A much more modern bucket

We went on the Japanese mini submarine tour around Sydney Harbour last week, run by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. The tour included a visit to Fort Denison, in the Fort museum was this bucket.


Bucket, leather, c1858
Made by the Royal Gun Factory, Woolwich, England

The Fort Denison collection has three surviving leather buckets, which arrives in the Martello Tower at the same time as the leather canisters. The buckets played an important role in the firing of the guns, as they held the water needed by the spongeman.

To reload the gun after a round had been fired the spongeman took his long spongestaff, wetted the sponge which was on the end of it with water from the bucket, and thrust it down the bore of the gun. This was done to quence any smouldering fragments of power which might have remained in the bore.

Acc Number 2008.54

Firmly dated to the middle of the 19th century, it is almost indistinguishable from the 18th century riveted buckets in Cawdor Castle, Cotehele House and HMS Victory The sewn buckets seem to have stopped in the middle of the 18th century, for example the bucket from the wreck of HMS Invincible (1801) dated 1758.

The main innovation seems to be the use of buckles on the handle to provide some additional flexibility. Here’s some other angles, click on them to embiggen.


Cotehele House Leather Vessel Gallery

I give in. I’m only about 2/3 of the way through the Scottish National Museum photos and I just can’t face them at the moment. So working backwards from the end of the trip instead, here’s a gallery of leather objects from Cotehele House in Cornwall.

Late 18th century leather buckets
A pair of eighteenth century leather fire buckets in the kitchen. Riveted construction throughout, the top band is thin metal. Similar buckets are in Fort Nelson from HMS Invincible, Cawdor Castle and on HMS Victory in Portsmouth.

Late 18th century leather bucket
Close up of base and the method of riveting. Unlike the Mary Rose buckets, there is no welt. I’m sure I’ve seen that pattern of rivets somewhere before.

Late 18th century leather buckets

Detail of the top bands showing how the handles attach.

17th century bombard

Large Black Jack/Bombard that was in the punch room when we visited. The style dates it to the first half of the seventeenth century, it stands really roughly 20″/510mm high when measured to the nearest knee.

17th century bombard

There are four layers in the handle. This bombard has a really nice shape around the spout, it looks like it only had very light use and has been looked after. I’m sorry I don’t have any more information about it.

Cotehele House is a National Trust property at St Dominick, near Saltash, PL12 6TA.  http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/cotehele/

Museum of Edinburgh Gallery

Here’s the first of the promised galleries. The Museum of Edinburgh is at 143 Cannongate across the road from the Old Tollbooth. The leather galleries are closed for renovation at the moment, so I’ve added the shoe and pattern pictures from an earlier trip.

Leather Fire Bucket, 1820-30

Leather fire bucket, possibly from Holyrood House, with the crowned cypher of George IV painted on the side, dating it (the paint if not the bucket) to between 1820 and 1830. Construction is much simpler than the early Tudor and Dutch buckets I’ve showcased previously, but not riveted.

Leather Fire Bucket, 1820-30

This angle shows the inside of the back seam, and that a reinforcing piece appears to have been riveted on, with the top band then sewn over it.

Silk brocade covered shoes

Silk brocade covered leather shoe, mid-17th century, showing the method of attaching the fabric.

Silk brocade covered shoe and pattern

The other shoe of the pair showing a fabric and leather pattern.

Pattern, mid 17th C

Fabric and leather pattern, mid 17th century.

That’s not from armour.

Many of you will know of the UK Portable Antiquities Scheme and its excellent on-line database. I’m an occasional visitor and usually run a simple search on the Primary Material: Leather to see what has been added since my last visit. I did it again last week and this one came up.

Identified as a strap from a piece of armour such as a breast plate which would have been worn in the civil war era.

I’ve linked the picture to the full record for the item. Those of you who know me will be starting to wonder what I’ve done… I’m afraid I’m a repeat offender.  An example is here, but there are plenty of others. I disagree with the identification of the item, and think it is from a late 18th or early 19th century leather bucket. I’ve summarised my case in the comment on the database record but would like to provide some information and examples here that I can’t on that site. Have a good look at the database record, possibly keep it open in another window. Note the curve in the object, the closeness and type of rivets and washers and even the number of layers. The dimensions are relevant, particularly the thickness. I’ll repeat them here.

Length:       33 mm (this doesn’t accord with the scale in the photograph, either)
Width:        25 mm
Thickness: 10 mm

Let’s check the confidence with which the identification was made.

Natasha Ferguson from the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology in Glasgow has seen a photograph of this item and says it is probably a ‘strap from a piece of armour such as a breast plate which would have been worn in the civil war era’.

It is also identified as a “battlefield find”. Note that the identification is from a photograph and is only “probably”. Putting those together, I’m recognising a pattern of  “it is from a battlefield so it must be from armour” much in the same way that any left shoe found is a “ritual object“.

So let’s have a look at some of the leather straps on the types of armour in the period in question. It is a little complex as armour was made in a number of factories in Blighty and lots was left over from previous wars and also imported from Europe in some quantity.  One of the constants is that the leather straps are only one layer of leather thick. The first example is from the York Castle Museum.

Low view from level with the pikeman's left knee would have been, showing the waist belt and the inside of the shoulder straps. Some of the rivets and washers can be seen.

Nowhere does this armour have flat headed rivets or round washers. This one is of English manufacture. Here’s another one of European origin.

Dutch Pikeman's Armour, 1640s

This one is in the Leeds Armouries. Again, the straps aren’t 10mm thick, the rivets all have domed heads and if you look at the inside, the washers are square. The last one is a side view of one in the Dover Museum that was on loan from Leeds.

Side view, English Pike Armour, Dover Museum.

The other forms such as the heavy cuirassier armour follow the same pattern, I won’t bore you further with more armour photos but I do have photos of at least 50 contemporary armours and all follow the same pattern.

Having demonstrated (to my satisfaction anyway) that it isn’t an armour strap, I suppose I should now provide some evidence that it is what I think it is. Have a look at the next couple of photos and make up your own mind.

A modern copy of a water bucket carried on the Victory.

While this is a reproduction, the details are fundamentally correct. Note the spacing of the rivets and the arrangement of the washers. Seen that curve somewhere before?  Here’s another shot of a reproduction from underneath. 

Looking up at one of the Victory's leather buckets.

The sides of the bucket are considerable thinner than the thickness of the base, but it still illustrates my point. If you were to break off the bit with the four rivets to the left of the painted numbers, the piece would be about 25mm high to the crease in the base, about  65mm long and about 8mm thick.

The oldest riveted leather bucket I’ve seen is one dated either 1660 or 1666 in the Museum of London. It is very different in form to the Victory’s, although there are a number the same shape and construction as the Victory’s and dating to the turn of the nineteenth century in antique shops around the world.

I really think the Portable Antiquities Scheme are looking at a later intrusion with this object. The identification from a photograph possible means the context or stratigraphy were absent when the identification was done and too much emphasis may have been placed on it being from a mid-seventeenth century battlefield site. The find was found using a metal detector, meaning reasonably shallow and from ploughed land, leaving plenty of opportunity for later period objects to be mixed in with earlier objects.


McIntosh, F (2009) LVPL-9CD9F4 A POST MEDIEVAL Strap Fitting Webpage available at:

http://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/251849 [Accessed: 12/12/2010 11:45:00 AM]

Mary Rose Leather Gallery

I’ve finally managed to get organised enough to upload my photos from the Mary Rose Museum. “Mary Rose leatherwork”, or a variant on that theme is in the top 5 searches on this blog nearly every day, so there seems to be some demand for it. The museum features very low light to protect the finds from UV degredation, so the colour in the photos tends to be a bit muddy. Some of them have had a lot of work to pull the image from what at first appeared to be a black frame.

I’ve arranged the photos by item type, starting with archery equipment and then move on to other items. You may have seen some of these photos before but hopefully most of them will be new. The photos also link through to my Flikr account. I’ll update the descriptions when more information becomes available.

Archery Equipment

Archer's arm guard

Leather bracer embossed with the royal arms of Henry VIII.

Two archer's arm guards

Left: Ivory bracer with leather straps. Right: leather bracer, with stamped rosettes.

Leather Mitten 81A3292

Left hand mitten (both mittens found were for the left hand). I suspect these were used to protect the bow hand when shooting fire arrows from a longbow. The triangular shape of the thumb cut out can be clearly seen.

Mary Rose leather mitten 81A3292 1545

Fingertip detail of left hand mitten (both mittens found were for the left hand). 260mm long, 150mm wide at widest point. Unidentified leather, the other one found (81A3292 was sheepskin). The leather was stitched with the flesh sides together, then turned inside out so the seams were hidden/protected.

Mary Rose arrow spacer

Mary Rose arrow spacer. These would commonly be used with a linen canvas bag and be slung off a waist belt.

Mary Rose Arrow Spacer 1545

Mary Rose arrow spacer with the remains of arrow shafts in situ. These would commonly be used with a linen canvas bag and be slung off a waist belt.

Leather Bottles and Buckets

MR 79A1232

Back of Mary Rose leather flask 79A1232, 282mm high, 213mm wide and 57mm deep. Stitching is original and there is still some sealing pitch present. This bottle is asymetrical - the front is much more deeply curved than the back.

Mary Rose leather bottle 81A0881

Mary Rose leather bottle of the costrel form, 81A0881. Front is decorated with three vertical ridges with a double zigzag pattern between the ridges and to either side. There are several pairs of parallel tooled lines including a large inverted V and various rectangles on the base and back. The inside is coated with an unidentified subastance. The photo was taken in low-light conditions inside the museum, colours may not be accurate.

Mary Rose leather bottle 81A1214

Mary Rose leather bottle of the costrel form, 81A1214 was found in a chest along with some personal items and woodworking tools. Front and back are decorated with five pairs of parallel lines from top to bottom, framed by a horizontal line at the base and two parallel lines across the shoulders and neck. There are two asterisks on the base, with a saltaire cross (X) diagonally between them, and a saltaire cross on each end. There are reinforcing pieces in the shoulders/lugs and a gasket piece around the inside of the neck. There is the remains of a waterproof coating on the inside surface.

Reconstructed Mary Rose leather bucket

Reconstructed Mary Rose leather bucket. The leather buckets all have rust marks from iron handle rings and some have the remains of pitch sealing, indicating they were water rather than powder buckets.

Mary Rose Leather Bucket handle detail

Mary Rose Leather Bucket handle close-up


Mary Rose type 1 shoe construction

Height separated welted shoe components from the Mary Rose (possibly 81A1861) showing the way the layers go together. The colour of the label corresponds to the colour code on the chart behind.

Assorted shoe parts

Assorted shoe parts found in the 2002/3 dig.

Mary Rose type 1 shoe quarter

Shoe quarter from a type 1 shoe, displaying a topband in place.

Mary Rose type 1 shoe

Type 1 shoe (high slip on with the throat raised by the extension of the front of the quarters).

Mary Rose type 1 & 2 shoes

Museum display showing the differences between type 1 (high slip ons with the throat raised by the extension of the front of the quarters) and type 2 (slip on shoes with straight throated vamp and straight top edge on the quarters.

Shoe sole made from old bucket

Replacement partial shoe sole cut from an old bucket. The lines of stitching can be clearly seen, and can the incised arrow marking it as the king

Shoe sole cut from old bucket

Replacement partial shoe sole cut from an old bucket. The shaded area indicates which part of the bucket the sole was cut from.

Mary Rose find 79A0877 Type 3 thighboot

Mary Rose type 3 thighboot (rounded toe, turn/welt construction, secured with four straps), there

Mary Rose find 79A0877 Type 3 thighboot

Mary Rose find 79A0877 type 3 thighboot (rounded toe, turn/welt construction, secured with four straps), outer and innersole. There

Scabbards and Furniture

Mary Rose scabbards and furniture

A display of leather scabbards from bollock knives (top, centre) and a rapier (bottom) together with the copper alloy fillings used to support them.

Mary Rose Rapier Scabbard

Rapier scabbard with incised decoration and hanging strap.

Mary Rose Rapier Scabbard

Mid-section of rapier scabbard with incised decoration and hanging strap.

Mary Rose Bollock Knife Scabbard with stamped decoration

Mary Rose bollock knife scabbard with stamped decoration, the scabbard has two compartments, one for the bollock knife and one for a by-knife.


Type 1 leather pouch 81A2685

Fine embossed bovine leather, 275mm x 190mm showing the inner flap and the inside of the outer flap. Outer flap is lined with silk, the inner flap is two layers of leather stitched with the skin sides together.

Type 1 leather pouch 81A2685

Detail of the silk inside of the outer flap of 81A2685, 275mm x 190mm. False colours due to low light levels in the museum.

Type 1 pouch and unknown type pouch

Top:An unidentified Type 1 Leather pouch Bottom: An unidentified leather pouch.

Mary Rose Type 1 Leather pouch 81A1991

Fine embossed calf leather, 278mm x 197mm. The inner flap is plain. Type 1 pouches have two sections for storage, the larger is the same width and height as the outside of the pouch, the smaller is stitched in position between the inner and outer flap. Unlike the other type 1s, this one has a third pouch in front of the others.

Leather Buckets in London

My friend Helmut has returned from his sojourn in Blighty. On his penultimate day he did a pilgrimage to the Museum of London and finally captured a good photo of the 1660 leather fire bucket that has eluded me for years. In my defence, both times I’ve seen it, it has been tucked in the corner of a temporary exhibit.

Helmut's photo of the 1660 leather bucket in the MoL. Click on the picture to link to his blog

Leather buckets were long used as fire buckets as unlike wood, they didn’t have to be kept wet to stay sealed.  It is supported by a metal wire frame rather than the timber used earlier for added strength and longevity and the inverted shape both conserves wire from around the top and increases stability. This one is a very early example of a riveted bucket, with all seams including the side seam being held closed with rivets on roughly a one inch pitch. Compare this with the sewn buckets from the Mary Rose (1545) and Invincible (1758). By the time of HMS Victory, all ships’ fire buckets were riveted.

Leather bucket from the wreck of HMS Invincible (sank 1758). The pitch lining and metal handle rings can be clearly seen, showing it was intended for use with water rather than gunpowder. My photo from the Royal Armouries, Fort Nelson

Testing Times (via International Routier-the Blog)

This is a post I wrote for another blog a short time ago. While discussing a particular set of wooden tubs that I’ve been repairing and maintaining for some time, it gives a comparison between the performance of wooden and leather buckets over a 12 month period in the situation that leather buckets were most commonly used in – being left dry for extended periods of time and then needing to hold water immediately.  Obviously the findings aren’t valid for other locations and patterns of use where the buckets would be kept wet or used on a daily basis.

The testing was informal rather than structured but I found it interesting to note how the leather bucket performed in a variety of climactic conditions and rough handling, including freezing, 40 degree heat, humidity ranges from 4% to 100% (sometimes on consecutive days) and being dropped from a height of about 1 metre on to concrete. The wooden buckets were exposed to similar conditions and handling. I thought it might be of interest to readers here.

Testing Times Back in 2009, I wrote a post on making a 16th century leather water bucket. Given our recent discussion on the condition and life expectancy of the regimental buckets and tubs, I thought it time to present the findings on some comparative testing I’ve been doing over the past 12 months. The primary concern is how resistant the waterproofing is to use, abuse and rough handling and how much maintenance would be expected when compared to a similar w … Read More

via International Routier-the Blog