Tower of London buries its historic axe

Diane Spencer

The Royal Armouries and Historic Royal Palaces have buried the hatchet after a year-long dispute over their education services. The two organisations will offer an integrated service to schools and adults from today at the Tower of London, writes Diane Spencer.

At issue was the decision by HRP, a Government agency which also runs Hampton Court, the Banqueting House, Kensington and Kew palaces, to charge school children Pounds 1 admission to the Tower and end the free education service.

An acrimonious row broke out between the two organisations with Guy Wilson, Master of the Armouries, accusing HRP of "a double-rip off" as money raised from charges would not go back into enhancing the service.

The Royal Armouries, a trustee museum housed in the Tower, has run a highly- regarded service for both establishments for nearly 20 years for thousands of pupils, teachers and adult learners.

During the winter months school parties got in free with a daily quota of around 750 pupils. This has now ended. The majority of teaching will still be free, but costs will be recovered for specialist lectures. Deputy Master Peter Hammond said: "We are still not happy about charging, but at least the income is going back into the education service."

More than half the income will come from admission charges and adult education fees with each organisation making a contribution to common costs. The "nightmare" booking procedures have been streamlined so that teachers can now ring one number using one programme of events instead of two. "This is a huge step in pooling administration and resources," said Gillian Dawson, head of education for HRP. "The average teacher was not aware of the divisions between the two organisations."

Teaching staff will be employed separately with the Armouries keeping its two full-timers and head of the service, Chris Scott, who will also be supervising the RA's Fort Nelson in Portsmouth and its new museum in Leeds. HRP employs staff on contracts.

Mr Scott said the two organisations would be exchanging best practices, including running teacher placement schemes with the neighbouring Tower Hamlet community and encouraging schools to treat the place as their local museum.

But the Armouries are now facing a new upheaval as the galleries in the White Tower will be seriously depleted by Christmas as the bulk of the collection moves to its new home in Leeds. One gallery will be converted into a temporary exhibition, but the new displays will not be completed until March 1997.

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