Norwich Castle

Due to the generous donation received from the AAHT, Norwich Castle has significantly supplemented its collection of replica medieval arms and armour. Previously, visitors to the castle have found the arms and armour talks to be one of the most engaging events held at Norwich Castle, with 90% of visitors rating it as excellent in 2015 and 92% in 2016. Thanks to the AAHT’s grant the Arms and Armour Talks received an incredible 98% excellent rating last year (2018).

Swords aren’t always pretty

The additional equipment that the AAHT grant allowed us to produce has filled significant gaps in the timeline of the evolution of medieval arms and armour. As a result, we have been able to depict a range of historic soldier’s equipment across different strata of feudal life throughout the middle ages. Visitors of all ages, interests, backgrounds and genders have been able to understand the variety of equipment that was used and develop a greater emotional connection to the past. Importantly, we have also used examples of skeletal remains to ground the talk with the reality of medieval warfare, revealing the true, terrifying effects of the weaponry to highlight why evolving designs of armour were essential to surviving the medieval battlefield.

Norwich Museum at Night
Discussing converted farming tools

The Arms and Armour Talks have been enjoyed by thousands of visitors since the collection was improved and have featured throughout the summer holidays and at all the major public events held at Norwich Castle such as Heritage Open Day, Museums at Night, and televised on Children in Need!

We have received heartfelt feedback from visitors who have really begun to appreciate the skill, science and engineering that can go into making arms and armour – or the hurried conversion of farming tools to makeshift weapons. Visitors can now appreciate the sense of panic that peasants would feel as trained and armoured knights charge towards them, or the feeling of invulnerability that a full harness of armour could provide. We have received wonderful stories from children who have been inspired by the collection and adults who have taken their new-found interest to the next level by taking up blacksmithing.

Hands on with a 140lb longbow

The benefits of the improved Arms and Armour collection have been felt beyond the public Arms and Armour talks. Summer schools, scout groups, home educators, and youth groups have all requested arms and armour sessions as part of their visit to Norwich Castle. The daily tours of the castle now use the hand-crafted 140lb draw weight longbow to engage with visitors, dispel myths, and help them to appreciate the incredible strength that would have been required to use this iconic weapon. School groups have been requesting additional sessions on medieval arms and armour to begin their topic on medieval history. Our upcoming outreach program, ‘A Knight Out’, will be taking the show on the road to thousands of people at events across the country next year. The improved arms and armour collection now features proudly in the visitor experience of Norwich Castle.

The grant received from AAHT has allowed all of this to happen, fascinating people with the history of arms and armour, which we shall continue to do for years to come.



York Mansion House

View of roomThe Mansion House, dominating as it does the beautiful St Helens Square, remained a building visibly hidden, its treasures, history and significance on the story of York being almost forgotten in a  city full of antiquity  and memory.  The building, with its’ treasures, remained a place few visited or gained entry to as the fabric of the building slowly decayed.

Therefore, the Mansion House ‘Opening Doors’ restoration project was conceived as a response to the issues facing a grade one listed public building and to make the house  fit for the 21st century. The restoration project was the largest and most comprehensive restoration in nearly three hundred years since the house was built in 1725-32. The project had four key aims;

  • Display of the gold and silver collections
  • Restoration of the eighteenth century kitchen and basements
  • Installation of new mechanical and engineering services and structural repairs
  • Oral history project to capture the memories of the people who worked and lived in the building

The outcome identified for the project was;

  • Greater public access and being open five days a week to public
  • Improved display and conservation of the collection
  • Reducing the carbon foot print of the building
  • To make the Mansion House a key attraction in the city
  • To provide an educational resource for children and adult learning groups

Mount makers attaching the 1731 support bracket for the Bowes swordThe conditions that the gold and silver and the city regalia were kept in were far from ideal as the location was cramped, did not meet conservation standards and significantly hindered public access to the objects. Because of this issue it was important to display the regalia within a protective case for security and conservation and to increase public access and knowledge of the objects.

The great trinity of regalia

Within the collection are three key pieces of city civic regalia. These are items carried before kings, queens, chocolate Lord Mayors and railways kings. These are  intrinsic items of regalia  that can be seen on virtually every coat of arms of the city that range from the city council arms through to the local scout groups. Items of regalia which are still used for the ceremonial procession the Lord Mayor is involved in, whether that is at full council meetings or Remembrance Sunday.

Each of the three key items were originally weapons of war and through time became symbols of authority and power.

The Sword of Sigismund

The great State sword, probably originally belonging to the holy Roman Emperor Sigismund, arrived in the city in 1439 and has been carried in ceremonial processions ever since. A Sword of international importance that has been displayed around the United Kingdom and Europe.

The Bowes Sword

This was presented to the city in 1545 by Sir Martin Bowes,  a native of York who became Lord Mayor of London. It is this sword that is depicted in portraits of each Lord Mayor as they held the Bowes sword in high regard.

The Great Mace

It is hard to imagine that the Mace started out as a weapon of war before it was adapted and became a ceremonial item. This Mace dates from 1647 and incorporates parts of an  earlier 1396 Mace.

The display case and grant

The display case required careful design and integration to sit sensitively within the historic dining room of the Mansion House. The dining room was chosen as the location of the display because this room was originally a meet and greet room of the mayor, their public facing ‘Office’ on the walls of which the items were displayed.

Project manager, lead architect, Historic England, Zurich insurers, City of York Council Conservation department, structural engineers and case designers were all involved in the conception, visualisation and creation of the display case.  The design of the case had a number of challenging constraints: it had to be as minimalistic as possible, to compliment the historic environment of the room and yet of sufficient strength to hold the weight of the objects  in place. Additionally the case could not be attached to the panelling that decorated the room. Therefore the case was going to be expensive if it was going to meet all these criteria.

Sword and mace caseThe initial approach to the Arms and Armour Heritage Trust, application for a grant and the subsequent grant funding made the concept a reality. The grant meant that the great trinity of regalia would be on permanent display in a specially designed case for the first time in their history.  The installation of the regalia  has improved public access, has improved visitor appreciation, interaction and understanding of the items and their significance, whilst allowing the regalia to be displayed to the best conservation standards possible. The display case has enabled public engagement while allowing the regalia to keep their stateliness.

Working with the Trust was very straightforward; they had confidence in the design team and in the rationale for the display. Effective and engaging arms and armour displays, sometimes overlooked in domestic heritage attractions, would clearly benefit from the assistance of the Arms and Armour Heritage Trust, the Trust is in a perfect position to fill this niche. The Arms and Armour Heritage Trust deserves praise for the donation to allow the display to reach its full potential.

Richard Pollitt

Mansion House Manager and Curator, and Restoration Project Manager

Battlefields Trust Handling Collections

The Battlefields Trust successfully applied for and received a £1,864 grant from the Arms and Armour Heritage Trust in July 2014 for two handling collections that the Trust could use in its walks, talks and displays.  The items purchased included two of a sallet, a morion, a partizan, a halberd, six2.BT HANDLING COLLN, PPhilo & display, Marske Hall 16-04-18 arrows with different heads, a powder flask, bandolier and an inert matchlock musket. These were divided into two collections located in northern and southern England and were created to allow Battlefields Trust regions to demonstrate weapons and armour to the public as part of its charitable aims of preserving, researching and interpreting battlefields as historical and educational resources. The collections, which were focused around the Wars of the Roses and British Civil War periods, allow members of the public to get a sense of the challenges of using such weapons and armour.

They have been used extensively by the Trust, from explaining the design of a bassinet helmet on Wars of the Roses battlefield walks to demonstrating the loading and firing of a musket during Civil War battlefield talks and during school visits.  Members of the public have also handled the weapons themselves; obtaining a sense of their weight and cumbersome nature and, for the head piece armour, how constricting this can be for the soldier in battle.

The provision of the grant has helped the Trust better educate the public about arms and armour and have allowed it to bring more to life the experience of battle.

WW1 Soldier’s Tale

The WWI Soldier’s Tale team
The WWI Soldier’s Tale team

In June 2013, we were musing about the forthcoming centenary of the First World War and a colleague said “I wonder what it would have been like if Facebook had existed in 1914.” From this somewhat bizarre remark grew a not‐for‐profit project which has virtually taken over our lives and continues to do”
Launched in June 2014 (1914), it tells the story of a young man – Walter Carter – from Battersea, who joins the Territorial Force in 1912 and goes to war in March 1915 as a member of 1/23rd Battalion The London Regiment. The story covers the entire War and provides not only his experiences but importantly, those of his family and girlfriend back in England. We also wanted to reference topics still hugely important today – the role of the Reserves, the effect of the War on communities, the changing role of women, and the badly injured and the mentally affected – but in a balanced way which includes the lighter moments of wartime life. Thus, uniquely, it gives a simultaneous account of the War and life at home. Whilst it is fictitious, it is meticulously researched, entirely based on fact and is continuously checked by military historians both for accuracy and authenticity.
We tell the story in real time via Facebook, Twitter and a website posting three or four times a week. Over the years the regular audience on Facebook has grown to over 23,000 – mainly younger people, which was one of our objectives, and also people from other countries.
To provide the maximum interest we wanted our characters to illustrate different aspects of the War both at home and in the trenches – for instance, Walter’s sister becomes a nurse in France.

The fictional characters – Walter and Lily
The fictional characters – Walter and Lily

Because Walter was a member of an infantry regiment, we particularly wanted to involve a different branch of the Army – the artillery – and so his brother Ed, initially a reluctant conscript, fulfilled that role. In order to better understand the artillery at that time, we contacted AAHT who were incredibly helpful and organised for us to visit the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, a trip we found utterly absorbing and which vastly increased our knowledge and allowed us to be accurate about weaponry. Members of AAHT have also been very helpful with bibliographies and web links.
The project has been not-for-profit from the outset and we have been totally reliant on grants primarily to pay for the researcher/writer – Nikky Pye – who has done a truly outstanding job since we started. We are enormously grateful to AAHT who gave us a most generous donation in 2015 which has helped us continue with WW1 Soldier’s Tale. It has also allowed us to take the project into schools, museums, WW1 events and notably, the 3-day commemoration of the Battle of the Somme held in Manchester last summer.

David Noble Managing Director of DNA Limited
Follow the project at

Move Ahead, Wakefield: Agincourt 600 Commemoration

Image4In 2015, to celebrate the 600 anniversary of the battle of Agincourt, we decided to hold a charity night to benefit a local art based charity Move Ahead, based in Outwood, which supports the brain injured.

The trust was very generous in giving us a grant so we could have Freight Companie
at the event to promote the authentic weapons and costumes of the period.

The event was a huge success and becImage3ause of it about 200 people now appreciate the importance of the Battle of Agincourt and a little of what it was like to live in
those times.

The application form was straight forward and easy to fill in and the response quick. We would like to reiterate our thanks.  Margaret Hines (past chair of the charity)

James Hester PhD Project University of Southampton


I have been very fortunate for the Arms & Armour Heritage Trust offering to fund my PhD research at the University of Southampton. Working under Prof. Anne Curry and Prof. Chris Woolgar from the university, and Dr. Thom Richardson formally of the Royal Armouries Museum, my project looks at the various sources commonly consulted to gain insights into medieval combat to see if the picture painted of martial arts techniques in Europe is consistent across them all. This has involved examining existing treatises on combat from the period, art sources depicting violent confrontations, skeletal remains showing signs of battle-related trauma, and finally signs of damage and wear on medieval arms and armour that were likely caused by use. With one year remaining before my work is concluded, the results I have been getting from my analyses have been very exciting.

In the last two years, I have had the rare and wonderful opportunity to travel to museums and arms collections throughout Europe and North America. Beyond visiting and examining some of the most iconic pieces of arms and armour in the world, it has given me the chance to meet with curators, collectors, and other members of the arms and armour community that I would only otherwise have encountered either by email or through chance meetings at a small handful of conferences. That freedom to travel, view collections first-hand, and meet with peers is becoming increasingly difficult and rare these days for curators and antiquaries, so I am forever grateful for having been given the chance to do so.

This work would have been impossible without the support of the AAHT. The academic study of European martial arts is still very much a fledgling discipline. Being primarily the domain of independent scholars lacking institutional backing, the time and resources to conduct such a deep- dive into the source material has to date been beyond the reach of many scholar-practitioners. The willingness of the AAHT to back my research has allowed this essential work to be undertaken, and the benefit to the wider community of fight scholars will be very great indeed.

Arms and Armour in Shropshire Museums

Image: Guy Wilson cataloging part of the firearms collection
The collections are stored in Ludlow and access was sometimes restricted – Guy Wilson cataloging part of the firearms collection

In 2011, the former photographer for the Royal Armouries, Jeremy Hall, died after a short illness. He had been the museum’s photographer from the 1960s until his retirement in 1996 and during those years produced wonderful images of the museum’s collections. Following his retirement he moved to his family’s home just outside Ludlow and became a volunteer at Ludlow Museum where he started to catalogue their collection of arms and armour – work cut short by his sudden death. Following his funeral, a number of his former Armouries colleagues decided that, as a memorial to their friend and colleague, they would complete the work he had Image12started. It was agreed that the work of cataloguing would be done for free –

An important, and rare, 12 bore single barrelled 'scent-bottle' percussion shotgun by Forsyth & Co, about 1822, with drtail of lock. (SHCMS: H.11001) (Shropshire County Museum Service)
An important, and rare, 12 bore single barrelled ‘scent-bottle’ percussion shotgun by Forsyth & Co, about 1822, with drtail of lock. (SHCMS: H.11001) (Shropshire County Museum Service)

everyone waiving their usual fees for carrying out this type of work. However, money was required to support travel to and from Ludlow and for setting and printing the text. The Arms and Armour Heritage Trust awarded us a grant towards these costs. Importantly, this enabled the catalogue to include an image of every piece, almost 300 in total, and to print in full colour. Without the Trust’s support, the publication would have been much simpler, in black and white and less useful to both the arms and armour scholar and the general public.

Image8The book, Arms and Armour in Shropshire Museums, has now been published and is available from Basiliscoe Press – ISBN 978-0-9551622-4-4

Barnet Museum- Battle of Barnet Loan Box

Barnet Museum and the Battle of Barnet Project are most grateful for the generosity of the Arms and Armour Heritage Trust (AAHT) for their grant to the project.

Barnet Image2The main feature that used the AAHT grant was Barnet Museum’s Battle of Barnet Loan Box.

We introduced the Loan Box to help school children re-discover the Battle of Barnet 1471. Involving local schools by explaining and promoting Barnet’s role in the Wars of the Roses was one of the key objectives of the lottery-funded Battle of Barnet project.

Primary and secondary school children are given a chance to touch and feel the types of artefacts that were in use in 1471 when the Yorkist and Lancastrian armies clashed in the fields north of Barnet. The Loan Box filled with medieval replicas is available for teachers to help them engage and enthuse their pupils. The objects provide a unique opportunity for teachers to be creative in telling the story as well as developing empathy for those who were caught up in this medieval conflict. In addition, the box encourages schools to use the resources in other educational contexts such as creative writing, drama, art, ICT and maths.

B arnet Image1The Battle of Barnet featured a variety of arms and armour, making it a most relevant topic for an AAHT grant. Coming towards the end of the 15th Century the Battle saw the use of traditional weapons such as the longbow, swords, battle-hammers and pikes and also the latest technology – handguns. Cannon had been used in warfare for some years but hand-held firearms were relatively new. They were unpredictable -they could explode in the user’s face, they could mis-fire or not fire at all, but they were a step change in warfare. They did not need as much training as a longbow and the noise alone could cause panic amongst the foe. They were the future. The Battle of Barnet was one of the first battles in England to feature the mass use of hand-guns.

The Loan Box contains a replica hand-gun, arrowheads, arrows, armour, chain-mail, a sallet and even the head of a halberd. The AAHT grant was used to purchase the replica hand-gun; child size armour and sallet, the chainmail, the halberd and arrows/arrowheads.

Responses from the users – schoolchildren and teachers – have been universally positive. Children are fascinated by the feel of actual material as opposed to virtual images; the weight and textures give a brief but gripping idea of the realities of medieval warfare. The artefacts are supplemented by a teachers’ pack which gives background information, activity suggestions, maps and pictures

Barnet Image3The Loan Box is usually loaned to a school for a half term; this allows the school to build curricular activity around the topic and allows more than one class/year to be involved. One school created a whole-school museum over a weekend inspired by the Loan Box. A number of schools have also used the Box on a weekly basis. Some twelve local schools have used the Box over the last couple of years.

The Loan Box adds to Barnet Museum’s current schools’ programme: this includes school groups visiting the Museum, and Museum volunteers giving assemblies, talks in schools and the loan of banners and child-sized helmets for re-enactment activities.

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.’