It is unclear when the Tower of London first became a visitor attraction with admission charges for those who wanted to see its sights. In practice, it may have been a gradual process, in which the custom of visitors giving gratuities to those who had assisted them during their visit turned into fixed charges – although allowing a visitor to give more if he wished. For example, Patrick Gordon recorded on 9 December 1666 ‘I went to the Tower, and see the crowne, sceptre, jewels, armes and magazine, which cost me in wages one pound thirteen shillings’. It would seem that some visitors of status would deliberately over-pay as a reflection of their social standing and wealth.
From the 1690s there is considerable evidence about charges which shows that, unlike today, each attraction on the site levied its own separate admission charge. This meant that visitors could pick and choose what they wanted to see and what they did not. Although it is notoriously difficult to converted prices in the distant past into present-day equivalents, it is clear that a visit which took in all the Tower’s sights would have been very expensive. These charges would have prevented many working people from seeing the Tower’s attractions in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries. Throughout this period it appears that those with connections at the Tower could arrange for free admission, but this would not have benefitted the poor.
In 1693 prospective overseas visitors to the Tower were advised to expect to have to pay the following if they wished to see the sights:
Train of Artillery two sous
Horse Armoury two sous
Spanish Armoury two sous
Menagerie three sous
Crown Jewels eighteen sous
The particularly high price for viewing the Crown Jewels reflects the limited numbers who could be accommodated seeing the crowns by candlelight. By 1729 this price had risen by 66% and the charges for the armouries had gone up by 50%:
Menagerie 3d (3 sous)
Mint 3d (3 sous)
Jewel House 2/6 (30 sous)
Horse Armoury 3d (3 sous)
Small Armoury inc Spanish 3d (3 sous)
Grand Storehouse/Train of Artillery 3d (3 sous)
The Guide also makes it clear that a tip was expected by the Warder who took you from attraction to attraction, although no sum was specified:
‘Here [ie Traitor’s Gate] the Warder that attended you returns your Sword and you discharge him, in giving him something for his Attendance.’
By the late 18th century there had been further changes to the admission prices for seeing the curiosities:
‘Lions, each person six-pence
Regalia, in company, each person, one shilling
Regalia, single, one shilling and sixpence
10 pence per person to be paid at the Spanish armoury for visiting in a group
Foot Armory three-pence
Train of Artillery two-pence
Line of Kings three-pence
Spanish Armory two-pence
NB But if a single Person is shown the Foot-Armoury, Train of Artillery, Horse-Armoury and Spanish Armoury he pays for each double the Price above mentioned (ie one shilling and eight pence).
By the early 19th century some of the admission prices had increased still further:
The Armoury, 3s. each person
The Regalia, 1s. each. One person alone 1s. 6d
Wild Beasts 1s. each
An optional gratuity for the attendants’.
This had risen still further by 1830, soon leading to complaints about the exclusion of those who were not wealthy:
The Tower Armouries (Spanish Armoury, Horse Armoury, Volunteer Armoury etc in the White Tower, and the Spanish Armoury): two shillings per person and one shilling for each person to the attendant warder.
Jewel Office: two shillings per person and one shilling to the attendant warder, for each company.
Royal Menagerie one shilling per visitor. The above are the only parts of the Tower which are permitted to be shown, without special permission’.
After much discussion, a scheme was eventually agreed which would widen access to the Horse Armoury and the Tower’s other visitor attractions. With effect from 1 May 1838 admission to the Armouries in the Tower was by ‘tickets of admission at 1s. each’.
‘No further payment is on any account to be offered or accepted, either to warders or attendants of any description, in viewing the armouries.’
Free admission was permitted for officers, NCOs and men of the British Army and Royal Navy in uniform. Principal storekeeper could give free admission to the armouries, as previously. There remained extra charges for seeing the Menagerie & Crown Jewels.
The reductions in the admission charges for the Armouries quickly had a marked effect on the numbers of visitors and the amount raised from tickets:
1837-8: 2 shillings + fee (11,104; £1665)
1838-9: 1 shilling (42,212; £2110)
1839-40: 6 pence (84,872; £2121)
1840-1: 6 pence (95,231; £2380)
Pressure to widen access continued and from 1875 free admission on specified days was allowed, permitting working people to see the Tower’s attractions, including the Horse Armoury, for the first time.
For several centuries, Tower of London visitors have enjoyed seeing the figures of armoured kings, displayed with life-sized wooden horses.
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