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 – that was 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 power, in which 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.
‘Engraving showing the model of a rack in the Tower of London’ (1885), © Royal Armouries
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.
Moreover, the Ordnance began to release funds allowing objects to be bought for the first time to expand the collection in specific and 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.