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.

17th - 19th century

Towards the end of the 17th century the Office of Ordnance added two new armouries’ displays to the visitor attractions at the Tower. These were housed in one of the largest and most prestigious buildings ever to be seen at the Tower – the Grand Storehouse built on the high ground immediately north of the White Tower.

The third, and most fantastic, display was installed on the first floor in 1696. Under the supervision of John Harris of Eaton, tens of thousands of small arms and a mass of elaborate wooden carvings were used to create such diverse installations as the Witch of Endor, the ‘Back Bones of a Whale’, a huge organ and a seven-headed monster.

In the great Artillery Hall stood the great guns of the artillery train. As time went by, however, the room increasingly took on the appearance of a museum of military might, as cannon and other trophies captured from battlefields around the world were brought here and displayed.

Also to be seen were items of curiosity and historic interest. Perhaps one of the most infamous was the Tower ‘Rack to extort Confession’. Last prepared for use in January 1673, the rack had presumably been decommissioned by June 1675 as it then appears in the first of several Ordnance inventories.

Throughout the 18th and into the early 19th century the Ordnance continued to adjust and embellish its four armouries at the Tower. In 1825 the decision was taken to re-locate the Line of Kings into a new building against the south side of the White Tower.

The Horse Armoury was architecturally significant as it represented the first purpose-built museum gallery at the Tower. With the move the notable antiquarian, Dr Samuel Meyerick, reorganised the exhibits along more scholarly and scientific lines.

In addition the Ordnance began to release funds allowing objects to be bought for the first time to expand the collection in specific, targeted, areas. Together with inaugural efforts at object conservation, the first, decisive steps had been taken to transform the Tower armouries into a modern museum.

Did you know?

A flash in the pan

This expression originates with the misfire of a flintlock or similar gun. The powder in the pan was supposed to ignite the main charge in the barrel. Sometimes only the powder in the pan flashed without firing the main charge.