The Washing of the Lions

Found amongst the Royal Armouries archives at The Tower of London this fragile scrap of paper is a ticket for perhaps one of the most unusual April Fool’s Day stunts in British history – The Annual Ceremony of Washing the Lions.

Washing of the Lions Ticket

Washing of the Lions Ticket

The printed and wax sealed ticket admits Victorian visitors to the Tower via the White Gate, with strict instructions not give gratuities to any of the wardens on duty.

All in all, an entertaining spectacle appears to be promised – however all is not as it seems and the date of the event gives us a clue  – Monday, April The 1st, 1856.  We believe the ticket is part of an elaborate hoax – an elaborate April Fools’ joke.

As far as we know there wasn’t a Senior Warden by the name of Herbert de Grafsen, or an entrance to the Tower known as The White Gate, plus the Royal Menagerie within the Tower ceased to exist in 1835! What we don’t know is how successful the spoof was and how many gullible souls were taken in by it.

This fascinating story is featured in our new permanent exhibition Power House, which opens on Saturday 2 April 2011 at theTower of London.

Blogger: Stuart Ivinson, Library Assistant and Bridget Clifford, Keeper of Collections (South) & Tower History

Power House – Object Conservation 4

Object: Uniform Coat of the Duke of Wellington c.1835 (xvi.8)

Blogger: Suzanne Dalewicz-Kitto, Conservation Manager

This blue cloth uniform with white lining and scarlet facing was worn by the Duke of Wellington when he was Constable of the Tower of London. It has gilt buttons bearing a miniature of the White Tower in silver, and epaulettes made of gold and silver thread.  The coat is in reasonable condition with only a few small holes and surface grazing of the cloth, probably caused by moths.  The main area of interest to our Conservators were the tarnished metal threads and spangles (sequins) on the epaulettes.

Duke of Wellington's uniform

Duke of Wellington's uniform coat

Metal threads are fragile at the best of time.  Some are made from twisted fine metal wire and others are formed by twisting wire around a cotton or silk thread.  When applying treatments to remove the tarnish Conservators have to be careful not to leave residues behind that will ‘rot’ the thread over time.  On these epaulettes there are eight different types of thread design including: dull purl, pearl purl, bright check and Lizardine close.

Detail of the left epaulette before and after treatment

Detail of the left epaulette before and after treatment

The tarnish was removed by gently cleaning the surfaces with a damp swab using a mixture of carefully chosen chemicals.  This was carried out under a microscope to make sure no metal threads were being pulled away from the epaulette.  Residues where removed again by careful swabbing using deionised water – very pure water that has had any minerals filtered out of it.

This object will be featured in our forthcoming Power House exhibition at theTower of London which opens on Saturday 2nd April. Find out more about the work of our Conservation Team on our website.

Power House Installation: Week One

Blogger: Karen Whitting, Creative Programmes

Construction of the Power House exhibition at the Royal Armouries in the Tower of London began last week. Preparing the gallery for the installation has involved ripping out the old displays, which in an old building can be problematic if unanticipated issues are found.

Often all the pre-planning and preparation done prior to installation can be overturned in an instant – with new solutions and decisions needed immediately. However, with the right project team these moments feel more exciting and a challenge to be solved rather than finding them to be insurmountable problems.

 

Squeezing into the Tower of London

Squeezing into the Tower of London

On day three of the build a clear blue sky greeted the delivery of the crane – an excellent situation as snow or high winds would have meant potential schedule delays. The crane lorry squeezed its way under the Tower’s historic archways and over bridges to take up residence, allowing the removal of the old exhibition material and lift in of new build items.

Craning items in and out

Carefully craning items in and out

By day four it was apparent that the existing showcases had originally been screwed very firmly to the floor and each supporting foot had to be located and unscrewed before they could be moved to their new positions. However, as move after move took place and with a van and 2 builders skips of old material left the site, it was clear that a new exhibition was beginning to take shape.

As the first week drew to a close not only had all the cases been repositioned, they had also received a complete internal fit-out and one of our new cases was also finished. Everything was ready for graphic installation – and then objects…

More images of the installation at the Tower of London can be found on our Flickr page.

The Naming of the Dragon

A fabulous “bejewelled” dragon – standing 3m high and specially commissioned by the Royal Armouries and Historic Royal Palaces – will create a guaranteed “wow factor” as the centrepiece of the Power House exhibition at the Tower of London.

A modern trophy, the dragon is made up of components representing each of the great institutions of state associated with the Tower. The design is still being finalised but the majestic beast is likely to include:

Power House Dragon

Power House Dragon

  • Ordnance Office – armour, swords, firearms and cannon to create the back legs and body
  • Menagerie – a cage for the ribcage
  • Prison – chains to create the tail
  • The Royal Mint – coins to represent the dragon’s fire
  • The Observatory – telescopes for front legs
  • The Records Office and Ordnance Survey – parchments and maps for wings
  • The Jewel House – fake diamonds and rubies for the dragon’s eyes

This is your chance to make history – a prestigious dragon such as this deserves a befitting name. The Royal Armouries has teamed up with History™ for your opportunity to win an exclusive behind the scenes tour of the Tower of London and two tickets to the VIP private view of the Power House exhibition.

To enter please suggest a name for the dragon by emailing the Royal Armouries at competitions@armouries.org.uk. Please include your name and telephone number on the email. The competition closing date is Thursday 31 March 2011. Terms and Conditions are available on the History™ website.

Collections Up Close March

In March 44BC Julius Caesar was warned to ‘Beware the ides of March’. Caesar dismissed the warning that harm would come to him, only to be stabbed to death later that day by Senators in the Roman Senate. The ‘ides of March’ refers to March 15th in the Roman calendar, and is probably linked to the full moon as the ides fall on either the 13th or 15th day of each month. The prediction and Caesar’s fate were later dramatised in William Shakespeare’s famous play ‘Julius Caesar’.

Roman Gladius and mounts

Roman Gladius and mounts (IX. 5583)

One of the oldest items in the Royal Armouries collection is a Roman Gladius, dated mid to late 1st Century BC. The sword is of the ‘Pompeii-type’, named after four swords found in the ill-fated city of Pompeii. Swords like this have also been found in Britain, France and Germany. In addition to the sword blade is a set of bronze scabbard mounts, engraved with a warrior carrying a spear and shield, as well as two depictions of the goddess Victory. These items are on display in our Leeds Museum in the Early War section of the War Gallery.

Blogger: Angela Clare, Researcher

Power House Work Begins

Work has begun at the Tower of London on the installation of the new exhibition – Power House. The exhibitions ‘Prisoners and Punishment’ and ‘Hands on History’ which have been running on the top floor of the White Tower, closed on 28 February. Over four days Royal Armouries staff carefully removed collection objects to safe storage leaving an empty shell of cases and structures.

Hands on History Gallery, Tower of London

Hands on History Gallery, Tower of London

The core design team is continuing to work on the interpretation panels, with graphic amendments and text approvals as the deadline for print and production rapidly approaches.

There is a moment in any project where there is a pause – a brief moment of calm between preparation and installation – before the real hard work begins and does not stop until the handover of the exhibition to the operations team. At 7.30am on the morning of 7th March, that moment arrived and by 8am had passed again as the installation team from Paragon Creative arrived, unloaded a van full of tools and set about dismantling the existing structures.

Prisoners and Punishment Gallery, Tower of London

Prisoners and Punishment Gallery, Tower of London

This was swiftly followed by the first meeting of the Royal Armouries project installation team. A project as big as this requires the expertise of a broad spectrum of Museum staff – a combination of skills from both our Leeds Museum and from the Tower – including display technicians, curators, conservationists and registrars.

The next week provides the team with the chance to make final preparations prior to object installation – ensuring all the bespoke mounts and plinths made by the in-house display technicians are complete and labelled up ready to be matched with each object and case.

Tower of London: Power House

Discover the stories and personalities behind the major organisations of state, who took care of Royal business from within the mighty Tower of London’s walls from 1100 to the present day in our upcoming Power House exhibition.

Power House – which opens on the White Tower’s top floor on Saturday 2nd April in partnership with Historic Royal Palaces – showcases the roles of the major organisations that provided the bedrock of England’s power throughout the centuries.

Power House

Power House

Great institutions include the Ordnance Office, Ordnance Survey, the Royal Mint, Record Office, the Jewel House, Menagerie and Royal Observatory. The exhibition will also put the spotlight on other Tower of London functions, ranging from royal residence to state prison.

The Tower has been home to many important national institutions for over 900 years and was viewed as a fortress and symbol of England’s might. Close to the seat of Royal power at Westminster, the Tower became England’s ultimate Power House – and the functions it housed were vital to whether successive monarchs kept or lost control of the kingdom.

We’ll be following the progress of the exhibition’s installation throughout March with posts from our Head of Creative Programmes Karen Whitting.