Dressed to Impress: Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection in the Jewel House
Date: June 26, 2023
Author: Charles Farris
On 26 May 2023, a new exhibition exploring the origins and significance of the Crown Jewels opened in the Jewel House at the Tower of London. Among the treasures on display for the first time are uniforms of those who guard the Crown Jewels, as well as items from the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, a Designated Collection of over 10,000 items of national and international importance cared for by Historic Royal Palaces.
Here, Curator Charles Farris introduces some of the amazing ceremonial dress now on display in the Jewel House exhibition.
The Tower of London has protected the Crown Jewels for over 350 years. Over the centuries, millions of visitors from all over the world have marvelled at the incredible collection of jewels – and now they will be able to learn about their history in more detail than ever before in the new Jewel House exhibition. This represents the first major change to the display for over a decade.
In response to detailed visitor research and community engagement we identified the stories about the Crown Jewels that visitors wanted to learn more about. We hope that everyone can now better engage with these stories in a more meaningful way and their visits will be richer for it.
Dress in the Jewel House
The new exhibition has transformed the first half of the Jewel House and, for the first time, given us the opportunity to display items of historic and contemporary dress from the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, which help tell the story of the Crown Jewels and coronations.
Visitors will now experience never-before-seen objects displayed in beautiful showcases in every room of the exhibition. Brought to life with videos and sound the new items of clothing help visitors navigate this fascinating history. They help to bring out the human stories of the people who have taken part in coronations and guarded the Crown Jewels.
Image: The Richmond Herald tabard in the new Jewel House exhibition at the Tower of London. © Historic Royal Palaces
On loan from 10 Queen's Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment
The first dress display is in the third room of the exhibition. A large showcase topped with crenelations celebrates the many people who help to protect the Crown Jewels. These include Jewel House Wardens who work in the Jewel House every day, the famous Yeoman Warders, and serving members of the Armed Forces.
This display will change each year, and we are excited that the first is a loan from 10 Queen's Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment, who recently mounted guard at the Tower.
The Tower Guard is provided by the five Regiments of Foot Guards in the Household Division, and other British and Commonwealth units. 10 Queen's Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment is one of four Gurkha regiments currently serving in The British Army. All Gurkhas are recruited from Nepal. Thousands of young people attempt selection every year, but only a few hundred are successful.
Image: A Gurkha uniform in the Jewel House exhibition. © Historic Royal Palaces
Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection
The Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection (or RCDC to its friends) usually lives at Hampton Court Palace and is made up of over 10,000 incredible items of dress. We're super excited to display items from the collection here at the Tower in our most visited exhibition for the first time; clothing is a powerful universal language which helps visitors engage and brings the past to life.
Bringing the Coronation Procession to Life
Processions have been an important part of coronations for hundreds of years. We wanted to evoke the magic of the Coronation procession, which we do in the longest room of the Western Half of the Jewel House.
Visitors can marvel at the historic objects carried in coronation processions – some as recently as the coronation of Their Majesties King Charles III and Queen Camilla on 6 May 2023. You’ll also see footage of historic coronation processions too as projections. These amazing films were taken at four coronations going all the way back to King Edward VII's in 1902.
Image: The New Jewel House exhibition, Room 4 - Procession. Objects displayed include the Richmond Herald tabard, part of the Court Dress uniforms of Sir Gerald Woods Woolaston KCB, KCVO (1874-1957). © Historic Royal Palaces
Dating from 1830-40
Our procession is headed by a beautiful herald’s tabard. Heralds are members of the royal household who take part in ceremonies such as the State Opening of Parliament and coronations. Heralds wear special coats called tabards, richly embroidered with royal arms.
The tabard on display in the Jewel House belonged to Sir Gerald Woods Woolaston who was Garter King of Arms, the most senior herald, at George VI’s coronation in 1937.
Image: A Historic Royal Palaces conservator adjusts the Richmond Herald tabard in the new Jewel House exhibition at the Tower of London. © Historic Royal Palaces
Dating from George IV’s Coronation, 1821
At the rear of our procession is another item from the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection. This magnificent gold and silk satin outfit was worn by the 2nd Earl of Caledon at King George IV’s coronation in 1821. George IV was an extravagant King, and his coronation was one of the most lavish in history.
King George took a personal interest in the clothes people wore that day, which were inspired by historic Tudor and Stuart fashion. The dazzling example on display in the Jewel House for 2023 is made of ivory-coloured silk beautifully decorated with real gold. The King himself wore a similar ensemble – although his was made from cloth of silver.
Image: The Ceremonial Court Dress outfit worn to the coronation of George IV, 1821. © Historic Royal Palaces
Explore the New Jewel House Exhibition in the Coronation Year
We hope visitors will enjoy learning about the Crown Jewels and their important history in the new Jewel House exhibition. Having just witnessed the first coronation in over 70 years there is no better time to see the Crown Jewels for yourself.
Public Historian, Historic Royal Palaces
HM Tower of London
The re-presentation of the Jewel House at HM Tower of London was made possible through a partnership between Historic Royal Palaces and Garrard.
November 17, 2022
Curator Charles Farris recalls Elizabeth’s dramatic procession from the Tower of London to Westminster the day before her coronation.
May 12, 2023
Historic Royal Palaces Curator Lee Prosser reflects on the long history of this fascinating aspect of royal history.
April 24, 2023
As the country prepares for the coronation of His Majesty King Charles III, our Curator of Historic Buildings, Alden Gregory, takes a look at the coronation of the last King Charles to sit on the throne and the last coronation in which the Tower of London played a starring role.