A small display currently in European Armouries II and III celebrates two arms and armour experts and collectors whose archives the Wallace Collection hold – Samuel Rush Meyrick and Claude Blair. In the second of two blog posts archivist Carys Lewis focuses on Claude Blair, the leading authority in the twentieth century on the study of arms and armour.
Claude Blair was born in Manchester in 1922. Following the start of the Second World War he served as a Captain in the Royal Artillery, and, though a leg injury saw him invalided out of active service, he remained in the army and joined a team testing small firearms. After the war had ended he attended Manchester University where he graduated with a BA in History in 1950 and continued to complete an MA writing his dissertation on the silvered and engraved armour of Henry VIII.
In 1951 he started work as assistant to Sir James Mann at the Tower of London Armouries, where he stayed until 1956 when he joined the V&A as Assistant Keeper in the Metalwork section. He left the V&A on his retirement in 1982 by which time he was Keeper of Metalwork and one of the leading authorities on European Metalwork, in particular arms and armour. During the 1950s and 60s his Easter lectures were particularly popular, attendees young and old greatly enjoyed witnessing him fire real guns, brandish swords and demonstrating how mobile an armoured knight could be.
His scholarly output over the course of his career and retirement amounted to over 200 articles and 10 books which he either wrote, edited or co-edited. Notable works included ‘European Armour c. 1066 to c. 1700’ (1958) which is still considered the standard text on the subject and ‘European & American Arms, c. 1100 – 1852′ (1962). In the course of his work he set himself high standards and also applied them to others, being quick to correct any errors he spotted. He gave praise and encouragement alongside criticism and was saddened by the fact that many leading museums had abandoned scholarship and publication.
Blair’s archive is vast and includes correspondence with other leading arms and armour scholars (some of it covering a number of years); photographs of arms and armour collections throughout Europe and America, and nearly one hundred travel journals which contain details of the armour collections and church effigies he researched.
Additionally, Blair collected the papers of fellow arms and armour scholars who predeceased him, so his archive includes documents created by former Masters of the Tower of London Armouries Sir James Mann (who was also director of The Wallace Collection) and A. R. Dufty amongst others.
I’m currently spending two days a week cataloguing Claude Blair’s archive, due to the size (it’s estimated it will amount to 150 archival boxes) and complexity of the archive it is envisaged that it will not be fully catalogued for a couple of years. This may seem like a long time but cataloguing an archive is a process of many steps – which includes identifying the contents of the archive, re-housing the archive into archival quality folders and boxes, deciding on the order and structure of the archive, and finally in putting data about each part of the archive into our cataloguing system. Once the archive is fully catalogued it will be searchable via Wallace Live.
Due the fact the Claude Blair archive is not currently catalogued access to the archive is restricted at present. However if anyone does which to view it I will try my best to provide access, any requests to access it should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.