charles ffoulkes

Charles John ffoulkes

Charles ffoulkes attended Dragons School and Radley School in Shrewsbury. He attended St John’s College at Oxford, but left without a degree and went on to study art. However, he soon found painting unsatisfying and his interests turned towards the Arts and Crafts movement, specifically metalworking. Some say his interest in the Arts and Crafts movement was a result of an acquaintance with William Morris.

In 1906 for a short period of time he set himself up in a studio in Rome and returned to painting, but that was short-lived and in 1907 he found himself back at Oxford and returned to his metalworking interest. His studied metallic artefacts in the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Ashmolean Museum, which focused his attention on arms and armour.

ffoulkes was interested in theatre at an early age. Like many 19th century students of arms and armour he had an interest in theatrical armour and the accurate depiction of armour and period costume on stage. He took part in historical pageants which demonstrated to him the practical advantages and disadvantages of armour. ffoulkes became obsessed and read everything he could find on armour and the craft of the armourer.

He was invited to lecture for the Oxford History Board on armour and military subjects. As a result he studied the fabrication of armour, a subject which no writer had previously considered, which eventually led to a thesis for a degree. His studies of armour brought him in contact with Lord Dillon, the then Curator of the Tower Armouries, who was considered to be the most eminent scholar of arms and armour.

His first publications on arms and armour appeared in 1909, in the form of a general survey published by Oxford University Press, and three articles in the journals The Connoisseur and The Burlington Magazine. These were followed in 1911 and 1912 with an edition of a 17th century treatise on the art of war and a catalogue of the arms and armour in the museums of Oxford, primarily the Ashmolean and the Pitt Rivers collections. In 1912 his major study of the armourer and his craft was published, The armourer and his craft from the XIth to the XVIth century.

ffoulkes learned of his possible appointment as Curator of the Armouries on a morning in November 1912. Lord Dillon and ffoulkes were walking in the woods at Dillon’s home in Ditchley, Oxfordshire and Dillon stopped and asked abruptly if ffoulkes would take over the Tower. Dillon had sent in a notice of retirement and had suggested ffoulkes as his successor. ffoulkes insisted that he did not have the qualifications for such a post and Dillon replied “I am not a fool. I know what I am talking about. I want you to keep the flag flying – don’t let me down.’ ffoulkes was appointed as Curator of the Armouries on the 1st January 1913.

During World War I ffoulkes took part in the civil defence of London. These experiences led him to consider air-raid precautions at the Armouries. He arranged for the large armour of Henry VIII, the armour of Charles I, the armour of Prince Henry and the armour of Charles II to be stored in the basement where they remained until December 1918.

In 1916 ffoulkes completed the first and last complete modern printed catalogue of the Tower collection – The inventory and survey of the Armouries of the Tower of London. The catalogue included a complete list and description of the contents of the collection, as well as a history of the collection and its place in the Tower, with a series of extracts from travel diaries describing the displays from the 16th century onwards. In 1917, ffoulkes received government approval for a plan to collect historical material relating to the current war, and he was appointed First Curator and Secretary of what was to become the Imperial War Museum. Unfortunately, there was no display space available in the Tower to display and there were no plans to extend the coverage of the Armouries to include modern warfare. ffoulkes remained in charge of the Imperial War Museum until 1933, when he retired. During this time he oversaw its original display in the Crystal Palace, then later its moves to galleries attached to the Science Museum, and finally to its permanent home in Lambeth.

He retired from his post at the Tower in 1938. His achievements as curator were many:

After his retirement ffoulkes continued to publish, primarily in the Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, and concentrated on military weapons. His last work was a full-length book: an historical survey of the weapons of the British Army. The work discussed each weapon in detail as well as its manufacture.

He was awarded an OBE in 1925 and a CBE in 1934 in recognition of his work on the Imperial War Museum.

Charles John ffoulkes died in April of 1947, at the age of 78.