The Tower Record Office

The Tower Record Office

A Yeoman Warder

For hundreds of years the Tower housed the Record Office which held important documents of State. This Office eventually became the National Archives.

History of the Tower Record Office

As a secure site it made sense for the most significant records of royal bureaucracy to be housed at the Tower of London.

  • 13th century - The Tower started to house government documents. Records of the Exchequer and the Chancery were located in St John's Chapel and elsewhere within the White Tower
  • Late 14th century onwards - The Wakefield Tower was being used to store documents and was known as the Record Tower
  • Late 16th century onwards - Keepers of the Records complained about the appalling state that the documents were kept in
  • 1838 - The Public Record Office was created
  • 1840 - The Tower records were handed over to the Public Record Office
  • 1858 - The Tower Record Office closed when a purpose built repository opened in Chancery Lane, London
  • 1997 - The repository at Chancery Lane closed. The records were transferred to Kew to form part of the National Archives

From prisoner to records keeper

The White TowerAs a young man during the 1630s, William Prynne had been accused of sedition twice and suffered the penalty of imprisonment in the Tower as well as having both ears cut off, his nose slit and SL (for seditious libeller) burnt into his cheeks.

However, his support for the monarchy subsequently won him the appointment as Keeper of the Record Office in the Tower in 1660.

Winners & Losers: the English Civil War

In the summer of 1647 Oliver Cromwell and his commander-in-chief Sir Thomas Fairfax returned to London. King Charles I was in Parliamentary hands at Hampton Court and the First English Civil War was at an end.

Fairfax rode to the Tower to inspect the stores of weapons and ammunition. While he was there he visited the Record Office in the Wakefield Tower.

Fairfax ordered the Magna Carta to be brought out to him. Upon seeing the document he removed his hat in respect and observed ‘this is that…which we have fought for, and by God’s help we must maintain’.

This exhibition is supported by:

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