Architectural drawings reveal the transformation of the Tower

It’s #ExploreYourArchive Week! To celebrate, curatorial archivist Tom Drysdale presents some of his highlights from Historic Royal Palaces’ Architectural Drawings Collection. Over the course of the week we will learn about drawings from several of our palaces. We begin with our oldest palace: the Tower of London.

The Tower of London, viewed from the River Thames © Historic Royal Palaces

The Tower of London is one of the world’s most iconic castles and has provided a symbol of royal power for nearly 1,000 years. In its varied history it has been a royal palace, prison and fortress and is home to the world-famous Crown Jewels.

However, the architectural history of the Tower of London is long and varied, and it has enjoyed several significant makeovers. One of the most substantial of these began around 175 years ago. In the nineteenth century the Tower of London was transformed. Under the direction of the Office of Works (the government department in charge of royal buildings), parts of the fortress which had been altered and updated in previous centuries were given a ‘historical’ facelift.

Proposal for restoration of the Byward Tower, 1896 (EH/TOL/2150). © Historic Royal Palaces

The ‘remedievalisation’ of the Tower is the subject of this drawing, which is one of the oldest in the collection. It shows the Byward Tower after restoration. The proposal includes new windows, repairs to the stonework, and battlements at the top of the walls, all designed to enhance the Tower’s ancient appearance.

Alternative designs for sentry boxes, 1966 (EH/TOL/301). © Historic Royal Palaces

These designs for new sentry boxes for the Tower’s iconic Yeoman Warders are a surprising example of modern design within the archive. Some say they look more like public toilets than sentry boxes! In the end, the Tower’s authorities decided that the design jarred with the ancient character of the medieval castle, so in the end no new guard boxes were built.

Survey of the Flamsteed Tower, 1914 (EH/TOL/2382). © Historic Royal Palaces

This is a stunning drawing of the Flamsteed Tower. The large, circular turret at the north-east corner of William the Conqueror’s White Tower is named after the Royal Astronomer, John Flamsteed, who set up a temporary observatory inside it in 1675. As well as being technically accomplished, this drawing is also a beautiful work of art, with finely drawn details and gold pigment used in the details of the weather vane.

As well as containing drawings of the historic buildings of the Tower of London, HRP’s collection also includes designs for structures that we never built. Take this design for a new Jewel House that was produced in 1950, for example.

Proposal for a new Jewel House, 1950 (EH/TOL/1957). © Historic Royal Palaces

From 1870 until 1967 the Crown Jewels were displayed in the Wakefield Tower, but increasing visitor numbers meant that they had to be moved elsewhere. The style of the new building in this design is modern yet sympathetic to its medieval surroundings. It was never built, however, and a new Jewel House was installed under the Parade Ground instead.

Proposal for a new Tea House, 1914 (EH/TOL/2681). © Historic Royal Palaces

This proposal for a tea room reflects the Tower’s popularity as a tourist attraction in the modern era. While it retained some military functions, by the turn of the century the Tower of London was greeting around 450,000 visitors each year.

The tea room, had it been built, would have engulfed the Victorian Pump House near the Tower’s West Gate. The scheme was halted by the First World War, and today the building houses the Tower’s Gift Shop.

Visitors have been drawn to the Tower as a tourist destination for hundreds of years, fascinated by its history and impressed by its awe-inspiring presence. While the medieval and early modern histories of the Tower are most familiar, it is fascinating to think how much our experience has been moulded by Victorian and even later interventions. The Architectural Drawings Collection helps us to understand this lesser known history, of which it now comprises an important part.

Tom Drysdale
Curatorial Archivist

A selection of images from HRP’s Architectural Drawings Collection is available to view and download from HRP’s Image Library – take a look here.

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