Royal Armouries

1869 - 1883

J R Planché – Education and Entertainment

James Robinson Planché was a playwright, historian and Herald at the College of Arms. In addition, he was an expert on arms and armour, leading him to suggest the appointment of a curator of the Armouries, without success. After arranging an armour exhibition at the South Kensington (now Victoria and Albert) Museum, Planché himself was invited by the War Office to re-arrange the New Horse Armoury and other displays in 1869. He accepted, aiming to enable ‘…the general visitor to form, even at a rapid and passing glance, some idea of the progress of art and gradual change of fashion, from the 12th to the 18th century’. Planché improved the spectacle of the Line of equestrian figures, while grouping the arms and armour chronologically. He also removed the large banners above the riders installed by Dr Meyrick in 1826-7, adding informative labels so visitors would not have to rely on the descriptions given by the Yeoman Warder guides.

Engravings in books and magazines remained an important medium for illustrating the displays, but from the late 1860s photographers were successfully taking pictures inside the New Horse Armoury. These photographs provide a more accurate record than many of the engravings, and comparing pictures taken at different dates shows that further small changes continued on a regular basis. Many stereo-photographs were sold to be viewed in 3-D through stereoscopes, as souvenirs to be collected in albums and as magic lantern slides for projecting. As this spread awareness of the displays, so at last admission to the armouries came within reach of the working classes. After much debate, the six pence per person entry charge was removed in 1875 on certain ‘free days’. This allowed admission to the Horse Armoury to those who were willing to queue on a Monday or Saturday, however poor they were. It proved extremely popular and greatly increased the number of visitors who saw the displays.

A New Home

Despite its great public appeal, the New Horse Armoury was causing the War Office, several problems. The building’s roof leaked badly, despite attempts to repair it in 1869, letting water pour onto the exhibits. Even more serious, the building had not been well constructed in 1826 and was suffering subsidence. These faults, combined with the a wish by some to free the White Tower of the this and other buildings added to it, led to another move for the ’Line’.

In 1882-3 the wooden horses and their armoured riders were moved to a new location, for the first time inside the White Tower itself. They were installed on the top floor of the building in a large room then called the Council Chamber. This room’s shape and size were not suitable for arranging the figures in a long line, as before. However, the exhibits were still a great attraction for visitors and the chamber became known as the Horse Armoury.

Once it was empty, plans to demolish the New Horse Armoury were made. This would reveal the south side of the Norman White Tower, enhancing the feel of the whole site as a medieval castle.

The Horse Armoury through time

Since its creation the Horse Armoury has occupied several locations within the Tower of London complex, explore the map to discover more.

Explore the Horse Armoury through time in a larger map