Line of Kings: Exhibiting in the 21st century

Karen Whitting, Head of Creative Programmes, talks about bringing the Line of Kings exhibition into the 21st century.

While the work on display mounts such as the figures from H&H has been continuing off site, the installation of the exhibition has been taking shape in the White Tower over the past three weeks.

One of the main design aims has been to allow visitors to enjoy the iconic building of the White Tower as well as the new Line of Kings exhibition housed within it. This work has included removing modern interventions, such as operations cupboards, which has transformed the space, reconnecting the east and west sides of the entrance floor through high stone archways.

High stone archways in the White Tower © Royal Armouries Museum

High stone archways in the White Tower
© Royal Armouries Museum

Exhibition craftsmen from the cultural and heritage fit-out company, the hub, have been working around the clock to turn our 2D paper designs into 3D reality.

Paul Lee, site supervisor, from the hub examines designs in the White Tower. © Royal Armouries Museum

Paul Lee, site supervisor, from the hub examines designs in the White Tower.
© Royal Armouries Museum

New wooden display plinths have been painstakingly constructed to have no impact on the historic structure of the White Tower and to sit sympathetically inside it. They fit so well with the existing floor that it almost looks as though they have always been part of the site – and they reveal none of the effort that has gone into their installation.

The hub team install wooden plinths in the White Tower. © Royal Armouries Museum

The hub team install wooden plinths in the White Tower.
© Royal Armouries Museum

As soon as the first plinth was complete, a team of skilled engineers was brought in from Beck & Pollitzer to move the original carved wooden horses into their new exhibition positions.

During the project’s research phase, a photograph was discovered in the Royal Armouries’ archive which is at least 100 years old. It shows wooden plinths and a wooden horse on the top floor of the White Tower – another visceral connection with the redisplay history of the Line of Kings and one which makes everyone involved in the project today part of this continuing story.

A wooden horse and wooden plinths on the top floor of the White Tower pre 1914 © Royal Armouries Museum

A wooden horse and wooden plinths on the top floor of the White Tower pre 1914
© Royal Armouries Museum

Engineers from Beck and Pollitzer move an historic wooden horse from the Line of Kings supervised by Chris Smith, Royal Armouries’ Conservator © Royal Armouries Museum

Engineers from Beck and Pollitzer move a historic wooden horse from the Line of Kings supervised by Chris Smith, Royal Armouries’ Conservator
© Royal Armouries Museum

Blogger: Karen Whitting, Head of Creative Programmes

Line of Kings: 21st Century Craftsman for the Line

H&H Sculptors Ltd are creating conservation grade figures for the Line of Kings that will support the armours to be mounted on original carved wooden horses. Their work is in the tradition of the craftsmen who have worked on this incredible display over hundreds of years.

Kathryn Hall of H&H takes us through the process of preparing the figures to provide a perfect fit.

Garry Hall, MD of H&H Sculptors, visited Chris Smith, Conservator at the Tower of London, on 19 April, with a selection of our assessment torsos and body parts taken from the measurements that Chris had supplied, which we felt would be most suited to the sizes of uniforms and armour. At this meeting, Chris and Garry tried the armour on a combination of different torsos shapes, and chose the best fitting ones for each of the three sets of armour, taking photos and making notes on each figure.

Chris and Garry tried the armour on a combination of different torsos shapes © Royal Armouries Museum

Chris and Garry tried the armour on a combination of different torso shapes
© Royal Armouries Museum

After this initial assessment process, we laid up all the relevant body parts in the studio using conservation-grade materials, adapting each figure and making the necessary alterations. We are now in a position to return with the three figures ‘tacked together’ and ready for their second fitting. At this stage, it may be necessary to make some minor adjustments before finally securing all the parts together and completing each figure for delivery on 7 June.

The story continues at the second fitting…

The main difficulties we found were to make sure that the figures would support the weight of the armour but without being too close or too tight, and not compromising the object in any way. We removed the figures’ elbows, which allowed us to slide the armour ‘sleeves’ carefully  upwards to attach at the shoulders,  and to use an alternative way of securing the arms to torso on the inside with a wing-nut fixing we had previously developed for the V&A.

We had prepared all three sets of legs to be spread outwards,  so they can cope with sitting on horseback –  but when they were placed on the saddle, which was poised on top of a stool in a ‘mocked-up’ riding position,  we could see they needed to be even straighter legged.

All three sets of legs were spread outwards,  so they can cope with sitting on horseback. © Royal Armouries Museum

All three sets of legs were spread outwards, so they can cope with sitting on horseback.
© Royal Armouries Museum

However, once we tested them on the actual wooden horses, complete with saddle, it was again quite different.

We had to cut off the chin, from one of the heads, and take a slice from the back, as the helmet wouldn’t fit over it properly. It was a mystery as to why this should be until we realised the gorget sat much higher up the neck than on the previous figure, and was preventing the helmet from dropping down. So off came the chin!
The forearms needed shortening to allow for the original wooden hands to attach successfully, but apart from that they all fitted well. We needed to shave a little off the calves of one pair of legs so the leg armour wasn’t quite so snug a fit.

IMG_0689

Figures mounted on original carved wooden horses
© Royal Armouries Museum

During June, the figures and armours will be carefully installed together in the final stages of preparing the new exhibition of the Line of Kings which opens on 10 July.

Blogger: Kathryn Hall, H&H Sculptors Ltd

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

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.