly lacquered armour, moustachioed faceplates and gleaming blades, it is sometimes easy to overlook the more modest objects on display. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight one of these ‘overlooked treasures’, the Ii Kabuto.

Red and gold japanese helmet and face mask with a moustache.


On the 18th of September 1598 Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the de-facto ruler of Japan, died leaving his infant son as his only successor. After 8 years of unity and relative peace, Japan was once again torn apart by bitter civil war as rival warlords sought to capitalise upon the ensuing power vacuum.

Foremost amongst these warriors were Ishida Mitsunari and Tokugawa Ieyasu, who would eventually meet in a final, epic battle at Sekigahara on the 21st of October 1600. Tokugawa was ultimately triumphant, eliminating all opposition and unifying Japan once more. Three years later Tokugawa assumed the title of Shogun, or military dictator of Japan, and ushered in a new era of peace and unity that would last for almost 250 years.

Front view of the kabuto, showing the golden crest to the front.

The restored crest, associated with the helmet, but probably a later addition (XXVIA.176)

Amongst Tokugawa’s most trusted and talented generals was a warrior called Ii Naomasa. Naomasa was a ferocious warrior, feared and respected equally by friend and foe alike. He was the living embodiment of the samurai ideal. Naomasa and his men would become infamous for wearing blood red armour in battle, earning themselves the nickname ‘The Red Devils,’ and a reputation just as terrifying. The Battle of Sekigahara would be Naomasa’s greatest triumph, as he charged ahead of the main Tokugawa advance to claim first blood against the enemy forces. This bravery and heroism, so characteristic of the samurai, would ultimately be his undoing. In the closing stages of the battle, while personally leading an attack, Ii Naomasa was shot and grievously wounded. He would never fully recover and eventually died in 1602 at the age of 41.

Side view of the Kabuto, showing rows of white, green and purple kebiki lacing

Helmet Armour (Tosei Gusoku)

The helmet

This helmet, or kabuto, is of a type known as hineno zunari kabuto, with a bowl comprising of a simple five plate construction made popular in the 16th century by the armourer Hineno Hironari. This places it in the period of Naomasa, although his personal armour is currently on display, along with several other similar examples, in Hikone Castle. Many subsequent members of the Ii clan adopted the same blood red pattern of armour, along with the tall, gold lacquered horns worn by Naomasa himself. This makes it somewhat difficult for us to conclusively say whom the helmet belonged too.

The helmet is made up of several elements. The hachi is the bowl of the helmet, in this case made up of five plates with a central, longitudinal plate being overlapped by a peaked brow plate. This peak is known as a mabezashi and was designed to protect the face from downward sword cuts. The small, back-turned lames at the side of the mabezashi are known as fukigayeshi and are again designed to deflect sword blows.

On older armours, the fukigayeshi are often much larger and more pronounced, often bearing a mon, or heraldic device. The shikoro, or neck guard on older armours is also much larger than the example here, often extending well over the shoulders. These elements hark back to the days when the samurai were typically horse-mounted warriors, using the bow as their principal weapon. The wide-brimmed shikoro would offer great protection from sword blows coming down from mounted enemies, towards the head and shoulders, while the fukigayeshi would help to deflect arrows from the face. As the military classes started to favour the sword and spear and developed a preference for fighting on foot, the large fukigayeshi and wide shikoro became more of a hindrance, potentially guiding an enemy blade in and even trapping it near the face rather than deflecting the blow. The diminutive fukigayeshi and closer fitting shikoro of later helmets were much more suited to infantry fighting.

The crest

The mask in full, showing the gold lacquered crest which sits on the front of the helmet

The restored crest, associated with the helmet, but probably a later addition (XXVIA.176)

The helmet crest, or maedate, which in this case is a pair of golden horns, served several purposes, such as identification on the battlefield and to create an intimidating visage. As Naomasa strode forward through the fog that morning at Sekigahara, he must have truly appeared to have been a devil.

Finally the face mask, or menpo, serves to further the terrifying image cultivated by the samurai, but also offered some protection to the face and served as an anchor point for the helmet itself. This type of menpo is known as a ressei men, because of its aggressive expression.

The kabuto is among many items on display in the Oriental Gallery at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds.

Visit our Collections Online to see more of our collection.

Lisa Traynor, Curator of Firearms at the Royal Armouries Museum, explores the history of the elaborately decorated Tula Garniture.

A show of wealth

Prior to the 15th century, weapons of the hunt were largely the same as those used in warfare. However, as the techniques of hunting became more specialised and the grandest weaponry more elaborate, the use of highly decorated equipment in the hunting field became an important way to demonstrate wealth and status.

A pair of highly decorated gold sporting pistols

A pair of flintlock pistols – part of the Tula Garniture (XII.1504)

Hunting garnitures usually consist of a selection of matching firearms and accessories, sometimes including edged weapons. They were produced in some numbers in the eighteenth century, especially in Germany and Russia. The firearms of this sporting garniture held at the Royal Armouries are a product of the state-run smalls-arms factory at Tula, Russia, established in 1712. Principally intended for the production of military arms, the factory began producing luxury weapons for monarchs and nobles in the middle of the 18th century.

Highly decorated flintlock sporting gun

Flintlock sporting gun – part of the Tula Garniture (XII.1504)

This garniture consists of a shotgun and a pair of pistols dated 1752, together with a powder flask and a pair of stirrups, probably added to the garniture later that century. All three firearms bear the monogram of Empress Elizabeth of Russia (reigned 1741 to 1762), daughter of Peter the Great and Catherine I, a reminder that such items were prized by the highest echelons of society.

Their exquisite decoration reflects not only the taste and fashion of the period but also Empress Elizabeth’s passion for art and hunting. Like many Russian hunting arms of the time, they are decorated in the French style closely associated with the designs of De Lacollombe and Nicholas Guérard.

The inlaid silver decoration of a sporting scene on the butt of the shotgun is an almost exact copy of one of Guérard’s engravings. The barrels of all three firearms are decorated in their entirety with rococo scrollwork on a gold background, en-suite with their locks and side plates. Near the breech is the crowned monogram of Empress Elizabeth, and halfway down its length, the inscription TULA 1752.

Detail of the elaborate silver decoration on the butt of the gun depicting a hunting scene

Rococo scrollwork on the stock, depicting hunting scenes. (XII.1504)

There is a sliding safety-catch to the rear of the cock and the frizzle incorporates an additional pan cover operated by a lever in the back of the steel, which may be closed separately to act as a further safety device. This ingenious feature was not confined to arms produced in Tula, and may also be found on a number of other guns in the Royal Armouries collection, notably a sporting gun signed LORENZONI FIRENZE dating from around 1695.

The steel furniture is decorated to match the lock and barrel. The silver-gilt escutcheon is formed as the Imperial Russian Eagle and, in the centre, a cartouche decorated with the figure of a horseman.

Detail of the lock in the sporting gun showing the gold decoration and silver chase work

Decoration on the lock. (XII.1504)

An Intriguing History

Acquired by the Royal Armouries in 1950, this group of firearms and accoutrements is shrouded in historical intrigue. The history of the garniture’s journey to Britain is uncertain. Letters dating from 1814 held in the Royal Armouries’ archive suggest that it may have been brought back from Moscow in 1812 by the Chevalier Louis Guérin de Bruslart, a man of colourful character and by all accounts, a Bourbon agent, who had been entrusted by a Russian noble to deliver it to a member of the French nobility.

A pair of stirrups highly decorated in gold and silver

A pair of stirrups forms part of the hunting garniture. (VI.356-7)

The archive suggests that the owner of the garniture was the Vicomtesse de Richemont. It is possible that the lady in question was, in fact, Mrs Desbassayns, the French plantation and slave owner notorious in history, fiction and Creole folklore.

A round powder flask highly decorated in silver an gold

Powder flask. (XIII.150)

Shortly after Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812 Bruslart deposited the garniture with William Vardon, an ironmonger of Gracechurch Street, as security for a loan. He didn’t retrieve the garniture and it remained in the possession of Vardon’s descendants until its sale in 1950.

The garniture is among 630 items on display in the Hunting Gallery at the Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds, the National Museum of Arms and Armour.

For a more detailed look at other items in the Royal Armouries collection, visit our Collections Online. 

Research into this ‘Lorenzoni’ type repeating flintlock pistol has turned up an interesting (and Christmassy) human story. The pistol, which belonged to a Captain James South, connects Christmas dinner with chimney sweeping, from Florence, Italy to London. Jonathan Ferguson, Interim Keeper of Firearms & Artillery, explains how.

Ours is not the most obvious collection to have a Christmas association, but believe it or not we have at least one.

Captain South’s pistol

It’s a favourite object of mine; a so-called ‘Lorenzoni’ type repeating flintlock pistol belonging to a Captain James South, who is named on the folding handle on the case lid and also represented by a crest of a fire-breathing dragon’s head inside a ducal crown – the crest of the Wiltshire-based branch of the South family (Burke, p.950) engraved into a silver plate on the butt.

flint lock pistol

Flintlock breech-loading repeating pistol (XII.4750)

More on Capt. South later. The pistol is worthy of attention in its own right.
The origins of the Lorenzoni system are somewhat hazy. It was traditionally said to have been invented in the late 17th century by Michele Lorenzoni of Florence, a gunmaker to the Medicis, but the earliest example may be that in the Musée de l’Armée, made by Giacomo Berselli of Bologna in the late 1660s. In any case, the design soon arrived in England and was copied by John Cookson. The ‘Lorenzoni’ was a truly amazing piece of technology, essentially a flintlock Henry or Winchester in terms of speed and ease of operation. It could be built into either shoulder arms or, as here, pistols.

The mechanics

At the heart of the system was a vertically aligned rotating breech drum with cavities for bullet and powder charge. This did not work like a revolver, wherein the cylinder acts as the breech; it was simply the loading device for the conventional chamber, located at the breech in front of the drum.

black and white image of a flintlock pistol

Flintlock breech-loading repeating pistol (XII.4750)

The cocking and loading lever on the side of the gun was rotated (under-hand) half a turn forwards with the gun pointed at the floor, allowing gravity to convey a bullet and some powder from magazine spaces in the grip or stock into the drum, a bit like the counters in the child’s game ‘Downfall’.

At the same time, an extension to the chamber running underneath the frizzen (and serving as the bottom of the pan itself, incorporating the touch-hole) collected priming powder from a small magazine behind the frizzen. As the lever reached the end of its travel, a projection on the drum cocked the gun and pushed the frizzen/pan cover closed.

All that the firer then had to do was rotate the lever back to its starting position to rotate the loaded drum and its priming extension into firing position. The drum would then empty itself into the breech, first the ball, and then the powder ball. The bottom of the pan would now be filled with powder too, ready for firing.

Witness holes were provided top and bottom so that the user could check that his weapon was loading correctly, and could quickly verify whether he had any shots left. The bullet magazine held seven shots, and presumably enough powder to fire them. This is a large and heavy pistol at 478 mm (18.8 in) 1.75 kg (3.86 lbs), making it the size of a large holster pistol of the day but much heavier and less well balanced. The only convenient way to carry the piece would be in a saddle holster or in its case under a coach seat (in which case it cannot quickly be made ready for use).
Nonetheless, unlike early revolvers like the Dafte revolver seen in one of our YouTube videos, these guns were true repeaters, allowing rates of fire that would have astounded 18th-century observers.

That is, of course, if they worked reliably.

[This required extremely high standards of craftsmanship. If any mistake were made in the in the manufacture, the gun might jam or even ‘flash through’ to the powder magazine in the grip, doing horrific damage to the shooter’s hand (and/or face in the shoulder-stocked versions). This would seem an unlikely occurrence, but at least one surviving example seems to have been destroyed in this way.

Lorenzoni type firearms, therefore, tend to be of superior quality, made by noted gunmakers such as Cookson in the United States and, as in this case, H.W. Mortimer in Britain. Harvey Walklate Mortimer was the name of two London makers, father and son. This pistol is marked ‘H.W. Mortimer. London. Gun Maker to His Majesty.’ and its case contains a trade label in the form ‘H.W. Mortimer, Gun Maker, To His Majesty; 89 Fleet Street, London; Wholesale, Retail, & for Exportation’.

This piece was made by the father, who was born in 1753 (died 1819) and made Gunmaker-in-Ordinary to the King in 1783. Because Mortimer went into business with his son from 1800, we can, therefore, date this piece between 1783 and 1800. This fits well with both Captains South (see below). In order to fit a compact wooden case, the pistol is a ‘take-down’ firearm with a removable threaded barrel, which is of twist type and has a browned finish. This carries a folding front sight, although there is none at the rear. The piece is beautifully engraved overall, featuring trophies of arms (as befits a military officer) and select components (the cover/retaining piece on the left side of the drum, the priming magazine door, and the trigger guard) are fire-blued. Calibre is .52 in (13.2 mm), or 36 bore in the traditional system (the included bullet mould is marked ‘36’ accordingly). This makes for a very tight fit in the bore, which would have squeezed the bullet into a semi-cylinder upon firing. This would increase muzzle velocity rather like a turn-off barrel pistol, although without rifling to spin-stabilise it (as with the later percussion revolver where the loading process shaved a ring of lead from the spherical shot), the deformed bullet might negatively affect accuracy.

A .52 calibre pistol seems large today, but with the much lower velocities generated by black powder, this was actually a relatively small bore for the day. The lock is of ‘back-action’ type in order to allow room for the drum and lever assembly.

The Christmas connection

So far, so unseasonal. The Christmas connection I mentioned lies with the likely owner of this pistol, Captain James South. The most promising identification is Captain James South of the 52nd (or Oxfordshire) Regiment, and the only other candidate that might fit is Captain Thomas South of the 5th Hampshire Militia.

Both men held the rank of Captain at the close of the 18th century, and both served with county regiments bordering Wiltshire. However, whereas Thomas South held the rank of Captain for only three years (being promoted Major in 1795) and resigned in 1800, James appears as a Captain on half pay in 1799 and remained so until 1820, at which point he disappears from the Army Lists. Half pay was essentially a reserve system, designed to allow officers to pursue other business, academic, and gentlemanly interests, but (in a time of uncertainty) be recalled for active service as required.

It looks therefore as though his military career was long but uneventful, and that he took no part in the wars against France. Even if he had, his Lorenzoni (if indeed it was his) was not a serious fighting pistol; more an expression of interest in art and technology. In researching James South, I came across a wonderful reference online to the Church of St George the Martyr. This church bears two plaques dedicated to Capt. South. One reveals his age at death, but also his charity work. It reads:

“(to) the memory of James South Esq. late Captain in the 52nd Regiment of Foot. The benevolent Founder of the Chimney Sweepers Charity. He died May 10th. 1834. Aged 65 years”.

The other plaque in the church gives us our very Dickensian Christmas connection:

“A.D. 1834. Capt. JAMES SOUTH of Devonshire St. £1,000 consols for Christmas Dinners to Chimney Sweeps from all parts of London. & after passing of the Act forbid’g the employment of Climbing Boys. by order of Ct. of Chancery, to the maintenance of ST. GEORGE the MARTYR. Parochial Schools”.

Chimney Sweeps Act

The Act referred to was the Chimney Sweeps Act of 1834, which forbade the apprenticing of boys younger than ten and prevented children under 14 from taking part in the work itself (, n.d.). The wording suggests that South’s legacy was conditional on the Act making it through Parliament which, thankfully, it did. £1,000 is at least £88,000 in today’s money (a ‘consol’ was a type of government-issued bond). That would have bought a few Christmas puddings.

In reality, most of that was for the church itself, but the endowment came with the condition that the church provide a Christmas dinner for 100 apprentice sweeps every year, in perpetuity. Of course, they had to attend a church service first.

The pretty lavish-sounding dinner consisted of ‘half-a-pound of roast beef or boiled beef; half a threepenny loaf of bread, half-a-pound of potatoes, half-a-pint of ale or porter, half-a-pound of plum pudding and a new shilling’ (Cullingford, 2001, 115).

The same source mentions a Sir James South, but I don’t believe them to be the same man. In any case, this gift reflects Captain South’s status as a humanitarian who protested lax child labour laws that allowed very young children to work for very little in climbing chimneys.
We may never know for certain who Captain South was, but in any case, researching this pistol has turned up an interesting (and Christmassy) human story. The pistol remains an amazing piece of technology and art in its own right. It is not currently on display, but like all objects in the national collection of arms and armour, it is available for viewing by appointment.

References/further reading

Our friend Ian McCollum of ‘Forgotten Weapons’ has a page and a video devoted to the Lorenzoni Flintlock Repeating Pistol.

With thanks to Sarah Dallman of the National Museums Scotland library service.