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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform