A tradition of displaying British military strength by creating trophies from masses of weapons has long existed at the Tower. From about 1700, visitors to the Grand Storehouse were stopped in their tracks by John Harris’s stunning displays and models, including a serpent and a seven-headed hydra, which he created from a variety of weapons including muskets, pistols and swords.
A sight ‘no one ever beheld without Astonishment…
not to be matched perhaps in the world’.
William Maitland, 18th century antiquarian
Royal Armouries Head of Creative Programmes, Karen Whitting, dreamed up the idea for a mighty beast, inspired by the small figures of a dragon and a hydra in the scale model of the Grand Storehouse. Working with the creative team at Haley Sharpe Design a concept drawing was produced which York-based Paragon Creative have brought wonderfully to life.
Building on the tradition of trophies of arms and armour created at the Tower of London from the late 17th century, this new dragon has been constructed using objects and materials that represent ten institutions which were housed in the Tower.
Ordnance Office – armour, swords, firearms and cannon to create the head, back and body, including 22 antique pistols, four swords, four rifles, two bronze cannon and 20 bayonets.
Menagerie – a cage for the ribcage
Prison – 30m of chain to create the tail
The Royal Mint – 2,000 gold and silver coins, representing the dragon’s fire plus 50 replica trial plates
Royal Observatory – 26 telescopes
Ordnance Survey – maps for wings
Record Office – scrolls for legs
Jewel House – 400 glass rubies
Constables – keys hanging around the neck
Royal Armouries – 8 breastplates, 6 muskets, 15 pollaxes, 10 mail shirts, 4 shields and bucklers
Our dragon is fittingly named Keeper, following a naming competition run in association with TV channel History™.
Over 2,672 items including:
A team of five took approximately 800 hrs to design, build and install the dragon.
This spectacular dragon forms the centre-piece to the Royal Armouries’ permanent new exhibition at the White Tower – Power House.
The last cast-iron British smoothbore cannon – the 68 pounders – were the same calibre (8 inches) as the heaviest guns of King Henry VIII three hundred years earlier. Their performance was probably not very different either!