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

Line of Kings: The Haunting of Richard III

Kathleen McIlvenna, Curatorial Assistant – Tower Collections, delves deeper into the reasons why Richard III was not part of the Line of Kings.

The recent discovery of King Richard III’s remains in a Leicestershire car park, a project which involved our very own Bob Woosnam-Savage (read Bob’s blog), triggered a realisation for me. As the press coverage has shown, this particular King has been a dominant figure in English history, so for modern observers it could be surprising that Richard III was not represented in the historic displays of the Line of Kings at the Tower of London.

Over the centuries, a display representing Kings of England, and other curiosities, has been present within the Tower of London for visitors to enjoy, and this summer we will be opening a new exhibition exploring these displays through history. As part of our work to prepare for the new exhibition, I have recently been looking at how specific kings were represented.

Richard III’s brother, Edward IV as represented in the Line of Kings in the Penny Magazine, c.1840. © Royal Armouries

Richard III’s brother, Edward IV as represented in the Line of Kings in the Penny Magazine, c.1840. © Royal Armouries

After the discovery of Richard III in February 2013, I felt the absence of this infamous King was emphasised and began to wonder why. The representation of Richard III within cultural memory has changed over time. The last of the Plantagenet kings is no longer the despised villain of Tudor legend – today he is far more acceptable, the victim of Tudor propaganda and friendly monarch buried in the local car park. So when the line was constructed, as far back as the 1660s, it would not have been appropriate to portray or possibly celebrate his reign. However, he was always present through association.

The crowned monarchs either side of Richard III were displayed – his brother Edward IV, and Richard’s vanquisher at Bosworth, Henry VII. Though, arguably one of the most emotive and powerful displays in the Line of Kings is that of Edward V, Richard III’s nephew and one of the ‘Lost Princes’.

In my next blog I’ll discuss the depiction of the two princes in displays at the Tower of London in more detail, but in the meantime to find out more about the new Line of Kings exhibition see the previous blogs in the series.

Blogger: Kathleen McIlvenna, Curatorial Assistant – Tower Collections

Line of Kings: Back to Front

Ellie Rowley-Conwy, the project conservator for the Line of Kings tells us about her part in building a wall of armour.

Line of Kings, Project Conservator, Ellie Rowley-Conwy  © Royal Armouries Museum

Line of Kings, Project Conservator, Ellie Rowley-Conwy
© Royal Armouries Museum

To some, it might seem that cleaning 113 pieces of seemingly identical plate armour would be repetitive or even, dare I say it, boring.

Perhaps this makes me sound odd but nothing could be further from the truth. Although superficially similar, each artefact offers its own challenges, details and insights.

Indeed, it is only by working with so many pieces that the unique nature of each piece stands out. Many of the objects are inscribed with the word ‘Toiras’ across the front, referring to the Marquis de Toiras who famously withstood the three-month siege of La Rochelle in 1627, which is the provenence of all the breastplates and backplates.

© Royal Armouries Museum

© Royal Armouries Museum

Subtle differences can include the manufacturer marks that are often found on the inside; the size of the pieces giving information about the soldiers involved in the conflict; and the dents and damage present on the pieces which tells us about the objects’ working life.

Often the breastplates and backplates have been coated in a lacquer to protect them from handling and the environment. This can work well for a few years but, if left on for too long, it will yellow and become increasingly difficult to remove.

The first stage in the conservation process is to clean this off, using cotton swabs and an appropriate solvent that will remove the lacquer without damaging the underlying metal. Under the lacquer layer there can be remnants of thick wax, which was used in the past to help protect metal. This also has to be removed using a further solvent.

Any corrosion present on the object is cleaned off using, a specific abrasive material with an appropriate lubricant to prevent any scratching of the metal. The object is then coated with a protective conservation grade wax.

The result of all this hard work will be a very striking, full wall of breastplates and backplates, forming the backdrop for the Line of Kings exhibition, which will open at the Tower of London on July 10.

Blogger: Ellie Rowley-Conwy, Project Conservator, Line of Kings

Line of Kings: For the 21st Century

Karen Whitting, Head of Creative Programmes, takes us through the process of design for the Line of Kings.

With the first phase of research complete, last Spring saw Royal Armouries and Historic Royal Palaces form a core project team who would work together with external experts to develop firstly concept and then detailed designs.

The A.O.C Team

The A.O.C Team

With so many display options available, we commissioned some early stage concept development from a diverse range of companies – from architects to audio visual specialists. These designs were analysed and one, in particular, drove forward our thinking so were able to prepare a formal design tender.

By early summer A.O.C. had been selected to join the internal team.

A series of workshops running from last Autumn to just two weeks ago, shaped and honed our design and narrative vision for the project – giving us a new incarnation of the Line of Kings.

We have now consulted specialists in exhibition lighting, graphics and structural engineering and also sought English Heritage’s advice and expertise to ensure that we both do no harm to the exhibition venue – the historic White Tower – but also that we enhance the visitor experience of that amazing environment.

Each expert has worked to complement and support our ambition to re-present over 350 objects, each selected by our curators as being part of the historic Horse Armoury and its central feature, the Line of Kings.

(For more information about this selection, the objects and their history in the Horse Armoury and Line of Kings please see web pages going live for July 2013).

The resulting detailed plans will now lead us into the next stage of our journey as we take a huge stride forwards from design to delivery.

Content for web pages, graphic panels and labels will be prepared and edited by our in-house team. Meanwhile, we will select more expert assistance, this time for exhibition construction, art-working, graphic production and installation – companies that will allow us to lift the lines from the page and create tangible structures which will bring this extraordinary story to life.

A continuing story of museum ffoulkes – The Tower Armouries – February 1913

Bridget Clifford, Keeper of Tower Armouries reveals all about what happened on this day 100 years ago at the Tower of London…

Feb 1, 1913 Suffragette outrage in the Jewel House, one case broken.  No damage in Armouries.”   February certainly started with a bang for the Tower.  Leonora Cohen’s action in entering the Jewel House – at this time housed in the Wakefield Tower – at 10:30am among a school group and dropping an iron bar into a side case containing the insignia of the Order of Merit of King Edward VII was a freelance act of militancy on behalf of the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union) at a time when the campaign for female suffrage was becoming increasingly violent. As Yeoman Warder Ellis later stated in Court, Leonora’s first words were “This is my protest against the Government”.

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The label attached to Leonora’s bar preserved among her papers at Abbey House Museum, Kirkstall, Leeds.

The label attached to Leonora’s bar preserved among her papers at Abbey House Museum, Kirkstall, Leeds.  Her message reads “Jewel House, Tower of London.  My Protest to the Government for its refusal to Enfranchise Women, but continues to torture women prisoners – Deeds Not Words. Leonora Cohen”/ reverse “Votes for Women.  100 Years of Constitutional Petition, Resolutions, Meetings & Processions have Failed”. WSPU colours were purple, white and Green.

Mrs Cohen was an active member of the Leeds branch of the WSPU between 1909 and 1914.  Born June 15, 1873, she was the eldest child of Jane and Canova Throp.  Canova, an artist, died when Leonora was five, and the family moved from Hunslet to central Leeds where Jane supported her three children by working as a seamstress. Leonora suffered from TB as a child, and Jane found the time and energy to home school her, as well as work when she was younger. In due course Leonora became a milliner and a skilful one.  At this time, there was a strong movement in Leeds campaigning for better working conditions for women, and this no doubt added to her education. Although she first met her future husband, Henry Cohen, a Polish immigrant jeweller, as a teenager they did not marry until 1900.  They married for love, and in the eyes of society, Leonora had made a step up the social ladder.

Leonora’s WSPU activities came at a high price.  She enjoyed the support of her mother, brothers, husband and son, but friends ostracised her and the family received hate mail. Initially she just attended meetings, but from 1911 began to engage in more militant acts. Her first trip to London in November 1911 to a meeting at Caxton Hall and deputation to Parliament ended as a violent clash with Police and window breaking (the preferred method of action at the time).  A total of 220 Suffragettes were arrested – a record number for one night according to a disapproving Daily Telegraph- including Leonora.  As a result she was detained in Holloway Prison for seven days, found guilty of malicious damage.

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A portrait photograph of Leonora after her release from Holloway Prison in 1911. Thanks to Leeds Museums Service.

In selecting the Tower as a target, Leonora was making a considered and bold statement. It was a freelance act of militancy, but not a random one. She chose to act against government rather than private property. No doubt the authorities, already concerned at the escalating levels of violence, recalled the Fenian campaign of the 1880s, which had resulted in an explosion in the White Tower Banqueting Room (modern first floor west). In the immeadiate aftermath, the Tower was closed to the public, as were Kensington Palace, Hampton Court, Kew and Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh. Thereafter, security was heightened as it was at other public buildings including museums and galleries.

Leonora was arrested and taken to Leman Street Police station, appearing in Court within hours, charged with unlawful and malicious damage to public property.  She was remanded on bail to appear at the London sessions on February 4, where she successfully defended herself and was acquitted by the jury – no mean feat. Returning to Leeds, her WSPU involvement reverted to attending meetings and speaking at them. However, having attracted official attention she found herself imprisoned once more for incitement, and with her health deteriorating, the Cohens moved from Leeds to Harrogate. There, Leonora’s guesthouse was a place of refuge for other activists evading the infamous “Cat and Mouse” act (officially Prisoner (Temporary Discharge for Ill Health) Act 1913) whereby hunger-strikers could be released from jail rather than force-fed, but were then re-arrested when deemed recovered.  Leonora was photographed revisiting the Tower in the 1960s, and in 1976 she contributed to the oral history of the Suffragette and Suffragist movements recorded by Brian Harrison (now held by the Woman’s library).  She died September 4, 1978.

Mr ffoulkes makes no other mention of the incident.  The day book continues to be an interesting mix of the mundane and unusual. On February 7, he showed 25 students from the Royal College of Art round the Armouries, as well as the Countess Feo Gleichen (in fact HSH Countess Feodora Maud Georgina Gleichen – sculptor and medallist).  More importantly for the ascendant Curator, on February 13 he was presented to HM the King at a Levee in St James’s Palace by the first Commissioner of Works.  Viscount Dillon attended, and the event was duly recorded on camera.

The boys in party mode. © Royal Armouries

Charles ffoulkes and Viscount Lord Dillon at St. James Palace on 13 February 1913
© Royal Armouries

Six days later, Mr Guy Laking, Keeper of the King’s Armoury, called.  (Interestingly, the entry in the revised Day book [ I.188] compiled by ffoulkes from 1933 onwards following his retirement from the Imperial War Museum and prior to his autobiography’s publication, corrects “Sir” to Mr Guy Laking and titles him “The King’s Armourer”. ).

From militant protest to social climbing, all in all February 1913 was quite a month.

With huge thanks to Emma Trueman, and Nicola Pullen & Judith Ferris of Leeds Museums and Galleries.  If you want to find out more about Leonora, Emma’s undergraduate dissertation is available in RA Tower Library, and Leonora’s papers are held by Abbey House Museum, Kirkstall, Leeds who will, I am sure, be delighted to share them with you.

Blogger: Bridget Clifford, Keeper of Tower Armouries

Line of Kings: Return of the Prince

Kathleen McIlvenna, Curatorial Assistant – Tower Collections, welcomes back, a true treasure, the armour of Henry Frederick Stuart, which will be displayed within the Line of Kings this Summer.

After forming part of the very successful Lost Prince exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, we are delighted to welcome back the armour of Henry Frederick Stuart, Prince of Wales, to the Tower of London.

Henry was the eldest son of James I and was heir to the throne until his untimely death in 1612, aged just 18. This beautiful armour was made by Dutch armourers and was presented to Henry, the Prince of Wales, by Sir Francis Vere, a former soldier, under Elizabeth I, in 1607.

Henry was about 13 years old when he received this armour. Though only just a teenager, he was being prepared for a future role as king. He showed promise as a swordsman and jouster, was a keen huntsman and a patron of the arts, as well as a strong advocate for Protestantism.

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The armour of Henry Stuart in pieces

The armour consists of 15 parts and is extremely delicate. It is transported in pieces, which are carefully unpacked before being reassembled in the gallery. Closer inspection of the armour reveals its true beauty, with wonderful gilt bands of decoration showing scenes from the life of Alexander the Great, including elephants. Therein lies a problem.  The decoration continues along the lames and, where these rub over each other, any movement erodes the surface. Older cleaning methods, using brick dust and oil, while keeping the bright sections glowing, have also left their mark.  However in spite of the passage of time, and elbow grease, this armour remains one of our treasures. With such delicate and beautiful armour, it is always a relief to see it finally reassembled and back on display.

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Henry Stuart back on display

Henry Stuart’s armour will form part of our exciting new exhibition Line of Kings, opening in the Summer, so be sure to come and see it, in all its splendour, then.

Blogger: Kathleen McIlvenna, Curatorial Assistant – Tower Collections

Line of Kings: Voices from the past

Karen Whitting, Head of Creative Programmes, tells us about delving into the past of the Line of Kings.

Our research included compiling all the images of the ‘Line of Kings’ in the Royal Armouries’ collection and beyond that we could trace, from early sketches to later photographs.

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Visitors to the Line of Kings in 1800

Alongside this, other team members were burrowing into the Royal Armouries’ archives and those held by organisations such as The National Archives at Kew to discover and record as much information as possible about the display’s origins and subsequent development.

Please look out for new web pages in 2013 in the build-up to the new exhibition’s opening, which will include areas looking at this research in detail.

One of the most fascinating studies traced visitors’ voices from the past – an area which really started as a sideline to the main research but has now developed into our strongest exhibition storyline…

Alex Gaffikin, Interpretation Manager from Historic Royal Palaces takes up the story:

We’ve been reading old guidebooks, postcards, journals and letters to hear what visitors have thought of the exhibition through the ages.

Visitors to the ‘Line of Kings’ included Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach who in 1710 describes a curious ceremony with the lining of part of the armour of Henry VIII, ‘For a jest countless pins have been stuck into this velvet, and any young persons, especially females, who come here, are presented with one, because they are supposed to be a charm against impotency and barrenness.’

My favourite recollection is from a letter by César de Saussure from around 1725 who writes that Henry VIII, ‘is said to be a good likeness of this celebrated king. If you press a spot on the floor with your feet you will see something surprising with regard to this figure; but I will not say more and leave you to guess what it is.’ The mind boggles.

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Visitors to the Line of Kings in 1845

Can you help? We are on the look-out for any old postcards, diary entries or recollections from visitors in times gone by that we can use either in the exhibition itself or on the web pages being developed to support it … if you have anything along these lines please do get in touch by emailing karen.whitting@armouries.org.uk