Robert Wilkinson-Latham, Papers, Wilkinson Sword Limited

Object Title

Robert Wilkinson-Latham, Papers, Wilkinson Sword Limited

Robert Wilkinson-Latham, Papers, Wilkinson Sword Limited

Date

1850 - 1980

Reference

WILK B

Level

Collection

Scope and Content

1, Microfilms/digital images. See number 2 for a detailed listing, Portfolio (microfilm);

Page 1 (scans), Assorted material, Reg (microfilm);
Pages 2-3 (scans), Regulations Military and Naval, Box 1 (microfilm);
Page 3 (scans), Miscellaneous material, Box 2 (microfilm);
Pages 4 and 5, 'Crests' of the British Army scrapbook; Sword specifications, Box 3 (microfilm);
Pages 5 and 6 (scans), Miscellaneous material, Box 4 (microfilm);
Pages 6, 7 and 8 (scans), Miscellaneous material, Box 5 (microfilm);
Page 8 (scans), Miscellaneous material, Book 205.5 (microfilm);
Page 12 (scans), Sword blade rubbings, Book 205.5B (microfilm);
Page 13 (scans), Sword blade rubbings, SPRI (microfilm);
Page 14 (scans), Sword Pattern Register Index, SPR (microfilm);
Page 14 (scans), Sword Pattern Register,

2) List of documents borrowed from Mr Robert Wilkinson-Latham (via Wilkinson Sword Ltd.) 1984-1985 / compiled by Philip Lankester,

3a) Wilkinson's index of sword hilts / compiled by Nicola Moyle and Mark Murray-Flutter. Consists of two indexes, the first one is by typology, and the second one if be regiment, type or owner. Cross referenced to the microfilm sheet number,

3b) Wilkinson's index of sword blade rubbings / compiled by Nicola Moyle and Mark Murray-Flutter |b cross referenced to the microfilm sheet number

Extent

1 folder containing approximately 1500 frames of microfilm; 1 list of documents borrowed; 2 bound indexes

Access Conditions

Open access

Reproduction Conditions

Copyright of the Board of Trustees of the Armouries

Administrative / Biographical History

Wilkinson Sword was founded in 1772 by the gunmaker, Henry Nock (1741-1804), who opened premises at Ludgate Street, near St. Paul's Cathedral in the City of London. Nock produced many types of gun, including top quality sporting guns and rifles, pistols, blunderbusses and military weapons. He was responsible for introducing many significant improvements to firearms, including his 'screwless lock' and 'patent breech' of 1787. In 1802 Nock became a Master of the Worshipful Company of Gunmakers, and in 1804 he received the Royal Appointment of HM King George III. When Henry Nock died in late 1804 his partner and son-in-law, James Wilkinson (1759-1848), inherited the business, and continued to enhance its reputation for top quality workmanship and innovative design.

James' only son, Henry Wilkinson (1794-1861), was brought into the company in 1820 as a partner, and almost the first thing he did on taking over after the death of his father was to close the shop on Ludgate Street and move his main premises to 27 Pall Mall, next door to the office of the Board of Ordnance. Henry continued to make fine military and sporting weapons, and included amongst its customers HM Queen Victoria, HRH The Prince of Wales, the King of Siam, the King of Naples, the King of Prussia, the Duc de Saxe Coburg, Prince Napoloen Louis Bonapare, and many other including practically every member of the House of Lords. Henry produced many notable improvements and novel designs of firearm, such as his 'counter parabolic breech', 'elastic concave wadding', and under-hammer gun which had only two moving parts. In 1835 he lectured at the Royal Institution on the history of weapons of war, and his book on the same subject, 'Engines of War' was published in 1841.

Henry became a member of the Royal Society of Arts, a member of the Society of Antiquarians, and an Honary member of the United Service Institution. In 1851 Henry served on the committee for the Great Exhibition. He received a gold medal from the Royal Society for his development of a special oil for chronometers, and another for his maroon lock. Henry also took a keen interest in swords, bringing his scientific and inventive mind to bear on the problem of improving the quality and performance. His military swords soon became famous for their strength and balance, and sword-making became an important part of the business. He wrote two other books, 'Observations on Firearms' and 'Observations on Swords', the latter running to 21 editions.

In 1857 when the British Government enlarged and modernised its small arms factory at Enfield Lock the loss of orders to private gunmakers dealt a blow to many firms, although Wilkinson were sufficiently renowned for their superb sporting guns to importance from this time.

Henry fathered a total of nine children, but unhappily - for a variety of reasons - none succeeded him in the business; five children were daughters, one son died at birth, another married but died soon afterwards without issue, while the other two sons went into Holy Orders and took no interest in the manufacture of guns and swords. When Henry died in 1841 the business was carried on by John Latham, who had joined the firm in 1845.

A major scandle developed during the mid 1880s when reports appeared in the National Press that British soldiers in the Sudan were losing their lives as a result of being armed with inferior swords. Hilts were being crushed on the hand and blades snapped or bent when used in combat. Bayonets also were being bent double at the first usage, and the newspapers were regularly publishing letters and articles condemning the situation. As early as 1844 Wilkinsons had invented a machine for carrying out severe and searching tests of sword blades, and when a Government Committee was set up in 1884 to investigate the problems, one of the members was a representative from Wilkinson.

On the strength of an order from the Government for 150,000 sword-bayonets, the company set up a new factory at Chelsea for the manufacture of swords and bayonets, and in 1887 changed the name to 'The Wilkinson Sword Company Ltd'. The Chelsea factory employed some 300 people, mostly skilled craftsmen, and turned out about 60,000 bayonets and 6,000 swords and lances annually. In 1904 Wilkinsons produced an experimental cavalry sword which was issued to certain regiments for trial. With slight modifications this became the trooper's pattern of 1808, the first sword to have been completely purpose-designed and without doubt on of the finest swords ever issued to an army. It is unfortunate that changing military tactics were to render this weapon almost immediately obsolete.