Curator @ War: The Curator Goes to War – an everyday story of museum ffoulkes.

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.

August 1914 – War!

Minute book, date 28th July 1914
Ffoulkes entry from the Minute book, date 28th July 1914

Ffoulkes entry in the Minute book was brief and to the point – in the Diary he compiled retrospectively from 1933 “Bulgaria and Turkey” were added to the opposition.

Unfortunately to this modern eye it still reads like a fixture in a sporting league. Which rather begs the question, how are momentous events appropriately recorded? ffoulkes was not to know the impact that this event was to have on his career, let alone the rest of the world, when he penned the entry. Its very simplicity and starkness remains striking.
In his autobiography Arms and the Tower published in 1939 with the benefit of over 2 decades of hindsight, ffoulkes was honest about his military prospects “It will be obvious that neither the Army nor Navy would have the slightest use for an entirely untrained civilian at the age of forty-six, and to me the proper course was to continue the work for which I had been appointed and await developments” (p.71).
And what developments there might be. His working relationship with Sir Guy Laking, Keeper of the King’s Armoury at Windsor Castle was flourishing. In July 1914 it had facilitated the return of Henrician material and armours associated with Sir John Smythe and the Earl of Worcester to the Tower after their migration in “the latter years of the XVIIth century”. ffoulkes trumpeted this coup as “the most important addition to the Armouries since 1661”, and he looked forward to their future collaboration. Sadly the war, ffoulkes increasing involvement in the preservation of the material it generated and Laking’s early death in 1919 scuppered these plans.
July has also witnessed the incident of the American lady digging “an overlong finger nail” into the worm eaten execution block, recorded in the Diary (17th July) but absent from the original Minute Book. However the solution to the problem in the form of a new case received on 28th July is entered in the Minute book. And the fate of the owner of the offending digit? She was dealt with by the Curator and expelled from the Armouries.
Equilibrium having been restored, apart from the outbreak of War, the only other entry for August covered the visit of the Marchesa Stampa, Count J de Salis and the Countess Philllipine de Noailles on the 25th – members of the European in-crowd –in other words back to business as usual.
It was September 1914 that was to see the War really begin to impact on the Armouries.
B Clifford
Keeper of Tower History