Life of an Arms and Armour Intern
Icon Clothworkers Intern Scarlett Parry reflects on an inspiring and career defining year as an Icon Intern at the Royal Armouries in Leeds. This internship was made possible through the generous support of the Clothworkers' Foundation.
I began this internship not long after completing my degree, I was looking to jump into the conservation world and begin to build my experience, so this internship was a perfect opportunity to gain experience and develop upon the skills I had learned at university.
My internship was heavily focused on learning and developing my bench skills, and this included learning new skills specific to an arms and armour collection including re-leathering, mail making and firearms disassembly.
Mail making, a unique skill
Mail making is by far the most enjoyable new skill I have learnt while being at the armouries!
Mail can be a difficult subject to treat, due to its nature once there is a weak link in the structure the rest of the object will be put at risk. New mail has to be made to replace the rings that are missed, it is important that this is how the object was conserved as it would ensure that there was no unnecessary strain is being caused by gaps in the mail. A rod with similar, if not the same dimensions is used to make the correct width of the rings. The rings are then flattened using a hammer and flattening tool; it is an important part of any conservation treatment process that whatever treatment you perform be legible to a certain extent should it need to be removed or adapted, so each new ring is stamped with ‘RA’ so they are identifiable.
I had the chance to work on four mail objects which are all from display in the oriental gallery, an Indian skull and mail aventail helmet, a Turkish breastplate, an Indian shirt and decorative cape. All had similar treatments, with using brass and ferrous wire to repair the mail and replicate the pattern in the mail which was both challenging and very rewarding.
Getting hands on with firearms
Another key skill I learnt on my internship was the disassembly, re-assembly and treatment of firearms. I had the opportunity to work with matchlock, flintlock and wheellock firearms and also on more modern mechanisms such as a Colt 1861 Navy revolver, Colt 1911 A1 and an Avtomat Kalashnikova 47 (or more commonly AK47!)
All come with their own procedures and concerns, I found flintlock firearms to be the most challenging but rewarding firearms to work on due to having to clamp certain elements to both remove and place the components together! This was very unique part of my internship and I found it so interesting to learn as firearms are not at all accessible in the U.K, I found it very difficult to feel comfortable handling them!
Expanding my skills
During my internship I’ve worked on just under 50 objects which has developed and expanded my skills working on different materials, for example I learnt how to correctly use and dye nylon netting with Lanaset dyes which I previously had no experience in doing. I used the dyed netting to encase the end of a velvet covered parade halberd to provide support as the end of the staff had become very threadbare and delicate.
I also learnt how to work with a full set of armour including how to assemble and disassemble the armour, with this three quarter child’s armour I had to use my newly learned riveting skills to place a new rivet into the wrist component of the vambrace. This was added to ensure that no further damage would occur to the vambrace due to the missing support that is provided by a rivet – placing the new rivet in was very daunting, as taking a hammer to an object is something I never thought that I would be doing! However with lots of carefully places hammer strikes the new rivet serves its purpose well!
It wasn’t only bench work and practical skills I had a chance I developed a form of corrosion flash cards to be used as a training and reference tool for collections assistants to use should they notice any corrosion on an object. I developed my public speaking skills by taking part in the “Creative Careers in Museums” which was very challenging for me as I find public speaking very difficult but I found since I was speaking about my own experiences it was a lot more comfortable to talk about.
Throughout my internship I’ve had the opportunity to develop my preventive conservation knowledge I spent time helping the preventative conservator, Rebecca Hayton with different tasks and learning what it means to maintain a suitable environment for the museum, this included using Hanwell monitoring system, moth rounds, freezing and quarantine procedures and helping with both gallery maintenance and open display cleaning.
I also worked as part of the team in an object mapping project in the store rooms, locating objects that had been affected by Concentric Ring Corrosion (CRC) to try and identify if there was some form of pattern or correlation to the emergence of this corrosion – this was a learning curve as it was the first experience with not having a formulae or instructions to follow, I had to create the best way to display findings in a visual format and to ensure it was easily understood.
Outside the Armouries
A brilliant aspect of my internship is that I have managed to visit a number of sites to visit different conservation departments and see how they approach conservation in there institution, visits included, National Firearms Collection, The National Archives, Hillsborough Castle, The Wallace Collection, Royal Collection Studios at Windsor, The British Museum and Fort Nelson. Both Lauren Piper and I went to the Tower of London where we visited many other conservation departments and we also had chance to aid the conservation team there with the re-leathering of a set of armour which was an invaluable experience!
I also attended two Icon events, the first being a Health and Safety for Conservators course and the other being the Icon triennial conference in Belfast. I found both occasions very informative and while at the conference I managed to meet the other Icon interns which was lovely to talk about our experiences and how different our internships were from one another, I also got to display a poster at Icon19 in Belfast which covered the mail making process and a treatment of a Indian skull helmet and mail aventail.
With the year coming to end, so does my internship and I have had the most fantastic year gaining a huge amount of experience and learning a variety of skills which have not only grown my professional portfolio but also confidence in myself as a conservator - I would highly recommend an Icon Internship to any emerging new professionals who are looking to gain a footing in the industry!
I would like to thank The Clothworkers Foundation, whose generous funding allowed me to complete this fantastic opportunity. Also, thanks to both Patrick Whife and my Icon supervisor Helen Lindsay ACR for their continual support throughout my internship.
Finally, thanks to the collections team at the Royal Armouries for welcoming me and to the conservation team for taking me under their wing and being both very supportive and great teachers, who have taught me invaluable skills and knowledge – I shall miss the Royal Armouries very much!