Monday, 29 June 2015

(Medieval) Civilian Characters, Wargames Foundry

I bought these Wargames Foundry figures (Code: MED 209) a few years ago at a local show intending to use them almost as terrain pieces in games but for some reason never quite got round to painting them. 
Group shoot
With the advent of the Lion Rampant (LR) ruleset I've finally found a use for them. A number of scenarios for LR such as the Fugitive and the Messenger call for a few none military figures. You can of course use any spare knight or soldier miniature but I think it's more fun to use a dedicated/special figure plus it looks better on the tabletop.
Religious and  Lord of the manor characters - front view
"So you're collecting for the church roof?" 
Sculpted by one of the Perry brothers (I'm assuming Michael as he tends to favour the medieval period) these form part of the large range of figures produced by Wargames Foundry. Although these figures are more appropriate for the High to Late Middle ages (they are from Foundry's 100 Years War range) I've be using these for both my 13th century and WoTR games.

Contrary to popular belief and Hollywood the vast majority of people didn't clothe themselves in various shades of brown or filthy raps. It is true that there were strict rules as to what you could wear according to your social status but if you look at contemporary illustrations combinations of red, blues and greens materials are often portrayed. 
Ladies of various social class with the posh Lady of the manor on the right
Black clothes were also popular but idea of the colour being jet black isn't quite appropriate, with various shades of grey probably being more accurate description. What we today would consider true black was a difficult and expensive colour to achieve due to repeated dying process required to produce it. It is probably also this reason you occasionally see it chosen as livery colours by such wealthy people as the Duke of Buckingham for example. It was a deliberate display of wealth and would have indicated the wearer was a person of note or was employed by someone who was. It would have been immediately obvious to someone of the period to identify the class of a person by their choice of clothes and the colours they wore.

This, to a certain degree, still remains the case today whether we realise it or not. Most people will have preconceptions upon seeing someone dressed in a shell suit, baseball cap and trainers just as they will seeing a person wearing a tweed jacket, flat cap, corduroy trousers and Hunter Wellingtons.
Working types - front view
Working types - rear view
Fashions in medieval clothing changed considerably, although obviously not as rapidly as it does nowadays. For a insight into medieval clothing take a look through the famous [Luttrell Psalter].

There is a direct connection to Dudley illustrated in the Psalter but I'll detail this in another post.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Wilhelm Bremen, Modified Man-At-Arms, Perry Miniatures

Wilhelm, or Billy to his mates, presents a slightly less well off man-at-arms as indicated by the fact he has a lack of lower leg armour and is wearing boots. It's a nice touch from the Perry's as not everyone could afford a full harness. This armour is more Gothic (i.e. German) in style with it's distinctive fluted detailing.

Details of how this model was achieved can be found [here].
WIP
Wearing his lucky red leggings
The city of Bremen is unofficially twinned with Dudley. I say 'unofficially' because I believe the status is technically 'Befreundete Staedte' which means 'Friendly City' even though Dudley is actually just a town (one of the biggest in the country after Reading). It's probably better to think of the relationship as 'drinking buddies' seeing as both have a strong brewing tradition.

I also suspect that the fact that my old primary school sports kit [here] matched the home colours of the football team SV Werder Bremen [here] wasn't a coincidence either.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Sir Boris of Bilston, Modified Man-at-Arms, Perry Miniatures

This is the completed figure I made up from various bits and pieces all taken from the Perry medieval plastic boxsets. Some of the thought process (haha, as if) and techniques are detailed in this previous post/ramble can be read [here].

The choice of blond hair for his bob was deliberate as I wanted to introduce an extra element of colour to the model and hopefully make him stand out on the tabletop. He does now bare an unfortunate resemblance to the current Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who's full name is actually 'Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson' which does make him sound like a proper medieval baron.
The post title comes from that fact that Johnson was,very early in his career, sent to the midlands by his employer The Times newspaper in an attempt to show him how real people lived. He lodged in Bilston, near Wolverhampton with “a woman called Brenda”. He even claimed that it was this work experience that turned him into a Tory.
My policy on cake is pro having it and pro eating it."
As this miniature bares an unintentionally similar resemblance to another metal Perry figure [here] I may paint up that model and label him Sir Michael of Lichfield in honour of Michael Fabricant, MP for Lichfield, who also sports an equally distinctive (I would say 'comical' but my mom told me not to be rude to strangers) blond hairstyle.

In an attempt to keep this blog balanced I did try to find a bad haircut among the members of the opposition but met with no success (although Ed Miliband did sport a corker in his youth which resembled Henry V's puddin' basin style).

I'm unsure which retinue this model will eventually fit into. I have several options that I have planned including those for the Earl of Warwick, Lord Audley or the Duke of Buckingham, all with relatively local connections. These characters would have enjoyed far larger retinues in real life but I'm limiting them to the six men-at-arms as allowed by the Lion Rampant rules. As I am a benevolent dictator I will probably also allow them to have a limited number of billmen or archer units. Lord Dudley will of course get a full strength retinue (my toy soldiers, my rules).

Friday, 19 June 2015

The Bayard’s Colts, Walsall

The following text (reproduced here without permission) is from the Walsall Council PDF:

"The Bayard’s Colts are a curious surviving relic from Walsall’s past. They are a collection of seventeen clubs which were carried behind the Mayor in ceremonial processions at the openings of markets and fairs and on other civic occasions. In about 1670 there is a mention in the Mayor’s accounts of 7/6d being paid to “ye clubbemen for carrying ye clubbes in procession”. The practice was discontinued in the mid-nineteenth century, and after this the clubs were hung on the walls of the Magistrates’ Court in the Guildhall. In 1969 two of the clubs fell from their hanging place while the court was in session, and were found to be infested with wood worm. The clubs were transferred to the care of Walsall Museum, which arranged for their restoration. Subsequently fifteen of the clubs were returned to the new Magistrates’ Court on Stafford Street, where they continue to hang today. 
Bayard’s Colts
Local historians in the nineteenth century linked the clubs to those mentioned in an interesting document from the sixteenth century. This document, dated 1524-5, concerns a dispute between Robert Acton, Lord of the Manor, and the Mayor of Walsall, Richard Hopkyns. Hopkyns and the two leading burgesses of the town, Richard Bingley and Nick Woodward, were accused, among other things, of cutting down trees in Walsall Park and killing the King’s deer. Claiming that Acton had no jurisdiction over them, the three men threatened to ring Bayard’s Bell and summon Bayard and his thousand colts to deal with him: “these coltes being great clubs which have been of long time set and hanged up on high in the Guildhall and be at certain times borne about the town in great reverence, which thing to be suffered is a great abomination”. 

It is not clear whether the clubs which survive today are the same as those referred to in this document. Although it is thought that those clubs which have carved heads may be sixteenth century in origin, they could however be later replacements. When the clubs were restored in the early 1970s, the date 1714 was found carved into one of the heads. 

The origins of the name of the clubs is also uncertain. One explanation is that they were named after a French knight called Bayard, a hero of the early sixteenth century wars between France and Spain, who was killed in 1524. Bayard was famous across Europe, and people locally may have come to hear of his reputation. Another explanation has been prompted by the fact that two of the clubs have heads in the shape of horses. This has led to suggestions that their name is derived from a legendary horse called Bayard who featured in a popular Medieval romance. 

The Bayard’s Colts vary in length from one and a half metres long to well over two metres long. Most of them are ornamented around the tops of the poles with brass studs and woollen tassels. They would originally have been brightly painted, and traces of flesh tints and blue, gold and red pigments can still be seen on them. During the nineteenth century they were covered with thick black paint, which was removed when they were restored in the early 1970s. Two of the clubs have the letters ‘W.H.’ and ‘E.W.’ in brass immediately below the heads. 

Five of the clubs are topped by weapons, which include pikes and halberds. One club has an empty socket at its top, and the remaining eleven clubs are topped by carved heads. These carved heads consist of two demonlike faces, a lamb’s head, a bear or lion’s head, two horses, three male heads possibly representing a king, a nobleman and a priest, and two more human heads. While some of the heads have placid, calm expressions, others appear angry, with gnashing teeth. One of the horse’s heads is calm, while the other has a fierce expression. This has led to suggestions that the clubs were carved to represent different aspects of ‘good’ and ‘evil’, and that they might have started off as props in a morality play, which later came to be adopted into the town’s civic regalia. The restoration work on the clubs uncovered traces of fabric around the tops of some of the poles. This may be the remains of a fabric cape fixed around the pole to conceal the player holding it during such a play. 

However, although Walsall is an ancient Borough with a list of Mayors going back to the fourteenth century, no evidence survives of a morality play peculiar to this area. We may never know exactly what the Bayard’s Colts were for."

Following on from my post about English billhooks - details of which can can see (here) - note that, although these clubs are thought to be ceremonial, there are at least three that could have possibly been practical weapons. These are a halbard (which does look quite ornate), a poleaxe and of special interest is another weapon based on a agricultural implement (this time a forest bill) known as a Welsh hook. This type of pole arm is even mentioned in Shakespeare's Henry IV Part 1 with Falstaff saying,

"My own knee? ... and swore the devil his true liegeman upon the cross of a Welsh hook,—What, a plague, call you him?",
Bayard's Colts
Pole Axe detail
Welsh Hook & Halbard
Halbard detail
Until recently all these clubs were on display at the local history museum, unfortunately however, due to council cut backs the museum is shut for the foreseeable future. I can only assume that the clubs have been returned to the Magistrates' Court.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Medieval Bills

This post is more of an observation rather than anything more technical. I often read that a number of medieval weapons were developed from agricultural implements. This is most obvious with weapons such as the flail and the English bill, a type of polearm that has a distinctive shaped head (see images below).
Exhibit A - Weapon or Tool?
Exhibit B - Purpose built weapon? 
Due to my current WoTR project during a recent sight-seeing trip to the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry I paid particular attention to their medieval armour collection. The Coventry sallet is probably better known but displayed either side the helmet are two bills. These may be two of the twenty seven bills purchased for the city of Coventry and delivered to St. Mary's Guildhall in 1458. These caught my attention because it was during another visit (to a Victorian pumping station in Burton - I know, I lead a pretty rock'n'roll lifestyle) that I noticed a large display of hand bills (or bill hook) all with quite seemingly random patterns. Talking to the owner of the collection he informed me that the majority on display came a company called Edward Elwell Ltd that used to be based in Wednesbury (Junction 9 of the M6 and IKEA for anyone who is struggling to place it and which is literally down road from where I live). It is known that there has been a forge making iron at Wednesbury from at least the reign of Elizabeth I. Every single pattern and type of bill on display had a unique reference number stamped into it which you could use to order from the company catalogue.
Elwell handbill
Elwell handbills. Note several have a spike.
Elwell handbills
Of particular interest are the bills which have vertical spikes (or so I thought) similar to the shape seen in the weapon version. I asked the owner why an agricultural tool would need to feature such a shape. He then went on to explain that I was looking at the pattern from the wrong point of view. The sharp point isn't the working part, it was actually the V wedge that was used to locate and push over branches and stems when hedge laying. This technique is now quite rare in the UK but can still be seen occasionally in the countryside.

I might be completely wrong (normally am) but looking at one of the medieval bills (exhibit A above) it seemed that it was a bog standard agricultural hand tool that had been 'upgraded' to a weapon by having a horizontal spike forge-welded to it.

In light of this I have altered a few of my own billmen to reflect that they had received a slightly more rural style of bill.


Looking at the models I may, in the future, modify a few other bills so that they look like they have a simple socket joint and remove the tangs from the shaft (I like to give my loyal readers something to look forward to).

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Wilton Castle, Herefordshire

On our frequent castle hunting forays into Wales, via the A40 near Ross-on-Wye, my brother and myself would often glimpse what appeared to be a large section of medieval wall or wall. As the view was often obscured by trees and foliage we assumed it was private property or part of the hotel (the Castle Lodge Hotel to be precise) and never ventured nearer.

It was only until recently, thanks to the joys of the internet, that we discovered that the remains were actually Wilton Castle and that it was occasionally open to the public. It was on one of these open days that we managed to visit the castle on one of our tours of the area. 

English Heritage members gain free entrance, non members are charged £5. The current owners have obviously spent a great deal of time and money repairing and maintaining the site.

A history of the castle can be found on the official website:

Remains of the Tudor House



East Tower
East Tower
Interior view of curtain wall

Interior view of North West Tower
North West Tower - Wedding Venue
As if often the case when you get chatting to someone, we were very lucky to get shown around the owner's house which sits in the corner of the castle and is not open to the public. The interior building work has been very sympathetically done. 

You can, if you are so inclined, get married in the castle. The garden and borders alone are worth a visit to experience the collection of old type roses.

Friday, 29 May 2015

My Heroine - A real Inspirational story

Not a hobby related post but one I'll hope you'll read anyway. 'Inspirational' is an often overused word but please take a minute to read my friend's story as 'inspirational' hardly seems adequate.

Please click on the link to read her full story, one that still manages to move me to tears:

After my father very nearly died (we were told on three separate occasions by various medical staff that he wouldn't make it through the night) following a 'routine' kidney operation went wrong (no operation is really routine, despite what people may say) my perspective to my friend's experience was particularly biased.

I'm not asking anyone to donate any money to the designated charity (although if you can it would of course be great appreciated). I will however ask that, if you feel you are able, please consider registering as an organ donor. Stating the obvious, the difference you could make is often the difference between life or death for the patient. My (very) minor part in the story made me appreciate just how much hard work is involved for everyone involved, from the family to all the staff at the QEII in Birmingham.

I'm extremely thankful to a complete stranger, the donor, and just as importantly the family who gave their consent and thus gave my friend a second chance at life. They will never know just how grateful we are for their act of kindness and for that simple fact alone I'll ask you to please consider registering as an organ donor. 

Thanks.