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Valentine’s view of Tower Banqueting Hall

Date Sent:  28 AUG 09

Sender: Simeon?

Recipient: Mrs J Palmer Fir Cottage, Braisworth[sic], Nr Eye, Suffolk

Transcript: London, The Tower of London

Dear Friends

Am sending a p.card with one of the building often open to the public don’t you think it looks rather an interesting place, have been through it myself more than once, thought you would one for the album, well how are you both, well I hope, am A1 myself, but rather lonely without a Girl

Well space short so must close

Love to both I remain yours Simeon?

A hand written postcard with a green stamp

The ‘interesting place’ captured through Valentine’s lens is a splendid illustration of late Victorian White Tower displays.  Originally the Banqueting Hall’s ceiling soared to the underside of the White Tower roof itself – but the Tudors needed extra storage so inserted a new upper floor complete with supporting pillars in 1490.

Some four hundred years later it was all change again. The Volunteer Armouries’ towering stands of muskets on the upper floors of the White Tower were replaced by the armours and arms formerly exhibited in the New Horse Armoury. Some of the more “delicate” pieces were accommodated in glass cases – on this postcard a scale model of the White Tower created by the Royal Engineers.  However, the majority were on open display, prey to vagaries of climate, damp visitors and inquisitive fingers. Electric lighting, courtesy of the Royal Engineers, illuminated the White Tower interiors from 1884 but on this floor only enough to ensure efficient policing of nooks and crannies and was supplemented by lightwells cut through from the floor above. The resultant ambiance is probably best described as “atmospheric” or plain gloomy.

inside the white tower

Decorative trophies of redundant weapons cover the ceilings. Even the square wooden pillars sport an outer jacket of staff weapons – mainly late 17th and 18th century sergeants’ spontoons – with capitals of captured Napoleonic cuirassier breast and backplates and 19th century Pioneer swords. The strange stands accompanying each pillar are also refugees from the Horse Armoury, their lower borders incorporating sword guards or pistols, with musket ramrods forming their central column.  Older breast and backplates range up the insides of the arches – directly attached to the stone in a way no longer tolerated.

By 1909 the immersive old curiosity shop approach was nearing the end of its working life about to be replaced by more modern, labelled museum displays. Postcard JV 13363 featured in Valentine’s undated “Photographic View Album of the Tower of London”. The Tower Armouries Curator, Charles ffoulkes presented a copy to HMS Tower in April 1917 but couldn’t resist annotating the Banqueting Hall images as “Taken about 1890”.  ffoulkes hated these displays consigning the trophies to scrap during his White Tower re-vamp completed in April 1916. The photography of his new museum galleries was on hold as major war raged throughout Europe. Sadly, it was never undertaken – the original J Valentine was long dead, and the postcard market moved on.



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