Ian Bottomley is Curator Emeritus of Oriental Collections at the Royal Armouries Museum based in Leeds.
I regard myself as being fortunate to have had several career changes during my life. My first was in the field of organic chemistry, in a research department of a major chemical manufacturer. A change in circumstances led me into further education, using my previous experience in the teaching of mathematics, physics and chemistry. Some 10 years later, during a period of industrial contraction and a decline in the traditional science base, I volunteered to re-train in the field of computing. It was an exciting period in which the large post-war mainframe computers, programmed by punched cards or punched tape, were being superseded by ever smaller machines. A growing number of companies and institutions were adopting this new technology, creating a demand for programmers and operators that the college provided. Ultimately I took charge of all of the computing within the college before taking early retirement in 1992.
I cannot remember a time when I have not had a passionate interest in arms and armour. A visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum in my teens focused this interest on the arms and armour of Japan. Through the sport of kendo, I met other like-minded people and in co-operation with one of these I finally ventured into print in 1987. Other publications followed, including articles in the journals of various societies around the world. When the news that the Royal Armouries Museum was to move from the Tower of London was released, I joined the ‘Royal Armouries Support Group’; a pressure group whose aim was to encourage the relocation of the new museum to Leeds. Following the relocation and the discovery that there was a vacancy for a Curator of Oriental Arms and Armour, I made a successful application and embarked on what was to be the final and most rewarding of my careers.
The Royal Armouries’ collection of oriental material is rather eclectic, encompassing most of the world other than Europe, North America, sub-Sahara Africa and South America. It is particularly rich in material from the Indian sub-continent, in part due to Britain’s long association with that part of the world. The Museum also holds important collections of Japanese and Chinese items. These holdings have proved to be a rich source of research material that has led to some important discoveries. In 2002, the Oriental collection was to receive what is certainly its most valuable bequest in the Museum’s history: the collection of Japanese swords and blades collected by Deryk Ingham of Pontefract. Deryk had been a personal friend for over 30 years and during that time he had acquired some of the finest blades in Britain. Through the unparalleled generosity of his widow, Kathleen, and his sons, Ralph and Geoffrey, the Museum was able to add 57 swords and several sword guards to its collection. Blades from that collection range in date from the 13th to the 20th century and many have documentation showing that Japanese experts have authenticated them.
The year 2005 saw another momentous event in my curatorial career: a joint exhibition between the Royal Armouries Museum and Nikko Toshogu Shrine based on the life of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Through the generosity of shrines and museums around Japan, some of the world’s greatest art treasures were assembled in Leeds, including the original paper and bamboo standard in the form of a gilded fan that flew over Ieyasu’s command posts during all of his battles in the late 16th century.
I retired from full-time employment in 2007 but continue to play an active role at the museum as Curator Emeritus.
The origin of Japanese guns. JSS – US (1966)
Arms and armour of the Samurai, with A.P. Hopson. – London : Defoe Publishing, c 1988
A remarkable armour. Royal Armouries Yearbook 2 (1997)
Japanese armor : the Galeno collection. Berkeley, Ca: Stone Bridge Press, c 1998
A new Japanese crossbow. Royal Armouries Yearbook 3 (1998)
An Indian repeating flintlock gun. Royal Armouries Yearbook 4 (1999)
A recently acquired nagamaki. Royal Armouries Yearbook 4 (1999)
Galvanized Indian mail, with Helen Bowstead Stallybrass. Royal Armouries Yearbook 5 (2000)
An introduction to Japanese armour. Leeds : Royal Armouries, 2002
A tentative classification of Indian matchlock guns. Royal Armouries Yearbook 7 (2002)
The Ingham gift of Japanese swords: Deryk Ingham, 29 May 1928 – 8 May 2001. Royal Armouries Yearbook 7 (2002)
Some observations of the origin of Japanese guns. The Armourer: the militaria magazine 52 (July/August 2002)
Diplomatic gifts of arms and armour between Japan and Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries. Arms and Armour 1.1 (2004)
Indian firearm curiosa. Arms and Armour 1.1 (2004)
A unique Japanese dirk. Arms and Armour 4.2 (2007)
An introduction to Japanese swords. Leeds : Royal Armouries, 2008