Bulletin 382

May, 2014

A Few Swords, and some Social History

by Michael Harrison

The sword is a double edged weapon – from antiquity, which has evolved over time, for two separate purposes; and as a personal accoutrement – has acquired decoration denoting ownership, purpose, and loyalties – sometimes subtly disguised to cater for changing situations.

So think of Excalibur and its connotations, or of Crecy, and knights being ‘dubbed’ having survived the slaughter. Even after the introduction of gunpowder, the sword was the principle weapon for close combat, and we were shown a wonderful assortment associated with the period of the Civil War and its aftermath. Those used by mounted troops were of a length suitable for horseback engagement, as opposed to the lance of the foot soldiers.

The blade was of quality forged steel, often originating abroad – say Solingen, in Germany, on which there may be an inscription, not for identification but perhaps a silent prayer for forgiveness. The grip is protected by a guard with a projecting Quillon opposite the knuckle bow, which will end at the pommel, all of which are susceptible to elaboration.

A ‘Cavalier’ sword could have a badge of a Rose and Crown, or a Rose with an encircling wreath. Later, with better quality brass available, this could be used for the hilt, but the decoration now of a leopards head with a lion and a unicorn could be viewed differently, depending on your Jacobite or Williamite sympathies. For good luck, on either side – a classical motif of four horsemen with flying cloaks could be used, but for those with firm convictions, a bust of William and Mary.

A later Officers’ sword received as a gift, showed a Baronets’ shield with St. George and the Dragon, originating in Yorkshire, and probably from Shotley Bridge Armament Works – handy for Newcastle upon Tyne, with the possibility of importing not only steel from Solingen, but also some of their skilled work force (not encouraged by the authorities) whose superior products allowed the blade to now be ‘hollowed’ for lightness with strength.

Later weapons for their original purpose were the small swords (of continental origin), obviously very portable in civilian life, and offering protection from footpads and such like, but still embellished with ‘Trophy Work’. The ‘hangar’ was a single edged sword, whose descriptions abound, as they were often lost or otherwise misplaced – leading to detailed descriptions being published to aid recovery (? Small hope!). A variety used by huntsmen, and those with rural pretensions, had a ‘saw back’ ? useful for refractory vegetation during the chase. These weapons were adapted for use at sea by the Navy as Cutlasses.

So swords are still in demand, as proper accompaniment to an Officer’s Uniform, but the blade though concealed in an elaborate scabbard, still has to gleam when flourished for a salute, or for dubbing purposes of those to be endowed with fancy leg wear.

Review by JR

This was the last talk before the Summer Recess, but here is a reminder of the visits arranged for that period.


Summer visits

Sunday 18th May 2pm Walk around Presteigne with Duncan James £2 charge Meet in the carpark on the by-pass road where the recycling bins are. Tea afterwards in the Radnorshire Arms.

Sunday 22nd June All day at Elan Valley village and Dams. Opportunity to have a guided tour of the village and a behind the scene Dam tour. Minimum donation £2 to Water Aid. Refreshments available in the visitors centre or take a picnic. Names required Please contact Nancy Wheatland.

Thursday 24th July 2pm Behind the scenes at Hereford Museum with Judy Stevenson £2 charge which includes tea.

An early reminder of the next talk. For those who like to prepare early, on Friday 19th September the Rev. Canon Chris Pullin will give a talk on the Mappa Mundi and the Chained Library.