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Crown Jewels moved amid tight security

PART of the Tower of London was sealed off yesterday as the Crown Jewels were boxed up and moved to a new home. The Waterloo Barracks was under tight security as, inside, the world's most valuable collection of jewellery was removed from its fortified bunker 60ft below ground and transferred upstairs.

The collection, which includes the world's largest diamond and about 20,000 other gems, is being transferred to new bomb-proof display cases on the ground floor of the barracks, the Governor of the Tower of London, Major General Christopher Tyler, said.

The move is being made to accommodate the growing number of visitors to the Jewel House, and to allow access by the infirm, disabled and families with prams.

Work began yesterday morning when the Crown jeweller, David Thomas, director of Garrards and the only person allowed to handle the jewels in the Jewel House, began lifting the crowns, sceptres and orbs from their display cases and placing them into boxes. Objects such as the Sovereign's Sceptre, set with the 530 carat diamond, the First Star of Africa, have been placed in their own specially made leather boxes, complete with brass handles and E II R initials. Other items, such as the 1660 Charles II christening font, are being wrapped up and put in temporary boxes.

The jewels were carried up the 49 steps to ground floor level by the curator of the Crown Jewels, Bob Melling, and his wardens and placed, still in their packing, inside the new display cases. They will go on show again after the Queen opens the new Jewel House on 24 March. In the meantime, they will all be cleaned by Garrards.

In the new Jewel House, a moving walkway will carry visitors at one third of a mile an hour, during busy times, to prevent a log jam around the most popular items.

Although the Crown Jewels have been in the Tower since 1327, they have been moved only twice since 1867. The last time was in 1967.