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The Restoration and After: The Tower and the Office of Ordnance

The Restoration and
After: The Tower and the Office of Ordnance

After a long period
of peace at home, the reign of Charles I saw civil war break out again in 1642,
between King and Parliament. As during the Wars of the Roses and previous
conflicts, the Tower was recognised as one of the most important of the King’s
assets. Londoners, in particular, were frightened that the Tower would be used
by him to dominate the City. In 1643, after a political rather than a military
struggle, control of the Tower was seized from the King by the parliamentarians
and remained in their hands throughout the Civil War (1642-9). The loss of the
Tower, and of London as a whole, was a crucial factor in the defeat of Charles
I by Parliament. It was during this period that a permanent garrison was
installed in the Tower for the first time, by Oliver Cromwell, soon to be Lord
Protector but then a prominent parliamentary commander.

Today’s small
military guard, seen outside the Queen’s House and the Waterloo Barracks, is an
echo of Cromwell’s innovation.

The monarchy was
restored in 1660 and the reign of the new king, Charles II (1660-85), saw further
changes in the functions of the Tower. Its role as a state prison declined, and
the Office of Ordnance (which provided military supplies and equipment) took
over responsibility for most of the castle, making it their headquarters.
During this period another long-standing tradition of the Tower began - the
public display of the Crown Jewels. They were moved from their old home to a
new site in what is now called the Martin Tower, and put on show by their
keeper Talbot Edwards.

Schemes for
strengthening the Tower’s defences, some elaborate and up to date, were also
proposed so that in the event of violent opposition, which was always a
possibility during the 1660s and 1670s, Charles would not be caught out as his
father had been earlier in the century. In the end, none of these came to much,
and the Restoration period saw only a minor strengthening of the Tower. Yet the
well equipped garrison which Charles II and his successors maintained was often
used to quell disturbances in the City; James II (1685-8) certainly took steps
to use the Tower’s forces against the opposition which eventually caused him to
flee into exile.

Under the control
of the Office of Ordnance the Tower was filled with a series of munitions
stores and workshops for the army and navy. The most impressive and elegant of
these was the Grand Storehouse begun in 1688 on the site where the Waterloo
Barracks now stand. It was initially a weapons store but as the 17th century
drew to a close it became more of a museum of arms and armour. More utilitarian
buildings gradually took over the entire area previously covered by the
medieval royal lodgings to the south of the White Tower; by 1800, after a
series of fires and rebuildings, the whole of this area had become a mass of
large brick Ordnance buildings. All these, however, have been swept away, and
the only surviving storehouse put up by the Ordnance is the New Armouries,
standing against the eastern inner curtain wall between the Salt and Broad
Arrow towers.

While the Ordnance
was busy building storehouses, offices and workshops, the army was expanding
accommodation for the Tower garrison. Their largest building was the Irish
Barracks (now demolished), sited behind the New Armouries building in the Outer
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