A suit of samurai armour dating from the 19th century has been returned to display after extensive conservation work.
The armour is the property of National Trust’s Snowshill Manor in Gloucestershire and is part of the largest collection of its kind in the UK.
It is one of the first items to be conserved as part of a £3 million gift from the American Royal Oak Foundation to support the charity’s collections for the next five years.
The samurai were feudal warrior-knights in medieval Japan. Like the chivalry of medieval Europe, they had their origins in the 8th to 10th centuries AD. For several centuries, they formed an exclusive military caste, dominant on the battlefield, where they fought mainly as armoured horse-archers.
The suit was made in around 1830 in the Japanese province of Kaga, an important centre of armour production, and bears the signature of talented master armourer, Kashu ju Munenao.
In the 1940s, after Japan abolished the samurai class at the end of the previous century, it was acquired by artist and architect Charles Paget Wade. He transformed Snowshill Manor into a stage for his vast collections, which ranged from bicycles to historic costumes.
Made for a ceremonial parade rather than military combat, the suit dates from a peaceful era when samurai were required to spend half their time at the Shogun’s Court. It was here that thousands of people would join processions and compete to put on as brilliant a show as possible for spectators.
Specialists at the two National Trust conservation studios worked together for around 300 hours to painstakingly conserve and mount the armour, which is made up of a complex set of materials including metals, textiles, and leather.
Conservators at The Royal Oak Foundation Conservation Studio in Kent cleaned and applied specialist treatments to the armour, reattaching flaking and lifting lacquer, and stabilising the curling rawhide.
The armour was then transferred to the Textile Conservation Studio in Norfolk, where staff surface-cleaned the brocade, infilled lost areas, and applied conservation netting to support weak areas of fabric.
The armour has now been relocated within the manor and dramatically lit as part of a series of displays at Trust properties this autumn which shine a light on some of the treasures in its care.
Commenting on the restoration, National Trust director-general Hilary McGrady said: ‘We’re so delighted to have this exquisite armour back on display to fascinate visitors just as it would have done when Charles Paget Wade lived at Snowshill.’
‘It’s a great example of the work our conservation teams do every day to look after the more than 1 million objects in our care.’
‘We’re immensely grateful to the Royal Oak Foundation for their gift, which will enable us to look after even more extraordinary objects in the years to come,’ McGrady added.