The Curator @ War: “Bah Humbug – stripping the Armouries decorations for Christmas” December 1914

Keeper of the Tower Armouries, Bridget Clifford, continues her posts on Charles John Ffoulkes, who was Curator of the Armouries from 1913-1938 – during which he took part in the World War I civil defence of London, completed the first and last complete modern printed catalogue of the Tower collection, and created a museum infrastructure within The Tower. After his retirement, he was awarded an OBE in 1925 and a CBE in 1934 in recognition of his work on the Imperial War Museum.

In 1914, as the rest of the country prepared for the festive period and the realisation began to dawn that the war would not be over by Christmas, ffoulkes continued on his mission to modernise the White Tower displays, following on from the work started by Dillon. Having judiciously pruned some of the more exotic elements of the collection in November, despatching Oriental, Classical and Prehistoric material to the British Museum, and with the prospect of the small arms stores being removed from the Entrance floor of the White Tower, he began to clear the decks – literally.

bahumbug blog

The photographs below give an impression of the ebullient displays from the later 1880s after the demolition of the New Horse Armoury. They come from The Photographic View Album of the Tower of London published by Valentine and Sons of Dundee but sadly undated.  This specific copy was annotated by ffoulkes and presented to HMS Tower 27th April 1917. Built by Swan Hunter and launched 5th April 1917, HMS Tower was an R class destroyer and is probably most famous for having the first modern ship’s badge, co-designed by Mr George Richardson, director of the shipyard, and Major Charles ffoulkes. The badge consisted of the White Tower and motto “God Save King George and his Tower” within a rope border, topped with a naval crown and with the ship’s name beneath.


This is the Council Chamber (today more prosaically titled second floor west gallery) before the removal of the sword railings (1913) and the filling in of the light wells in the floor. Perhaps the lights installed in 1884 were somewhat unsubtle – in his autobiography ffoulkes described them as “great arc lights like a modern railway station” (p.64) – and obviously space was at a premium as the exhibits crowded together in their new home.

At the Northern end Queen Elizabeth I and her page found temporary refuge before moving back to the crypt and thence to pastures new. Both look resigned to their lot – perhaps recognising worse was yet to come after their move to the Museum of London. Today the only survivor of this tableau is Queen Elizabeth’s head.  The rest were consigned to a museum store room in the 1930s where they remain immured (if not shattered) by enemy action during the Second World War.


However it was the Banqueting Hall (today’s first floor) that ffoulkes was targeting in December 1914. Finally he could be rid of the “elaborate trophies ….. and geometrical patterns of composed of tortured swords, bayonets and gun-locks bent and twisted in the Ordnance forges to conform with the lines of required designs. These were produced by Mr Stacy, Armoury Keeper, as a feeble imitation of the wonders produced by one Harris in the Storehouse which was burnt in 1841”. A little harsh on Mr Stacy, but ffoulkes had very determined views on the subject regarding “these typical products of nineteenth-century military art”  as “symptomatic of a period which could not produce simple railings without designing them as cast-iron spears with iron tassels”.


So the scrolling motifs of re-formed gun-locks around the light wells, pendant bayonets and other trophies of arms attached to the ceilings were removed, and the great flower heads (a little something for the lady visitor?) seen here flanking the opening in the North face of the White Tower were swept away.  A few decorations lingered on in more inaccessible places, but ffoulkes had placed his finger on the continuing dilemma of how best to display the interior of the White Tower? As he put it “Firstly it is a magnificent specimen of eleventh-century architecture, and secondly it houses a collection of arms and armour, many pieces having been exhibited here since the sixteenth century, if not earlier.”   Finding a satisfactory balance continues to exercise the minds of curators and architectural historians to this day, as these two aspects can at times be mutually exclusive.

(A footnote for the pedants among us – this view is of the first floor east leading to the Chapel of St John, while traditionally the Banqueting Hall refers to the west side of the floor. Even ffoulkes had to think twice – but it is clear from the new Guide Book produced in 1916 when the whole of the White Tower was given over to Armouries displays that the Sword floor was on the east side , with the Weapons room on the west. Happy Christmas!)

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