Curator @ War: The Curator Goes to War – British toys for British boys

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.

@Royal Armouries
@Royal Armouries

The Minute Book entries for October 1914 are the usual mix of domestic detail, grand strategy and a pinch of world events.

The move of material (Royal armours)to the White Tower sub-crypt was a precaution against the anticipated Zeppelin air attacks, although they did not finally materialise in London until 8th August 1915. It was no coincidence that on the same day ffoulkes was presented with a practical war-time role. Although apparently resigning himself to “continue the work for which I had been appointed and await developments” at the outbreak of war, the Senior service finally provided an opportunity for this “entirely untrained civilian … [aged] … forty-six”. The use of RNVR personnel to man London’s air defences was the First Lord of the Admiralty’s (one Winston Churchill) response to an urgent appeal from the Lord Mayor of London as the trained gunners were needed in France. Mr C mobilized an Anti-Aircraft corps in the RNVR with searchlights being manned by the electrical staff of the Office of Works and the guns by men, many of whom had joined the special constabulary detailed for duty at the Royal Palaces. ffoulkes “took my place in the long queue and was enrolled as an able seaman, being promoted with startling rapidity to Chief Petty Officer and sub –Lieutenant” (Arms and the Tower p.75) – re-enforcing the impression that Charles was not one to hide his light under the proverbial bushel. His enthusiasm was catching. Lord Dillon, apparently a keen yachtsman in his youth also tried to enlist but at 70 years old his offer was rejected albeit with compliments on his patriotism.

Meanwhile, the home front was also under direct attack as staff laboured to keep woodworm at bay in the White Tower. There are several references to the block being treated during this period, and the wooden display horses were not immune. The core of the Armouries stable was provided by those animals nobly supporting the figures for the last 200 years. Unfortunately, although time had given them a greater status than mere props, identifying the fate (and date) of individual steeds continues to be problematical today. The deal horse ordered to be cut up on 21st October is probably the one seen prancing here on the top floor of the White Tower sometime between 1884 and 1913.

@ Royal Armouries
@ Royal Armouries

Contemporary newspaper reports suggest that it was this figure – or rather ffoulkes wooden model of it lent by Viscount Dillon – that helped the Women’s Emergency Corps toy making department’s push to produce British toys for the home market as Christmas 1914 approached. A wooden “Henry VIII in silvery armour tilting with a scarlet lance” based on ffoulkes’ model was intended to be the first of a series of soldiers “Ancient and Modern” according to the Sheffield Telegraph of 29th October 1914. Ffoulkes remained uncharacteristically quiet about his involvement in this particular enterprise. ( Many thanks to Naomi Paxton for bringing this snippet to my attention).

Meanwhile ffoulkes’ rationalisation of the Armouries collection by disposing of those parts he did not consider core gathered momentum. The loan of Oriental arms and armour, Prehistoric and Greek and Roman material to the British Museum proposed before the War moved closer with news of their Trustees’ agreement. By the end of October a new firearms case had arrived and existing cases were being French polished and their locks altered ready for the redisplays to follow the transfer.

Blogger: Bridget Clifford, Keeper of Tower Armouries