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The Jewel House in the Tower of London is both a building and an institution. Until 1782 it was the Department of the Jewel Office, under the Master of the Jewel Office, who was generally a senior politician.
A Keeper of the Crown Jewels was appointed in 1207. Over the subsequent centuries his title varied, from Keeper of the King's Jewels, Master of the Jewel House, Master and Treasurer of the King's Jewels and Plate, or Keeper of the Jewel House. He was also Treasurer of the Chamber, a division of the Royal Household of the Sovereign. In this position he was also called Keeper of the Court Wardrobe, Keeper of the Privy Wardrobe, or Receiver of the Chamber. In this capacity he represented the Lord Treasurer's interests in the regalia, and the wardrobe and privy wardrobe. Because of this the Receiver of the Chamber exercised delegated authority over the Crown Jewels, especially those kept at the Tower of London. These two positions were separated in 1485.
In 1378 the Keeper gained control over at least a part of the royal jewels, and had a box in which he kept them, with two keys, one for himself and the other for the Lord Treasurer. This was the beginning of the Jewel House Department.
The royal treasure was usually kept in the Tower of London, and at the Great Treasury, Westminster. Additionally, coronation regalia was over the centuries kept in the Chamber of the Pyx in Westminster Abbey. From the foundation of the Abbey in c. 1050 until 1303 the Chamber of the Pyx also held the general royal treasury. Most crowns were kept in the Tower of London from the time of King Henry III, as were coronation regalia from 1643, except for some items which were in the Abbey during the time of King James II.
The first Keeper (however styled) after the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Sir Gilbert Talbot, was the last to exercise day-to-day control over the Jewel House. At that time he was styled Master and Treasurer of the Jewels and Plate. Spare plate was at this time kept at Whitehall, and later, probably, at St James's Palace. Very large quantities of spare plate were melted down and sold in 1680, and thereafter the Jewel House held comparatively little besides that which was held at the Tower of London - though much was out on loan.
In 1782, as part of a wider rationalisation of the Royal Household, the Jewel House Department was abolished, the Lord Chamberlain's Office taking over the accounting functions, with an official called the "Officer of the Jewels and Plate".
Although a treasury had been found in the Tower of London from the earliest times (as in the sub-crypt of St. John's Chapel in the White Tower), from 1255 there was a separate Jewel House for state crowns and regalia, though not older crowns and regalia, which remained at Westminster Abbey. This Jewel House stood by the (now demolished) Wardrobe Tower.
Following Richard de Podnecott's attempted robbery of the Chamber of the Pyx in 1303 the coronation regalia (such as St. Edward's Crown) were moved to the Tower of London for safekeeping. A new Jewel House was built near the White Tower in 1378, and by the 1530s the reserve of jewels and plate was brought together in the rebuilt Jewel House, on the south side of the White Tower. The upper floor was for the regalia, and the lower for the plate.
From 1660, as the Privy Wardrobe no longer remained at the Tower of London, a caretaker was appointed as watchman for the Master of the Jewel House. He later became known as the Keeper of the Regalia or Keeper of the Jewel Office at the Tower. From this appointment a separate branch of the Jewel House Department developed. When the latter was closed down the Tower of London Jewel House alone remained. From 1665 the regalia were on show to the public, and over time this activity of the Jewel House became increasingly important.
From 1782 until 1814 there was only the resident caretaker to guard the regalia and other jewels at the Tower of London. In 1814 a Keeper of the Jewel House was appointed. He had a servant as "exhibitor" - renamed Curator in 1921 - who was responsible for the day-to-day custody of the jewels.
The Keeper of the Jewel House gradually grew in standing, to approximate that of the pre-1782 Keeper. In 1852 he was recognised as a member of the Royal Household, though this ended in 1990 when the Tower of London became the responsibility of the new Historic Royal Palaces Agency. The post was combined with that of Resident Governor of the Tower of London in 1968, and a Deputy Governor (Security) assumed much of his responsibilities.
An assistant curator was appointed in 1963, and a second in 1968, when a new independent body of wardens and senior wardens was created to replace the former detail of Yeomen Warders of the Tower of London who had been responsible for the outward protection of the jewels.
The wardens, who wear royal livery, numbered 20 in 1990.
Removal of the regalia
The regalia are removed from the Jewel House on the authority of the Lord Chamberlain, head of the Royal Household, exercised by his deputy the Comptroller of the Lord Chamberlain's Office. He signs a chit on receipt of the items from the Deputy Governor (Security). Only the Crown Jeweller can handle the regalia and it is customary for a team of armed policemen to be present. The Curator, now renamed Chief Exhibitor, reports directly to the Deputy Governor, who is responsible to the Resident Governor and Keeper of the Jewel House. The Constable and Governor of the Tower of London, and his Lieutenant, are senior retired officers, who have some element of oversight, though no specific authority over the Jewel House.
In 1917 some items were removed for safekeeping away from German bombing, and in 1939-47 a similar precaution was taken.
In 1669 the regalia were moved into a new chamber in the Martin Tower, where they remained until the construction of a new structure adjacent to the Martin Tower in 1842. Unfortunately the new Jewel House, although designed for the now-primary purpose of showing the regalia, was not suitable, and a new chamber was constructed in the upper floor of the Wakefield Tower in 1869. Apart from their temporary removal during war, or for ceremonial use, the Crown Jewels remained there until 1967.
The 1967 Jewel House was built in the west wing of the Waterloo Barracks. It contained a combined strongroom/display area in the basement extending out into the Broad Walk (parade ground) in front of the Barracks, and an upper floor displaying plate. The entrance was in the west front of the barracks, with the basement chamber entered through the ground floor chamber, down 49 steps, past untreated concrete walls, and through a massive strongroom door. The vault was said to be nuclear bomb proof, and to contain electronic beams and steel shutters for security. The items were displayed in a series of glass cases arranged in a circle, around which visitors proceeded clockwise, under the supervision of the wardens. There was a raised gallery at a distance of 2-3 yards from the cases, for viewing at a more leisurely pace.
The Jewel House was built 1966-67 and designed to cater for one million visitors annually. However, as by the 1980s the Jewel House was regularly visited by twice that number of people, a new Jewel House was planned. This was constructed 1992-94, also in the Waterloo Barracks, which was fortunately large enough, having been built to accommodate 1,000 men. The new Jewel House is single-level, on the ground floor of the barracks - doubtless because the threat of nuclear attack having receded, the need for a subterranean vault was less. The Jewel House was funded from the visitor receipts, and cost £10m. The display area is three times the size of the old Jewel House, and more efficient crowd management techniques meant that it is capable of handling four times the number of visitors, at 2,500 an hour. This is achieved largely through the use of a moving pavement.
New security and display technology was also incorporated, including fibre optics to light the displays, and the jewels are protected by 2-inch-thick (51 mm) shatter-proof glass. The cases are of brass and contain inert materials, and filtered air. The jewels rest on French velvet.
A dedicated control room was constructed in the barracks, from which soldiers monitored the Jewel House and the wider Tower of London. Improvements to the Tower of London, especially covering fire safety and security, cost an additional £4.5m, and took three years to complete.
The Jewel House and control room occupy the whole ground floor of the Waterloo Barracks. The jewels were moved 9 January 1994, and the new Jewel House was opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 24 March 1994.
The current Keeper of the Jewel House is Colonel Richard Harrold, OBE, who was appointed in 2011. The Chief Exhibitor of the Jewel House is Keith Hanson, and the Deputy Chief Exhibitor Lyn Jones, RVM.
The security of the Tower of London as a whole is entrusted to the Tower Guard, which is provided by the whichever unit is charged with providing the Queen's Guard at Buckingham Palace at the time. The Guard has been based in Waterloo Barracks since 1845, and is 22 strong, under an officer. The Tower Guard mounts sentries throughout the Tower of London.
The Yeomen Warders of the Tower of London also provide security, though their day-time role is more concerned with the management of the large number of visitors to the Tower of London. Unlike the soldiers of the Tower Guard, who rotate, the Yeomen Warders are permanent, and live in the Tower of London. The present body dates from 1485, and they wear very similar uniforms to the Sovereign's bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard, of which they have been extraordinary members since 1550. There are currently about 38 Yeomen Warders.