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The Royal Armouries, in partnership with Leeds 2023, is proud to present this exhibition and object trail which showcases diverse voices and previously hidden stories.

Forgotten Battles: Gender in the Armouries has been created by volunteers and researchers who identify under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella.

We are pleased to be able to showcase different perspectives in this thought-provoking exhibition and object trail which will be at the museum for visitors to enjoy from September 2023 until March 2024.

Gladius and scabbard mounts (IX.5583 )

Roman soldiers paid for their own equipment, making any decorations significant to their identity.

This sword and scabbard are inscribed on each side with the names of what were likely successive owners of the blade, C[aius] Valeri[us] Pri[mus] and C[aius] Raniu[s]. Three figures also decorate the scabbard mounts. Two of the figures are likely to be the winged goddess, Victory. On the locket plate she appears to be writing on a shield which hangs from a palm tree, while on the chape she seems to be holding a palm leaf. Both Victory and the palm leaf were a symbols of victory in the Greco-Roman period. The figure at the top of the scabbard mount is widely accepted to be Mars, the god of war.

Some, however, believe that it could be Bellona, goddess of war.


Ballock dagger (X.225)

While Monarchs attempted to control the carrying of some weapons in public by restricting them to knights and upper-class gentlemen, men of all class groups wore ballock daggers. However, this was not the same for women. Medieval women may have carried knives for everyday use, but they were not intended to be used as weapons.

Women were expected to be homemakers and seen to be lesser than the men in their lives, so the act of wearing a dagger as a weapon was met with disapproval. There is an example of this in an account from 1348. A group of women who wore daggers from their belts during a Tournament was reported as a scandal.


Flintlock military musket – Long Land Service Pattern 1730 (1731) (XII.99)

The nickname Brown Bess refers to the Land Pattern series of muskets which were used throughout the world and is a term that has a unique history in the context of gender.

The Long Land Pattern, for example, became one of the main weapons used by Britain during the war of Austrian succession. Here it was used to fight for the right for women to inherit the Hapsburg throne. However, the Land Pattern Series was also used during the colonisation of India, which saw the British create laws to eradicate the Hijra community, which forms part of what is now recognised as a third gender throughout India. As such, this weapon has a complicated relationship with gender, as its use has seen both positive and negative effects for different gendered groups.


Tonlet armour (II.7)

This Tonlet armour highlights how the monarchy was viewed in the 16th century. It was made to be used for only one occasion, the Field of Cloth of Gold tournament. The helmet, known as the bacinet, is etched with religious imagery of the Virgin Mary. This imagery references Henry’s role as a nurturer and defender of the nation’s faith. In contrast, the image of Saint George and imagery from the Order of the Garter emphasise Henry’s role as protector of Tudor England and France.

Originally, the armour would have been highly decorative, with gold gilding, and heat treatment to colour it a bright peacock blue. Despite its intended short use, the elaborate decoration would have been important to show the wealth and power of the monarchy, rather than being seen as frivolous.


SVT-40 rifle (PR.5269)

Propaganda from the USSR during the Second World War often featured women alongside men in combat roles. Women who used rifles like the SVT-40 rifles, such as Vera Stafinskaya, were presented as role models to encourage women to get involved in the war effort, as “the defence of the fatherland is the sacred duty of every citizen of the USSR”. This model of rifle was often nicknamed ‘Sveta’ a mostly female name meaning ‘light’ or ‘bright.’ and was notoriously hard to master.

Coincidentally, this rifle was made in 1941 at Tula, the same place as the Tula Garniture (one of the other trail objects) was made.


Naginata (XXVIL.219)

A notable use of the Naginata was during the battle of Aizu in 1860. A group of women, including the infamous Nakano Takeko and her sister Masako, formed an informal band of fighters who helped defend their land against the gun wielding Imperial army.

To make fighting easier, the women cut their hair short and wore masculine clothing. This was probably a practical choice, rather than an attempt to appear as men. Their presence on the front lines of combat, however, was met with resistance as their place on the battlefield could have been viewed as a sign of desperation.


Sikh helmet (XXVIA.138)

Despite Sikhism considering God genderless and the turban being a unisex sign of devotion, it has become more commonly associated with men. However, women also embody Sikh values and frequently display martial prowess. For example, in 1705 Mai Bhango Kaur rallied 40 Sikh deserters to fight and die to save Anandpur Sahib from the Mughals. She later joined the guard of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru, in the uniform of the Akali Nihang (warrior order).


Tula garniture (XII.1504-6, XIII.150, XIII.998, VI.356, VI.357)

There is an emphasis on the importance of location relating to the garniture. Empress Elizabeth of Russia seized power with the support of the Russian Military. While Russian society was very patriarchal, the throne had previously been held by Elizabeth’s mother, Catherine I, and legal reforms were being introduced that gave women more freedoms. The changing role of women throughout the empire showed significant advancements towards increased rights. The garniture is mostly decorative as a display of wealth and power. Elizabeth had a passion for both hunting and art and the garniture is reflective of this.


Chevaliere d’Eon’s sword (IX.2034 A)

18th century presentation swords were typically highly ornamented smallswords. The Chevalière’s unconventional choice of presentation sword reflected her approach to life. It is likely she began presenting as female at the crossdressing Metamorphosis Balls held in the court of Empress Elizabeth I of Russia, at Empress Elizabeth I’s crossdressing Metamorphosis Balls. In England she lived as a woman on her own terms, however she continued her career in fencing despite its masculine associations. She frequently won duels despite wearing restrictive dresses and corsets.

Her high status may have helped her overcome gender norms, by making her less vulnerable to social disapproval. However, as a high-profile figure she faced intense public scrutiny, including a trial to settle a bet to establish her assigned sex at birth in July 1777.


Rimfire Lever-Action Magazine Rifle (XII.1492)

It is suggested that the Mino regiment who used this gun believed they were reborn to the King of Dahomey as men rather than serving him as female soldiers. Therefore, they had a unique position in society that was neither strictly male or female.

This rifle was a gift to the King of Asante, another West African kingdom where patriarchal gender roles were challenged. Asante followed a matrilineal system, and the Queen Mother was a powerful figure in the kingdom. Yaa Asantewaa, Queen Mother of Ejisu, even led the War of the Golden Stool against the British in 1900.

sword with gilt hilt and guard

Sword of George Keate Esq. given to him in 1777 by his old friend the Chevalière d’Éon. Object no: IX.2034A

Physical description

This sword has a gilt copper-alloy boat-shell hilt. The pommel is ovoid with a long tang button and moulded stand. The knuckle bow and straight quillons are of lozenge section and flare at the terminals, the rear quillon retaining its lozenge shape and the fore quillon, extending from the lower edge of the knuckle guard, emerges in square section. The top of the knuckle guard is screwed to the side of the pommel. The boat-shell hilt has a heart-shaped stool, which is plain on the inside with an embossed central section, and a shell-shaped motif at the rear. There is a large groove at the tapered front end of the hilt, through which the fore quillon passes. The underside of the hilt is decorated with pierced scale work. The grip is wooden and wrapped in silver wire. The sword retains a blade leather washer.

The straight blade is double edged and tapers to a spear point. At the forte is a wide, shallow, central fuller. Approximately 160 mm from the hilt the fuller is replaced by a wide flat plane with bevelled edges. The blade is engraved with the maker’s mark and two different decorative motifs on each side. It is also inlaid on the outside with an inscription in gold.

Two views of the sword's gilt hilt showing pierced decoration on the outside and smooth on the inside

Stool has decorative piercing on the outside but is smooth on the inside. Inscriptions are seen on both sides of the blade.





Gilt inlaid inscription

Original: ‘Donne par la Chevalïere d’Eon à son ancïen Ami Geo: Keate Esquïre. 1777’
Translation: Given by the knightess of Eon to her old friend George Keate Esquire. 1777

Detail of sword blade with inscription "Donne par la Chevalïere d'Eon à son ancïen Ami Geo: Keate Esquïre. 1777"

Inscription translates as “Given by the knightess of Eon to her old friend George Keate Esquire. 1777”





Purchased from an individual in 1980.




The blade maker, Lourenco Carvalho, was active as a lance and sword maker in Lisbon in the 1640s. This sword may have been constructed in its current form in 1777, corresponding to the inscription. The hilt appears to be a Norman type 113 hilt, in use from around 1720, and similar to the British 1796 Heavy Cavalry Officer’s Dress sword of the late 18th and early 19th century. The presentation sword has the addition of decorative shell piercings under the hilt, similar to other surviving examples made by English cutlers Bland, and Bland and Foster. However, these other examples are later than 1777, for example, see object number RCIN 61379 currently in the Royal Collection, dated 1780-87.

The sword was presented by the Chevalière d’Éon to George Keate, most likely the writer and poet (1729 – 1797), and friend of Voltaire.

Charles Geneviève Louis Auguste André Timothée d’Éon de Beaumont (1728-1810), also known as the Chevalier d’Éon, and as the Chevalière d’Éon, was a French soldier, diplomat, and spy. D’Éon worked for both Louis XV and Louis XVI, serving in Russia and joining Louis XV’s, private league of diplomats known as the ‘secret du roi’. D’Éon was awarded the Order of Saint Louis, and the title ‘Chevalier’, in 1763.

D’Éon visited London as part of the French embassy and published secret correspondence which revealed corruption within the French government. D’Éon eventually settled in London, living openly as a woman, and establishing a highly successful career in fencing.


Addressing a group at a trans workshop
Kit Heyam delivering an Interactive history game about la Chevalière d’Éon’s life.

Hidden Histories

As part of Leeds 2023 Hidden Histories pilot project, we worked with historian Kit Heyam, and artist and researcher Luna Morgana to facilitate a session with the local trans community to review the Chevalière d’Éon Sword through a different lens.

Read Hidden Histories: reviewing ‘The Chevalière d’Éon Sword’ with our trans community and discover more about the session with the group from Trans Leeds and Non-Binary Leeds and the “zine” that they created inspired by the Chevalière d’Éon Sword.

Date Sent:    04 Sep 1904

Sender: Anon

Recipient: Mrs Kingston, Courtmacsherry, Co. Cork, Ireland


Hope you enjoyed your trip.

A hand written postcard with a green stamp

Henry Edward Tidmarsh produced 13 views of the Tower of London for the publishers Cassell & Co Ltd which were reproduced in June 1904’s Cassell’s Magazine. They also formed two of the thirteen six-postcard sets launched by the company that year. The great advantage of a painted view over a photographic one lay in its longevity as it could remain on sale as “art” – hence Cassell’s Art Postcards.

The details of Mrs Kingston’s trip remain shrouded in mystery – as does the identity of her well-wisher.  Perhaps her destination was the Tower itself?  However, since postcards served as an economic means of communication it may just been a convenient and cheerful messenger. Having said that, the front of the card is dated 31-08-04, but the post mark reads 9:30 AM / SP 3, which suggests it took a leisurely route to the post box.

A painting of a castle gateway with a guard adn young woman. The gateway to the bloody tower

For all its dark associations, Tidmarsh’s Bloody Tower Gateway is quite jolly. The creeping tree is artistic licence – photographs of the period show the creepers confined within railings and ending before this point. Modern conservation has seen their surreptitious eradication in the interests of preserving the historic fabric, with only empty cages remaining today. However, he has accurately recorded the iron mooring link set into the side of the gate – a reminder that the Thames once ran along Water Lane.  The Yeoman Warder in the foreground wears half State Dress – red and gold coatee, undress navy trousers, with single red stripe, and rosetted hat – suggesting it might be a gun firing day. His military pedigree is reflected in his “full set” of facial hair, ie beard and moustache, typical of the period. The steps of the Main Guard can just be seen beyond the gate, while in the far distance stairs lead to the Parade, north of the White Tower. Families and uniformed soldiers mingle, and centre stage a young lady in three quarter length skirt and white blouse sports a fashionably large hat, suggesting that her white parasol is for show, or self-defence.  The popular press of the day took a keen interest in the latter, publishing helpful illustrated articles demonstrating how a lady could weaponize her umbrella against a dastardly male attacker.

As in the rest of the exterior scenes in this series, avian interest is supplied by fluttering pigeons, rather than the Tower’s more famous ravens.

Date Sent:     1 SEP 1905

Sender: Alice Mary

Recipient: Miss S A Ashworth, 4 Peel Street, Cloughfold

Transcript:  Dear Sarah Alice

I have landed home all right I hope you enjoy yourself at Blackpool. I shall want to look at your Phots the next time I see you and I hope you have not burn them as Edith as do. With love Alice Mary

A hand written postcard with a green stamp

Moonlight views became a popular novelty postcard in the early 1900s – not least because a true image illuminated only by lunar light was a considerable technical achievement. Sadly, publishers turned to fakery to transform daylight originals and fulfil demand. Clear, round moons sailed among carefully crafted clouds above sepia toned views while passing rivers sparkled with enhanced reflections.

Millar & Lang produced the National Series – Millar published his first postcards in 1903 and formed the limited company in 1905.  Later postcards bear the company trademark of a shield emblazoned with the logo “NATIONAL SERIES” and topped with a lion couchant.  The company produced postcard series in all the fashionable categories and claimed the widest range of “views” on offer. Based in Glasgow with a London office, Millar and Lang were avid promoters of British printed cards and actively resisted imports which at this time had the reputation of being superior.

A night view of the tower of london

Alice Mary was unconcerned by such considerations, and more than happy to send Sarah Alice a trending card (obviously double Christian naming was also fashionable in 1905). I’m pretty sure she didn’t pour over the picture with a magnifying glass questioning why the benches on the Wharf were occupied so late at night, or wonder at the figure leaning over the rails staring into the river. The fact that every Tower building blazed with lights simultaneously and through suspiciously symmetrical uncurtained windows did not cause her to consider this was as stated a moonlight view of the Tower of London.

Meanwhile, don’t you just long to know more about Edith’s pyromania – why she burned her “phots” – and quite how much Sarah Alice enjoyed herself in Blackpool away from her day job as drawerin in a cotton mill?

Date Sent:  28 AUG 09

Sender: Simeon?

Recipient: Mrs J Palmer Fir Cottage, Braisworth[sic], Nr Eye, Suffolk

Transcript: London, The Tower of London

Dear Friends

Am sending a p.card with one of the building often open to the public don’t you think it looks rather an interesting place, have been through it myself more than once, thought you would one for the album, well how are you both, well I hope, am A1 myself, but rather lonely without a Girl

Well space short so must close

Love to both I remain yours Simeon?

A hand written postcard with a green stamp

The ‘interesting place’ captured through Valentine’s lens is a splendid illustration of late Victorian White Tower displays.  Originally the Banqueting Hall’s ceiling soared to the underside of the White Tower roof itself – but the Tudors needed extra storage so inserted a new upper floor complete with supporting pillars in 1490.

Some four hundred years later it was all change again. The Volunteer Armouries’ towering stands of muskets on the upper floors of the White Tower were replaced by the armours and arms formerly exhibited in the New Horse Armoury. Some of the more “delicate” pieces were accommodated in glass cases – on this postcard a scale model of the White Tower created by the Royal Engineers.  However, the majority were on open display, prey to vagaries of climate, damp visitors and inquisitive fingers. Electric lighting, courtesy of the Royal Engineers, illuminated the White Tower interiors from 1884 but on this floor only enough to ensure efficient policing of nooks and crannies and was supplemented by lightwells cut through from the floor above. The resultant ambiance is probably best described as “atmospheric” or plain gloomy.

inside the white tower

Decorative trophies of redundant weapons cover the ceilings. Even the square wooden pillars sport an outer jacket of staff weapons – mainly late 17th and 18th century sergeants’ spontoons – with capitals of captured Napoleonic cuirassier breast and backplates and 19th century Pioneer swords. The strange stands accompanying each pillar are also refugees from the Horse Armoury, their lower borders incorporating sword guards or pistols, with musket ramrods forming their central column.  Older breast and backplates range up the insides of the arches – directly attached to the stone in a way no longer tolerated.

By 1909 the immersive old curiosity shop approach was nearing the end of its working life about to be replaced by more modern, labelled museum displays. Postcard JV 13363 featured in Valentine’s undated “Photographic View Album of the Tower of London”. The Tower Armouries Curator, Charles ffoulkes presented a copy to HMS Tower in April 1917 but couldn’t resist annotating the Banqueting Hall images as “Taken about 1890”.  ffoulkes hated these displays consigning the trophies to scrap during his White Tower re-vamp completed in April 1916. The photography of his new museum galleries was on hold as major war raged throughout Europe. Sadly, it was never undertaken – the original J Valentine was long dead, and the postcard market moved on.



Date Sent:    19 AUG 1954

Sender: Margret

Recipient: Mr Jack Gallagher, 5 Hampshire Way, South Shields.


Dear Jack!

We arrived very good in London.  We stay now in Croyden [sic].  It is very nice in London.  Today we have been by the Tower Bridge and I have visite [sic] penpal in Catford. Now I am tired.

Best wishes and heaps of love

Your Margret!

Back of The Tower Bridge postcard. Message to Jack from Margaret.

To 21st century teenagers connected to the wider world at the touch of a button, the idea of pen pals must seem rather quaint. When the internet allows global gaming from the comfort of your own room unfettered by language barriers, composing a letter in beginner’s French, Spanish or German is indeed an alien concept.

For the 1950s youngster a clutch of penpals promised an experience of life elsewhere.  Postcards were the ideal medium offering a professionally taken picture and restricted space to practise newly acquired language skills. Presumably Margret was not venturing as far north as South Shields to see Jack in person, but her Croydon base afforded access to the capital’s sights without having to pay London prices.

The Tower Bridge on a coloured postcard

Raphael Tuck & Sons post card captures a sunny picture of “The Tower Bridge” in action over a busy river.  The Tuch family – Raphael, Ernestine and their seven children (four sons and three daughters) moved to England in 1865 escaping the fallout from Prussian expansionism. Initially Raphael dealt in furniture and picture-framing, but when his sons Adolph, Herman and Gustave joined the family business, the picture side took over.   Adolph guided the fine art publishing to its first Royal Warrant in 1893, an appointment carried through each successive reign.  In 1894 Tuck’s produced their first post card rising to become the largest post card publisher in the world. Margret’s card bears the new Queen’s stamp but was probably produced in 1952-3 as it is styled “The Art Publishers by Appointment to the late King George VI”.   Raphael died in March 1900 and his grandson Desmond’s retirement in 1959 marked the end of family’s direct involvement in the firm.

Margret’s postcard features a lost aspect of the Tower Wharf – a front seat view of the river perched atop one of the cannon.  Tower Wharf was constructed to facilitate movement of war materials from stores within the site to equip English forces fighting in France during the Hundred Years War (1337 – 1453 – but who’s counting?).  As the offices of Ordnance and Armoury responsible for this function expanded and demanded additional space, the Wharf accommodated spare cannon and workshops as well as a defensive battery.  Tuck’s cannon may well have graced the Grand Storehouse displays in the Tower’s inner ward until their fiery destruction in 1841 and then formed the Gun Park west of the White Tower. In 1916 the Tower Armouries Curator concerned by “atmospheric and chemical deterioration” moved the cannon he considered more interesting and delicate to the Basement of the White Tower.  The remainder found themselves multi-tasking on the Wharf providing a kids’ assault course, convenient lunch-time restaurant for City workers and general riverside seating.  In 1996 the majority were to the Royal Armouries’ artillery outstation at Fort Nelson, Portsmouth.  Today two naval cannon and two mortars are all that remain.

Date Sent:  12 AUG 1924

Sender: Vinnie (?)

Recipient: Mrs C Robinson 33, Landsdowne Street, Burnley, Lanc.


Having a lovely time.  Just off to Wembley for the day.  Went to see G Robey in “Leap Year” last night was very good. We leave for Eastbourne Wed. or Thursday.

Best Love Jennie

A hand written letter with two green stamps

It seems more than coincidence that in the week that Tower Bridge stuck open (Monday 10th August) this week’s pre-selected Postcard from the Tower features the very same bridge in faultless action 97 years earlier. Even more ironic that this version of the image was published as part of Valentine’s “British Manufacture” Series.  As is customary with Valentine’s photographs it is numbered (43871) and with the accompanying encircled initials ‘JV’.

A corner of the White Tower, rather more of the Main Guard (post 1900 model) and the Wharf lurk behind the one bascule, thus justifying the card’s inclusion in this series. But our correspondent – Vinnie, or perhaps a somewhat convoluted Jennie? (Memo, pick cards with clear signatures in the future) – makes no reference to a Tower visit.  Presumably the view was chosen as generic and instantly recognisable enough to symbolise their whole London trip.

A coloured image of Tower Bridge

The paddle steamer passing under Tower Bridge is the London Belle. Built in 1893 by Denny Brothers of Dumbarton, she was the largest of the Belle steamers’ fleet carrying passengers to and around the east coast stopping at the piers along the way.  Her main route was London to Clacton, but she was prone to running aground near Clacton Pier’s shallows. From 1916 she was requisitioned for mine sweeping duties, and from spring 1919 – summer 1920 acted as a hospital carrier to the White Sea, Northern Russia. After a brief spell in private ownership, she returned to Thames’ duties in 1923 until the end of the 1928 season.  She was scrapped in 1929. Want to know more about the Belle steamers? Do try

As with many London trips in 1924, the prime draw was the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley, offering exotic pavilions, an amusement park and a window onto the wider world, all bundled onto a 216-acre site in north-west London. Vinnie’s Monday evening trip to “Leap Year” at the London Hippodrome, starring the Prime Minister of Mirth himself – former music hall star George Robey – was the perfect curtain raiser to Tuesday’s Wembley outing. Set across South Africa, Canada and Australia, the revue was staged with the exhibition’s tourists as target audience.  Julian Wylie knew his market and the show ran for 471 performances. Paul Chesney’s cover oozes glamour.  Looks as if recuperation in Eastbourne was definitely called for.

Date Sent:    08 AUG 1957

Sender:  Jean

Recipient: Mrs P Anderson Northtown, Tumlin[sic], Bixter, Shetland Is


Having a nice time here & we’ve never seen any rain since we came. We have been up in the city to-day having a look at the shops & have been invite out to see television to-night. Last night Bob and Anna took us to see some places of interest, lovely with all the lights.

Lots love from Jean

Hand written postcard with red stamp

Jean’s postcard is the classic view of the Tower from the south. The White Tower rises majestically above the tree line dominating the skyline realising perfectly William the Conqueror’s vision of power architecture – it’s only a pity that he never lived to see it himself. To one side, 10 Trinity Square looks admiringly on. Very much the newcomer, it was opened in 1922 as the Port of London Authority’s headquarters.

The trees are in full leaf, suggesting summer, and camouflage the stone defences. The conqueror’s castle appears a sylvan oasis amid the urban landscape. Ecologically it continues to defend the capital, providing green lungs to overcome a deadly unseen enemy beyond William’s wildest dreams – pollution.

A view of the white tower surrounded by trees from accross the river

For those of you following these Tower postcards, the view might seem familiar – we’ve featured 3 versions so far – each slightly different. If you click on Postcards from the Tower of London | Royal Armouries you’ll find cards posted on 25 December 1905 (a Christmas card with a difference), 18 June 1920 and an “official” Ministry of Works view taken looking down from Tower Bridge and sent 13 May 1955. Today’s card is confirmed as post-1939 by the pillbox at the east end of the Wharf – a 20th century re-enforced defence against river borne attackers which remained on duty until its demolition in 1959.  Its destruction restored the traditional riverside view of the Tower, but in retrospect is a pity removing as it did a valid piece of the site’s history. The decision is understandable as the country determined to move forward from war, but arguably it was as significant as any previous modifications illustrating how the Tower has adapted to varied challenges over the centuries. Today, as the legacy of the last war’s defences continue to be eroded it might well have survived?

Jean on her London trip was no doubt blissfully unaware of such considerations – it’s not clear if she actually paid her shilling entrance fee to the Tower to look round the site, plus an additional shilling ticket if she wanted to peer at the Crown Jewels in their steel vault in the Wakefield Tower.  Her shopping trip and the invite to an evening’s TV seem to have made more of an impression. Today when most homes have at least one television set and a bountiful selection of channels, 1957’s black and white, two channel evening schedule seems very modest. Television sets remained a luxury item with broadcasting ending after the 10.45pm news.

Date Sent:     09 AUG 1949

Sender:  Gwen

Recipient: Miss N Clayton  11, Mt. Pleasant Road, Newton Abbott, Devon


Many thanks for letters and swee[ts?]. We had a lovely day at the Tower with H&W. I suggested that they came with us to see Uncle Ben next day. H advised against it as being a dreadful journey.  We have seen very few people.  Kevin came to dinner last night. Nothing left on S’s card, Nellie, except Bacon which I can get on Sat. It is in worktable, I think. Love from Gwen and all.

A hand written postcardw ith four green stamps

Gwen and family are enjoying their August holiday in London sending an atmospheric postcard from the Tower to Nellie back home in Newton Abbot. Even in black and white, the Wakefield Tower is bathed in sunshine, with the darkened doorway under the Bloody Tower on one side and St Thomas’s Tower opposite. Shrouded in gloom it lives up to its more familiar name of Traitor’s Gate. Through the central archway Tower life goes on with distant figures chatting, while in the foreground a lone Yeoman Warder stands duty enjoying his summer’s day. It is a tranquil scene, with a sense of timelessness.  The patina of history is provided by the grime of Victorian London coating the stone walls.

But the shadow of the War still lingers.  The Ministry of Works was set up in 1940 to manage the requisitioning of property for war-time use.  After the war, its brief expanded and in the process it took over care of ancient monuments, including the Tower of London. It also became the site’s official post card generator.

A sepia image of tower walls

1940 also saw the introduction of food rationing which was still very much a fact of domestic life nine years later.  Fruit and vegetables were never officially rationed, but their availability effectively served the same purpose. From 27 April 1945, the weekly bacon ration was cut from 4 ounces to 3 (113 to 85gm) while the cooking fat allowance was halved. In July 1949 questions were asked in Parliament about increasing the bacon ration in light of more supplies becoming available, but meat rationing continued for a further six years until its lifting in July 1954.

Gwen’s comment on seeing very few people might be practical too, influenced by rationing.  Stretching resources to keep the family fuelled was hard work at the best of times, let alone on holiday. Hopefully Kevin kept this in mind coming for dinner, so Gwen was spared having to impose the FHB rule. Bearing such constraints in mind, Nellie’s gift of sweets to the holiday makers was even more generous.  They were still rationed – another three summer holiday seasons would pass before sweets came off ration in February 1953.

Date Sent:  29 JUL 1949

Sender: Agnes & Will

Recipient: Mrs J Binns, Shephards [sic] Farm, Ikncornshaw [Ickornshaw], Cowling, Yorkshire


Dear Edie & all

Just a card wondering how you all are, have you heard anything about your hand let me know soon. Love from Agnes & Will.

Hand written postcard with red stamp

Agnes and Will’s postcard pencilled from Peckham is brief and to the point.  A picture of the Tower of London is always a good messenger, but dating the image is a real challenge. Sometime between 1928 and 1949 is a little vague.

Lutyen’s First World War Mercantile Marine Memorial unveiled in 1928 stands alone in the foreground – its Second World War companion still to be added. The horse drawn cart emerging from behind the trees recalls late Victorian views. However, it is not the anachronism it first appears. Haulage firms were investing in fleets of trucks by the 1920s, but some breweries retained their horse-drawn drays for local deliveries into the last decade of the twentieth century. So, in the absence of any other vehicles for comparison and the unhelpful arboreal camouflage, not much mileage there.

Sepia image of the Tower of London and tower brdige with text The Tower and Twoer Bridge, London

The angle of the shot, presumably taken from the roof of the Port of London Authority Building opened in 1922, manages to conceal the most easily identified of the Tower’s battle scars – stopping short of the North Bastion on the outer wall destroyed in October 1940.  Trees cloak where the shell of the Main Guard gutted by fire from incendiary bombs dropped that December might still stand. The potential chimneys above the canopy are in fact the funnels of the ship passing through Tower Bridge’s raised bascules. Tower Hill, also the victim of extensive bomb damage, is just out of shot. Meanwhile, the slice of moat visible does not appear to have been commandeered as allotments as the area south of the site next to the Wharf was.  Nor does the better quality of the card help – throughout the war and its aftermath old stock had happily been dug out and re-circulated.

I’m sure that Mrs Binns didn’t care about such details – the view is recognisably the Tower and Tower Bridge.  Her friends’ concern was far more important.  As to the back story – was it Edie’s hand that was injured – or as Shepherds Farm is involved, does it refer to one of the farm workers? We can only hope that one of the many Yorkshire Binns can cast further light on the matter.