Pikes

I must not write "don't tell him your name Pike". I must not write "don't tell him your name Pike". Oh damn!

Pikemen figures come in two varieties, with cast on pikes, and open handed. Having previously owned 6mm ECW pikemen armed with pikes which quickly turn to overcooked spaghetti, I went the open handed pikemen route. 

For those of you who choose this path, open handed pikemen raises two questions: how long should a pike be?, and where can I buy pikes from? 

All this gives me an excuse to have a closer look at the 'queen of weapons'.

How long should a pike be?
You'd think that this question would be fairly easy to answer, it is in fact more than a little problematical. Pikes were between 15' and 18' in length, which should be quite easy to scale down, or so you would think.

Sir James Turner (Pallas Armata p.176) and General Monck (Observations p.26) both stated that the proper length for a pike should be 18'.The 1639 Directions for Muster specified pikes should be 17' in total; in January 1643 the King's Oxford army took delivery of pikes 15' in length from Thomas Hill. The contract books for the supply of the New Model Army have a great deal of detail in them, the contracts for pikes all specify that they should be 16' in length, for example

 ffive hundred Pikes of good Ash sixteen foote long wth steele heads

(NMA Contract dated 22nd December 1645)

Unfortunately, wargames figures are usually a size rather than a scale figure. A 15mm figure also varies in height depending upon manufacturer - 15mm can mean to the top of the head, to the eyeline or 18mm, 19mm or in one figure I received 21mm! Then of course how tall a person is the figure supposed to represent? Often argued that a figure represents a 6' tall man, which is nice and simple but unfortunately there weren't many 6' tall people in the C17th. Average height in the 1600-1650 period was about 5'8" (Highs and lows of an Englishman’s average height over 2000 years, Oxford University April 2017). The average height of a UK man in 2022 is 5'9" so in reality the 6' tall figure is oversized, and the 'people were much shorter in those days' line that you often hear when visiting historical sites is a bit of a nonsense too. Average height does go up and down slightly over time, and is relative to food supply and quality of harvests. The 'people were much shorter...' line should be changed to 'doors and doorways were much shorter in olden times'. But I digress.

Using the average height as a guide a NMA pike would be just under three times the height of the figure. Using the notional 6' person and the 18' pike, a pike is exactly three times the height of the figure.

To save some very complicated maths this rough 'three times the height of the figure' guide seems good enough to me.

I've cut my pikes down to 52mm, which is marginally longer than my three times the height of a figure guide. Initially this was so I could cut the spear point off if I didn't like them; thankfully, I quite like the look of the pikes with the spear point, the slightly exaggerated pikes give the feel I wanted (my inspiration being Streeter's Plan of Naseby).


Ask this question on any wargaming forum and you will receive a myriad of answers; the most vociferous posters will answer something along the lines of  'everyone cut them down to make them lighter so they should be 12' long'. Is there any evidence for this? Firstly you need to understand that a pike was not simply a uniform thickness 'stick'; pike shafts were tapered at each end to make them easier to wield, cutting any length from them would cause them to become out of balance, and as a result would make them harder to carry and control.

It wasn't really in a soldier's interest to shorten their pikes as having shorter pikes could be disastrous – for example at the Battle of Benburb 1646, the Irish Confederates defeated a Scots Covenanter army primarily because the Covenanters had shortened their pikes. It must be pointed out that the Covenanter Armies probably marched much further than any of the other field armies of the Civil Wars. So if anyone had a cause to lighten the load that they carried, then it would be them.

Is there any contemporary written evidence that soldiers shortened their pikes? General Monck complained of the practice of shortening pikes during the Commonwealth (without specific reference to it actually happening). So it probably happened, but certainly not as widespread as many might have you believe.

Many cast on pikes (across 10mm and 15mm ranges are much too short); this must surely be a compromise based upon figure integrity/casting process, those who argue that storage is an issue (how do 28mm gamers cope?) and the wishes of customers who can't be arsed getting a pot of superglue out. But please don't claim that they are the correct length, when clearly they aren't.

For anyone thinking of creating a new range of 'ECW' figures, please please please provide the option of open hands and cast on. 

What colour should I paint them?
Pikes were usually made of ash, a light hardwood that is apparently shockproof. Ash isn't weather resistant so would have to have been oiled,  which would make it darker in colour. Were some painted? Eighty of Sir Beville Grenville's troops mustered on Bodmin Moor, the pikes were painted blue and white (BL Thomason Tract E.114.6)

There is considerable evidence of pikes being decorated with ribbons in the Trained Bands (this evidence dates from the late C16th up until the 1639, so clearly a long established practice): pikes decorated with ribbons were described as being 'armed', those without ribbons were 'unarmed' or 'bare'. In 1621 Leicester Corporation bought lengths of white ribbon and watched (watchett) coloured ribbon to give to the town's soldiers to distinguish them from others in their company (Records of the Borough of Leicester BR/II/18/12 f 16 ). Derbyshire Trained Band men were equipped with ribbons in their respective captain's colour in 1635 (BL Add MS 6702 f116). 

As Grenville's men sporting painted pikes are believed to have been his Trained Band men, is the painting a variation on the arming of pikes with ribbons?

When painting your pikes don't forget to paint the langets (effectively metal straps that help protect the business end of the pike from being cut off) - I'm looking at you 2mm modellers and gamers!

But where to source suitable wire pikes?
I originally bought 100mm pikes, pack EQ10, from Donnington. Since then Donnington's packs of pikes have changed a number of times. EQ10 are no longer available: however, they do offer two packs of 50mm length pikes - available on leaf leaf and pin points (EQ8 & 9). 50mm just about scrapes in to the 3× height of the figure guide for smaller 'true 15mm' figures.

Recently, there has been a metaphorical explosion in the number of suppliers of wire pikes; some are described as leaf or spear point (a flattened point), another style is described as pike or pin point (a simple sharpened point).

Pendraken now sell a variety of lengths of pikes/spears with different point types including my preferred 100mm leaf point. As they also supply the base sizes I use, anything that helps save postage charges, is a win in my book, plus they are also currently the cheapest source.

Blue MoonNorthstar Miniatures, and Colonel Bill's have also started to stock packs of wire pikes in a variety of lengths and point styles.

Warrior and Steelfist both provide pikes with their open handed pikemen figures: Warrior's are cast soft metal, Steelfist's are plastic.

To save myself a heap of time cutting pikes to length I had a jig fabricated see here for more details.


Not-wire pikes
If having lethally sharp pikes on your figures doesn't float your boat, an alternative is to use plastic bristles from broom heads: see the excellent post at the Dux Homunculorum blog. Don't be tempted to use the natural bristles - they snap.

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