Equine Installion-ations – a continuing story of museum ffoulkes

Currently wooden horses and armour dominate Royal Armouries’ life at the Tower with the opening of the new exhibition celebrating the Line of Kings – our oldest on-site display and the longest-running visitor attraction in the world.

One hundred years ago, the Tower Curator Charles ffoulkes (who unusually spelled his surname without an initial capital letter) was similarly engaged as he turned his attention to one of the iconic pieces in the Royal Armouries collection and its mount.

Henry VIII’s silvered and engraved armour for man and horse (II.5 & VI 1-5) was believed to be a wedding gift from the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian to the young king and his first bride, Catherine of Aragon. Today the armour is dated to about 1515 and attributed to Henry’s Greenwich workshops. It retains a touch of romance, with the couple’s initials decorating the skirt of the rider’s armour and background heraldry incorporating their personal and family badges.

© Royal Armouries

© Royal Armouries

The rearing horse that had carried this armour throughout the 19th into the early 20th century had fallen victim to the ongoing fight against woodworm raging in the White Tower. The gallant steed is shown displayed in the New Horse Armoury –  a crenellated Gothic addition to the south face of the White Tower built in the 1820s to accommodate the revamped 17th century Line of Kings – in Frank M Good’s stereoscopic card.

© Royal Armouries

© Royal Armouries

In 1882 the New Horse Armoury was emptied prior to demolition. Henry and his horse found themselves relocated to the White Tower top floor west, balanced  precariously on the exposed beams crossing the mid 19th century light wells.

© Royal Armouries

© Royal Armouries

The Tower Diary (I.188) notes  “a new horse of papier maché made by M.Felix Joubert of Chelsea” arriving in the Tower on May 6,  1913. Monsieur Joubert was more famed as a cabinet maker, and during the Great War produced a trench knife, but his new horse proved popular, if rather unrealistic, in its arrested stance, and its relatives appeared in supporting roles at Windsor Castle and the Wallace Collection.

It was hoisted up to the top floor of the White Tower as this contemporary photograph shows.

© Royal Armouries

© Royal Armouries

In October, 1914, the original deal horse “formerly used for the engraved suit” and “marked 1824, Graher and Wooton carpenters” was “cut by order”.  This was another historic link severed, as 1824 was the time that Sir Samuel Meyrick was re-organising the Line of Kings display in a more scholarly fashion and buying in new horses.

In 2009, Joubert’s horse was itself retired, returning to Leeds, and Henry found himself astride a flocked 21st century horse commissioned from David Hayes as part of the Henry VIII: Dressed to Kill exhibition celebrating the quincentenary of Henry’s accession (1509).  You are invited to trot along to view the pair and their companions on the White Tower entrance floor.

Blogger: Bridget Clifford, Keeper of Tower Armouries.

Line of Kings: The Opening…

One week after the opening of Line of Kings, Karen Whitting, Head of Creative Programmes, tells us why the launch is only the beginning…

The past two weeks have passed in a blur and only now, back at head office in Leeds and looking ahead to our next projects, is it possible to draw breath and reflect accurately.

With one week to operational handover, we were in remarkably good shape – able to backfill areas from which we had drawn objects for the new Line of Kings’ exhibition while ensuring that final objects were installed and final snagging carried out.

This included the straightening of each of the 266 breast and back plates, painting black every silver bolt and fixing, and cleaning relentlessly. Everyone pulled together, to ensure that we handed over to Historic Royal Palaces’ operations team on schedule – and with the exhibition in a world-class format.

The final object is placed within the exhibition.  © Royal Armouries

The final object is placed within the exhibition.
© Royal Armouries

We unveiled the new-look Line of Kings at a “soft opening” on 6 July to excellent feedback from both staff and visitors. Tower of London visitor numbers were up to around 12,000 people per day, so the exhibition was well and truly “stress tested”, with only one label coming adrift to be quickly re-installed.

At the same time, our team in Leeds were putting final touches to extensive web pages to support the physical exhibition, which also went live for 6 July. Please visit http://www.royalarmouries.org/visit-us/tower-of-london/line-of-kings to see the results of our research.

On 9 July, the exhibition was closed again as we showcased Line of Kings to the media, plus Historic Royal Palace (HRP) members – followed by a private view in the evening, attended by RA and HRP stakeholders.

It was a real privilege to be able to recount some of this extraordinary exhibition’s historic story and many treasures, as well as to thank the dedicated and passionate joint project team and the many expert external contractors who supported us on this journey. All have become part of Tower history – and the exhibition owes its success to every one of them.

The newly re-displayed Line of Kings at the Tower of London. © Royal Armouries

The newly re-displayed Line of Kings at the Tower of London. © Royal Armouries

With the exhibition now officially open, you might think this would be the end of the story. However, as this is a permanent exhibition we are looking ahead, with further improvements planned for September. We are also monitoring visitor feedback at #LineofKings.

Meanwhile, project meetings for our next exciting Tower exhibition have just begun…

Blogger: Karen Whitting, Head of Creative Programmes

Line of Kings: One week to go…

With just one week to go until the opening of Line of Kings, Karen Whitting, Head of Creative Programmes, tells us about those last finishing touches…

The countdown to the opening of the new-look Line of Kings is now well underway – with the challenge to install more than 350 stunning objects in just four weeks nearly completed.

The White Tower continues to be a hive of activity, thanks to a partnership of Royal Armouries’ staff from both our Leeds and London sites, including display technicians, conservators, registrars, audio visual and lighting designers.

Every day has seen extraordinary changes in the exhibition space – as scenic structures and cases have been covered and filled with stunning objects from the Armouries’ national collection. Every one of these objects has been selected in recognition of its role in the world’s longest-running visitor attraction at some point in history. They range from royal armours from the Line of Kings itself, to life-size, carved wooden horses which once supported these armours and ‘curiosities’ – objects whose stories have fascinated Tower of London visitors for centuries.

Each object has its own bespoke mount, made in our Leeds workshop and is then individually installed – from the walls of mass display, such as 254 breast and back plates and 44 lances to the exquisite armours of kings and princes.

Technicians take a moment to admire the wall of breastplates mid-install © Royal Armouries

Technicians take a moment to admire the wall of breastplates mid-install © Royal Armouries

All of this three-dimensional installation is set in a context of text and graphic interpretation and so the last week has seen specialist companies, the hub and BAF graphics, working seamlessly with the Royal Armouries’ team to ensure everything is ready for the operational handover.

The final layer is that of lighting and sound design – both produced by Armouries’ staff – creating the perfect showcase for the Line of Kings’ objects and stories.

With one week to go, the last 20 objects will be moved into place, final labels will be installed and everything will be cleaned and audited to ensure that 21st century visitors will have the best possible experience when the exhibition officially opens on 10 July. We look forward to hearing their responses…

Blogger: Karen Whitting, Head of Creative Programmes

Line of Kings: The Haunting of Richard III, part 2

Kathleen McIlvenna, Curatorial Assistant – Tower Collections, continues her investigations into why Richard III wasn’t included in the Line of Kings…

As discussed in my previous blog, Richard III was not present in the historic displays of the Line of Kings in the Tower, as at the time he was not an acceptable symbol of monarchy. However, his presence was felt through the association with other figures represented in the displays. These included the two ‘lost princes’, the nephews Richard is said to have murdered in the Tower.

In this Ink drawing of the Line of Kings, you can just about see the crown floating above Edward V’s head. © Royal Armouries

In this Ink drawing of the Line of Kings, you can just about see the crown floating above Edward V’s head. © Royal Armouries

We have descriptions of Edward V from Tower of London guidebooks from the 1750s, when he was displayed in a child’s armour sitting on a horse with a crown floating above his head – this is explained in the guidebook to signify the fact that Edward was declared king but never crowned. He is also displayed with a lance, which I believe is used to emphasise his small size compared to the large figures of Edward IV and Henry VII on either side.

Though not in the line; his brother, the other ‘lost prince’, Richard, Duke of York, was also represented in 18th century displays at the Tower. As legend has it, Richard would have been approximately 10 years old when his uncle ordered his death within the walls of the Tower. In these displays, Richard is portrayed wearing a tiny suit of armour, too small for a 10-year-old, and holding a miniature lance.

The Dwarf Armour II.126, stands at 37.5in tall. © Royal Armouries

The Dwarf Armour II.126, stands at 37.5in tall. © Royal Armouries

The miniature size of the armour and lance would have worked well to convey the vulnerability of a child. I also think the use of armour would contribute to that look of vulnerability. Armour, unlike clothing, is able to give a true impression of body size and stature as it was tailored to fit the individual. So the appearance of this ‘second skin’ as something that is made to protect but so small and delicate would have emphasised the fragility of the person it was supposed to represent. The miniature lance, in contrast to his brother’s giant lance, works to emphasise this child-like quality, looking more like a toy than a serious tool of sport.

It is also worth remembering that in 1674 the discovery of the bones of two boys, thought to be 10 and 13-years-old, during the demolition of the forebuilding set against the south face of the White Tower, appeared to confirm the legend of Richard III’s murderous deeds.

This is obviously not conclusive, but ties the Richard III and the two boys closely to Tower history only strengthened through these historic displays. Though Richard doesn’t appear in our new exhibition, it seems guaranteed that whatever one thinks of him, he will continue to lurk in the shadows of Tower history!

The Line of Kings opens on 10 July 2013. Read more blogs in the Line of Kings Series.

Line of Kings: Exhibiting in the 21st century

Karen Whitting, Head of Creative Programmes, talks about bringing the Line of Kings exhibition into the 21st century.

While the work on display mounts such as the figures from H&H has been continuing off site, the installation of the exhibition has been taking shape in the White Tower over the past three weeks.

One of the main design aims has been to allow visitors to enjoy the iconic building of the White Tower as well as the new Line of Kings exhibition housed within it. This work has included removing modern interventions, such as operations cupboards, which has transformed the space, reconnecting the east and west sides of the entrance floor through high stone archways.

High stone archways in the White Tower © Royal Armouries Museum

High stone archways in the White Tower
© Royal Armouries Museum

Exhibition craftsmen from the cultural and heritage fit-out company, the hub, have been working around the clock to turn our 2D paper designs into 3D reality.

Paul Lee, site supervisor, from the hub examines designs in the White Tower. © Royal Armouries Museum

Paul Lee, site supervisor, from the hub examines designs in the White Tower.
© Royal Armouries Museum

New wooden display plinths have been painstakingly constructed to have no impact on the historic structure of the White Tower and to sit sympathetically inside it. They fit so well with the existing floor that it almost looks as though they have always been part of the site – and they reveal none of the effort that has gone into their installation.

The hub team install wooden plinths in the White Tower. © Royal Armouries Museum

The hub team install wooden plinths in the White Tower.
© Royal Armouries Museum

As soon as the first plinth was complete, a team of skilled engineers was brought in from Beck & Pollitzer to move the original carved wooden horses into their new exhibition positions.

During the project’s research phase, a photograph was discovered in the Royal Armouries’ archive which is at least 100 years old. It shows wooden plinths and a wooden horse on the top floor of the White Tower – another visceral connection with the redisplay history of the Line of Kings and one which makes everyone involved in the project today part of this continuing story.

A wooden horse and wooden plinths on the top floor of the White Tower pre 1914 © Royal Armouries Museum

A wooden horse and wooden plinths on the top floor of the White Tower pre 1914
© Royal Armouries Museum

Engineers from Beck and Pollitzer move an historic wooden horse from the Line of Kings supervised by Chris Smith, Royal Armouries’ Conservator © Royal Armouries Museum

Engineers from Beck and Pollitzer move a historic wooden horse from the Line of Kings supervised by Chris Smith, Royal Armouries’ Conservator
© Royal Armouries Museum

Blogger: Karen Whitting, Head of Creative Programmes

Line of Kings: 21st Century Craftsman for the Line

H&H Sculptors Ltd are creating conservation grade figures for the Line of Kings that will support the armours to be mounted on original carved wooden horses. Their work is in the tradition of the craftsmen who have worked on this incredible display over hundreds of years.

Kathryn Hall of H&H takes us through the process of preparing the figures to provide a perfect fit.

Garry Hall, MD of H&H Sculptors, visited Chris Smith, Conservator at the Tower of London, on 19 April, with a selection of our assessment torsos and body parts taken from the measurements that Chris had supplied, which we felt would be most suited to the sizes of uniforms and armour. At this meeting, Chris and Garry tried the armour on a combination of different torsos shapes, and chose the best fitting ones for each of the three sets of armour, taking photos and making notes on each figure.

Chris and Garry tried the armour on a combination of different torsos shapes © Royal Armouries Museum

Chris and Garry tried the armour on a combination of different torso shapes
© Royal Armouries Museum

After this initial assessment process, we laid up all the relevant body parts in the studio using conservation-grade materials, adapting each figure and making the necessary alterations. We are now in a position to return with the three figures ‘tacked together’ and ready for their second fitting. At this stage, it may be necessary to make some minor adjustments before finally securing all the parts together and completing each figure for delivery on 7 June.

The story continues at the second fitting…

The main difficulties we found were to make sure that the figures would support the weight of the armour but without being too close or too tight, and not compromising the object in any way. We removed the figures’ elbows, which allowed us to slide the armour ‘sleeves’ carefully  upwards to attach at the shoulders,  and to use an alternative way of securing the arms to torso on the inside with a wing-nut fixing we had previously developed for the V&A.

We had prepared all three sets of legs to be spread outwards,  so they can cope with sitting on horseback –  but when they were placed on the saddle, which was poised on top of a stool in a ‘mocked-up’ riding position,  we could see they needed to be even straighter legged.

All three sets of legs were spread outwards,  so they can cope with sitting on horseback. © Royal Armouries Museum

All three sets of legs were spread outwards, so they can cope with sitting on horseback.
© Royal Armouries Museum

However, once we tested them on the actual wooden horses, complete with saddle, it was again quite different.

We had to cut off the chin, from one of the heads, and take a slice from the back, as the helmet wouldn’t fit over it properly. It was a mystery as to why this should be until we realised the gorget sat much higher up the neck than on the previous figure, and was preventing the helmet from dropping down. So off came the chin!
The forearms needed shortening to allow for the original wooden hands to attach successfully, but apart from that they all fitted well. We needed to shave a little off the calves of one pair of legs so the leg armour wasn’t quite so snug a fit.

IMG_0689

Figures mounted on original carved wooden horses
© Royal Armouries Museum

During June, the figures and armours will be carefully installed together in the final stages of preparing the new exhibition of the Line of Kings which opens on 10 July.

Blogger: Kathryn Hall, H&H Sculptors Ltd

Line of Kings: Sad, scary or thrilling – the removal of an exhibition

Karen Whitting, Head of Creative Programmes, tells us about riding a wave of emotions as the removal of the old exhibition gets underway.

As we moved into the physical phases of the Line of Kings’ project over the last month, new partners have joined us. The cultural and heritage fit out company, the hub, are providing build and installation expertise and Equinox are working magic as they art-work the graphic images and label texts.

While offsite technical drawings are prepared, signed off and fabricated and text is set and approved in a state of relative calm and detachment, on-site there is a hive of activity which has become very personal.

Exhibitions installed in the late 1990s and as recently as 2009/10 are leaving the White Tower as little more than scrap metal and splintered wood. All the collection objects were removed, packed and safely stored and any items for re-use were stripped out. What was left is now being broken up and leaving site in skips and vans for re-cycling and disposal.

Skips and vans remove the old exhibitions at the White Tower, Tower of London

Skips and vans remove the old exhibitions at the White Tower, Tower of London

But how does that make us feel? Sad, certainly, as exhibitions that staff had invested in academically, physically and emotionally are removed. Scary, partly because you never quite know what might happen during a time of such rapid changes, and thrilling, because the stripping out of these modern interventions is revealing more and more of the historic fabric of the iconic White Tower interior and setting the scene for the installation of our new exhibition.

The idea that we are following in a centuries-long tradition of re-display at the Tower of London is enough to send shivers down our spines. Every step we take on this extraordinary journey to opening day has been taken before, right here at the Tower. This really is history where it happened.

From 10 July, visitors to the 21st century Line of Kings’ exhibition will be following in the footsteps of their predecessors, viewing artefacts that were on display as far back as 1652.

Looking ahead, perhaps their reactions will survive to inform the exhibition teams of the future.

Blogger: Karen Whitting, Head of Creative Programmes