Following the restoration of Charles II (1660-85) the pre-1642 administrative structure of the Office of Ordnance was restored. As early as 1661 the Privy Council sent a committee to inspect the magazine at the Tower. While the committee did not propose moving the powder magazine from the White Tower it did recommend the creation of a 6.2 (20 feet) wide buffer zone around the keep to reduce the risk of fire. The Tower Artillery was briefly located to the New Armouries building which was erected in 1663-64. Circumstances served to highlight the importance of the Office of Ordnance and the Tower during the mid 1660s. New orders for the governance of the Ordnance were issued in 1665. War against the Dutch, Charles II’s financial difficulties, and the Great Fire of London in 1666 prompted another thorough investigation into the Office of Ordnance in 1667. One of the first recommendations acted upon was the creation of the buffer zone around the Tower, a measure which up to that point had been delayed. In fact, the scope of the work was extended to include buildings around the White Tower. It was not until 1674 that this demolition work was completed. Refurbishment work in the Tower for gunpowder storage was also undertaken. Nevertheless, when part of the upper floor of the White Tower collapsed in 1691 sending 2,000 barrels crashing to the floor below the decision was finally taken to cease using the White Tower as a powder magazine.
The Board of Ordnance, established in 1671, had absorbed the functions and responsibilities of the Office of Armoury continued to dominate the Tower. A sign of its pre-eminence is clear from its growing establishment. One of the most significant achievements of this period was the instructions issued by Lord Dartmouth in July 1683. Although based on previous rules it codified existing practices which were then re-issued by monarchs up to George II (1727-60). The senior ranks within the Ordnance remained unchanged while the number of clerical personnel, storekeepers, artificers and labourers increased substantially. The White Tower, no longer home to large quantities of powder became the home to a different assortment of stores including small arms. Storage, assembly, and supply remained integral to the Ordnance’s activities at the Tower and new stores were built in the mid 1680s along the south, east, and west faces of the Tower. The prestige of the Ordnance is demonstrated clearly with the construction of the Grand Storehouse to the north of the White Tower between 1688 and 1692. Begun by James II (1685-88) it was completed under William and Mary (1689-1694).
The Board stopped meeting regularly at the Tower after 1714. The executive offices remained, however, controlling the Ordnance’s day-to-day functions. New offices were erected at Coldharbour in the 1790s after the original offices, built in the 1670s, burnt down in 1788. By this stage the organisational structure of the Board had become even more complicated. It had now developed two sides. The first, under the Lieutenant-General dealt with armaments and two Ordnance Corps of which the Master-General was commander-in-chief; the second, under the Surveyor-General purchased or manufactured munitions, was responsible for their custody, and supplied fortifications and garrisons. Nevertheless, the pressures on the traditional supply system of the Board of Ordnance created by the Napoleonic Wars led to the removal of the Board’s manufacturing activities to Enfield and Lewisham in the early 19th century. Reorganisation of the system of military supply was then discussed periodically for about 20 years. However, a report of 1828 actually considered the system to be perfectly adequate. Nevertheless, the Commission of Inquiry of 1833 was used to justify a measure of reorganisation. The net result was to severely undermine the Board’s ability to meet its responsibilities. The abolition of the offices of Lieutenant-General and Clerk of Deliveries weakened the Board’s technical, administrative, and financial foundations. This became apparent when the Board could not adequately arm British forces during the Crimean campaign (1853-56). This resulted in its abolition in May 1855 and the absorption of its functions by the War Office.
Dr. Malcolm Mercer
Curator of Tower History
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