Unique “hand cannon” on show at Royal Armouries in Leeds - Thursday, 20 August 2009

Royal Armouries CEO, Janice Murray receiving a gift of a early hand cannon from about 1500 from Mr Tony Pilson A unique “hand cannon” – measuring less than 10 inches long and dating to the late 14th or early 15th Century – has been gifted to the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds.

The wrought-iron gun was originally thought to be a 19th Century ship’s whistle after it was discovered in the mud of the River Thames in the mid 1990s.

Weighing just over a pound, the robust, rod-like object was the subject of much curiosity and discussion by historians. The object will now be x-rayed and dated, but many experts favour the view it’s a small “hand cannon”, dating from medieval times.

The rare find was spotted by a “mudlark” – a person issued with a Port of London Authority permit and Crown Estate Commissioners to investigate the Thames foreshore. It was then passed on to fellow mudlark, Mr Tony Pilson, who is celebrated among other things for his collections of medieval and early-modern toys and buttons.

Mr Pilson presented the rare find to the Royal Armouries (RA) on Wednesday (August 26) as an outright gift. The Royal Armouries have bought a diverse range of relics from him in the past 25 years, including an eel spear, child’s sword, arrowheads, a shield boss and toy pistols.

The RA officially thanked Mr Pilson for the outstanding gift, at Wednesday’s presentation, jointly co-ordinated by Geoff Egan of the Museum of London.

Describing the hand cannon, Mr Egan said, “Of the many thousands of finds seen over the years from London’s waterfront, some stick in the mind as exceptional. One such was found in the mid 1990s, and only now is set to take its rightful place in the national collection of Arms and Armour – the Royal Armouries in Leeds.”

He added, “Early firearms in the late Middle Ages, whether cannon or hand guns, are very unusual in this country. It is well known that some early cannon were small enough to be carried by individual soldiers, though it is doubtful that manuscript pictures of them being wielded in the hands during battles reflect more than their novel portability (most of these small weapons are depicted set on firm supports of one kind or another). The term ‘hand cannon’ is therefore open to interpretation. To actually hold one during firing would have meant almost certain trauma from the recoil – if the device did not actually blow up both itself and the unfortunate holder.”

The hand cannon is now on show in Leeds, before it will return to the banks of the Thames, where it will form part of a display focusing on treasures from the Thames in the RA museum in the Tower of London.

Media contact

Rob Stevens
Royal Armouries Museum
Tel: 0113 220 1978
Email: rob.stevens@armouries.org.uk

Notes to editors

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