Royal Engineer Pattern 1857: Sword With a Story

Posted: 25/11/19 (15:56pm)

I bought this Pattern 1857 Royal Engineers Sword earlier this year. It is one of only two that I have owned. The pattern is one of the harder to find British swords and as swords go, I think it is one of the most beautiful. The sword is in excellent condition and the blade richly etched. The blade had been service sharpened. The etching included the owners’ initials, “EPL.”


According to Harts Army list of 1870, 1871, 1879 and 1882, the only officer with the initials “EPL” was Edward Pemberton Leach commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant on 17th April 1866.

A major part of collecting and owning swords is the pleasure of researching their past. Often this isn’t easy and we are left wanting to know more and lamenting the fact that we probably never will. Swords that were bespoke orders with corresponding serial numbers and those with etched or engraved owners names and initials make research easier.

Quite often, the research uncovers little more than the owners’ name, his military career having been either short or unremarkable.

Occasionally, a named sword will have a story to tell and the owner can be placed at specific engagements in known conflicts.

Sometimes the story is…

Edward Pemberton Leach was born in Ireland on the 2nd April 1847 and on the 17th April, 1866 at the age of 19, was commissioned into the Royal Engineers.

General Sir Edward Pemberton Leach
Posted to India during the second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-1880), the 31 years old Captain Leach served along-side the Bengal Sappers and Miners (British Indian Army). It was during this posting, on 17th March 1879 near Maidanah, Afghanistan that he won the Victoria Cross.

The citation read:

“For having, in action with the Shinwarris near Maidanah, Afghanistan, on 17 March 1879, when covering the retirement of the Survey Escort who were carrying Lieutenant Barclay, 45th Sikhs, mortally wounded, behaved with the utmost gallantry in charging, with some men of the 45th Sikhs, a very much larger number of the enemy. In this encounter Captain Leach killed two or three of the enemy himself, and he received a severe wound from an Afghan knife in the left arm. Captain Leach's determination and gallantry in this affair, in attacking and driving back the enemy from the last position, saved the whole party from annihilation.”

Edward Pemberton Leach’s military career went from strength to strength. In 1885 he was appointed commander of the 24th Field Company (Royal Engineers) during the Suakin Expedition in Sudan. His role was to assist in the supervision and protection (from the Mahdist forces) of the construction of the Suakin-Berber Railway. The Suakin Expedition fought two notable engagements, the Battle of Hasheen, on the 20th March 1885 and the Battle of Tofrek on the 22nd March.

On 1st October 1897, Edward leach was promoted to Major-General. In 1899 he was in Northern Ireland as the General Officer Commanding Belfast. From 1902-1905 he was the General Officer Commanding the 9th Division, Third Army Corps in Ireland. In 1905 he was appointed as Commander-in Chief for Scotland. He retired from the army in 1912 and moved to the Lake Como area of Italy.

Less than a year later, General Sir Edward Pemberton Leach VC. KCB. KCVO passed away on 27th April 1913.

His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Royal Engineers Museum, Chatham, England.
This sword is now part of a cherished private collection in America.

7 Days, 5 Auctions and Over 1,500 Miles

Posted: 15/11/19 (14:54pm)

When I got home last night it was the end of a mammoth road trip lasting 7 days, attending 5 auctions and driving over 1,500 miles. It had been one of the best buying trips I have had. Too many times I head out on the road, only to return with less stock than I had hoped for meaning that I have to hit the road again soon. After unpacking the car and laying out my purchases I felt jubilant but was too tired to celebrate and was in bed soon after 9pm. I went out like a light!

I was up early this morning, still tired but eager to begin cleaning and photographing my 23 new purchases. I will be listing them over the coming days and weeks, beginning with five or six today.

Here’s a taster of what’s to come…



British P1912 Cavalry Sword - Back Where It Belongs

Posted: 08/11/19 (15:44pm)

Another sword has gone home. It gives me great pleasure when I am able to reunite a family with one of their ancestor’s swords. I have done this on several occasions over the years.

The sword, a 1912 pattern cavalry officer’s belonged to the 12th Laird (Lord) of Torwoodlee in the Scottish Borders.

James Lewis Pringle was born in 1890.  After the death of his father in 1902, twelve year old James became the 12th Laird of Torwoodlee. 

As a Captain in the Lothians & Border Horse, James was mobilised to France on the 4th August 1914, where he remained until 1919. The opening months of the war saw cavalry at the forefront of the action with plenty of opportunity to use their new swords. It was with a sword of this type, a Pattern 1912 that the first British kill of the War was made by Captain Hornby of the 4th Dragoon Guards during a skirmish with the German 4th Cuirassiers.

James, the 12th Laird of Torwoodlee passed away in 1953.

Luckily, Captain Pringle’s name and regiment were etched onto the blade of his sword so I was able to contact his grandson, the 14th Laird of Torwoodlee and the sword is now back home alongside those of other ancestors.


John Gill Warranted P1788/96 Light Cavalry Sabre

Posted: 28/08/19 (13:54pm)

Ok, so two months have passed and I have really loved owning and researching this sabre. I have had some really enlightening and fascinating chats with Richard Dellar, the foremost expert on British cavalry sabres and we are now 98% sure that we know the story behind this beautiful and unusual sword.

To recap, I bought what I believed was a bespoke British Flank officer’s sabre, but which might also be a bespoke cavalry sabre. I wasn’t exactly sure what it was, but it was turn of the 18th Century, by a top maker and in fantastic condition.

The things that stood out about the sword were that the fuller ran almost the length of the blade. The blade itself was of typical length, so hadn’t been shortened. I knew of only two blades of this type used by the British, the 1788 cavalry sabre and those used by some Flank officers.

The bespoke steel scabbard was also unusual. Its drag was completely different to the typical 1796 Light cavalry scabbard drag. It too was more reminiscent of a Flank officer’s scabbard. But different…


Having frustrated and exhausted my usual lines of enquiry I contacted Richard Dellar, author of “The British Cavalry Sword 1788-1912” a must have volume on British Cavalry Sabres. Richard was enthusiastic about the sword and was immediately convinced that it was not a Flank officer’s sabre.

The sword began service life as a 1788 pattern cavalry sabre and was later re-fitted with the “new” 1796, regulation pattern stirrup hilt and a bespoke steel scabbard.

Why this was done is open to speculation. There are several reasonable reasons for doing this, the most plausible being that;

·         A new officer bought a good P1788 and had it re-hilted because it was cheaper than buying a new P1796.

This is possible, but unlikely. Cavalry were the elite. Officers were from the wealthiest families and snobbery was rife. An officer who could not afford to buy a new sword could be humiliated.

·         The sword was an heirloom and was handed down from father to son. Perhaps it had served the father well or bore some other significance. In order to conform to the new 1796 regulations and be useable by the son, the sword was re-hilted. With this reason, and being from a wealthy family, a charge by his peers of being “cheap” or “poor” would not apply.

·         A serving officer wished to continue using his P1788 sabre. Again, because the sword had served him well or for other, more superstitious reasons, and so had the sword re-hilted.

The latter are the most likely explanations. The sword was clearly the property of a wealthy officer and by a prestigious maker and the cost of re-hilting and having a bespoke scabbard made would have been high. Maybe even more than buying a new P1796 from a lesser maker.

Of the two, I go for the sabre being a family sword, handed from father to son. Maybe the father used the sabre in Flanders and hoped that the sword would somehow keep his son safe in the battles of the Peninsular?

As a collectors piece this sword certainly ticks all the boxes. It has a prestigious maker, is beautifully etched, dateable, has the owners’ initials and is in fantastic condition. It also has the history and romance of the back story. It has it all. And I am sure that there is more to find out by an interested collector.

I will be offering this sabre for sale on the website very soon.

1796 Flank Officer's Sabre by John Gill

Posted: 21/06/19 (11:54am)

Sometimes I buy a sword that I really do not want to sell. Sometimes I give in and keep it.

I used to do that more often when I started than I do now. About 10 years ago, at a fair here in Scotland, a fellow dealer told me that I had to decide whether I was a dealer or a collector. He told me that I could not be both. I disagreed with him then and still do. Of course, one can both collect and deal. One just has to be firm with one’s self and resist keeping items that were bought to sell. It isn’t always easy.

Now I find myself struggling with whether or not to keep a beautiful 1796 pre-regulation flank officer’s sabre. As a collector, it ticks all the boxes. Top maker, dateable to the turn of the 18th Century – a Peninsular Wars, maybe Waterloo sword. A rare pattern, a beautifully engraved blade with unique engravings as well as the maker’s name and owner’s initials. Moreover, it is in fantastic condition, complete with scabbard. I’m wavering…

Should I? Shouldn’t I? It owes the business a serious chunk of change. But…




Maybe I’ll sleep on it. For a month or two…

Getting The Job Done

Posted: 11/05/19 (15:38pm)

As usual, I am beginning my blog by making excuses for why I have not written for so long.  To be fair, my excuses are genuine and not just laziness. I have been remarkably busy in so many ways – most of which are so mundane as to make them unworthy of writing about.

Bygone Blades is doing well and keeping me on my toes trying to find new and exciting stock items. That in itself is time consuming. I spend a couple of hours every day (usually in the evenings after a full working day) going through auction catalogues, followed by more hours spent researching and learning about the history, patterns and values of swords, bayonets and knives of all descriptions. There is so much to learn!

Having identified items of interest, and before going to the auction, I research each item. I learn about the pattern and variations, establish whether or not there are fakes on the market and if so how to identify them. I learn the values of the items so that I know what I can reasonably expect to sell them for and from this; I set a price that I can afford to pay and still make a living. All this takes many hours over many days.

As well as doing research, there is the day-to-day running of the business – responding to emails and enquiries, updating and maintaining the website, search engine optimisation, administration and accounting, packaging up sales and taking them to the delivery depot, etc., etc. All the little things that take time and eat up half of each day before I begin work in my workshop, completing customer restorations and commissions or cleaning newly acquired stock.

Twice a week I set up my photographic studio and photograph new items for the website. I edit the photos and then write the listings (often requiring more research). Listing stock a couple of times each week helps maintain my search engine ranking - regularly updating the website by adding pics and text helps keep me higher up the search results.

I spend a lot of time away from home at auctions and estate sales. Often I have to take pre-prepared stock listings with me so that I can update the website while I’m on the road. I also continue doing all the daily admin etc. This happens even when I am on holiday!

In fact, only two weeks ago today, Sue and I returned from having a fortnight holiday during which I continued to do all the daily tasks including listing stock twice weekly and responding to sales and enquiries – I bet you didn’t even notice that I was away!

As it was my 50th birthday, Sue and I decided to have a special holiday so we went to Hong Kong for 3 nights then on to Bangkok, Thailand for another 3 nights followed by 8 nights on the beach. We had an amazing time. Thailand is one of the friendliest countries we have visited, the people are quick to smile and have a lovely, friendly manner. Hong Kong too was a great experience, enhanced by the friendly and helpful people.

Coming home was a “hot guns” landing, straight back into the thick of it. I had to get sales packaged up and shipped off along with receipts and emails written (I respond to each customer personally and do not use a generic template – it takes a little more time but I believe in the personal touch). I also had to find more stock.

I have just been away at auctions. I got home at 1am yesterday (Friday). I left home at 6am on Wednesday. It was a real whistle-stop trip and I covered quite a distance, almost 1000 miles from home in Scotland down to the south coast of England and back. It was well worth it. I bought some great and rare items, the first of which, a rare French Napoleonic period naval officers’ fighting dirk I added to the website yesterday evening.

I will add another great item on Monday…

Today is the weekend – for some at least. I have spent the day so far packaging sales and taking them to the post office, followed by a few emails, responding to enquiries and finalising the acquisition of more stock. Then I did some research on naval dirks and now I am writing this blog (I had to break off to email a customer to thank them for the purchase that they just made).

So this is why I do not get round to writing my blog every week. I am always on the move and I do not want to bore you with the minutiae of my daily work. When I have something to say, that I hope will interest you I will write about it. In the meantime, I will just crack on with getting things done. It is not just a job; it is a passion, a commitment, a way of life. I work hard but I love what I do.

I play hard too!
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