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: 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

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.

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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.