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In this series, Bridget Clifford, Keeper of the Tower Armouries explores the changing face of the Tower of London as depicted overtime on picture postcards.  She also provides a fascinating commentary on the scribbles, marks and various messages written on the backs.  

Picture Postcards could be compared to social media messaging today. Throughout the later 19th and 20th centuries, they were easily available, cheap and delivered all over the country multiple times per day Not only do postcards give us an insight into how people lived, travelled and worked, but also when compared and analysed, they can provide an insightful records into our buildings and cities. 

The Tower of London was first photographed in 1852. The view captured in Mr Hilditch’s snap from Tower Hill looking East is still photographed by passers by thousands of times each day.  

Postcards of the Tower were produced all over the country and sold from countless outlets throughout London, including the combined Ticket Office and Refreshment Room opposite the West Gate in the Tower and a postcard stall near the Byward gate. However, Tower views were widely available elsewhere, as evidenced by postmarks far removed from London reflecting the widespread use of postcards beyond a reminder of a grand day out at the Tower.  

Postcards gallery

Date sent: 27.02.1900        

Sender: N/A 

RecipientMAndré Strohl, 27 bis Allées de Chartres, Bourdeaux, France 

Transcription: Ces effets de couleur n’existent pas, car il y a toujours du brouillard. 

However dire the weather when they visited, this anonymous French tourist certainly chose a charming picture postcard to voice their complaint. Tower Bridge rises majestically above the Thames amidst a selection of working river boats – steam tug, traditional rowed barge and fully rigged sailing ships in the distance.  However, the artist has not included sufficient detail to pinpoint exactly which side of the bridge is shown, having turned impressionist for the surrounding area. Or is the fog indeed blanketing the City, and the correspondent merely recording what they saw?

A painting of tower bridge and rowboat

Part of the charm of the card is its size. These smaller cards, known as court or correspondence cards were popular before the picture postcard craze erupted.  Hotels and clubs held stocks of them with accompanying envelopes for their guests’ convenience.  Initially, they did not qualify for the halfpenny Postcard Rate introduced in 1894, but following public complaints, a solution was arrived at. Like its larger picture postcard cousin, the address and stamp occupy one side, the message and picture the other. It wasn’t until 1902 that message and address moved in together. Despite its size, it manages to accommodate the cancellation stamp indicating it is going outside London, London postmark and Bordeaux arrival stamp.Postcard with a message in french and postage stamps

While the disgruntled sender preserves their anonymity, it is tempting to wonder if Mr André Strohl might have any connection to the French physiologist born in Poitiers in March 1887? As a 12-year-old had he moved to Bourdeaux and succumbed to the postcard album rage?

Postcards gallery

Date sent: 9 FEB 1908   

Sender: N/A 

Recipient: Miss Mallon, 74 Jeffreys Road, Clapham, London. 

Transcription: F is still improving but still weak.  Expecting Dr tomorrow will give you his report of her in my next Kindent 

Love from F and Loo and myself mats. 

In 1908 private telephones were still the preserve of the wealthy, but the halfpenny rate for postcards coupled with the multiple deliveries per day made them the ideal way to keep in touch for ordinary folk. F’s medical update could be easily circulated, and family fears put to rest.  As is so often the case in these postcards it’s unlikely that we’ll ever know the final outcome – and “F” will forever remain in a convalescent limbo.  ‘Kindent’ is presumably a family term for this communication – unless anyone else can shed light on it? Meanwhile, will Miss Mallon’s Monday be brightened by the news – or is that a light pen stroke above the second ‘l’, and it’s good news for  Miss Malton?

A drawing of the White Tower

Cassell’s were a well-established London book publishing firm by this time, and this view of the newly denuded south front of the White Tower probably originated as one of a “special series of 13 reproductions in colour of drawings of the Tower of London by Mr H E Tidmarsh” featured in the June 1904 edition of Cassell’s Magazine. Its appearance as a Cassell’s Fine Art Belle Sauvage picture postcard is more subdued than the original or its magazine print, and it has been cleverly cropped to remove the artist’s signature. Its title “The White Tower” is weedily printed, lost among the newly planted trees bordering the southern walkway. The recipient could tell that it was indeed fine art as the belle sauvage in question, neatly folded into the logo, is artfully underdressed.  Not sufficiently to cause offence, but enough to make the point. Meanwhile, the stately bust of Edward VII looks on from the stamp, unperturbed.

A postcard with a massage and postage stamps on it

Postcards gallery

Definitely not the seasonal view we’ve come to expect.  Postcards as the social media of their day were just the job for last minute posts. Perhaps Ade could have been a bit more generous and sent wishes, but perhaps hoped a single one would speed the journey?

A view of the White Tower from across the river

The view of the Tower from the Thames showing the Wharf cannon, the south face of the White Tower and looking east towards Tower Hill has remained popular through the decades. [ Were it not for the people leaning on the barrier watching the river pass by, one could be forgiven for thinking it a night-time shot, rather than a very dark printing.]* The White Tower sitting centre stage appears unchanging, but sharp-eyed viewers will note the clock resident in its NE tower from 1854 -1913.  To the east stands the gabled Main Guard, while beyond the trees the Mazawattee Tea House roof looms over Tower Hill – both buildings fell victim to 2 World War bombing raids. Today’s Wharf shelters behind a higher embankment as the river level rises, while the artful cluster of boats in the foreground are no longer as much a feature of modern river life.

A postcard with address and date on the back

Postcards gallery

The Tower of London is more famous for its ravens with terrible events predicted should they leave. However, our feline friend, the cat also has many interesting connections to the Tower; one that is sometimes curious, sometimes cute, and occasionally morbid.

Cats have almost certainly been at the Tower since its early days as they had an essential role in the Middle Ages keeping rats and other vermin in check. They were also culturally crucial in Medieval stories and myths. Traditionally a cat played a pivotal role in Dick Whittington’s London political career in the 1390s and early 1400s (still celebrated in pantomime today). At the same time, amateur meteorologists used cats’ behaviour to forecast weather.


One particularly loyal moggie belonged to Lord Henry Wriotheseley, 3rd Earl of Southampton. Wriotheseley and the Earl of Essex had rebelled unsuccessfully against Queen Elizabeth I when they attempted to force her to name James VI of Scotland as her heir. As a result, Elizabeth imprisoned Wriotheseley in the Tower of London and executed the Earl of Essex. Even though it appears that Wriotheseley got off lightly, he did not enjoy his stay. Suffering from “a dangerous disease” that made his legs and lower body swell. According to legend, he had an unexpected guest in the form of his favourite cat Trixie.

“A very remarkable accident befell Henry Wriothesley, earl of Southampton, the friend and companion of the earl of Essex, in his fatal insurrection: After he had been confined there a small time, he was surprised by a visit from his favourite cat, which had found its way to the Tower; and, as tradition says, reached its master by descending the chimney of his apartment.” — Thomas Pennant writes in Some Account of London (1793).

The portrait below shows Wriotheseley with a cat thought to be his faithful Trixie. The painting is a copy of one Wriothesley commissioned and sent as a gift to James I after the death of the Queen. It is full of symbolism to persuade the new King of England that he had always been his loyal supporter and to free him from prison.

Wriotheseley’s beautiful Three Quarters field armour is on display in our War Gallery at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds.

Lord Henry Wriotheseley a long haired thin faced man dressed in Elizabethan noble clothes sits in a room. There are a cat and a book to his elbow, and a single pain of glass is broken in the window.

The painting is full of symbolism; The arm sling shows Wriotheseley’s wounded state, the book bears his family crest, and the broken pane of glass represents the violence that was committed to his companion. Credit: CC-BY-NC-ND Image Courtesy of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

A tale of two kitties

One story you might not expect is of a pair of hidden mummified ‘moggies’ found in the Tower’s walls. These were considered protective and intended to turn away evil and witchcraft.

The smaller of the pair — officially designated xviii.587 — is probably the older and still seems to be spitting defiance, but that’s perhaps because of the drying out process rather than a live burial. Although, some authorities recommended the latter for added protection. Yikes!

It was uncovered during restoration work near the foundations of the White Tower around the 1850s and given to the collection in April 1930. Unfortunately, precise details of its find-spot or any associated material have not survived. Beauchamp Tower displayed the cat after its acquisition.

A mummified cat. It is blackened and withered and appears to have an angry expression on its face.

Possibly 17th century, if not earlier. Unearthed around 1850.

Its companion (xviii.897) seems altogether more laid back, emerging in 1950 during alterations to Tower Green buildings. It is its first public outing since.

A white coated mummified cat lays in a glass display box.

Presented by the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, September 2009. Found during alterations to buildings on Tower Green in 1950.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the verb ‘mewed’ as meaning to shut away or conceal first used in 1450. It is tempting to see a link associated with this use of mummified cats.

Blitz Kitties

Fortunately, times changed at the Tower and during the Second World War the state paid to retain a live cat on the Tower Armouries staff to defend the White Tower against rodents – a true 20th-century “Mouseketeer”. Working cats like this were common for centuries, and some museums still have their cats to this day.

More Tower cats

The Tower Menagerie also housed several lions since as early as the 1200s. In the 1800s you could visit them for a fee, or donate a live animal to feed to them!

A drawing of two adult lions, a female and male, and three lion cubs. Titled The Lion Cubs.

Titled “The Lion Cubs in the Royal Menagerie, Tower of London”, dated 1st May, 1830.

A long-standing April Fool’s Day tradition was the annual ceremony of “Washing of the Lions” at the Tower of London. There are several records of large crowds gathering to watch this “annual event”. It is the world’s earliest recorded April Fool’s Day prank.

admit the bearer and friends to view the annual ceremony of washing the lions

A spoof ticket for admission to the bearer and friends to view the washing of the lions on Monday, April 1st, 1856. The year has been overwritten to read “1856” and was previously printed as “1855”. April 1st 1855 or 1856 was not on a Monday!

So you can see that the Tower of London has had its fair share of ‘moggies’ over the years; as protectors from vermin and the supernatural, and as honoured guests. It was not just people who defended this ancient bastion, but also our feline friends.

To mark the centenary of the end of the First World War, Bridget Clifford, Keeper of Tower Armouries, uncovers an extraordinary object, found in the tower stores. This oak board was commissioned to commemorate the Armouries’ staff’s contribution to the war effort, and is currently on display at the White Tower as part of a four year commemorative exhibition.

On 11 July 1917, the Tower Armouries’ Curator Charles ffoulkes wrote to Mr Carpenter, the Tower carpenter, requesting:

“a rough sketch for the Board of frame of oak for the Armouries. I enclose details which should be painted in letters about half an inch caps, and a quarter of an inch small letters. Space should be left for four or five names at the bottom”.

He attached a list of seven names, C ffoulkes, W H Buckingham, T H Williams, D Nash, G Shaw, G Taylor and WA Harwood. Later, changes were made to the board’s original brief. Three extra names were added (T Garnett, J W Griffin and W Heath), as well as ffoulkes’ promotion to Major, Royal Marines, August 1918.

Oak board, showing the names of members of the Armouries staff serving in the war

Tower Armouries Staff War Service Board (xviii.682)

A celebration of contribution

64 years later, in 1981, I came across the Board in store but paid it scant attention. Great War memorials were an established part of the landscape and the celebration of Armistice Day declining. The First World War poets were an integral part of adolescence and 1914 marked the end of history according to my A level syllabus. Most families still had elderly relatives who had taken part in the conflict.

As the centenary of the outbreak of war loomed times had changed. The last surviving combatant died in 2012. Nationwide plans were in hand to commemorate the event. In the White Tower, a rolling 4-year exhibit was underway. The board was the obvious choice for 2018 and I sought it out again to properly assess it.

My assumption that this was a memorial board proved wrong – it celebrates the Armouries’ staff’s contribution to the war effort and its creation was very much in line with ffoulkes concern that insufficient work was being done to preserve a record of this great conflict. So who were these men?

Charles ffoulkes

black and white archive image of a man sat behind his desk, surrounded by arms and armour

ffoulkes in his office in the Flamsteed Turret, 1916

Charles ffoulkes volunteered for London’s Air Defence, becoming a Lieutenant Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as a the service came under the Admiralty’s wing. His active involvement secured a unique trophy of a spent German incendiary device and shell cases from the guns returning fire during the first Zeppelin raid on the City of London, 8 September 1915.

A spent German incendiary device and shell case in a display case

A unique trophy (xviii.474 A-C)

In March 1917 ffoulkes accepted the job of Curator and Secretary of the National War Museum (today’s Imperial War Museum). Fortunately the Tower Armouries post was “a rather unusual appointment with a nominal salary, no age limit and no fixed hours of duty”, allowing him to continue in the role on Saturday afternoons and any other spare time.

W.H. Buckingham

Black and white portrait photograph of a man holding a helmet

W.H. Buckingham at the Armouries

Buckingham is one of the two fatalities recorded in the conflict, indicated by a small cross. He is also one of the few Armouries staff of this era we can put a face to. A West Ham lad, Buckingham completed his carpenter’s apprenticeship and joined the Tower in the late 1880s  . Promoted to Armouries’ foreman in the mid -1890s, he also served as a Volunteer Artilleryman spending 1900 on active service in South Africa. He was 44 when he and Williams joined their Regiments in September 1914. Battery Sergeant Major Buckingham, R.F.A served King and Country drilling recruits in Peterborough. Sent home on 3 weeks sick leave he died 15 March 1915 of phthisis (tuberculosis). His funeral in Ilford five days later attracted an enormous crowd and the cortege including ffoulkes was so large it delayed his burial by an hour.

an old black and white photograph of men hoisting a wooden horse into the White Tower

A rare photograph of an Armouries work party in action. May 1913: Foreman Buckingham supervises Henry VIII’s new wooden horse hoisting into the White Tower.

D. Nash

Buckingham’s successor Foreman Nash joined the Armouries in 1892. Enlisting in October 1916 he became attached to the War Trophies section of GHQ France collecting “souvenir” material. He resumed his position as Armouries Foreman in March 1919 finally retiring as Armouries Supervisor 30 October 1942.

Men of mystery

The others named on the Board remain shadowy figures. Able Seaman W.A Harwood served on HMS Pembroke and died Sunday 14 January 1917. He is buried in Paddington Old Cemetery, Kilburn.

Shaw’s appointment is recorded on 3 August 1916, as is his joining the colours four days later. Taylor’s absence in noted on 19 December 1916, the same day A White was appointed to replace Harwood. The 1918 Minute book records Griffin’s January arrival, Thompson and Garnett’s in July; Garnett was dismissed October 1923 – his misdemeanour unspecified.

The board makes no mention of Acting Foreman Bishop, Nash’s substitute. Called up for service 18 December 1916, there is reference to extended service exemption a year later. The Minute Book notes he sounded the all clear at the Tower’s Armistice Parade at 11am on 11.11.1918 explaining he was a bugler (late 1st Hants Regiment). He moved aside on Nash’s return in 1919. It appears Bishop sustained an injury in 1922 which may explain his resignation in February 1925.

The ending of the “war to end all wars” was a defining point in world history and the lives of all those involved would be changed forever. Fighting on the Western Front officially ended at 11.00am on 11 November 1918 – securing peace took longer. ffoulkes organised a gun- crew to join Hyde Park’s gun-salutes celebrating the signing of the Treaty of Versailles (28 June 1919) and finally Lausanne(24 July 1923). He was also involved with a number of war commemorations including the Whitehall Cenotaph, Westminster Abbey’s Tomb of the Unknown Warrior and Tower Hill’s Mercantile Marine Memorial.

Though we may know little about the men on the board itself, we honour their sacrifice so we might live in freedom today.

The Board is currently displayed on the first floor of the White Tower as the centrepiece of “Armstice 11.11.18”

In this blog post, we uncover some of the interesting histories surrounding Bonfire Night with Bridget Clifford, Keeper of Tower History at the Tower of London.

Remember, remember the fifth of November

Remember, remember!
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

English Folk Verse (about 1870)


Tower of London from Tower Hill

The Tower viewed from Tower Hill in about 1850. This photograph is one of the oldest surviving of the site, taken by Mr G Hilditch. In the foreground redundant cannon have been re-cycled into bollards, one acting as the base of a streetlight.

The Times, Friday 7 November 1851

THAMES – A great number of persons, among whom were several women, were brought before Mr. INGHAM, charged with discharging fireworks in the public thoroughfares on Wednesday evening in celebration of the anniversary of the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot.The police did not interfere with the discharge of simple fireworks on the large open space on Tower-hill, but many persons commenced firing off pistols and small cannon mounted on very rude carriages and got up a mock bombardment of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace of the Tower of London, to the great amusement of the crowd. The fortress sustained no damage, and it was understood the only loss on the part of the besiegers was a boy’s finger blown off in firing a large horse pistol. The police soon interfered, captured the pistols and cannon with their owners, and lodged them in the station-house. There was a very large display of small arms and powder flasks, which were restored to their owners, who said they only used them on the Powder Plot day, and they were all fined 2s and 6d and 5s each, with the exception of the oldest of the party, who had to pay 10s.

The exuberant crowd that had gathered on Tower Hill on 5th November 1851 probably had little idea of the Tower’s close involvement in the original suppression of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 and its aftermath. They were simply obeying government orders laid down by the Thanksgiving Act of 1606 and participating in the annual celebration of the nation’s deliverance as instructed by the intended victims of the plot – King James I and his Parliament.

From the beginning, the authorities faced a dilemma as to how best celebrate a plot that failed? They had to remind people of its potentially catastrophic consequences while not encouraging similar thoughts – or even worse, actions. James Howell in his mid-17th century poem “To the Knowing Reader”, part of his larger work “Epistolae Ho – Elianea”, set the scene:

Witness that fiery Pile, which would have blown
Up to the Clouds, Prince, People, Peers and Town,
Tribunals, Church and Chapel; and had dry’d
The Thames, tho’ swelling into her highest Pride,
And parboil’d the poor Fish, which from her sands
Had been toss’d up to the adjoining Lands
Had not the eagle’s letter brought to light
That subterranean horrid work of night

gunpowder treason

Guy Fawkes in action – an earlier illustration pasted into Hepworth Dixon’s ‘The Tower of London vol II’ (1890) to enliven the text.

King James and his ministers’ original vision was of nationwide, annual church services, accompanied by celebratory bell-ringing, and supportive sermons exalting positive aspects of Protestant rule. By the 1640s popular celebrations included a nocturnal bonfire often with an effigy of the Pope or the devil on top of it. Guy Fawkes, the explosives expert employed by the plotters, seems to have inherited the hot seat at the end of the 18th century and bestowed his name on the day, whatever The Times newspaper might say half a century later. Fireworks may or may not have been involved – certainly over the centuries there were many complaints that squibs and other such devices posed a risk and attempts were made to ban them long before the idea of ‘Health & Safety’ entered popular consciousness.

William III, ever the opportunist, took advantage of the established custom when he inaugurated a 2-day celebration. The 4th of November happened to be his birthday and he landed in England on the 5th in 1688 starting the Glorious Revolution and overthrow of his Catholic father-in-law James II in the process. Not unsurprisingly, the 2-day celebration stopped after his death in March 1702, and the 5th reigned supreme as the predominant English state commemoration.

painted wooden head

William III’s wooden head from his mounted figure added to the Horse Armoury display in 1702 – apparently unamused by two-day birthday celebrations. (XVII.45)

By 1845 William Darton’s children’s series of London walks gathered in City Scenes dismissed Guy Fawkes day stating:

The people of England in general, of late years, have discouraged these processions and riots, and they have become so insignificant as to be noticed only by children.

Unfortunately, it had to be admitted: “…even in the present time some idle people will fire guns” – hardly our received picture of Victorian London.

Guy Fawkes’ imprisonment and torture in the Tower was well known. The return of the plotter’s powder, all 36 barrels, to government stores there, despite being officially described as “decayed”, perhaps less so. Meanwhile, the 1851 crowd was intent on exercising the right of free speech and action that Tower Hill traditionally afforded them. Considering the period, the authorities appear remarkably tolerant of their behaviour. Only 3 years earlier revolution had erupted throughout Europe ruffling the status quo and alarming the ruling elites. The shadow of the French Revolution (1789-1799) and its aftermath still lurked. Chartism had also peaked in 1848 – causing even the Tower itself to undertake defensive upgrades to counter the threat.

The ‘bombardment’ of 1851, reported in The Times, did not result in the storming of the Tower – although one has to question why cannon were to hand, however rude their carriages – or the overthrow of the Government. It did leave a number of Londoners poorer, if not wiser, and a victim of friendly fire. The affray also has relevance today when counteracting the threat of global terrorism raises questions about individual liberties.

The Thanksgiving Act was repealed on 25 March 1859.

Visit our collections online to learn more about the objects in our collection. 


In 2011, the decision was taken to re-display the ‘Line’ once again. In preparation for this, research was undertaken into both the key objects and the manuscript and printed accounts about them. For example, during 2012 the 17th century wooden horses and selected heads were examined using paint analysis. Some of the heads were submitted for tree ring analysis (dendrochronology) and the horses were examined internally using endoscopy and X-radiography. The War Office and Audit Office account at The National Archives were re-checked. The results showed that the carved horses and heads present interesting differences in materials, construction methods and paintwork. However, it has remained impossible so far to prove definite connections between particular horses or heads and individual carvers named in the 1680s accounts. In early 2013, new designs for the Line of Kings were approved and the 1998 exhibition finally closed after Easter ready for installation of the latest version of this long-running attraction.

Research and conservation

The latest Line of Kings display in 2013 is a blend of old and new. All the objects, from the wooden horses and royal heads to the arms and armour, have formed part of one or more of the previous Horse Armoury exhibitions stretching back to the 17th century. However, the latest representation of this famous attraction has been driven by many new factors, from recent research to conservation issues – just as its predecessors were concerned with propaganda and topicality initially, and later combining spectacle and scholarship.

Now, on a busy day, the display is often visited by more people than probably saw the Horse Armoury in a whole year in the 18th century. Not only does today’s exhibition need to cope with many visitors, but these visitors also navigate the gallery – unlike the guided tours of the past. Similarly, the objects and our attitudes to them have changed. Whereas the Line of Kings was conceived as a spectacular, open display with each wooden horse ‘ridden’ by a king in armour that, sadly, is no longer possible. Today, the Royal armours are exhibited inside showcases – and some of the horses can no longer support the weight of an armoured figure.

However, these differences were recognised as opportunities rather than problems – removing the responsibility of trying to recreate a display from the past and providing today’s curators and designers with the chance to produce something new. Unlike its immediate predecessor, today’s Line of Kings occupies the whole of the entrance floor of the White Tower and brings the carved heads and horses and the royal armours together – though mainly not as mounted figures.

From research into the history of former Horse Armoury displays, the Royal Armouries and Historic Royal Palaces project team decided that the new exhibition should introduce present-day visitors to the idea that they are following in the footsteps of millions of others who have seen the Line of Kings at the Tower – the longest running visitor attraction in the world. Fortunately, some early visitors left written accounts of what they did and saw, and a few examples place today’s visitor as part of this never-ending procession.

A row of armours and horses in the Tower of London

The Line of Kings as it appears today.

An important aspect of today’s exhibition is that the wooden horses and royal heads are given equal billing with the arms and armour on show. This was not the case in the past when the carvings were regarded merely as props, commissioned to show off the royal armours to the greatest effect. As visitors, today follow the route they can see the horses from a variety of angles, some bearing figures, some wearing horse armour and others bare.

Part of the story of the Line which today’s display introduces is the change in approach to the objects. While a few armours have been correctly attributed to their owners since the 17th century, most have not. Today’s exhibition shows how scholarly study in the 19th century began to reinterpret objects that formerly had been imaginatively billed as the armours of ‘William the Conqueror’, ‘John of Gaunt’ or a present from ‘the Great Mogul’.

Throughout the gallery information panels and labels feature drawings, prints and photographs of previous versions of the Line. We hope that today’s visitors will picture and comment on their favourites using digital media – leaving a record for those who re-display the Line in the future to reflect its changing yet timeless character.

Previous – Line of Kings 1869–2011


Despite its great public appeal, the New Horse Armoury was causing the War Office, several problems. The building’s roof leaked badly, despite attempts to repair it in 1869, letting water pour onto the exhibits. Even more serious, the building had not been well-constructed in 1826 and was suffering subsidence. These faults, combined with the wish by some to free the White Tower of the this and other buildings added to it, led to another move for the ‘Line’.

In 1882-3 the wooden horses and their armoured riders were moved to a new location, for the first time inside the White Tower itself. They were installed on the top floor of the building in a large room then called the Council Chamber. This room’s shape and size were not suitable for arranging the figures in a long line, as before. However, the exhibits were still a great attraction for visitors and the chamber became known as the Horse Armoury.

Once it was empty, plans to demolish the New Horse Armoury were made. This would reveal the south side of the Norman White Tower, enhancing the feel of the whole site as a medieval castle.

The demolition of the New Horse Armoury building, which had housed the ‘Line of Kings’ from 1827 to 1882, was completed in about 1885. The display of armoured figures seated on carved wooden horses continued to be one of the site’s top attractions and it was now enjoyed by visitors on the top floor of the White Tower. This floor had large light wells at this time, allowing daylight into the rooms below, so the Horse Armoury was laid out around these features, which had distinctive railings made out of real swords and pistols. Not long after the Horse Armoury was installed in the Council Chamber, electric lighting was introduced to improve visitors’ experience of the exhibition.

The popularity of the new display is reflected in the variety of picture postcards, which from about 1900 onwards provide many different views. The Yeoman Warders no longer led groups of visitors around the Horse Armoury but they had the right to sell postcards of the Tower which many visitors bought as souvenirs, keeping them in albums. Other cards were sent by post to show friends or family the sights that they were missing.

ffoulkes stands beside a seated Dillon, both dressed for attending the royal court

Viscount Dillion and Charles ffoulkes in February 1913.

As well as continuing to develop as a very popular visitor attraction, the Tower Armouries was gradually emerging as the national centre for the scholarly study of arms and armour. After decades of unsuccessful attempts, a curator with academic knowledge of the subject was at last appointed in 1895. Viscount Dillon was the author of many books and articles and he set about carefully researching the collection, which had previously been in the care of the War Office Storekeeper and his assistants. The task was challenging as ‘a huge mass of rubbish and spurious armour were allowed even then to remain amongst the historic and genuine specimens. It is only since Lord Dillon undertook the great task, on which he is still engaged, of re-arranging and re-cataloguing the arms and armour in the White Tower, that it can be properly studied and appreciated’. Dillon retired from the curator’s post in 1913 and was replaced by another armour scholar, Charles ffoulkes. By the start of the First World War in 1914, almost the entire White Tower was filled with Armouries displays.

The White Tower

Inscribed with “OURS” Today”. April. 10. 1916. C.ff. by the curator Charles ffoulkes to mark the opening of the entire White Tower to the public as the ‘Armouries at the Tower of London’.

Combining popular visitor appeal with academic research into the history of arms and armour, the displays were improved and better catalogues and guidebooks published. The royal armours and the carved horses remained important attractions, sometimes arranged like a procession, sometimes in a row along the walls. Some were even moved to different rooms, depending on whether they were exhibited chronologically or by type. Occasionally it was necessary to dispose of one or two of the 17th-century wooden horses which had become rotten, adding modern replacements instead.

In the 1970s and 1980s restoration work on selected 17th-century horses provided opportunities for research into their materials and construction. This showed that they differ greatly internally and are rare survivals of carvings by leading craftsmen of their day. At the same time, research by Dr Alan Borg at The National Archives identified orders and invoices from their commissioning, as well as tracing early visitor accounts and printed guides. After many decades when the ‘Line of Kings’ was divided, interest grew in recreating a Horse Armoury in the White Tower.

Research into the history of the ‘Line of Kings’ using archives, historic photographs and surviving objects had revealed the unusual and fascinating story of a display at the Tower that had been attracting paying visitors since the seventeenth century. Following the establishment during the 1990s of two new Royal Armouries Museums, one at Fort Nelson, Hampshire for the artillery collection and the other in a purpose-built headquarters at Leeds, it was possible for the Armouries displays at the Tower to focus on the history of that site in particular. The conditions were therefore right for a re-display of all the galleries of the White Tower, including one representing the Horse Armoury or ‘Line of Kings’, giving an impression of how it had once looked.

A room full of armour

The Line of Kings on display in 1966.

This posed several problems that Dr Geoffrey Parnell, Christopher Gravett and their colleagues grappled with. One difficulty was that not all the objects that had previously formed the display in the Horse Armoury could be identified in the collection. In addition, some of the most important pieces of the surviving arms and armour were now displayed at the new Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds. For these and other reasons, it was therefore decided that ‘There is neither the space nor enough surviving horses to reconstruct the entire Line. Moreover, its composition changed during the centuries of display…The Line today [1998], therefore seeks to give a modern interpretation of this unusual exhibition’.

In addition, this re-interpretation of the ‘Line’ also faced a challenge because research into the history of arms and armour over the previous 200 years had revealed that in many cases previous assertions that the kings were shown wearing their actual armour were wildly incorrect. This would have made it very confusing for visitors if Elizabethan armour had once again been used on the figures of medieval kings. In the end, the mounted figures in armour were represented by only one figure, wearing a plain early 17th century Greenwich armour of the type known to have been used in the Line. However, research into the objects had added greatly to the picture established by Dr Alan Borg in the 1970s. The display has been seen by millions, including Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles.

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The figure of George II, added as the seventeenth equestrian figure in the Line of Kings’ in 1768, was the last ever made for the display. The need for an exhibition illustrating the benefits of warrior kings had perhaps disappeared during the reign of George III. However, the Horse Armoury remained one of the great attractions for visitors to London. In 1786, Sophie von La Roche recorded in her diary seeing the royal figures on horseback, concluding ‘It is a fine sight, and looks very much more warlike than the modern uniform’.

At this time the study of the history of arms and armour was developing a better understanding of the changing techniques and styles over the centuries. The antiquarian Francis Grose published a pioneering study which illustrated many objects from the Tower Armouries. He also noted ‘many of the figures of our kings, shewn in the Tower of London, are the work of some of the best sculptors of the time in which they were set up’. However, the historical research served to highlight that the ‘Line’ was more fantasy and propaganda than fact.

The earliest known images of the Horse Armoury show the display at about this time. Although the architecture of the room in the New Storehouse is heavily distorted, they give an idea of the row of royal figures along the centre of the room, with groups of visitors led around behind the horses first and then shown the kings from George II to William the Conqueror.

Thomas Rowlandson’s views also show the mass displays of armour on the walls and ceiling, as well as a Yeoman Warder guiding a party of visitors. Rudolph Ackermann published an aquatint of the display by Rowlandson and Augustus Pugin in 1809 with William Combe’s description of the royal figures as ‘large as life and some of them appear in the suits which those sovereigns actually wore. This room presents a very striking spectacle’.

Coloured drawing of the Horse Amoury in 1809

Horse Armoury, Tower of London by Rowlandson and Pugin, 1809

By the 1820s opinions about the display were becoming increasingly divided. John Whitcomb Bayley wrote that the royal figures ‘are in fine armor, on horseback and have altogether a grand and most imposing effect’. Although Polish visitor Krystyn Lach-Szyrma was unimpressed, recording ‘there is little art in them and they look like horrible monsters, blank and in poor taste, not worth looking at unless by children or the rabble’.

However, the harshest critic was Britain’s leading authority on the history of armour, Dr Samuel Rush Meyrick, who complained about the displays at the Tower:

‘Notwithstanding the sneers of interested individuals, the Tower contains some very fine and unique specimens…I cannot help lamenting that, in this enlightened age, persons visiting curiosities intrinsically valuable, as these certainly are, should continue to be deceived by such false representations’.

Armour expert Dr Meyrick criticised the state of the displays at the Tower in his writings and volunteered to rearrange them. His offer was approved by the Board of Ordnance and the Constable of the Tower, the Duke of Wellington. In 1826, Meyrick began his project which involved moving the Horse Armoury away from the dark and dingy New Storehouse.
A purpose-built New Horse Armoury had been constructed adjoining the south side of the White Tower. Meyrick was not involved in this building’s design, which he and others disliked. It was one of Britain’s earliest purpose-built museum buildings, with a colonnade of pointed arches running down its centre, in front of which the ‘kings’ on their horses stood. Visitors were guided in front of and behind these to view various standing figures in armour and the many helmets, breastplates and weapons on the walls and ceiling.

Meyrick’s aim was ‘to make this collection historically useful’ and he thus offered to ‘arrange the horse armoury in the Tower chronologically’ for the first time and ‘founded on the basis of truth’. In addition to converting the display from propaganda to education, Meyrick also improved the appearance of the ‘Line’ so that ‘Instead of one position as heretofore for the whole, though there are two and twenty figures on horseback and ten on foot, there are no two attitudes alike, no very easy matter to effect’. To achieve his aim of factually accuracy Meyrick changed the display from the monarchs-only approach of 1690-1826, creating a line in which kings were alongside princes and noblemen, just as they had been before 1688. He also added a figure of James II for the very first time – substituting for his brother Charles II.

Stereoscopic image of two mounted armours on the North side of the Horse Armoury, about 1870.

The New Horse Armoury in the 1870s

The new building and its exhibition were opened in 1827 and soon were described and pictured in books and magazines, like The Penny Magazine which featured more detailed images than previously. A wide range of publications spread the word that this was an attraction not to be missed: ‘Few who have not actually seen the Horse Armoury can appreciate its strikingly picturesque character; that is certainly a pleasure which even the most hurried visitor cannot be deprived of’. The destruction by fire of the Grand Storehouse and its displays in 1841 raised the Horse Armouries’ profile.

Good publicity combined with a reduction in Armouries admission charges in the late 1830s, from two shillings to six pence per person, increased visitor numbers rapidly. Now the attraction was not solely the preserve of the well-connected and wealthy. In fact, the displays became almost too popular and there were complaints that the guides led their groups of visitors around so quickly that they could not see the armour properly.

The first official guidebook to the Tower and Armouries was written by John Hewitt in 1841, followed by the Official Catalogue of the Arms and Armour. New acquisitions were made to improve the collection but keeping the display not only looking fresh but also in line with scholarship proved a struggle. By 1866 Baron de Ros wrote ‘it is beginning to require a fresh inspection and arrangement, similar to that made by the late Dr Meyrick’.

James Robinson Planché was a playwright, historian, and Herald at the College of Arms. In addition, he was an expert on arms and armour, leading him to suggest the appointment of a curator of the Armouries, without success. After arranging an armour exhibition at the South Kensington (now Victoria and Albert) Museum, Planché himself was invited by the War Office to re-arrange the New Horse Armoury and other displays in 1869. He accepted, aiming to enable ‘the general visitor to form, even at a rapid and passing glance, some idea of the progress of art and gradual change of fashion, from the 12th to the 18th century’. Planché improved the spectacle of the Line of equestrian figures while grouping the arms and armour chronologically. He also removed the large banners above the riders installed by Dr Meyrick in 1826–7, adding informative labels so visitors would not have to rely on the descriptions given by the Yeoman Warder guides.

Engravings in books and magazines remained an important medium for illustrating the displays, but from the late 1860s photographers were successfully taking pictures inside the New Horse Armoury. These photographs provide a more accurate record than many of the engravings, and comparing pictures taken at different dates shows that further small changes continued on a regular basis. Many stereo-photographs were sold to be viewed in 3-D through stereoscopes, as souvenirs to be collected in albums and as magic lantern slides for projecting. As this spread awareness of the displays, so at last admission to the armouries came within reach of the working classes. After much debate, the sixpence per person entry charge was removed in 1875 on certain ‘free days’. This allowed admission to the Horse Armoury to those who were willing to queue on a Monday or Saturday, however poor they were. It proved extremely popular and greatly increased the number of visitors who saw the displays.

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