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Meanwhile, back at the Tower...

The 900-year-old White Tower, the architectural centrepiece of the Tower of London will still be home to "an elegant, informative and interesting" seqence of displays, Guy Wilson, Master of the Armouries, promises.

"We are not moving out of the Tower," he insists. But visitors viewing empty cases and gaps where once stood famous suits of armour could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

Internal politics between Historic Royal Palaces and the Royal armouries have led to delays in the master plan to refurbish the White Tower and re-present its history from a fortified Norman residence to royal arsenal.

Until Easter 1997 the building will house only a temporary exhibition tracing its past, featuring armours made for Henry VIII and Stuart kings and princes and instruments of torture.

Half the permanent exhibitions will be open next year and the rest in early 1998. "The timescale is not of our choosing," said Mr Wilson. "It is not something we wanted to happen, but we have to take the long view. It would not have been a sensible course of action to set up displays only to have to dismantle them almost immediately for essential work to the services and fabric of the building. We would have been criticised even more. But the delays have lent weight to our detractors."

The famous Line of Kings dating from the reign of Charles II when the royal armours were first put on show will be recreated in the new displays as will the work of the office of ordnance which dominated the life of the Tower between the 15th and 19th centuries. The education department will still carry on its work in the Tower, but will be directed from Leeds by a newly appointed head of department who will also be responsible for the RA's artillery museum at Fort Nelson, Portsmouth.

Peter Hammond, deputy Master, stressed that it was business as usual down by the Thames.

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