The Tower at War – 1914-18

A showcase in the White Tower at the Tower of London will be dedicated to telling the story of the Tower and its people during the First World War, with content updated annually – we caught up with Bridget Clifford, Keeper of Tower Armouries to tell us more about the upcoming display…

Not another exhibition commemorating the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War? Surely, you groan, there can’t be any new angles to be examined?

Well, yes there can. Contemplating the best way to commemorate the Tower Armouries’ connections with the First World War posed a number of challenges, not least the fact we have just completed a 4-year long re-display of all the White Tower galleries. An extensive re-exhibition was not an option. However we do have a unique record of this period specific to the site and its staff and deserving of a wider audience.  So it was decided to make a virtue of necessity and let other museums with the space and collections tell the greater story.  We would concentrate on the site itself and the events recorded in the Tower Minute Book (I.189) and Diary (I.188).

The Tower Minute book and Diary continue the tradition of the books of Receipts and Issues kept by Storekeepers from the time of the earliest Tower stores.  On his appointment as Curator in 1913 Charles ffoulkes expanded their content to reflect the wider aspects of the job.  From 1917 he expanded his Tower remit to include the acquisition of current war material by becoming the first Curator of the National War Museum (today’s Imperial War Museum).  Fortunately the terms and conditions of his original Armouries’ role were sufficiently flexible to allow him to continue his oversight of The Tower’s historic military equipment at the same time.

ffoulkes at his desk in the Flamstead Tower 23 September 1916 © Royal Armouries

ffoulkes at his desk in the Flamstead Tower 23 September 1916 © Royal Armouries

Interesting as the archival record is, it is not in itself an ideal display material.  So as well as selected extracts from the Minute book set on a panel, a central case expands one of the stories using objects from the Tower history collection.  Both these displays will change annually.  In 2014 the spotlight falls on William Henry Noble Buckingham – local lad and Foreman of the Armouries.  His story ends with a 22-gun salute above his grave in Ilford cemetery. The focus for 2015 is Fernando Buschmann, violinist and convicted German spy, whose story ends early on the morning of 19 October 1915 with the volley of a firing squad at the Tower.

The display is contextualised by means of an introductory panel outlining the war-time visitor experience and the main characters.

Over the next 4 years we invite you to enter the surreal world of the Tower at war.  While fighting raged on the continent, it was business as usual at the Tower despite the threat of Zeppelin raids, in fact from 1916 the offer expanded with the whole of the White Tower opening as a museum. At the same time as German spies were shot in the early morning, foreign dignitaries were feted and shown round the spoils of earlier European conflict during the day. Most of all welcome to the world of Charles ffoulkes – one of the major shapers of our current perception of the First World War.  If you can’t make it to the Tower, then please follow the Curator goes to War blog.

Blogger: Bridget Clifford, Keeper of Tower Armouries

For details of the Royal Armouries’ First World War Centenary programme visit the website.

The Secrets of the Tower of London Foreshore…

Curatorial Assistant, Kathleen McIlvenna tells us why you should join her at the Archaeology Weekend to discover the secrets of the Tower of London foreshore.

Tower Foreshore dig in 1986

Tower Foreshore dig in 1986 © Royal Armouries

Last year I wrote a blog discussing the start of a pilot volunteer project to look at a collection of foreshore finds. These finds were the result of an excavation of the Tower of London foreshore in September 1986.

With the help of four volunteers and advice from the Museum of London Archaeology Centre we have successfully repackaged and catalogued over 700 small finds from this dig. These objects included gun furniture, pike tips, and musket balls, demonstrating the development and manufacture of weapons on the site.

These finds are important as they provide physical evidence of the Office of Ordnance’s workshops on the Tower of London wharf, and also helped to prove that the Tower foreshore is an important archaeological site.

Tower Foreshore dig in 1986 © Royal Armouries

Tower Foreshore dig in 1986 © Royal Armouries

Our volunteers had experience of working on archaeological collections with the Museum of London, and some had also worked with the Thames Discovery Programme, so were familiar with foreshore archaeology. This proved helpful for handling and repacking the finds. We were able to give the volunteers greater insight into the development of weaponry and the history of the Tower in relation to the Office of Ordnance, an important government department until it was dissolved in 1853.

To celebrate the volunteer project’s success, I will be at the Tower of London Archaeological weekend on 19 and 20 July with a couple of the volunteers. We will have a few of the important objects relating to the Ordnance workshops and a chance for visitors to make their own Ordnance badges. If you’re around please come and say hello, there will be lots of stalls and a chance for a limited number of people to explore the foreshore.

Read Kathleen’s previous blog The Forgotten Dig…

Find out more about the Tower of London Archaeology weekend.

Blogger: Kathleen McIlvenna, Curatorial Assistant – Tower Collections

The Curator goes to War – the domestic front – March/April 1914

March 1914 saw ffoulkes on his travels once more, returning militia colours unearthed amongst the White Tower basement stores.  This time it was not so far afield – a day trip to Chatham.  He was back on site in time to conduct Queen Amelia of Portugal around the displays, recording in the Minute book that she lingered “for over an hour and was deeply interested in the Collection”. Modern visitors who have laboured round the White Tower’s four floors might have considered this a relatively quick tour, but in 1914 only the upper two floors were open to the public.

April was back to business as usual – pest control and housekeeping, enlivened with a VIP visit.

The execution block was under woodworm attack.  Traditionally associated with the last public beheading on Tower Hill, that of Simon, Lord Lovat in 1747, the block came into the Armouries’ collection via the Tower Record Office.  Its precise path and dating of its travels are difficult to pinpoint but it had arrived by the Tower Remain of 1857. Heart of oak notwithstanding, the minute Book entry on 18 April records its treatment “with corrosive sublimate …. the lower part was in a very bad condition”. The woodworm proved tenacious, and in 1925 a further two treatments were necessary.

The block and axe on the top floor of the White Tower on open display in 1895 – exposed to prying fingers and hungry woodworm alike. © Royal Armouries

The block and axe on the top floor of the White Tower on open display in 1895 – exposed to prying fingers and hungry woodworm alike. © Royal Armouries

The highlight of the month was undoubtedly the visit of Queen Mary and her four younger children on 28 April.  ffoulkes recorded the children’s names in the Minute book – Princess Mary, Princes  Henry and John – and captured autographs in the Visitor Book, where it turns out Prince George came too.

Only Prince John failed to sign the Armouries’ Visitor Book.  The youngest of the family, aged nine, his epilepsy was becoming an increasing problem, and in 1916 he was withdrawn from public life.  He died in 1919, aged 13. © Royal Armouries

Only Prince John failed to sign the Armouries’ Visitor Book. The youngest of the family, aged nine, his epilepsy was becoming an increasing problem, and in 1916 he was withdrawn from public life. He died in 1919, aged 13. © Royal Armouries

The Fire Brigade call of 30 April at the Tower revealed a considerable oversight – as the Minute Book noted “No arrangements made for the salvage of Armour &c”.

ffoulkes recalled the incident in his autobiography Arms and the Tower (1939).  Enquiring what had been done to salvage “my armour which might be valued at half a million pounds at least” he was told “the Fire Brigade had not been informed and the only solution was to throw the pieces out of the windows and trust to luck and the good craftsmanship of Henry VIII’s armourers.”  Already concerned that the national collection was housed above “some 1000s of service arms …. saturated with oil” stored on wooden stands, ffoulkes despaired that “we had not progressed very far from the days when gunpowder was stored under the national records”. He was not the man to let such matters lie, and the days of the White Tower Gun floor (today the entrance floor) were numbered.

Blogger: Bridget Clifford, Keeper of Tower Armouries

A Day in the Life of…Kathleen McIlvenna, Curatorial Assistant – Tower Collections

Have you ever wondered what its like to work at a national museum? Spending everyday up close to one of the UK’s largest collections of arms and armour? As part of #Museumweek, we found out from Curatorial Assistant, Kathleen McIlvenna. 

Kathleen at the opening of exhibition Line of Kings

Kathleen at the opening of exhibition Line of Kings

My role is very varied and involves working with the collections and research, as well as working with the public – answering enquires, managing volunteer projects and some education work.

I started at the Royal Armouries in October 2012, having previously worked and volunteered in a number of museums including the Science Museum, National Maritime Museum and Hackney Museum. In addition to the experience of working within a museum I soon realised in order to pursue a curatorial career that worked with collections and included research, I probably needed an MA. I gained an MA in Historical Research in 2011. My first paid museum job working with collections was a part-time role as Museum Assistant at Enfield Museum Service during which I also started a part-time PhD. The PhD is one of the Collaborative Doctoral Awards with the British Postal Museum and Archive (BPMA) looking at the nineteenth century Post Office. Subsequently I was in a good position with practical museum experience and strong research skills to get this role, and who could turn down a job at the Tower of London?

Luckily there is no such thing as a normal day in my job. Being part of a small team based at the Tower can involve travelling across London to inspect a loan or pick up an acquisition. Alternatively I could be based in the office doing research or overseeing volunteers. We have several offices and stores within the Tower, so on some days if I need to move objects or escort researchers I feel like I have walked miles!

I really enjoy the variety of the job and working with such an astounding collection in a spectacular location.

I’m passionate about history so I really enjoy being able to do research into the history of the Tower of London, those that worked here and the collection held here. The more challenging aspects are probably finding different ways to communicate that history with the public. Writing for a blog or an online exhibition requires different skills to working with colleagues to present a handling session or giving a formal paper, but I enjoy every opportunity to share my enthusiasm.

Benjamin Disraeli visiting the Tower of London in 1871

Benjamin Disraeli visiting the Tower of London in 1871

I have recently worked on a great volunteer project repackaging a collection of foreshore finds from a dig in 1986.  I worked with the Museum of London Archaeological Archive (formerly LAARC) to get advice on best practice for storing archaeological finds and also to recruit four volunteers to work on the collection.

The project has nearly finished, but it has been a real joy to work with these skilled people, sharing both experience and knowledge. The volunteers had experience of working with archaeological objects and had often done some archaeological mapping of the Thames foreshore. We were able to give them additional historical background on that section of the foreshore, as the material we were repackaging is evidence of Ordnance workshops, and we could share our expertise in identifying standard issue weapon parts.

Tower Foreshore dig in 1986

Tower Foreshore dig in 1986

Furthermore, working with groups and individuals with an active interest in the areas these collections touched on, has allowed us to discover new value to the material, as the photographic archive of the dig clearly demonstrates the amount of erosion that has occurred to the site. In light of current concerns about the speed and extent of foreshore erosion, our dig assumes new importance in recording an area now lost. You can read more about what the volunteers have been up to on their blog.

This probably sounds quite grim, but my favourite objects in the Royal Armouries collection are the block and axe. They are ubiquitous to the Tower of London and the biographies of these objects are fantastic representations of the history of the Tower as a prison and then tourist attraction. The block was used in the execution of Lord Lovat in 1747, and has two cuts on the upper surface, suggesting the axe man either had a trial cut or the block was possibly used for a beheading before Lovat. The axe is from the Tower stores, and although we don’t have anything to confirm its use, records suggest the Tower had four execution axes in store in the 17th century. Both these items have been on display together since the nineteenth century when Yeoman Warders of the time would take delight in asking visitors to lay their heads on the block.

Something people might not know is how old we are, the Royal Armouries’ collection originates from the Office of Ordnance stores that were based in and around the Tower of London and had objects on display for visitors to enjoy from the seventeenth century!

Blogger: Kathleen McIlvenna, Curatorial Assistant – Tower Collections

To find out more about #MuseumWeek visit the Culture Themes website.

The Curator goes to War – ffoulkes’ tales – February 1914

Mr ffoulkes’ second February in office, as the Armouries’ curator, was a quieter month than his first when the Tower had been subject to a Suffragette “outrage”.

The year 1914 saw him start to tackle an outstanding problem in the White Tower – the displays. He had continued Dillon’s work in re-organising the upper floor of the White Tower which had received the contents of the New Horse Armoury in 1881/2 before the latter’s demolition, but space was limited and he wanted to deliver a more didactic exhibit.

The New Horse Armoury constructed against the White Tower’s south side was a crenelated, single storey Gothic building housing the 19th century version of the Line of Kings display from 1826 – 1881. The building was less than universally popular and the displays although impressive were quite old fashioned for the new century.

An interior shot of the New horse Armoury from the 1870s. © Royal Armouries

An interior shot of the New Horse Armoury from the 1870s. © Royal Armouries

Initially, the displaced armours, horses and figures crowded onto the upper floor of the White Tower, replacing the Volunteer Armoury resident there since 1862. They progressed along the gallery from south to north, with an accompanying forest of staff weapons and munition armour bristling behind.

– The “Horse Armoury” as it first appeared in the upper or council chamber of the White Tower (west side). © Royal Armouries

– The Horse Armoury as it first appeared in the upper or council chamber of the White Tower (west side). © Royal Armouries

The space was lit naturally, by lights cut into the roof in 1812, when the area was under the control of the Record Office, and which were later enlarged by the architect, Anthony Salvin. In 1884, the Royal Engineers brought electric lighting into the gallery although ffoulkes found the hanging globes rather too harsh.

It was Salvin also who created the light wells in the floor in 1856 – the surrounding railing of Land Transport Corps’ swords dates from the same period.  It was these that ffoulkes attacked in the first instance.

In the foreground the hated “railings”; the figures have changed alignment, now riding out across the gallery.  The photograph was taken before May 1910 as the Yeoman Warder has the ER cypher (Edward VII 1901 – 1910). © Royal Armouries

In the foreground the hated “railings”; the figures have changed alignment, now riding out across the gallery. The photograph was taken before May 1910 as the Yeoman Warder has the ER cypher (Edward VII 1901 – 1910). © Royal Armouries

ffoulkes crowed in the Tower minute book (i.189) “13 Feb 1914 – After over 60 years the incongruous railings of Band [sic] swords round the well-holes in the upper Armouries were removed today” – and the diary (i.188) claims the holes were filled in.  Slowly but surely the Armouries was being propelled into the 20th century.

The shape of things that came. © Royal Armouries

The shape of things that came. © Royal Armouries

Blogger: Bridget Clifford, Keeper of Tower Armouries

The Curator goes to War – Happy New Year! – January 1914

The year 1913 ended on a high for ffoulkes with the acquisition of a large volume of the Inventory and Remains of the Tower and Armouries on 18 December.  History fails to record what ffoulkes had actually been looking for in the Ordnance Office, but his discovery and subsequent annexation of this “1,000 pages” dealing with armour stores from 1675-8 was a weighty addition to the collection.

A weighty tome.  © Royal Armouries

A weighty tome.
© Royal Armouries

Other curatorial highlights had included the cleaning of the mask of the horned helmet, “which had been painted red since 1660”, to reveal the engraved decoration beneath. This grotesque helmet (IV.22) is all that remains of an armour gifted to the young King Henry VIII by the Emperor Maximilian I and remains a startling piece.

The Horned Helmet revealed. © Royal Armouries

The Horned Helmet revealed.
© Royal Armouries

Front of house, ffoulkes had continued the work re-organising the displays on the White Tower top floor that his predecessor and mentor, Lord Dillon, had begun.  Most spectacularly Henry VIII’s silver and engraved armour had been remounted on Mr Joubert’s noble, if not entirely life-like model horse, in May.

Joubert’s horse – and Henry © Royal Armouries

Joubert’s horse – and Henry
© Royal Armouries

January 1914 saw the Burgundian Bard shed its rider and move from balancing on the light well crossbeams to the central North side of the gallery.

The Burgundian Bard before its relocation in 1913.  Behind, the Curator’s office can be glimpsed through the southern arch. © Royal Armouries

The Burgundian Bard before its relocation in 1913. Behind, the Curator’s office can be glimpsed through the southern arch.
© Royal Armouries

Perhaps most importantly, ffoulkes addressed a number of basic collection issues. In July 1913, he tackled the “question of the military remains of the United Kingdom” involving the British Museum, the Rotunda Woolwich, Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and of course the Tower Armouries.  Despite the Rotunda’s refusal to participate, and RUSI’s non-committal approach, a committee was formed, meeting at the Tower in December and their initial report produced in January.

In October 1913, he had contacted the Lords Lieutenant of various counties proposing the return of their militia colours currently held at the Tower, suggesting they be kept in a local church or public building thereafter. By 31 December 1913,  he had their consent, and so the New Year dawned with the prospect of numerous photo opportunities as ffoulkes personally made the returns.  His master stroke?  The counties footed the bill.

The Armouries “office” (1883 -1915) recorded by ffoulkes as 38 feet long x 4 foot 7.5 inches wide, housing 2 tables and 2 chairs for examination of the collection. © Royal Armouries

The Armouries “office” (1883 -1915) recorded by ffoulkes as 38 feet long x 4 foot 7.5 inches wide, housing 2 tables and 2 chairs for examination of the collection.
© Royal Armouries

Armed with the Treasury’s grant of £765 towards producing a large illustrated catalogue of the Armouries – roughly equivalent to £62,200 today – ffoulkes had a busy year in prospect.

There was still the outstanding question of accommodation.  The Armouries’ office consisted of a mural passage running along the south face of the White Tower top floor, behind the displays and inherited from the Storekeepers.  Dillon had chosen to conduct his extensive correspondence from his library in Ditchley, thriftily travelling up to London 3rd class to deal with the collections.  Meanwhile, foulkes was resolved to achieve better on site provision, but coming events would overshadow and delay such considerations.

Blogger: Bridget Clifford, Keeper of Tower Armouries

The Forgotten Dig…

Kathleen McIlvenna, Curatorial Assistant – Tower Collections -tells us about the new pilot volunteer project which works with Artefacts from the Tower’s foreshore.

In September 1986, Royal Armouries funded an excavation on the River Thames’ foreshore, in front of the Tower of London wharf to the east of Traitors’ Gate.

The dig on the Tower Foreshore in 1986, the report details the difficult working conditions as the tide flooded the trench twice a day. © Royal Armouries

The dig on the Tower Foreshore in 1986, the report details the difficult working conditions as the tide flooded the trench twice a day. © Royal Armouries

The excavation’s aim was to determine the depth and nature of archaeological deposits in the area with the hope of identifying stratified deposits and finding evidence of the Board of Ordnance’s foundries on the bank of the Thames.

The dig was deemed successful, identifying a series of compacted sloping foreshores dating from the 15th to the 19th centuries, and uncovering a large number of weapon parts – potential evidence of the Ordnance workshops.

A report was written, the artefacts bagged and that was the end of it. Until now…

I recently met some volunteers who are going to start to help repack these artefacts to today’s best practice standards. They are also going to help me start to catalogue them so we have a better, fuller idea of what this collection contains.

How the artefacts are stored today. They are in good condition but we hope the new standards will save space and make objects more accessible. © Royal Armouries

How the artefacts are stored today. They are in good condition but we hope the new standards will save space and make objects more accessible. © Royal Armouries

To get to this stage I have been working with the LAARC (London Archaeological and Archive Centre) which has been indispensable in giving guidelines as to how the collection should be stored. This involved a tour of their amazing store and they have some brilliant literature on their website. They have also sourced some experienced volunteers to help with our pilot project here at the Tower. These volunteers have a range of backgrounds and have experience of volunteering for LAARC or the Thames Discovery Project or sometimes both!

The pilot project runs for six weeks and will hopefully give us an idea of how long it will take to complete the repacking, labelling and documentation for all the artefacts. Armed with this knowledge, we can look to completing the project and realise the full potential of this forgotten dig.

To keep up with the progress of the volunteers, follow one of their blogs.

Blogger: Kathleen McIlvenna, Curatorial Assistant – Tower Collections