Sir Thomas Long's Helmet

on Saturday, 01 February 2014. Posted in Conservation

My name is Wendy S-Woodiwis and I am currently on placement with the conservation department at Wiltshire and Swindon History centre. I am studying conservation of both archaeological and museum objects at Durham University. One of the objects which I am currently working on is a medieval armet which is a type of helmet which was developed in the 15th century.  The armet is part of a collection of funerary armour which was originally hung about Sir Thomas Long’s (1451-1508) tomb in Draycot Cerne church until 2009. Sir Thomas Long fought alongside Henry VII in pursuit of the rebel Perkin Warbeck and was knighted at the marriage of King Arthur, he then died in 1508. The history of Sir Thomas Long and the funerary armour go hand in hand. Firstly he was known as a man of arms and secondly there is a date for his death which gives an indication for the date of the armour.

The helmet has a layer of grey primer which was applied during the 20th century. Although the paint has given the helmet at rather fake appearance it has protected the helmet from further corrosion.  In fact the helmet is complete with moving parts. Removing the primer would have been quite simple if it was not for an exciting discovery of a layer of red paint which was underneath the primer. Funerary helmets were often richly decorated with brightly coloured floral designs and coats of arms; they were also commonly painted red on the inside of the helmet to protect the metal from further corrosion. For this reason a method of removing the primer without removing the original decoration had to be found. After testing a number of solvents from the weakest to the strongest it was found that toluene was the most effective. It removed the primer without immediately affecting the red paint.

The solvent gel using toluene was prepared as it was a more controllable method of using it. This allows the primer to swell enough to be gently lifted away from the red paint. Some areas of the helmet had substantial corrosion pits which have been filled with the grey primer. The most controllable method to remove the paint from the pitting was to use air abrasion. Just using a constant flow of air only, under magnification ensured that the abrasion would remove the primer without affecting the original surface.  Finally the red paint will be consolidated to stop the paint from lifting.  The helmet will be permanently displayed at the Wiltshire Heritage Museum in the medieval gallery.

Wendy S-Woodiwis
Student Placement - Conservation


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