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Royal Armouries Voices: Scarlett Parry

Scarlett Parry joined the Royal Armouries in January 2019 for a one-year ICON internship in the Conservation of Arms and Armour funded by the Clothworkers’ Foundation. The internship programme offers emerging conservation professionals the opportunity to develop their careers and gain practical skills and experience. Read on to find out what Scarlett has been getting up to during her time with us.

A year in the life of an arms and armour intern

By ICON Clothworkers Intern Scarlett Parry

My name is Scarlett and over the past year I have been working as an intern within the conservation department of the Royal Armouries.

I have always been passionate about history and its preservation but also wanted to have a practical approach. This is what led me into the world of conservation which allows me to use my enthusiasm and strengths every day After completing my degree I began to look for an opportunity that would help me to gain experience and to develop my skills and knowledge, which led me to where I am now

A conservation workshop with Scarlett smiling in the foreground

The collection at the museum is fantastic with such a wide variety of objects and materials, which really lends itself to being a great learning opportunity for a conservator to learn how to preserve historical objects.

I’d like to show you all a small snapshot of some of the things I’ve been up to this past year and give an insight into what happens behind the scenes at a museum

Three-Quarter child’s armour

The very first object I worked on was this armour which is said to have been made for a twelve-year-old Edward VI. Personally I am a massive fan of Tudor history so being trusted to conserve this armour was a dream come true.

This armour gave me an excellent opportunity to begin to learn all about the separate pieces that come together to make a full armour. It needed a new rivet to hold together the moving wrist component of the vambrace (arm defence). This was vital as the lack of proper support could have caused further damage to the object. It was then cleaned and given a coating of Renaissance microcrystalline wax to help protect the vambrace against any damaging environmental factors such as moisture.

Unique skill: Mail making

Three photos of a metal helmet with hanging mail protections

Mail was commonly used by many different cultures worldwide as it could provide effective protection whilst not being too cumbersome. Some Asian mail was used alongside solid plate to protect vital areas of the body, such as the stomach.

As part of my internship I was taught how to correctly repair mail by adding new rings. This is vital to the preservation of mail objects because introducing new rings to repair gaps ensures that the weight is evenly distributed and therefore the mail is no longer put under any strain or pressure.

To ensure that the repair is successful, any new rings are made to the same dimensions as the originals and the metal is aged to a sympathetic colour. Also to ensure that the rings are identifiable a small “RA” stamp is put on each new ring so that they can be distinguished in the future should they need to be identified or removed.

A chain armour spalyed on a work table decorated with carved golden coins
The four mail objects I worked on are on display in the Oriental gallery. See if you can spot them. Watch the video on YouTube for a more in depth look at the mail ‘zereh’ shirt I worked on

Parade halberd

This parade halberd is believed to date from the 1700s. It has a red and yellow silk tassel, is covered in green/black velvet and has a decorative braid running down the staff — gorgeous.

A laid out halberd, with its wooden shaft decorated with horse hair tassel.

It’s a sad truth that sometimes there is nothing that I as a conservator can do to help to improve the condition of an object. Over time, wear and light exposure can do irreversible damage, especially to textiles, and we can’t do much to help. The textile at the end of this staff is an example of this and had become very threadbare. However, what we can do is provide protection and support to what remains.

A before and after picture of a end of the halberd with the after image protected by a light green mesh. A middle picture of Scarlett dying the mesh separates the two images.

I dyed a piece of conservation-grade nylon netting so it was sympathetic to the colour of the velvet and used it to encase the end of the staff to ensure no small pieces of fabric can be pulled off and cause further damage

Rondel dagger

This 15th-century dagger had a considerable amount of damage, including a major loss to the hilt which needed to be repaired and filled for structural integrity. This treatment was fairly straightforward as we had the original pieces that had broken off. I adhered the small pieces into the hilt using 20% Paraloid B72 in acetone and then I used Milliput (an epoxy putty very similar to playdough in it’s consistency) to fill the gaps and to provide more structural support.

On the top row, three images, of a daggers hilt being gradually repaired with filler and then decorated to look like the original antique.

Filling losses in an object is a way to ensure that its structure is more stable and secure, but we have to make sure that the fill isn’t distracting to the eye so I painted it to match the original colour of the handle. See the beginning, middle and end result of this part of the treatment

Unique skill: Firearm disassembly

An armoury wouldn’t be an armoury without some form of firearm.

Another unique part of my internship has been learning how to disassemble and conserve a variety of firearms. These included matchlock, wheellock and flintlock mechanisms and also Colt 1861 Navy Revolvers, a Colt 1911 A1 and an Avtomat Kalashnikova 47 (or more commonly AK47)

Two photos of early modern firearms, being disassembled part by part.

It was difficult at the beginning to handle firearms and I almost had a fear of them as I didn’t see them as historic objects, I saw them as their true nature as weapons. Like most of the population of the UK I’ve never been exposed to firearms so handling them proved a real challenge at first. I found flintlocks to be the most difficult but also the most rewarding to disassemble and reassemble. However, the sear spring and the frizzen spring can be tricky.

Open display cleaning

Conservation is not always looking after objects behind the scenes, we are often out in the galleries cleaning the open display objects to keep them free from dust. This is very important for any object out on display as dust is hygroscopic; which means it attracts moisture to itself and this can cause a multitude of problems, especially for objects with metal parts like armour. If water is left on metal for a prolonged amount of time it can cause corrosion to form, which if left untreated can cause serious damage and even loss to the object.

Two images. On the left Scarlett cleans a full piece of armour in a open case. In the second she brushes down the area around the tusks of a full size armoured elephant armour with rider.

I clean the open display objects using museum vacuums and soft brushes to keep the dust levels as low as possible.

Sadly my time at the museum is coming to an end, but I am extremely proud of all that I have achieved by completing 50 successful conservation treatments that will forever be a part of this wonderful collection.

Watch Scarlett’s video about her experiences as an intern, conserving Indian ‘Zereh’ armour and her time at the Royal Armouries.

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