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
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
This year's Big Brother champion Helen Wood
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Harari Guido photographed Kate Bush over the course of 11 years
Music
Arts and Entertainment
Reviews have not been good for Jonathan Liebesman’s take on the much loved eighties cartoon
Film

A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend

Arts and Entertainment
Untwitterably yours: Singer Morrissey has said he doesn't have a twitter account
Music

A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album

Arts and Entertainment
Full throttle: Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Turturro in God's Pocket
film
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie Minogue is expected to return to Neighbours for thirtieth anniversary special
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be Lonely Island's second Hollywood venture following their 2007 film Hot Rod
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Day-Lewis stars in the movie There Will Be Blood
music
Arts and Entertainment
Brush with greatness: the artist Norman Cornish in 1999
art
Life and Style
Stress less: relaxation techniques can help focus the mind and put problems in context
art
Arts and Entertainment

film
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
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.

    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

    Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment