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 Store-house.
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.
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(?three)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: 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…’.