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England gears-up for Civil War

Former Littlecote House armour collection returns for Dressed for Battle at Shaw House

Trish Lee

Trish Lee


01635 886663

England armours-up for Civil War

Iron ‘lobster pot’ helmet. 17th century. On display at West Berkshire Museum. NEBYM:LB35.1

Highlights of West Berkshire Museum Collection: Dressed for Battle

SEVENTEENTH-century Britain was torn apart by the dispute between King Charles I and his Parliament.

Two bloody Civil War battles were fought at Newbury – the First Battle of Newbury was fought on September 20, 1643 and the Second Battle of Newbury was fought on the October 27, 1644.

England was not prepared for war and there was a shortage of equipment, as well as men. Armies had to be composed of men who had no previous experience of fighting. The tactics and weaponry of the Civil War became interrelated. Hand-to-hand combat still featured in battles, however the use and reliance of firearms increased.

The country resolved the equipment problem by importing arms and armour from the Continent. The range of sources for armour is the reason why there were such a variety of styles and why the same arms and armour were used by both sides.

Iron helmet with a broad rim and decorative brass top. 17th century. On display at
Berkshire Museum. NEBYM:LB35.2

West Berkshire Museum displays a collection of helmets that were worn by soldiers who likely fought in the battles of Newbury. The first example is an iron helmet with a broad rim and decorative brass top (NEBYM:LB35.2). This helmet is a type used by cavalry in the 1630s and 1640s. The bracket on the front would have held a turn-screw allowing the nasal bar to be adjusted. The decorative finial is French in style.

The second example is an iron ‘lobster pot’ helmet (NEBYM:LB35.1). This helmet would have been worn by the harquebusier, a horseback soldier. It has a hinged neck plate, brim and visor. Broadly dating to the 17th century, this example is incomplete, with the ear flaps missing.

The third example is a broad-brimmed leather musketeer’s helmet (NEBYM:LB34). Described in museum records as a ‘siege helmet’, however, it also has been identified as a 17th-century fireman’s helmet. The latter means that it could have been used by civilians to fight localised fires in burning buildings. It is possible these types of helmet continued to be used later than the 17th century.

Broad-brimmed leather helmet. 17th century. On display at West Berkshire Museum. NEBYM:LB34

A large amount of civil war arms and armour once hung in the Great Hall of Littlecote House, which was the last private Civil War Armoury in the country. For the first time in over 34 years, examples of arms and armour once displayed at Littlecote have returned to the region in a special exhibition at Shaw House called Dressed for Battle. The pieces on display in this exhibition have been kindly loaned by the Royal Armouries Collections.

Shaw House and grounds are open every Saturday and Sunday until the end of the summer season on Sunday, September 27, 11am to 4pm.

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