Howard Blackmore, Papers

Object Title

Howard Blackmore, Papers

Howard Blackmore, Papers


1950 - 1999





Scope and Content

The collection comprises Howard Blackmore's research notes for his work on London gunmakers and several other publications, as well as his unfinished project on powder flasks:

1. Research relating to the Directory of London Gunmakers and subsequent Supplement,
2. Research relating to other aspects of Arms and Armour,
3. Files relating to Howard Blackmore's publications,
4. Manuscript notebooks relating to research trips (mostly foreign),
5. Guides, etc relating to records available in the Public Record Office (The National Archives), parish churches, the livery companies of the City of London, etc.


53 boxes, 3 oversize boxes, 10 card index boxes

Access Conditions

Open Access

Administrative / Biographical History

Howard Loftus Blackmore (Blackie to his colleagues and friends) was born in Wallington, Surrey, on 27 October 1917, and went to Emmanuel School, Wandsworth. University was out of the question, financially, though Blackmore would have been an ideal history student. As a boy he had developed an enthusiasm for studying and collecting antiquities, including flint instruments and early firearms some of which, pre-war, could be bought with a schoolboy's saved-up pocket money, especially from G.F. Lawrence, a respected dealer in archaeological artefacts whose Wandsworth shop was an Aladdin's cave to Blackmore. On leaving school he entered the Civil Service in which he was employed for some thirty years, apart from wartime service from 1940-6 in Pay Corps. Most of the war was spent in or near London and, during lulls in the blitz and flying-bomb attacks, Blackmore frequented the premises in Whitcomb Street of Bapty & Co., dealers in firearms, where he met influential collectors and scholars, who became his friends. Interest in weaponry burgeoned at the end of the war, nurtured by the reorganization and reopening by Sir James Mann of the Tower of London Armouries which soon became a centre for serious study.

Three members of the Armouries' staff, together with five enthusiasts, including Blackmore, founded the Arms and Armour Society in 1950, of which he became honorary president in 1952, though still a civil servant. Blackmore's initial posting as a school-leaver was to the Department of Inland Revenue; after demobilisation he moved to Customs and Excise and was appointed a Purchase Tax officer where, as we would say today, he worked flexible hours. Having completed a particular inspection in less time than was allowed for it, he was free to pursue his own interests until the date for the next operation was reached.Typically, Blackmore used this spare time to good effect in his firearms research though without any hint of negligence of his Customs and Excise duties. (In fact, he also studied for a Fellowship of the Gemmological Association in order to better understand the technicalities of the jewellery trade when dealing with Hatton Garden companies.) Most of his leisure, however, was spent among the largely untouched records of the Board of Ordnance at the Public Record Office and manuscript sources in the British Museum and the Guildhall Libraries. The result of Blackmore's decade of painstaking work among the thousands of volumes of the Minute Books, Bill Books and Letter Books of the Board of Ordnance, was the publication of the ground-breaking British Military Firearms 1650-1850 regretably shortened on the insistence publisher from a fuller text, with photographs by William Reid, F.S.A. The monograph, while establishing Blackmore's reputation as the leading authority on the subject, set new standards for research into the history of firearms in this country. Numerous learned articles followed, often published in the Journal of the Arms and Armour Society which had first appeared in 1953 largely through Blackmore's own efforts. Therefore, nobody (except his bemused colleagues in Customs and Excise) was surprised when, in 1967, A.R. Dufty invited Blackmore to join his staff at the Tower Armouries, where he remained until retirement as Deputy Master in 1981.

Blackmore was a natural administrator and showed an unexpected aptitude for display which produced two major galleries, one on the Board of Ordnance, which had its headquarters in the Tower, and the other on hunting weapons.Two of his major publications after joining the Armouries were catalogues: one of an exhibition, Royal Sporting Guns at Windsor (1968) and the other that of the Armouries collection of ordnance (1976) which replaced the out-of-date catalogue of 1916. To Blackmore had fallen the task of sorting the disorded groups of cannon `displayed' haphazardly along the Tower wharf or in store at Woolwich Arsenal, re-siting them in logical groups within the Tower or arranging appropriate loans to other establishments under the care of the (then) Department of the Environment.The outstanding work of his retirement, and his memorial, is the matchless Dictionary of London Gunmakers 1350-1850 (1986) and its Supplement (1999), compiled when Blackmore's health was failing but his willpower was as strong as ever. Blackmore was esteemed in the USA and Canada where he lectured frequently; he was made an honorary vice-president of the Arms and Armour Society on retirement in 1972 from twenty years as president and in 1984 was one of the first recipients of its medal. He was elected a Liveryman of the London Gunmakers Company in 1991. As a researcher Blackmore had few equals, even among his academic colleagues, and was never content with second-best. He retained his boyish enthusiasms to the end and was writing articles until a week before his death on 24 November 1999. [Society of Antiquaries of London]