Postponed due to Covid-19 Brass Cannon Casting, Lieutenant Colonel Simon West, 11.00-14.00 Wednesday, 3rd June

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.

Postponed due to Covid-19 Professor Anne Curry ‘After Agincourt’ 11.00 – 14.00 8th April 2020

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 

Researching the early history of firearms

Dosso Dossi’s portrait c. 1530 of Alfonso d’Este, duke of Ferrara, is testimony to the sixteenth-century Italian interest in gunpowder weapons. Galleria Estense

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.

This double-barrelled wheel-lock pistol made for Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, is an example of the type of luxury weapon often listed in the inventories of Italian ruling families. Metropolitan Museum, New York

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.

Gardone firearms are among the artefacts recovered from the wreck of the Mary Rose, which sank in 154 4

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

Professor Catherine Fletcher
Manchester Metropolitan University

Royal Armouries 17th Century Marine salvage project

Portrait of Pepys by John Hayls

“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 Trust.

Conservator Matthew Hancock during a talk

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 hitting power.

Three guns once on HMS London which sank off Southend in the Thames Estuary during the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-1667).
Some on the guns on the HMS London were originally used on Dutch warships before being placed on HMS London, the cannons are believed to have been involved in The Restoration, transporting the son of Charles II, the future King James II, from his exile in the Netherlands.
The cannon were sold to a buyer in the US at an auction in 2010 having been found by a diver in around 2007.
Following a two-year investigation involving the Essex and Kent police, Historic England, the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the diver was prosecuted for making a fraudulent claim of where he had found the cannons. He had insisted they had been found in international waters. However following the investigation it was proved they were from HMS London, which was at the bottom off the estuary just off Chatham in Kent.

They have since been repatriated to the UK. (Antique traders Gazette, Laura Chesters 15 Dec 2017).
The Warship London is now designated as a historic wreck under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973

HMS London

The ‘London’, as depicted by van de Velde in 1656. © National Maritime Museum

HMS London was a 64 Gun second-rate Ship of the Line deigned by John Taylor a built in Chatham in 1656: see

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

A 36 Pounder rigged for action..
Drawing by Antoine Morel-Fatio, Public Domain, Wikipedia

Arming of a Naval Officer

The Commonwealth Gun recovered from the wreck of HMS London resting within its desalination bath.

“Flagmen of Lowestoft”: Admiral of the Red Sir John Lawson, Posthumous portrait by Peter Lely. Portrait: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Greenwich Hospital Collection

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).

An English buff coat c. 1640-1650. Typically made of oil-tanned cow-hide. The lower skirt where it protects the thighs are up to 5cm thick.
Photo V&A T.34-1948

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.

The portrait of (formerly) General-at-Sea George Monck, c.1665/66 Portrait: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Greenwich Hospital Collection.


Commonwealth Guns

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.

Royal Armouries Leeds Commonwealth Gun:

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.

Close-up of the Commonwealth Gun showing (left) the outline of the Arms of the Commonwealth of England. Left the patinated bronze barrel. Right the same image manipulated to enhance contrast in black & white
Photographs courtesy of the Royal Armouries, Fort Nelson 2018
Flag of the Commonwealth

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

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.

Commonwealth silver Half-Crown of 1656. Obverse

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

Possibly the only known example of a Cannon produced by Peter Gill and bearing his name – Royal Armouries 17th C
The Gill gun has been re-bored indicating re-use of an earlier weapon for the London.
Charles 1st Cypher

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.

Diagram of the composition of the Rotunda Drake, a 4 Lb 3 ¼ “ cannon. Approx. 4 ft 9 “ long
The Composite Drake from the Batavia now sectioned to show sectional construction. Here the main iron tube consists of banded staves indicative of an earlier design than the Fort Nelson example which has a longitudinal tube.
Donated by the Receiver of Wreck on 8th August 2014. Found on or near Goodwin Sands and reported by Mr Aaronovitch, who kindly waived his right to a salvage award.
Built up of copper alloy and iron, probably soldered using lead alloy.
The copper alloy covering is ornamented with bands of interlace at the main mouldings and cascabel, including button. It is provided with dolphins. According to the inscription behind the vent, it weighs 260 Amsterdam pounds.
Calibre 60-70 mm

AAHT Supports New Historic Weaponry Exhibition at Stow on the Wold

4610367578_469x352Robert 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.’