The White Tower in 1730: In Drawing Tour

Explore the oldest architectural drawing in the Tower of London's collection

By Historic Royal Palaces

Tom Drysdale, Archivist

Survey of the White Tower Survey of the White Tower (Early 18th Century) by Board of OrdnanceHistoric Royal Palaces

The White Tower has played many different roles since it was built in the 11th century – military stronghold, royal palace, prison, storehouse, and museum, to name some.

This drawing of the White Tower's second floor was probably made around 1730, at a time when the Board of Ordnance was using the Tower as a store for gunpowder and saltpetre, arms and stores.

To the left is the large western chamber which the Board of Ordnance used as a store for small arms, together with the adjacent eastern chamber.

Objects were drawn up through a trap door from the lower levels with the aid of a capstan, which was installed on the floor above.

The drawing also shows the Chapel of St John, with the presses used by the Record Office to house important documents. Records were kept in the Norman Chapel from at least the early 14th century until their removal from the Tower in 1858.

The structure to the east of the White Tower no longer exists. From 1716 this medieval annexe housed the Board of Ordnance's Drawing Office, Record Office, and Modelling Room.

It was here that the Board of Ordnance's team of draughtsmen produced surveys and designs for fortifications. The annexe was demolished in 1879 during the restoration of the White Tower by the Office of Works.

The drawing provides a snapshot of the White Tower at a particular moment in time. But taking a closer look at its details reveals further clues about the drawing's history...

The drawing was made using ink and laid paper. This can be identified from the distinctive parallel lines in the paper which are a result of the production process. Laid paper was used widely for architectural drawings before the nineteenth century.

Close examination also reveals that the drawing is peppered with tiny holes. This is where the drawing has been pricked for transfer – a historical method of copying a design from one sheet of paper onto another. 

Survey of the White Tower Detail of Survey of the White TowerHistoric Royal Palaces

An instruction next to the stairs - 'From 1 to 3 exclusive the steps & circle to be prick't' - must relate to this procedure.

Survey of the White Tower Survey of the White Tower, back (Early 18th Century) by Board of OrdnanceHistoric Royal Palaces

The extent of the pricking is even clearer to see on the verso (back) of the drawing. 

Also on the verso is the stamp of the Board of Ordnance. The broad arrow symbol was used to mark the Board's property from the 17th century onwards.

Survey of the White Tower Detail of Survey of the White TowerHistoric Royal Palaces

The numbers on the recto (front) of the drawing are also worth noting. These are historic reference codes used to identify and manage the drawing. The oldest - 'B10 F76' - is found in a register of drawings by the Board of Ordnance made in 1743.

Survey of the White Tower Survey of the White Tower (Early 18th Century) by Board of OrdnanceHistoric Royal Palaces

The ‘Z’ number was probably added in the mid-19th century, when the Board of Ordnance drawings were transferred to the War Office. There are also several marks left on the paper by modern materials such as paperclips and pressure-sensitive tape.

As a preparatory drawing, the survey provides only basic information about the building. However, by examining its contents, material properties, and other marks on the paper we can learn more about its age, authorship, and custodial history.

Delve further into the archive and take a look at An Ancient Monument on Paper.

Credits: Story

The drawing featured in this story is from Historic Royal Palaces' Architectural Drawings Collection, an archive of plans, surveys and designs for the palaces made in the modern era. Visit hrp.org.uk or more information about the collection.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
A Day at the Tower
Walk in the footsteps of kings, queens, and infamous prisoners at the Tower of London
View theme
Google apps