A short story of the Charlwood Helmet and its journey so far...
This month on our blog, we are sharing a story from Charlwood Church Research Group (CCRG), who were keen to reinstate a part of their village history using one particular object, which is usually on display in our Museum. The object is the Funeral Helmet of Sir Nicholas Saunders from St Nicholas Church in Charlwood.
Once stolen from St Nicholas Church, the helmet disappeared for many years and went on a journey from Brighton to Yorkshire, via the Victoria and Albert Museum! Recovered in an antique shop, the helmet was entrusted on loan to Guildford Museum for safe-keeping.
In 2019, a Sharing Grant was obtained by the CCRG from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, allowing a replica helmet to be made that could hang where the original once was in St Nicholas Church.
The helmet is probably a funeral relic because of the crest spike and its date is given as around 1550 by the Armouries of HM Tower of London. It was customary for the insignia of dead knights (helmet, tabard, gauntlets, sword, spurs and shield), to be carried by the heralds and later hung above the tomb. Usually painted a dark slate colour with gilt floral decoration, these helmets had the crests carved in wood and were painted in heraldic colours attached to the spikes.
Pictured above: the funeral helmet of Sir Nicholas Saunders from St Nicholas Church in Charlwood © Guildford Heritage Services.
This helmet was gilded on some of its more prominent edges and on the ridges at the top. It discoloured over time but would once have been silver in colour. The inside has been treated with something that blackened in colour over time and has given it an uneven surface. It is possible, that the outside was at some point coated with the same substance, which could account for its dark colour. Some discolouration would be natural, as the metal tarnished with age, so it is hard to be able to attribute any colour-change completely to past restoration work.
There are two pins on the helmet, securing the visor, which were probably replaced in its more recent history. In fact, this could have happened in the past 50 years because of the materials used (including plastic). Could the helmet's visor have been fixed when it was stolen from the church, to make it more saleable? A working helmet is more exciting than one that doesn't work!
Jon, a professional armourer who has been working on the replica helmet with Reef a young local blacksmith, thinks that the original helmet was custom-made for Sir Nicholas - probably at great expense. It certainly seems that with the gilding, the helmet would have been a bespoke design for Sir Nicholas and that it was probably decorative. Jon doesn't think it would have been used for battle. It would have been far too grand in its day to risk losing or damaging it.
Pictured above: replica of the funeral helmet of Sir Nicholas Saunders from St Nicholas Church ©Charlwood Church Research Group
Pictured above: the replica of the funeral helmet being installed at St Nicholas Church on 25 January 2020 ©Charlwood Church Research Group.
The replica helmet installation event took place on 25 January at St Nicholas Church in Charlwood. The event was very well attended. Everyone from the Charlwood Society worked so hard on the project and we, as well as the audience, could sense the passion and dedication to local heritage.
The suspense was high at the unveiling and there was a lot of excitement when the replica finally took its rightful resting place at the church.
We were delighted to participate in this project and to see how the history of one object could bring social engagement, collaboration and above all, a celebration of the past for many generations to enjoy.
Pictured above: The replica helmet on display ©Charlwood Church Research Group
Blog post by Dajana Topczewski, Engagement Officer, and Gemma Haigh, Curatorial Assistant.