Royal Armouries

‘Jacky Curious’ explores the Tower Armouries


Grand Storehouse

Engraving entitled 'The Royal Armoury in the Tower of London' showing visitors to the Grand Storehouse. British, dated 1822

  • Grand Storehouse

    Engraving entitled 'The Royal Armoury in the Tower of London' showing visitors to the Grand Storehouse. British, dated 1822

  • typed title page from a guidebook of the Tower of London

    An Historical Description of the Tower of London and its Curiosities, printed for Newberry and Carnan, London, 1768

  • monochrome pencil and ink sketch of a line of armoured figures on horseback

    The Horse Armoury, by an unknown artist, early 19th century

  • watercolour detail showing the figure of a king in armour on a horse

    Figure of William the Conqueror, detail from a watercolour of the Line of Kings. Early 19th century (I.69 )

‘Jacky Curious’ explores the Tower Armouries


In the 18th century the Tower became such a well-known visitor attraction that authors featured it in books of various kinds, including educational ones for children. John Newbery was a publisher and printer who played a pioneering role in the production of books for young people . From about 1750 his business, and its successors after his death in 1767, published a book entitled For Little Misses and Masters, which included various writing exercises. The unknown author took as a scenario for a letter-writing opportunity the visit of a boy to see the sights at the Tower of London.

‘Master Curious’ has to write to his mother, who is not in London, about what he has seen and his opinions of the various attractions. In several respects the letter that he composes reflects the pre-eminence of the Tower amongst Georgian London’s visitor attractions. For a younger audience it covers similar territory – although in considerably more detail – to part of one of the letters in Samuel Richardson’s Letters written to and for particular Friends, on the most important Occasions. Directing not only the requisite Style and Forms to be observed in writing Familiar Letters; but how to think and act justly and prudently, in the common Concerns of Human Life, which had been written about a decade earlier. Several shared elements suggest that the writer of For Little Misses and Masters was familiar with Richardson’s volume and adapted the young woman’s letter in order to suit the writing style of a small boy.

Newbery’s book is a reminder that the Tower, in the 18th century as much as today, was an attraction with a very broad appeal which included children. ‘Jacky’s’ letter includes the suggestion, which was repeated in print since Ned Ward wrote The London Spy in 1698-9, that for country visitors new to London, the Tower was a ‘must-see’ visitor attraction:

A LETTER FROM MASTER JACKY CURIOUS IN LONDON TO HIS MAMMA IN THE COUNTRY; giving a Description of the Tower, Monument and St Paul’s Church.
Honoured Madam,
I am just now come from seeing the Tower, Monument and St Paul’s Cathedral (Places which I remember to have heard much talk’d of in the Country) and scarce which any Body that comes to London omits seeing’ .
The Tower … (describes walls… ‘Menagerie, Mint, Jewel Room …)
The next is the Horse Armoury, a grand Sight indeed; here are fifteen of our English Monarchs on Horseback, all dressed in rich Armour, and attended by their guards; but I think it is not so beautiful as the next Thing we saw, which was the Small Armoury: This consists of Pikes, Muskets, Swords, Halberds and Pistols, sufficient, as they told us, for threescore thousand Men; and all are placed in such beautiful Order, and in such different Figures representing the Sun, Star and Garter, Half Moons, and such like, that I was greatly delighted with it; and they all being kept clean and scowered, made a most brilliant Appearance. Hence we went and saw the Train of Artillery, in the Grand Storehouse, as they call it, which is filled with Cannon and Mortars, all extremely fine’ …
‘… is also a Diving-Bell with other Curiosities too tedious to mention; which having examined, we came away and went to the Monument …’
… Madam, Your ever dutiful Son, JOHN CURIOUS’ .

An almost identical version of this letter, but without the character ‘Jacky Curious’, appears in The Lilliputian Library or Gulliver’s Museum, attributed to Richard Johnson and probably compiled in the 1770s . This continued to be re-printed in the 1780s, and probably later, supporting the Tower’s long-running position as London’s foremost attraction in the 18th century.

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