The Royal Armory (Armoury, if you must)

Anne Boleyn's last view of the White Tower

Anne Boleyn’s last view of the White Tower

On my recent trip to London, I spent four riveting hours at the Tower of London.  But a good bit of that was spent in the White Tower, the oldest part of the Tower complex. The White Tower was built to intimidate the unruly citizens of London, as well as to serve as a warning sign to potential invaders. The Tower now hosts the collection of the Royal Armouries (CLICK HERE), and the over-300 years old Line of Kings exhibition, which includes the armour of the Kings of England, and, most importantly (to me anyway), their horses. (CLICK HERE).

SPELLING NOTE:  The British spell certain words, with a u, such as colour, flavour and honour.  And, interestingly, it’s not really obvious why, other than it may be be that it’s been done that way for a long time.  It’s an honor and tradition thing, I suppose.  Of course, some Brits may criticize Americans for ruining the “King’s English,” but, in fact, English has changed a lot over the years (Geoffrey Chaucer’s English isn’t much like that of the Queen’s today, for example).  But the American breakaway to -or endings, instead of the British spelling, which used -our endings, most clearly traces to Noah Webster’s An American Dictionary of the English Language, was published in 1828.  At this point, I don’t suppose there is much hope for reconciliation.

I was able to acquire a photo of the Royal Armoury a few years back.  On the back side of the photo, it says, “J Davis Burton, London Photographer, London.”  I took the opportunity of my visit to ask about it.  My curiosity led me to ask questions of a warder at the White Tower, Barry Hansell, a delightful gentleman who is just a treasure trove of interest and information about the Tower and the Armoury.  I told Barry about my photo, and he gave me his email address to send him a copy of the photo.  Here it is.

TowerArmory Barry got right back to me after I emailed him.  He suspected that the photo was in a book about the Tower (even though he hadn’t see it), and, once he got the copy, it confirmed his suspicions.  It’s found in a book called, THE TOWER OF LONDON PAST& PRESENT by Geoffrey Parnell (who, due to his archaeological prowess, was wryly known to comrades at the Tower as “Geoff the Dig.”.  The ISBN 0-7509-1763-6, and the image itself is on page 66.

Honestly, I probably would have been happy right then and there, but Barry was kind enough to forward the picture, and my query, to Bridget Clifford, who is the official “Keeper of the Tower Armouries.”  And Bridget was kind enough to send a very detailed reply, which, with her permission, I’m posting here, with my comments interposed in brackets [ ].

“The wooden horses [that is, the horses on which the armour is mounted] are something of an enigma in that we have bills for their manufacture, but no details of the spec issued and cannot marry the makers to individual horses – apart from possibly the Grinling Gibbons one.  We are unsure if they are generic beasts or perhaps modelled on favourites in the Royal stables?  The more work we do on them, the more questions seem to be waiting for answers.  

archaeology04 Davis Burton produced a number of photographs of Tower views and we have the details of one of his trips in – he seems to have been the officially approved photographer [or, as it turns out, at least one of the officially approved photographers], coming in on an ”artist’s” ticket. An earlier series was produced by Dages and Harman (1861).

[From the official records of the Tower]

“I.3 – Issues and Receipts from Stores

11th July 1870 Mr James Davies Burton 2 Eldesfield Road, Clapton Park, NE renewed application to take views in the Armoury.  Approved by Mr Pringle.

14th July 1870 came to photograph the Horse Armoury

 The New Horse Armoury was built against the South face of the White Tower opening in 1827 and finally closing and being demolished 1881-3. It housed the so called Line of Kings – a display of mounted monarchs and armours from their reigns set against a backdrop of curiosities and munition weapons – which was the descendant of an exhibition set up at the Tower possibly as early as 1650 and certainly well established by the

I'm Henry VIII (I am, I am)

I’m Henry VIII (I am, I am)

1690s. The armour expert Sir Samuel Meyrick had removed most of the anomalies of the original (exuberant and at times highly inaccurate) exhibit to produce a more didactic display prior to the display moving into its new home.  The horses originally produced as mere display props at a time when equine statuary in England was still in its infancy, have assumed more importance over the centuries by their longevity.  Unfortunately the enemy woodworm and fungus have attacked and invaded a number of the hollow bodied beasts, and so originals and later additions have been lost. We rely heavily on these photographs to try and identify some of the individual animals.”

So, how cool is that, right?  I mean, I’m standing there right next to the armour of King Henry VIII (not the nicest of guys, admittedly, but still). And, his horse, too!

Here’s a portrait of Henry VIII by the way.

And here’s Herman’s Hermit’s, singing, “Henry VIII,” a hit from 1965.

Now if you really want to get into a bit more detail, in July 2013, Bridget Clifford wrote a blog with even more information  with some more really great pictures – which you can read if you CLICK HERE.

The Armory has been modernized several times since my picture was taken, around 1870, and you can see the Royal Armoury changing over time.  From 1884, when electric lights were introduced


To 1915, when it was “modernized” by the esteemed Keeper Charles ffoulkes, who, for some reason, and in spite of whatever other accomplishments he may have achieved, spelled his last name with no capital letters and two “f’s.”


I love history, and horses.  In fact, I wrote a chapter on the history of horse-human relationships for a book on equine welfare, published in 2010 (you can read more about that book if you CLICK HERE).  And if you ever get to London, brave the crowds, and go see the Royal Armoury.  If you love horses, history, or both, you’ll never forget it. And say hi to Barry for me.


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