Following the restoration of Charles II (1660-85), the pre-1642 administrative structure of the Office of Ordnance was restored. As early as 1661, the Privy Council sent a committee to inspect the magazine at the Tower and while the committee did not propose moving the powder magazine from the White Tower, it did recommend the creation of a 6.2m-wide buffer zone around the keep to reduce the risk of fire. The Tower Artillery was briefly located to the New Armouries building, which was erected in 1663-64.
In the mid-1660s, the importance of the Office of Ordnance and the Tower was highlighted. New orders for the governance of the Ordnance were issued in 1665. War against the Dutch, alongside Charles II’s financial difficulties, and the Great Fire of London prompted another thorough investigation into the Office of Ordnance in 1667.
One of the first recommendations acted upon was the creation of the buffer zone around the Tower, a measure that up to that point had been delayed. In fact, the scope of the work was extended to include buildings around the White Tower. It was not until 1674 that this demolition work was completed. Refurbishment work in the Tower in order to create gunpowder storage was also undertaken. However, when part of the upper floor of the White Tower collapsed in 1691 – sending 2,000 barrels crashing to the floor below – the decision was finally taken to cease using the White Tower as a powder magazine.
The Board of Ordnance, established in 1671, absorbed the functions and responsibilities of the Office of Armoury and continued to dominate the Tower. One of the most significant achievements of this period was the instructions issued by Lord Dartmouth in July 1683, which codified existing practices, and which were then re-issued by monarchs up to George II (1727-60).
The senior ranks within the Ordnance remained unchanged, but the number of clerical personnel, storekeepers, artificers and labourers increased substantially. The White Tower, no longer home to large quantities of powder, became home to a different assortment of stores including small arms. Storage, assembly, and supply remained integral to the Ordnance’s activities at the Tower and new stores were built in the mid-1680s along the south, east, and west faces of the Tower. The prestige of the Ordnance was demonstrated clearly with the construction of the Grand Storehouse to the north of the White Tower between 1688 and 1692. Begun by James II (1685-88), the Grand Storehouse was completed under William and Mary (1689-1694).
The Board stopped meeting regularly at the Tower after 1714. However, the executive offices remained, controlling the Ordnance’s day-to-day functions. New offices were erected at Coldharbour in the 1790s, after the original offices burnt down in 1788. By this stage, the organisational structure of the Board had become even more complicated. It had now developed two sides: the first – under the Lieutenant-General – dealt with armaments and two Ordnance Corps of which the Master-General was commander-in-chief; the second – under the Surveyor-General – purchased or manufactured munitions, was responsible for their custody, and supplied fortifications and garrisons.
Nevertheless, pressures placed on the traditional supply system of the Board of Ordnance by the Napoleonic Wars in the 19th century led to the removal of the Board’s manufacturing activities to Enfield and Lewisham. Reorganisation of the system of military supply was then discussed periodically for about 20 years. A report of 1828 actually considered the system perfectly adequate, but the Commission of Inquiry of 1833 was used to justify a measure of reorganisation. The net result was to severely undermine the Board’s ability to meet its responsibilities. The abolition of the offices of Lieutenant-General and Clerk of Deliveries weakened the Board’s technical, administrative, and financial foundations. This became apparent when the Board could not adequately arm British forces during the Crimean campaign (1853-56). This resulted in its abolition in May 1855, and the absorption of its functions by the War Office.
Dr. Malcolm Mercer
Curator of Tower History