Obituary: Howard Blackmore

HOWARD BLACKMORE was the leading authority on the history of firearms in Britain and on London gunmakers.

His first book, British Military Firearms, was published in 1961. It is difficult now, when so many works on the history of firearms are available, to realise what a landmark this was. Everything previously written on its subject had been the work of amateurs and based almost entirely on printed sources. This was a thoroughly professional piece of work, written to the highest academic standards, and - as one reviewer wrote - containing "hardly a page . . . that does not contain information that has not previously appeared in print". It not only revolutionised its own subject, but it set completely new standards for research into the history of firearms in Britain.

It is a minor tragedy that the publisher made Blackmore shorten his original text, and, also, that his lack of a first degree disqualified him from offering it as a thesis for a doctorate.

Born in Wallington, Surrey, in 1917, the son of a clerk with the Southern Railway, Howard Loftus Blackmore was educated at Emmanuel School, Wandsworth, in south-west London. Family circumstances prevented his going on to university and, having taken the Civil Service examination, he began his adult career with the Inland Revenue.

Called up into the Pioneer Corps in 1940, he eventually became an Armourer Sergeant with the Pay Corps in London, though for a time was seconded to the Royal Artillery (Heavy Anti-Aircraft). After demobilisation in 1946, he took a further examination that qualified him to transfer to the Customs & Excise, where he eventually became a Purchase Tax Officer with responsibility for an area that included Hatton Garden.

It is characteristic of Blackmore that, finding himself at a disadvantage when dealing with members of the jewellery trade there over technical matters, he should have studied in his spare time to acquire the professional qualification of a Fellowship of the Gemmological Association, which he did in 1957, the year in which he also became a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London.

Blackmore developed an enthusiasm for studying and collecting antiquities of various kinds, including flint implements as well as early firearms, while still a schoolboy. In this he was much encouraged by G.F. Lawrence (a.k.a. "Stoney Jack") - the dealer in archaeological antiquities - whose shop in Wandsworth he used to visit on his way to and from school.

During the Second World War, most of which he spent in or near London, he also became one of several collectors of antique arms who frequented the firm of Bapty & Co, whose main business is the hiring out of weapons for theatrical and film performances, but who at that period also bought and sold them. They were one of only two specialist dealers in central London who did so during the war, which led to their premises, then in Whitcomb Street, becoming a meeting-place for arms collectors. It was here that Blackmore first entered the world in which he was eventually to make a distinguished career.

Immediately after the war there was a great upsurge of interest in antique arms and armour. The market was flooded with examples at prices that even the most hard-up collector could afford, while the reorganisation and re-opening of the Tower of London Armouries by the late Sir James Mann and a young team of enthusiasts provided, for the first time, a British centre for its serious academic study. It also provided a catalyst for the foundation in May 1950 of the Arms and Armour Society by eight friends, who included Blackmore, as well as three members of the Armouries' staff.

The early days of the infant society were less than smooth, mainly because of personality clashes, and it came near to foundering. Much of the credit for saving it is due to Blackmore, who became Honorary President in 1952. He took a firm grip on its proceedings, controlled the monthly meetings with firmness and tact, and was among those members who advocated that it should do more for its subject than provide a semi-social club for collectors. One result was the publication in March 1953 of the first issue of the Journal of the Arms and Armour Society, which now has a high reputation as the only learned periodical of its kind published in English.

The area of Blackmore's work as a Purchase Tax Officer was divided into sections, each of which he had to cover in turn during a period allocated to it. If he was able to cover a section during a shorter period he was at liberty to do what he liked with the time saved until he had to start on another section. He chose to spend this time doing research on firearms in manuscript sources in the then British Museum Library, Guildhall Library, and, above all, in the vast records of the Board of Ordnance in the old Public Record Office in Chancery Lane, a then almost untouched source of information.

The publication of British Military Firearms in 1961 established Blackmore's reputation as the undisputed leading authority on its subject, a reputation he continued to enhance by the publication of numerous articles. Nobody in the field was surprised, therefore, when in 1967 he was invited by the then Master of the Tower of London Armouries, the late A.R. Dufty, to transfer to his staff from the Customs and Excise, though there was apparently considerable surprise among his colleagues in the latter organisation. He remained in the Armouries until his retirement in 1981, eventually becoming Assistant, and then Deputy Master.

During this period he displayed not only considerable abilities as an administrator, but also an aptitude for museum display which produced two galleries for the Armouries, one on the Board of Ordnance, which had had its headquarters in the Tower, and the other on hunting weapons. The demolition of these when the Armouries moved to Leeds caused him considerable distress.

During his time at the Tower Blackmore published three significant works, a book, Hunting Weapons (1971), and two catalogues, Royal Sporting Guns at Windsor (1968) and The Armouries of the Tower of London - Ordnance (1976). He also continued to write articles, as he did until the week before his death. The outstanding work of his retirement, however, and the one for which he will always be remembered, since it will never be supplanted, is his A Dictionary of London Gunmakers 1350-1850, and its Supplement (1986 and 1999).

Throughout his second career and retirement he was in demand as a lecturer, especially in North America, where he was made an honorary member both of the American Society of Arms Collectors and the Canadian Guild of Antique Arms Collectors. He had already been made an honorary member of the Arms and Armour Society on his retirement from the Presidency in 1972, and in 1984 he was one of the first recipients of the society's medal.

One of Blackmore's most engaging characteristics was the way in which he retained his enthusiasm for the subjects that had interested him in his youth right to the end. He was gregarious, and there was nothing he liked better than to talk with like-minded friends. They will long remember him for his kindness, his modesty, and his sometimes Rabelaisian sense of humour.

Howard Loftus Blackmore, historian of firearms and antiquary: born Wallington, Surrey 27 October 1917; FSA 1957; married 1939 Kathleen Baylie (two sons); died Caterham, Surrey 24 November 1999.

News

literature

News
Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.

television

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss