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Collaborative Research at the Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds

The Centre for Heritage Research

A Workshop Organised by the Royal Armouries Museum and the Centre for Heritage Research, University of Leeds

Date: Wednesday 21st June 2006 5-8pm, Location: Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds


  • Thom Richardson, Keeper of Armour and Oriental Collections, Royal Armouries
  • Bob Woosnam-Savage, Curator of Edged Weapons, Royal Armouries
  • David Starley, Scientific Officer, Royal Armouries
  • Ralph Moffat, Institute of Medieval Studies, University of Leeds/Royal Armouries Collaborative AHRC PhD student
  • Anthonia Lovelace,Curator of Anthropology & Acting Senior Curator, Leeds Museum Resource Centre

Thom Richardson, Keeper of Armour and Oriental Collections, Royal Armouries.

Arms and armour were stored in the Tower of London from its very beginning, but the Tower’s importance as a medieval arsenal has in recent years been called into question. By the middle of the 16th century the Tower armouries had become most important storehouse of arms and armour in the kingdom, and remained a working arsenal until the middle of the 19th century. Used also as a showplace in the Middle Ages it developed into a museum in the 17th century, and this museum grew over the centuries into the present Royal Armouries, in Leeds, Portsmouth and London.

The manuscript inventories of the armoury have been only very patchily published, and to remedy this I started a project systematically to transcribe edit and publish the texts, which I have been using as research tools over the last 22 years. Working initially on the earliest surviving inventories, the results were so interesting that I was encouraged to develop it into a joint project with a university. The research interests of Mark Ormrod in medieval administration and the palaeographical skills of Pippa Hoskin at the Borthwick Institute led us to develop it into a PhD research programme at the University of York.

'Castles and Curators', Bob Woosnam-Savage, Curator of Edged Weapons, Royal Armouries.

Museums collect material culture. The Royal Armouries collects a range of the material culture of warfare and warriors and associated activity. This ranges from a small cartridge case to the largest armour on Earth, that of an elephant. The process of looking at these 'real thing' has often been found to be quite a revelatory experience, and not just for the historians we encounter at the annual International Medieval Congress, but for us also. For instance a highly regarded historian of the 100 years war when given a sword of the period just reiterated his disbelief, at its weight 'it's too light'. A more common and rewarding result is a greater understanding of 'the what and the how' a man-at-arms fought and lived or died.

We are now also attempting to take this experience out of the museum. If one cannot bring the object to the museum we take the museum knowledge base to the object! With the IMC we are experimenting on taking members of the IMC on extended post-conference tours. The first, in 2004, was a four day study of 'the Welsh Castles of Edward I'. Thirty scholars led by myself and Prof. Kelly DeVries of Loyola visited the six major sites in North Wales. Emboldened by our success we are taking a group this year to study the castles and battlefields of Central Scotland, under the banner of 'Scotland the Brave'.

'A View From the Museum Science Lab', David Starley, Scientific Officer, Royal Armouries.

This presentation looks at the wide range of collaboration of the Armouries’ Science Lab. with Universities in the UK and beyond. Concentrating on the benefits and shortcomings of our shared research, but also touching on recent initiatives, such as those to stimulate the interests of future generations of university students in poorly recruiting areas such as science, engineering and materials.

My own specialism of archaeometallurgy has always been one with a small number of practitioners spread globally. In recent years good communication networks and high levels of collaboration have enabled the sharing of materials, facilities and expertise. However, such informal collaboration has been increasingly threatened by requirements for income generation and full economic costing. Whilst the attraction of participation in more lucrative work - such as developer-funded archaeology, potentially offers the opportunity to maintain external links, such service work often diverts us from the primary research interests of our institution.

'Full Tilt: The Production of an Edition of the Royal Armouries Tournament Manuscript as part of a Doctorate at the Institute for Medieval Studies, University of Leeds', Ralph Moffat, Institute of Medieval Studies, University of Leeds/Royal Armouries Collaborative AHRC PhD student.

This AHRC, Royal Armouries, and Leeds University collaborative doctoral studentship not only involves the production of an edition of a unique fifteenth-century manuscript concerned with English and Burgundian tournaments but also entails a study that will place the MS into the context of the tournament and chivalric society in Europe as a whole. This paper will go some way to explain how this project works. It will discuss the problems faced with balancing the rigid course requirements of postgraduate study at the Institute for Medieval Studies with the curatorial training provided at the Armouries. A year in to this project I will discuss the research and training I have already undertaken and outline the direction to be taken in the future. Due to the novel nature of the project I will highlight the difficulties faced and still to be faced which may be useful starting point for discussion for future projects of a collaborative nature involving museums and postgraduate study.

'Leeds Museums and Galleries – Research Links and Future Prospects ', Anthonia Lovelace, Curator of Anthropology & Acting Senior Curator, Leeds Museum Resource Centre

The first Leeds museum was founded by the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society which built a Philosophical Hall on Park Lane in 1819-1820. The Society ran the museum there until the 1920s when the city took it over. The world-wide range of the museum’s collections, and the very large Natural Science holdings are a result of the society’s broad interests. Links with scientific and other researchers have not stopped since the handover, and there is regular collaboration with the University of Leeds, especially with the school of Biology, and the University Art Gallery. Other contacts have occurred because of the themes of particular projects, such as the DCF funded Textiles Access project which has just finished. When the new Leeds Museum and Discovery Centre open to the public we hope to have a much better web-presence with a broad range of information downloads and increased access to the collections.

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