April Fool's spoof at the Tower of London - Friday, 1 April 2011

The Royal Armouries Museum safeguards this unprepossessing scrap of paper in the archives at the Tower of London – promoting one of the more unusual April Fools’ Day stunts in British history.

The scrap is a printed ticket inviting the unsuspecting Victorian public to a rather surprising spectacle – the Annual Washing of the Lions ceremony in the Tower’s moat. Visitors are invited to arrive at the Tower by the White Gate, and are admonished to not give gratuities to any of the wardens on duty. The ticket bears the signature of one official-sounding senior warden – Herbert de Grassen.

Royal Armouries’ librarian Stuart Ivinson said, “All in all, it sounds as if an entertaining day is promised – but there is one problem and the date printed on the ticket, April 1, 1856, gives us a clue. The ticket is an elaborate hoax – an April Fools’ joke from times gone by. Who says the Victorians had no sense of humour?

“As far as we know there wasn’t a senior Warden by the name of de Grassen, or an entrance to the Tower known as the White Gate. What we don’t know is how successful an April Fools’ joke this was, but bearing in mind the Royal Menagerie within the Tower ceased to exist in 1835, anyone who was taken in by it probably deserved it!”

The Royal Menagerie – which featured a variety of animals including lions, monkeys and even an elephant in medieval times – is just one of the featured institutions featured in the Royal Armouries’ new permanent exhibition opening at the iconic White Tower on Saturday (April 2) – Power House.

The exhibition – featuring a mighty bejewelled dragon – puts the spotlight on the great institutions of state, who operated from behind the mighty Tower of London’s walls from 1100 to the present day.

They include the Ordnance Office, Ordinance Survey, the Royal Mint, Record Office, the Jewel House, Menagerie and Royal Observatory. The exhibition will also focus on other Tower of London functions, ranging from royal residence to state prison.

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Notes to editors

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