Guards Museum, Wellington Barracks, Birdcage Walk, London SW1E 6HQ
Colonel Simon West is a retired artillery officer with a passion for casting and firing cannons. He runs a commercial cannon founding business “West of England Ordnance Company” He is a member of the Livery Company of Gun makers and Executive Director of the Gun Trades Association.
There will also be an opportunity to examine mid nineteenth century hand guns from a private collection, introduced by Martin Knight.
A sandwich lunch and a glass of wine will be provided.
Guards Museum, Wellington Barracks, Birdcage Walk, London, SW1E 6HQ You are invited to join the Trustees and others at the first of a series of events focusing on arms and armour. Professor Anne Curry will be talking about After Agincourt: what Henry Vth did next. Professor Curry is a leading historian of the period, responsible for many works associated with the Hundred Years War and a key member of the Agincourt 600 project. There is also a chance to see and possibly handle some items from a private collection, with a commentary by Martin Knight, one of our trustees with a keen knowledge of arms and armour.
A sandwich lunch and a glass of wine will be provided, and tickets costs £30 per person. Please click here to book via Eventbrite.
The Arms and Armour Heritage Trust (AAHT) was established to support projects to improve our understanding of the development of arms and armour over the last 800 years. We have made grants to a wide range of projects which generally fall outside the ambit of most other distributing charities – especially to individuals and groups who have struggled to complete projects of this nature, for which funding from more conventional sources is not always available. Details of the AAHT’s activities and grants can be found on our website.
We are organising these events to raise awareness of our work and to raise funds to enable this vital work to continue. Book the event for £30 per ticket here
Trying to piece together the early history of firearms is a challenging business. We know that arquebuses were used in warfare from the later fifteenth century. However, few of these everyday weapons survive. The guns that we have from the sixteenth century are typically the luxurious presentation weapons given to courtiers and princes. Yet thanks to a grant from the Arms and Armour Heritage Trust in 2019 I was able to spend the months of February and March visiting a series of northern Italian archives to comb through their sources and try to put these artefacts in context.
Although individual archives often have substantial gaps in their records, by combining information from inventories of weapons taken by multiple Italian states we can discover a great deal about trends in arms ownership. The dukes of Ferrara, Parma and Florence all kept records of weapons held in their armouries, and in times of war surveys of wider arms ownership were sometimes taken in order to assess the state of civic defence. I spent two weeks in Florence surveying material in the archive of the Medici dukes of the city, focusing in particular on references to firearms in their wardrobe accounts, as well as examining material in the archives of earlier republican governments covering the purchase, maintenance and distribution of firearms. This along with day trips to the archives in Modena (for the dukes of Ferrara) and Parma, has given me a comprehensive picture of firearms ownership in the sixteenth century across the three ducal courts, as well as more fragmentary material for comparison on wider arms ownership and use.
For peacetime, gun licences, along with decrees on the licensing process and wider regulations around gun ownership and use, help us understand how governments tried to limit the misuse of firearms while still ensuring they could be used for legitimate purposes of self-defence and civic protection. And when people were caught misusing guns, that could lead to a police investigation: witness statements from these proceedings often shed a great deal of light on the ways guns were used, misused and more generally thought about in the sixteenth century. These were the key areas of focus for my research in the Archivio di Stato di Bologna, which has excellent surviving series of criminal records as well as legal documentation. I spent four weeks here, splitting my time between the Bologna archive and day trips to consult material in Modena and Parma.
All these centres all connected in different ways to arms producers in Gardone Val Trompia, outside Brescia, an important gun production area in the sixteenth century and indeed today. The firearms produced by Gardone artisans were used not only by the Venetian army and navy (the area was under Venetian rule), but also exported to many other European rulers, including Henry VIII. I therefore decided to spend two weeks in Brescia, following up connections to a range of records produced by both the city’s ruling officials and also members of its aristocratic families, as well as a number of rare books held in the city’s library which provide vital clues to the best approach to take in this archive research. The official export licences now held in Brescia’s state archive reveal not only who was allowed to purchase these guns, but also how many they were able to obtain in practice, illustrating some of the challenges of matching supply with demand. Together with account books and letters these documents reveal a great deal about the process of arms purchase, while legal documents in the Brescian archives also provide clues to the ownership of arms production facilities.
Over the course of my eight weeks in the archives I was able to consult material from no less than thirty-seven different archival units in Bologna, eighteen in Brescia, twenty-six in Florence, fifteen in Modena and four in Parma. I returned to the UK with over 3,300 photographs of relevant documents for analysis, and expect to produce a minimum of three major journal articles for academic publications based on these resources. I will also be submitting a grant application to fund a team of people to develop the work on a larger scale.
My first two research articles from this project are about to be submitted, and I’m always happy to talk to local history groups about my work as well as to receive enquiries from fellow researchers. You can get in touch via my website at www.catherinefletcher.info.
Professor Catherine Fletcher
Manchester Metropolitan University
“This morning is brought me to the office the sad newes of “The London,” in which Sir J(ohn) Lawson’s men were all bringing her from Chatham to the Hope, and thence he was to go to sea in her; 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. She lies sunk, with her round- house above water. Sir J(ohn) Lawson hath a great loss in this of so many good chosen men, and many relations among them. I went to the ‘Change, where the news taken very much to heart.” Diary of Samuel Pepys, March 1665″
This is an important conservation project
which is also enhancing our understanding of the design and evolution of Naval
guns from a period when the Commonwealth had just fought the First Anglo-Dutch
War (1652-1654) and by the time of the Restoration aspired to become a supreme
tool of War and guarantor of Commerce.
The project focuses on 3 guns, 2 from the
wreck of the London a warship which was blown asunder by an
explosion of powder cartridges and sank in 1656, and one composite Drake gun.
It is estimated as a 5 year elapse project and is supported by funding from The
Arms and Armour Heritage Trust, the Radcliffe Trust and the Leche
The project is trialling the latest
processes for removing chloride ions from metallic relics recovered from sea
water, This will be of critical
importance to other conservation initiatives that pre-dated these techniques
developed between the 1960s and 1980s.
This will be enable evaluation of the impact on the long term stability
of items treated with earlier techniques.
The guns recovered from the London are
both very rare bronze cannon, one by gun founder Peter Gill, thought to be the
only surviving example of his work and the other bearing the Commonwealth crest
and thought to be one of a handful of
surviving examples of a bronze gun of the Commonwealth. The Drake is
helping to increase our understanding of the evolution and production methods
of this genre of solution to producing lighter weapons whilst preserving
HMS London was a 64 Gun second-rate Ship
of the Line deigned by John Taylor a built in Chatham in 1656: see https://threedecks.org
1660 Broadside Weight = 534 Imperial Pound ( 242.169 kg) Lower Gun Deck 12 British Demi-Cannon (32 Lb) Lower Gun Deck 12 British Culverin (17 Lb 5 ½ Oz) Middle Gun Deck 12 British Culverin Middle Gun Deck 12 British Demi-Culverin (8Lb – 9Lb) Upper Gun Deck 16 British Demi-Culverin
Crew Complement Date # of Men 1660 360 1660 450 Establishment for war abroad 1660 360 Establishment for war at home 1660 280 Establishment for peace
Arming of a Naval Officer
Lawson was formerly Captain of the London when in the Parliamentary Navy. In 1660 he again commanded the London as 2nd in command of the expedition to repatriate Charles II from the Netherlands Ϯ. On 3 June 1665 he was wounded in the knee at the Battle of Lowestoft, when engaging the Dutch Fleet. The wound became gangrenous, killing him 2 weeks later. He was buried at the Church of St Dunstan-in-the-East, London at night, only navy officers accompanying the coffin. By this date, in response to the growth in plague fatalities burial at night was mandated, so again compliance with this despite not being a plague death may have been expedient.
Ϯ (See “1666 Plague, War and Hellfire”, Rebecca Rideal, John Murray Publishers, London 2017).
Admiral Sir John Lawson is portrayed
wearing a buff coat over a sleeved jacket. Over this is a high quality but
relatively plain blackened breast and back-plate. The rivets securing the
liner, plated straps and hasps securing these are gilded.
Suspended from his sword belt is what is probably a ceremonial hanger distinguished by a robust lions head pommel. All elements of the hilt are also gilded. A similar style of hilt appears in other Lely portraits in the Flagmen of Lowestoft series. This might indicate a common naval pattern but could just as likely reflect Lely’s artistic preference or perhaps props.
Prior to recovery of the Gun from the London only
one cannon still marked with the Arms of the Commonwealth existed. This was the
Royal Armouries Leeds – 4.5” demi-culverin – The Commonwealth gun (1649-1653).
This cast iron cannon was found in an area which was most probably the site of
the Battle of Schveningen
fought between the English and the Dutch fleets on 31 July 1653. It seems
likely it had been shipped from the Tower to Tilbury for outfitting the Oak, one
of two English ships lost that day.
When compared to the example at Fort
Nelson we can see that the escutcheons are of a simpler design, without the
cusped upper edges (also seen on commonwealth coinage). However, there are
stylistic features common to both guns (such as a very narrow vent field – the
section within which the vent hole is found; annular groove to the rear of the
2nd reinforce moulding, above the
commonwealth arms etc.) which are found on cannon manufactured. (Nautical
Archaeology, 17.1; the Commonwealth Gun, G.M. Wilson).
The bronze London gun
appears to bear a more sophisticated representation of the Arms of the
Commonwealth. After the Restoration of Charles II Commonwealth Arms would have
been effaced hence the extreme rarity of extant pieces.
The Council of State on 22 February 1649 stated: “that the ships at sea in service of the State shall onely beare the red Crosse in a white flag”. The order was signed by Oliver Cromwell on 23 February. On 5 March 1649 the Council ordered “that the Flagg that is to be borne by the Admiral, Vice-Admiral, and Rere-Admiral be that now presented, viz., the Armes of England [Red St. George Cross on white] and Ireland [gold harp on blue] in two severall Escotcheons in a Red Flagg, within a compartment.“ (see www.crwflags.com)
Thus by March 1649 the coat of arms of the Protectorate became two escutcheons, one bearing the Cross of St George, the other the Harp of Ireland.
The London which was launched in 1656. Her cannon would most likely pre-date that year but based upon the commonwealth arms would not pre-date 1649. Whilst Scotland was reunited with England by an Ordinance of 12 April 1654, coinage of 1656 still bears the twin escutcheons charged with the English Cross of St George and the Harp of Ireland. It is possible to discern the Harp within the right escutcheon on this cannon.
The Peter Gill Bronze Cannon
Left: The Crowned Tudor rose remaining on the upper part of the barrel. Compare this with a full Charles I cypher with a chained anchor enclosing a Tudor rose. This latter appears on R. Roth’s dawings of a Bronze demi-culverin drake from the Sovereign of the Seas which is inscribed “JOHN BROWNE MADE THIS PEECE ANO 1638”. Jean Boudriot publications/ Sovereign of the Seas: The Seventeenth-Century Warship By James Sephton, Amberley Publishing 2013).
The Dutch Composite Drake gun – an attempt at producing lighter but effective naval cannon
The composite Drake was designed to deliver a lighter cannon without reducing the weight of shot or force of charge that could be accommodated. The extant pieces were produced in Amsterdam and English Ordnance records confirm purchase by the English Navy occurred. As can be seen, however, the composition has inherent potential weakness and would be prone to error in manufacture. An aspirant innovation which failed to capture volume uptake.
Robert Hardy, star of All Creatures Great and Small and more recently Harry Potter, confessed to an audience in Stow-on-the-Wold that he communicates with the ghosts on ancient battlefields.
The veteran actor was at Stow’s St Edward’s Hall on Thursday 29th May 2014 to perform the official opening of the town’s new permanent exhibition of historic weapons and armour. When handed the microphone to begin his speech, he announced in booming tones, to laughter from the crowd, ‘I don’t believe I need this.’
Hardy, who is President of the Battlefields Trust, joked with his audience that he might be able to pinpoint the exact site of the 1646 battle of Stow which is regarded as something of a mystery.
‘As a supposed expert,’ he said, ‘when I walk a battlefield, I always know exactly where the fighting took place from the ghosts of the past that I meet.’
Then, flanked by members of the Sealed Knot Society in full Civil War costume, he unveiled a plaque to inaugurate the exhibition in the lobby of Stow’s library. On display are several pieces of seventeenth century armour, a musket, two pike staffs and a gigantic broad sword.
Tim Norris, Chairman of the Stow and District Civic Society, which jointly with the Arms and Armour Heritage Trust funded the new theft-proof display cabinet, said: ‘This is the first time in fifty years that Stow has had a permanent secure location to show off its wonderful collection of Civil War weaponry and armour.’
Stow acquired its valuable collection of military paraphernalia in 1948 from a Captain Christie Crawfurd. He had visited the town with his wife in the 1930s. She became ill there, and he was so struck by the kindness of the people of Stow that he bequeathed his collection of historic artefacts to the town. Until now there’s been no way of safely displaying them. A few items were on show in St Edward’s Hall, but during the Stow Festival in 2011, two civil war helmets were stolen.
It was this theft however, that prompted the Stow Civic Society to commission the new secure museum display case.
‘This is a great collection,’ said Robert Hardy, ‘and it’s important for it to be on show to the public.’