Claude Blair, arms and armour scholar and curator: papers

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 1807 BLAIR
  • Dates of Creation
      c. 1886 - 2010
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
      English French German Italian
  • Physical Description
      c. 150 boxes

Scope and Content

Includes correspondence concerning arms and armour; research files on arms and armour objects and subjects; research notes and drafts for articles and publications; drawings, photographs, slides and postcards featuring arms and armour; church armour files; papers (collected by Claude Blair) of the following arms and armour scholars A. R. Dufty, R. T. Gwyn, J. G. Mann and F. Gordon Roe.

Administrative / Biographical History

Claude Blair (1922 – 2010) was born in Manchester and attended William Hulme’s Grammar School. He served as a Captain in the Royal Artillery during the Second World War, a leg injury saw him invalided out of active service but he remained in the army joining a team testing small firearms. Following the end of the war he attended Manchester University, graduating with a BA in History in 1950. For his MA he completed his dissertation on the silvered and engraved armour made for Henry VIII.

In 1951 he started work as assistant to Sir James Mann at the Tower of London Armouries, he stayed there until 1956 when he joined the Victoria and Albert Museum as Assistant Keeper in the Metalwork section. He would leave the V&A on his retirement in 1982 by which time he was Keeper of Metalwork and one of the leading authorities on European Metalwork, in particular arms and armour. During the 1950s and 1960s he would give Easter lectures at the V&A, attendees young and old greatly enjoyed witnessing him fire real guns, brandish swords and demonstrate how mobile an armoured knight could be.

His scholarly output over the course of his career and retirement amounted to over 200 articles and 10 books which he either wrote, edited or co-edited, his ‘European Armour c. 1066 to c. 1700’ which was published in 1958 is still considered the standard text on the subject. In the course of his work he set himself high standards and also applied them to others, being quick to correct any errors he spotted. He gave praise and encouragement alongside criticism and was saddened by the fact that many leading museums had abandoned scholarship and publication.

He strongly disapproved of the restructuring of the V&A in 1989 and when V&A staff were forbidden to speak about the changes under the Official Secrets Act he founded the Save the V&A Campaign to publicise the issue. He confronted one of the Trustee’s defending the changes, Sir Christopher Frayling, on Newsnight. The V&A’s Arms and Armour being removed from public display in 2003 saddened him greatly. He also disapproved of the moving of the Royal Armouries from the Tower of London to Leeds, feeling that it would result in a loss of visitors and money.

Alongside arms and armour Blair had many other interests including church armour and church effigies which depicted armour. This enthusiasm stemmed from his time as an undergraduate when he made a study of the medieval monumental effigies in the churches of Cheshire. In 1979 he co-founded the Church Monuments Society, becoming its first president. He also served on the Church of England’s Council for the Care of Churches as well as several other committees connected to church conservation. In recognition of all his work with and for churches and cathedrals Blair was awarded an OBE in 1994.

Blair was elected fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1956 and received its highest honour in 1998 when he was awarded the gold medal. His scholarly achievements were further recognised when he was made a CVO in 2005. Throughout his career and retirement he was a member of several societies including The Arms and Armour Society, The Meyrick Society and Medieval Dress and Textile Society. He continued contributing to new publications and writing articles up until his death. He was married to Joan from 1952 until her death in 1996, a son John survived him.

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