Interactive timeline - History of the RA

  1. Before the Romans: the site of the Tower of London in AD 40, by Ivan Lapper. 1999.

    40 AD

    Before the Romans

    The pre-Roman site of the Tower of London was probably occupied by an Iron Age farm.

  2. The Twilight of the Roman City: the site of the Tower of London in AD 400, by Ivan Lapper. 1999.

    400 AD

    Twilight of the Roman City

    Londinium was remodelled and strengthened in response to the threat of Saxon invasion.

  3. The Conquerer's Castle: the site of the Tower of London in AD 1080, by Ivan Lapper. 1999.

    1080 AD

    The Conqueror's Castle

    Work began on the construction of William the Conqueror's mighty White Tower.

  4. The Castle Enlarged: the site of the Tower of London in AD 1200, by Ivan Lapper. 1999.

    1200 AD

    The Tower Enlarged

    A major expansion of the Tower's defences during the reigns of Richard I and King John.

  5. The Classic Castle: the site of the Tower of London in AD 1240, by Ivan Lapper. 1999.

    1240 AD

    The Classic Castle

    Henry III extended the defences of the Tower and refurbished and enlarged the royal lodgings.

  6. The Apogee of the Medieval Castle: the site of the Tower of London in AD 1300, by Ivan Lapper. 1999.

    1300 AD

    Apogee of the Medieval Castle

    Tower defences extended, to those seen today, by England's greatest warrior king, Edward I.

  7. The Tudor Powerhouse: the site of the Tower of London in AD 1547, by Ivan Lapper. 1999.

    1547 AD

    The Tudor Power House

    During Henry VIII's reign the Offices of Ordnance, Armoury, Mint and Records occupy the Tower.

  8. Showpiece of the Nation: the site of the Tower of London in AD 1700, by Ivan Lapper. 1999.

    1700 AD

    Showplace of the Nation

    After the Restoration in 1660 armouries displays are established to impress the visiting public.

  9. The Great Conflagration: the site of the Tower of London in AD 1841, by Ivan Lapper. 1999.

    1841 AD

    The Great Conflagration

    The Grand Storehouse including two armouries displays is destroyed by fire on 31 Oct 1841.

  10. The Remedievalisation of the Castle: the site of the Tower of London in AD 1890, by Ivan Lapper. 1999.

    1890 AD

    Remedievalisation of the Castle

    50 years of restoration transformed the appearance of the Tower following the fire of 1841.

  11. The Castle at War: the site of the Tower of London in AD 1940, by Ivan Lapper. 1999.

    1940 AD

    The Castle at War

    WWII aerial bombing threatens the Tower. The Main Guard is destroyed on the 29 Dec 1940.

  12. The Tower Today: The site of the Tower of London in AD 1999, by Ivan Lapper. 1999.

    2000 AD

    The Tower Today

    The Tower of London attracts over 2 million visitors per year as a World Heritage Site.

Museum History

The Royal Armouries the United Kingdom’s National Museum of Arms and Armour. It is Britain’s oldest museum, and one of the oldest museums in the world. It is also one of the largest collections of arms and armour in the world, comprising of the UK’s National Collection of Arms and Armour, National Artillery Collection, and National Firearms Collection. It is also the keeper of the Tower of London history.

It began life as the main royal and national arsenal housed in the Tower of London. Indeed the Royal Armouries has occupied buildings within the Tower for making and storing arms, armour and military equipment for as long as the Tower itself has been in existence.

Early in the 19th century the nature and purpose of the museum began to change radically. Displays were gradually altered from exhibitions of curiosities to historically ‘accurate’ and logically organised displays designed to improve the visitor by illuminating the past.
Read more about the history of the Royal Armouries at the Tower of London.

As the museum’s collections continued to expand the Tower became too small to house it all properly. In 1988 the Royal Armouries took a lease on Fort Nelson, a large 19th-century artillery fort near Portsmouth.

Fort Nelson was built in the 1860s, as part of a chain of fortifications protecting the great naval harbour of Portsmouth in Hampshire and its Royal Dockyard from a feared French invasion.

Covering nearly 19 acres and now fully restored, Fort Nelson sits majestically on top of Portsdown Hill, with amazing views of the Solent and the Meon Valley.

The Fort stands today as a monument to the skills and ingenuity of Victorian engineering and architecture.

Royal Armouries, Fort Nelson opened in 1995 as home to the national collection of artillery, with over 350 big guns and historic cannon on display.
Read more about the history of the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson.

In 1990, after two years of preliminary research and deliberation, the decision was taken to establish a new museum in the north of England in which to house the bulk of the collection of world-wide arms and armour.

This allowed the Royal Armouries in the Tower to concentrate upon the display and interpretation of those parts of the collection which directly relate to the Tower of London. The concept of the Royal Armouries in Leeds had been born.

The Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, West Yorkshire has been built for the 21st century using the best of traditional museum design and it has been developed quite consciously to show its collections in relation to the real world in which we live.
Read more about the history of the Royal Armouries Leeds.

In 2004 the Royal Armouries opened its newest museum thanks to a unique collaboration with the Frazier International History Museum.

The Frazier Museum is the first cultural arts institution in the world dedicated to telling the complete American story, including its British and European roots. It is also the first time a UK National Museum has opened a ‘branch’ in the USA.
Read more about the history of the Royal Armouries Louisville, Kentucky.

Did you know?

So good they named it twice

Chain mail should be correctly called MAIL. The word MAIL is derived from the Old French word MAILLE, meaning CHAIN. So chain mail translates as CHAIN CHAIN!