For centuries the Tower of London housed storerooms to keep safe and maintain arms and armour for supply to the army and navy when needed. Storehouse, the new display in the basement galleries of the White Tower, shows some of the objects which were once issued from this important depot and later used for public display after they were withdrawn from active service.
Many items, large and small, plain and decorated were housed in the storehouses at the Tower of London. Storehouse provides an introduction to a variety of these, from the massive cannon and mortars supplied to the artillery train to the spears and swords, pikes and pistols issued to cavalry, infantry or navy.
Amongst the mass display of weapons there are spears - some commissioned by Henry VIII and decorated with a Tudor rose – as well as swords, muskets and pistols used by combatants in the Napoleonic Wars.
Fewer in number but impressive because of their size and weight are the artillery pieces in Storehouse. Some date back almost 500 years to the reign of Henry VIII while others are reminders of later monarchs and conflict. The 3-ton ‘Namur’ mortar made in England in 1692 is one of the heavyweight champions. It was reputedly used at the siege of Namur in 1695 to fire 227 kg (500 lb) balls at the city.
In addition to housing the stocks of arms and armour no longer needed to equip England’s (later, Britain’s) armed forces, the Tower also became a repository for trophies and curiosities from overseas. Amongst the oldest trophies on display are a cannon probably captured at Cadiz in 1595 and the Toiras breast and backplates brought back from the Île de Ré, France, in 1627.
Not all trophies took the forms of arms and armour.
Storehouse also features a variety of surprising objects, including a gilded winged lion captured in Corfu in 1809, a bronze bell taken in the Crimean War, a strongbox probably seized from Havana, Cuba in 1762 and a pair of door hinges brought back from a gunpowder store in Holland by a British expedition in 1809.
As access to the White Tower’s upper floors can be difficult for visitors with restricted mobility, the basement galleries also include an area offering a summary of some of the stories from the displays upstairs and hands-on material.