A Curator and his times – the continuing story of museum ffoulkes

Bridget Clifford, Keeper of Tower Armouries continues with her tale of Charles John ffoulkes…

When I embarked on this blog, armed with the Minute book and best of intentions, I hoped that it would unfold month by month providing a unique “then and now” experience.  Unfortunately, the book and I have got somewhat out of sync.

However, in true Pollyanna tradition, it is too good a chance to miss, so I’ll play catch-up and take this opportunity to look back to January 1913 and how it all started for the curator, ffoulkes (who, unusually, spelled his surname without an initial capital letter).

Charles ffoulkes and Viscount Dillon at St. James' Palace  - 1913. © Royal Armouries

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

“1913 : Jan 1 Curator took over the Armouries on appointment (dated 21 Nov 1912) in succession to Viscount Dillon, Curator 1895 -1913.  Annual inventory checked and completed.” So Charles John ffoulkes, aged 44 1/2, recorded his first day in office in the Tower Armouries Day book (I.189).

Dillon was the pre-eminent arms and armour scholar of his day, and when he announced his impending retirement from the Tower, he recommended ffoulkes as his successor.  These were the days of the gentleman curator, and ffoulkes learned of the forthcoming vacancy while walking in the woods at Ditchley with Dillon.  Mr ffoulkes recounted the event in his autobiography. Dillon abruptly asked, “Will you take over the Tower?” and when ffoulkes expressed reservations, urged him, “I want you to keep the flag flying – don’t let me down”.  Mr ffoulkes noted later, “It was rather an unusual appointment with a nominal salary, no age limit and no fixed hours of duty”.

Viscount Lord Dillon, Curator Tower Armouries 1895 – 1913.  ffoulkes predecessor and champion, complete with White Tower cravat pin.

Viscount Lord Dillon, Curator Tower Armouries 1895 – 1913. ffoulkes predecessor and champion, complete with White Tower cravat pin. © Royal Armouries Museum

How unlike the modern curatorial post openly advertised with fixed terms and conditions, and measurable objectives to be achieved. No woodland handovers with the unqualified endorsement of the incumbent today.

Now 21st century curators, bristling with qualifications and bulging portfolios, battle in open (often global) competition for diminishing numbers of public service jobs. Today there is a pay structure and pension on offer – 30 years ago when I joined the profession on the lowest rung, great emphasis was placed on the fact that even the most junior Museum Assistant received a salary, not a weekly wage (little comfort for the first impoverished month!) – and the idea of nominated succession has no place in the modern world of equal opportunity and inclusion. They even let gals in nowadays!

Mr ffoulkes had come to Dillon’s attention through his studies and interest in armour fabrication, a relatively unexplored field at the time.  Leaving Oxford where he admitted his principal interest had lain in rowing, ffoulkes dabbled in painting, the Arts and Craft Movement and theatrical pageants before concentrating his energies on metalwork, specifically arms and armour. From 1907, he researched the collections of the Pitt Rivers and Ashmolean museums, and in 1912 published a major study “The Armourer and his Craft from the  XIth – XVIth century”.

The tableau of Queen Elizabeth, page and horse was originally displayed in the White Tower crypt (modern entrance floor) but moved to join material from the New Horse Armoury on the top floor of the White Tower after 1882.  This photograph gives a sense of the exuberant displays that Dillon and then ffoulkes tamed and refined to produce a more modern,  glassed exhibition. Elizabeth and company wandered about the White tower galleries before being loaned to the Museum of London in 1916, and falling victim to enemy action in WWII. Today only the queen’s head survives.

This photograph gives a sense of the exuberant displays that Dillon and then ffoulkes tamed and refined to produce a more modern, glassed exhibition. Queen Elizabeth and company wandered about the White tower galleries before being loaned to the Museum of London in 1916, and falling victim to enemy action in WWII. Today only the queen’s head survives. © Royal Armouries Museum

His introduction to the Tower Armouries was relatively gentle – touring dignitaries and a little light armour movement.  On 10 January, he recorded the visit of “Delegates from the Turko-Bulgarian War” peace conference which London was hosting (even without the benefit of hindsight, it would seem a doomed enterprise).  29 January saw a half armour moved “from the centre to the upper end of the top room on the left side” in the White Tower.

However February was far more feisty offering ffoulkes an introduction to the iconic nature of the site and all that brings with it. As I said, the book and I have slipped out of sync, so if you haven’t already, please do look back at February’s blog (Suffragette outrage at Tower – read all about it!), and I’ll hope to be catching up by June!

Blogger: Bridget Clifford, Keeper of Tower Armouries

Further reading: ‘Arms & the Tower ‘ C J ffoulkes (John Murray, 1939).

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

The Last Stand Opens, as a Landmark is Lost…

Photographer Marc Wilson, talks about the opening of The Last Stand and the importance of his project, after the loss of one his photographed locations.

Last week the first solo show of my photographic exhibition, The Last Stand, opened at The Royal Armouries Museum, Fort Nelson, focusing on some of the last physical remnants of war in the 20th century – the remaining military defence structures.

On show are 20 prints and remaining photos from the series are displayed on a screen. A morning of interviews for local press and arts magazines was followed by a very successful Private View in the evening.

The guest list was compiled by the Royal Armouries and myself, and included a Deputy Mayor, a serving British Army Major on leave from Afghanistan, Second World War veterans, the family of those who supplied war memoirs and contributors to and followers of my work.

Upon leaving the show, I was made aware that the remaining defences had been pulled apart and removed by the local authorities at Wissant in Northern France, one of the locations where I took photographs.  This happened in just the past few weeks.

The defences in the image you see below, having stood for over 70 years, no longer exist.

Wissant I,  Nord-Pas-De-Calais, France. 2012  Credit: Marc Wilson

Wissant I, Nord-Pas-De-Calais, France. 2012
Credit: Marc Wilson

I believe the reasons given were that they were a danger to the public. This has sparked a huge debate as to whether these defences in France, built by the occupying German army, many on the back of slave labour, should be removed or kept in place, as a reminder of histories past, and perhaps a warning for the future.

My personal view is that to erase the visual reminders of the past is wrong – although of course, as a photographer, my job is to set up and show the story and history, so as to let others then discuss the past, present and future.

What is does mean though is that a modern day precedent has been set and this may now occur at other locations along the northern and western coastlines of France. There is also talk of similar in Denmark. For me this means I need to embark upon the second stage of photography for the work as soon as possible. I thought I had years to complete the project – that may no longer be the case. I am hoping to raise funds through prints sales over the next month to allow me to do so.

Blogger: Marc Wilson

You can read more details on Marc’s website.

The Last Stand is on display at Fort Nelson until 1 October 2013.

Get involved
Do you have a place, which holds memories that have now been abandoned or destroyed? Are you a serving soldier that has left behind a base you called home whilst serving abroad? Did you document these places at the time or now they are gone? If so, we would love you to share them with us online. Tweet us at @Royal_Armouries using #LostLocations or post on our facebook page.

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.

The Last Stand

We spoke to photographer and Terry O’Neill award winner Marc Wilson, to find out more about The Last Stand exhibition, which opens at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson on Friday, 3 May.

What was your Inspiration for the work?
Initially the project came out of a small body of work called Abandoned that I created in 2003. This project included some military locations – from these I realised the importance of the subject matter and I felt I needed to produce a piece of work about it. Many locations have been documented before in some form or another but I wanted to approach it in my own way, and in doing so not only look at the objects themselves, but their place in the shifting landscape over time. Most importantly of all, I wanted to set up a dialogue and hopefully prompt the viewer to reflect on the histories and memories associated with these places.

Like many people today, I have some connection to the two world wars. My grandfather had been in the Navy in the First World War and whilst I did have a relative flying with the RAF during WW2, the main connection was with one side of my family being caught up in the horrors unfolding in Europe. Perhaps, in some ways, this project is my response to that.

© Marc Wilson

© Marc Wilson

What has been your favourite location to capture?
I’ve been asked that a few times and it’s so hard to answer. I love the process of photography and I have enjoyed the experience of the journeys and taking pictures at these locations where the landscapes are quite breathtaking. But then at the same time, whilst I strive to produce visually beautiful images, the subject matter at these locations is so dark that the ‘enjoyable’ elements pale away. An odd feeling really.

As for a ‘favourite’ to photograph, the dunes at Newburgh, north of Aberdeen, come to mind. I was 600 miles away from home, up at 4am, and I had to climb out of the hotel bar window as the front door was locked. It was a wonderful hour’s walk through the dunes in the rising light and sea mist before I was greeted with the scene you see in the images in the exhibition. It was then a slow walk back along the beach as the sea mist slowly melted away, back to the hotel for breakfast and an explanation for the open bar window!

© Marc Wilson

© Marc Wilson

What was the hardest image to capture?
The hardest, physically, was probably the image at the Dengie peninsula in Essex. It was another 4am start, followed by a one-hour cycle to the location, over a muddy grass levee in the rain, with my large format camera, tripod and umbrella on my back. I then stood in the rain for an hour waiting for it to stop, which it did eventually. I set up, shot the image and then cycled back with heavier legs and over muddier grass. The trip to Northern France and Belgium was also hard with 10 days of ferry journeys, late afternoon recces, 4am starts and daytime driving to the next location, with evenings of unloading and loading darkslides in neon motels, and four trips up and down the northern coast chasing the light.

© Marc Wilson

© Marc Wilson

What has it been like to photograph such poignant locations?
I photographed in the South West of England – this location had been recced on a previous visit and so I knew the time of day, direction, amount of sun and height of the tides I needed for the shot.

Yet still this image required over 280 miles and five hours of driving, followed by three hours in place, with the camera set up, waiting for the perfect combination of light and tides.

The image you will see in the exhibition was made at Torcross, nearby Slapton Sands. Some of you may be familiar with the military history of this location but for those that are not, it was used as a training ground for the D-Day landings due to its similarity to the coastline and conditions in Normandy, France. The local villages had all been emptied of the residents and the troops had moved in.

In April 1944, during Exercise Tiger, the three-mile-long convoy of vessels on their way to the exercises was attacked by nine German torpedo boats.  Two tank-landing ships were sunk, with the loss of 749 American servicemen. Over 1,000 lives were lost during the exercise.

It is a beautiful and peaceful place, and as I now stand in these locations, I am so engrossed in the photographic process that I can at times forget these histories. As soon as I stop though, and begin to pack away the camera, they all flood in, these mass casualties of war, associated with the histories and memories of these sites I am photographing. My imagination though can only scratch at the surface of the reality of these events.

For more information about The Last Stand, visit our website.

Do you have a place, which holds memories that has now been abandoned or destroyed? Are you a serving soldier that has left behind a base you called home whilst serving abroad? Did you document these places at the time or now they are gone? If so, we would love you to share them with us online. Tweet us at @Royal_Armouries using #LostLocations or post on our facebook page.