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Royal Armouries Library, London

Royal Armouries and Office of Ordnance


Reference code(s): GB 2919 ARMOURIES

Held at: Royal Armouries Library, London

Title: Royal Armouries and Office of Ordnance

Date(s): 1547-2000

Level of description: Collection (fonds)


Name of creator(s): Ordnance Office | Board of Ordnance | 15th century -1855
Tower Armouries | 15th century-1983
Royal Armouries | 1984-


Administrative/Biographical history:

The Office of the Armoury and the Ordnance Office both evolved in the early 15th century from the activities of the Privy Wardrobe, one of the departments of the Royal Household, with offices at the Tower of London. The Tower was the most important arsenal in the kingdom, with its own workforce of armourers, bowyers, fletchers, etc., to maintain the arms and armour stored there.

The first Master of the Ordnance was appointed in 1414, and the Ordnance Office became responsible for the supply of munitions and equipment to the army and navy. Prior to the establishment of a standing army or navy, the Ordnance Office was the only permanent military department in England. As a result the importance and status of the Master rose steadily, and from 1483 all holders of the office were knights or peers.

The first mention of an official solely responsible for armour appears in 1423, and the first use of the title Master of the King's Armoury occurs in 1462. The Office of the Armoury was responsible for the provision and maintenance of body armour, and was much smaller than that of the Ordnance. It rose in importance briefly when Henry VIII established the royal workshops at Greenwich in 1515, but with the decrease in the use of armour during the 17th century, the Office of the Armoury was abolished in 1671, and its duties were taken over by the Board of Ordnance.

The role of the Board of Ordnance continued to grow and develop during the 17th and 18th centuries. It was responsible for the issue of all guns and warlike stores to the ships of the navy and the permanent fortifications (the Sea Service), and the issue of small arms, the provision of artillery and engineer trains to the army (the Land Service). It was also responsible for the development of weapons, and in addition to its headquarters at the Tower of London, it had numerous other establishments, such as the Royal Arsenal, Royal Academy and Royal Laboratory at Woolwich, and the powder mills at Faversham and Waltham Abbey. The Board was finally abolished in 1855 and its duties merged with those of the War Office.

The Royal Armouries museum has its basis in the arsenal maintained at the Tower of London, and the royal armours of the Tudor and Stuart kings. The first displays were opened to the public in the second half of the 17th century: the Line of Kings, a display of armours dedicated to the kings of England; the Spanish Armoury, celebrating the victory over the Armada; and the Grand Storehouse, displaying captured trophies, small arms and artillery.

In the early 19th century the Board of Ordnance, which was responsible for the maintenance of the collection, began the process of re-organising the displays on a more academic basis. It also purchased important historic pieces to augment the collections. When the Board was abolished in 1855, the Armouries came under the control of the War Office. The first part-time curator, Viscount Dillon, was appointed in 1897.

In 1904 responsibility for the Armouries was transferred from the War Office to the Office of Works, which was already responsible for the buildings of the Tower of London. The first full time curator, Charles ffoulkes, was appointed in 1910, and the ancient office of Master of the Armouries revived in 1935, as the Armouries achieved the status of a national museum.

The National Heritage Act 1983 transferred control of the Armouries from the Department of the Environment (the successor to the Office of Works) to the Board of Trustees, and the Museum was granted the prefix `Royal' in 1984. Fort Nelson, the national museum of artillery, was opened in 1995, the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds in 1996, and the redisplay of the White Tower completed in 1998.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records relating to the Office of the Armoury, the Ordnance Office (Board of Ordnance), and the Armouries museum comprising:

records of the Office of the Armoury including letter from Sir Henry Lee regarding the Office of the Armoury, c.1579; list of armourers at Greenwich, 1599; inventory of arms and armour in the Office of the Armoury, 1603; list of wages of armourers at Greenwich, 1610, 1612; list of armourers at Greenwich, 1612, 1624; list of wages of the armourers at the Tower of London, Greenwich and Woolwich, 1615; a petition from Francis Ingoldsby for his arrears of wages as Keeper of the Armoury at Greenwich, 1623; letter to Sir Robert Pye authorizing the payment of wages to the armourers at Greenwich, 1627; inventory of arms and armour in the Office of the Armoury, 1650; report by the Commissioners of the Admiralty concerning the wages of the armourers in the Tower of London, 1653;

records of the Ordnance Office/Board of the Ordnance records including Ordnance Office account book, 1547-1553; Ordnance Office debenture book, 1606-1607; Ordnance Office receipted indenture, 1633; extracts from a receipt of Stores ledger, 1645, 1648; warrant signed by John, Lord Berkeley to Col. William Legg, Lt. Governor of the Tower, authorizing the issue and replacement of weapons, 1668; ledger of receipts, returns and issues of arms from the Tower of London, 1675-79; proposed contract for brass guns, 1682; letters patent appointing William Meesters to be Keeper of the Stores of Ordnance at the Tower of London, 1691; warrant of appointment of John Harris to be furbisher of small arms at Hampton Court and St. James's, 1711; Rules, orders and instructions for the government of the Office of the Ordnance, 1760, 1769, 1804, 1829, 1841; regulations for official of the Ordnance Department, 1855; letters patent in favour of Stephen Remnant for the right to manufacture cannon, 1761; letter signed by the 3rd Duke of Richmond and Master of the Ordnance, 1784; An Act for transferring One of Her Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State the Powers and Estates vested in the Principal Officers of the Ordnance, 14th August 1855 [i.e. relating to the abolition of the Board of Ordnance]; proof books;

Corporate records relating to the management of the Tower Armouries under the control of the Board of Ordnance, the War Office, the Office of Works and the Department of the Environment comprising:

Visitor attendance records including: book listing daily attendance figures for the Tower Armouries, 1851; book listing daily attendance figures for the Tower Armouries, 1857-1864; warders book giving the numbers of visitors to the Tower Armouries, 1859-1861; attendance book of artists admitted to the Armouries, 1870-1894; warders book giving the numbers of visitors to the Tower Armouries, 1871-1872; visitors book, 1913-1993; register of students' tickets, 1914-1939; day books and diaries, 1913-1938; visitors book to the study collection, 1961-1971; visitors book, 1961-1975;

photographs of Viscount Dillon (curator, 1895-1915), early 20th century, and Charles ffoulkes (curator and master, 1910-1938), 1916;

documents relating to the transfer of responsibility for the Armouries to the British Museum and the Office of Works, c.1905; letter books 1939-1947, with index 1939-1946; annual reports compiled by Charles ffoulkes, 1913-1938; Charles ffoulkes' report on the Tower Armouries, 1938; Summaries of grant-in-aid received, 1953-1983;

minute relating to changing the name of the officer in charge of the Armouries from Curator to Master of the Armouries, 1935; Staff book 1915-1917 staff occurrence books, 1939-1956; records relating to the relocation of staff during the Second World War, 1939-1945; Wardens Diaries, 1870-1871, 1876-1877;

records relating to the permanent displays at the Tower of London comprising:

papers including letter from Samuel Meyrick to the Board of Ordnance describing his redisplay of the Armouries, 1827; the Spanish Armoury; redisplay of the White Tower by J.R. Planche, 1869; plan of the Small Arms Room, c.1910; volume recording renumbering of exhibits 1914-1915; the redisplay of the White Tower by Charles ffoulkes, c.1920; the Sporting Gallery, 1971-1996; the Oriental Gallery, 1971-1996; the Board of Ordnance Gallery, 1977-1996; improvements to the White Tower displays, 1984-1988; redisplay of instruments of torture, 1989; proposals for the redisplay of the White Tower, 1989; the 18th/19th Century Gallery, [1996]; tenders for the redisplay of the White Tower, 1994; redisplay of the White Tower, 1994-1998; and copies of records relating to provision of wooden figures, 1685-1749; documents relating to the Spanish Armoury; redisplay of the White Tower by Samuel Meyrick, 1826-1832; and alterations to the Horse Armoury, 1850-1851; Gifts and Purchases register 1916-1939 (covering 1840 -1939); file concerning inventory check with location list, 1922-1935; list of uncatalogued items, 1981; administrative files relating to old displays, loans of items, and war time arrangements for the armouries;

stereographic photographs of the Horse Armoury, mid 19th century and c.1870;

photographs of displays of arms and armour in the White Tower, etc., 1884-1895; the Horse Armoury, c.1890, and late 19th century; Queen Elizabeth I and her page on display in the White Tower, late 19th century;

records relating to temporary exhibitions held at the Tower of London including papers relating to the `Kings and Captains, 1949'; `Greenwich Armour', 1951; `Brunswick Armour', 1952; `Armour from Innsbruck', 1954; `Spanish Royal Armour', 1960; `Japanese Armour', 1965; `Royal Sporting Guns', 1968; ` Prisoners of the Tower', 1997-1998; `Treasures from the Moscow Kremlin', 1998; `The Menagerie', 1999-2000;` Millennium Exhibition', 2000;

exhibition catalogues including Exhibition of armour of Kings and Captains from the national collections of Austria (1949); Exhibition of armour made in the Royal Workshops at Greenwich (1951); Exhibition of arms, armour and militaria lent by HRH the Duke of Brunswick and Luneburg at the Armouries of the Tower of London (1952-1953); Exhibition of Spanish royal armour in HM Tower of London (1960); Exhibition of Japanese armour (1965); Royal sporting guns at Windsor / Howard Blackmore (1968); Treasures of the Moscow Kremlin (1998); and guidebook, The Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London (1999); Records relating to buildings and works at the Tower of London including documents relating to repairs, 1825-1826; plans for the conversion of the `C Store' into the New Armouries, 1947; correspondence relating to the plans for a new entrance to the New Armouries, 1949-1959; correspondence relating to the New Armouries building, 1947-1965;

four photograph albums containing images of museum objects (some from the Royal Armouries collection) [1900-1950]; Collections of slides and postcards; Richard Williams' photograph albums and scrap books; original drawings by Dr Sir Samuel Rush Meyrick c.1830, used for the publication Meyrick and Skeltons' Engraved Illustrations of Ancient arms and armour, 1830;

microfilm collection including copies of Rough register of the Chapel, held in the British Library; Hewett Catalogue; Yeoman Warder's Dividend books 1660-1700; State Papers held in the National Archives (Public Record Office) relating to the Board of Ordinance;

photocopy collection comprising copies and transcripts records from the National Archives (Public Record Office) including Exchequer records, 1360-1600; Chancery records, 1455-1655; State Papers, 1523-1681; War Office records, 1589-1841; and manuscripts in the British Library, 1499-1725.


Language/scripts of material: English

System of arrangement:

Office of the Armoury and the Ordnance Office (Board of Ordnance) arranged as papers relating to the Office of the Armoury; Papers relating to the Ordnance Office (Board of Ordnance).
Tower Armouries /Royal Armouries arranged in the following sections: Corporate Records of the Tower Armouries (up to 1983); Displays at the Tower of London; Temporary exhibitions at the Tower of London; Buildings and works at the Tower of London (see also Related Collections).

Conditions governing access:

By appointment only. Contact the Curator, The Library, Royal Armouries, HM Tower of London, EC3N 4AB

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copies available subject to normal copyright restrictions, and depending on the condition of the material.

Physical characteristics:

Finding aids:

Database of library, archive, and museum objects, as well as microfilm collection may be consulted in the Library.



Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Some material has been held continuously on site. Other material including photographs, slides and manuscripts have been purchased over a period of time.


Existence and location of originals:

Yeoman Warder's receipt books are held by the Yeoman Body, Tower of London; original volume containing of the baptisms (1587-1821), burials (1550-1821) and marriage (1586-1752) registers of the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula held by the Chapel (includes executed prisoners); Rough register of the Chapel, held in the British Library.

Related material:

: The archive of the Tower Armouries /Royal Armouries is split between Leeds, London and Fort Nelson. Material held at Leeds includes corporate records of the Royal Armouries (from 1984 to the present); correspondence; acquisitions; Loans, acquisition loans and deposits; disposals; inventories; catalogues and guidebooks; displays at Leeds; temporary exhibitions at Leeds; touring exhibitions; buildings and works at Leeds; and material held at Fort Nelson including displays at Fort Nelson; temporary exhibitions at Fort Nelson; buildings and works at Fort Nelson.

Other bodies within the Tower of London also hold archive collections including the Yeoman Body; Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula (a Chapel Royal); Governor of the Tower (resident governor) and the Constable of the Tower (non-resident); Regimental headquarters records held by the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers; records of the Historic Royal Palaces are held at their headquarters at Hampton Court Palace; records of the Royal Mint, formerly located on Tower Hill held at the National Archives (Public Record Office).

Publication note:



The Tower Armouries / Royal Armouries collection is split between London, Leeds and Fort Nelson. Only material that is held in London has been included in this description, subject to the criteria of the London Signpost project.

Archivist's note: Sources: Historical Manuscripts Commission's On-Line National Register of Archives; 'The Official Archives of the Royal Armouries' and 'Archives relating to the Office of the Armoury and the Ordnance Office (Board of Ordnance)', handlists, Phillip Abbott, Royal Armouries Library, Leeds; Who's Who 1897-1996, (CD-ROM) A & C Black, Oxford University Press, 1996.
Compiled by Alison Field as part of the London Signpost Survey Project.

Rules or conventions: Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal Place and Corporate Names 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions: September 2003

Armed forces | State security
Armour | Military equipment | Equipment
Artillery | Weapons | Military equipment | Equipment
Historical museums | Specialized museums | Museums
Inventories | Secondary documents
Museum administration | Museum policy
Museum attendance | Museum activities
Photographs | Visual materials
International relations
Military organizations

Personal names

Corporate names
Ordnance Office | Board of Ordnance | 15th century -1855
Royal Armouries | 1984-
Tower Armouries | 15th century-1983

Tower of London | Stepney | London | England | UK | Western Europe | Europe
Tower Hamlets