Royal Armouries

J. R. Planché’s Scientific Arrangement of the Horse Armoury, about 1855-69


monochrome photo of a long hall lined with armour displays

The New Horse Armoury. About 1870 © Private collection 2013

  • monochrome photo of a long hall lined with armour displays

    The New Horse Armoury. About 1870 © Private collection 2013

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of a line of mounted armoured figures

    ‘Interior of the Horse Armoury’, anon engraving, The Penny Magazine, 1836 © Royal Armouries 2013

J. R. Planché’s Scientific Arrangement of the Horse Armoury, about 1855-69


By the 1850s there was a feeling in certain scholarly circles that the historic displays at the Tower were once again beginning to look outdated. There had apparently been no concerted effort to rejuvenate the collections in light of the recent advances in the understanding of ancient arms and armour. Sensing an opportunity James Robertson Planché started to lobby for the commission. Planché had been a close friend and admirer of Meyrick. In his Recollections and Reflections Planché had remarked of Meyrick, ‘He had many great and sterling qualities: the most estimable was his love of truth in all things…’.

Nevertheless, despite his high regard for his mentor Planché still felt that the displays were dated and had been increasingly damaged by careless cleaners and uninformed storekeepers. In 1855 he took the opportunity to write to Lord Panmure, Secretary of State for War; and again, in 1859, to the new Secretary of State, Lord Herbert. However, Planché’s manœuvrings fell on deaf ears until, in the wake of the successful South Kensington Museum exhibition of 1868 where the collection of Sir Samuel Meyrick had been exhibited, Planché was approached to undertake the rearrangement of the Tower’s collections.

The appointment of Planché to undertake the commission rather than relying on the expertise and experience of the Storekeeper’s staff, now part of the War Office following administrative reorganizations of the mid 1850s, is an interesting reflection of the apparent bias against using internal expertise such as that of John Hewitt. It is perhaps also a reflection of Planché’s powers of persuasion, his social connections, and the greater standing that he enjoyed in learned circles. Despite the increasing reputation and recognition of John Hewitt, for example, the decision was made to employ Planché. In fact a certain antipathy might already have existed between Planché, Hewitt and the Storekeeper’s department. At a meeting of the British Archaeological Association in 1850 Planché had been happy to criticize the Storekeeper’s department’s lack of foresight in securing pieces from the auctioneer, Samuel Pratt, and others. Hewitt had presumably been one of those who had rejected a piece on ‘the suspicion of its genuineness’. Moreover, Planché had also spoken out against those who had criticized Meyrick for focusing on ‘a few errors in the translation of medieval Latin and Anglo-Norman French’ in order to undermine his very significant achievements.

In his final report submitted in the wake of the 1869 rearrangement Planché emphasized that he had ‘massed and classified the various arms, offensive and defensive, and displayed all the principle & rarest examples in regular Chronological order…’. This had been done, though, only in so far as the nature of the building had permitted him to. He had been unable, for example, to shift the horses because they were embedded in concrete. While Planché is currently remembered for the work he did in rearranging the displays the importance of his other recommendations should not be ignored, not least his advocacy of the appointment of a qualified curator appointed who was independent of the Storekeeper’s department, something he had been urging since 1855.

Related Objects

Samuel Meyrick and the Rearrangement of the Horse Armoury, about 1824-1827 Click on the title link above to find out more.

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