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Tower of London

Visited October 2016

Location London
Entrance Fee Yes
Railway Station Nearby    Fenchurch Street, Tower Hill Underground Station
Parking No
Facilities Cafe, Shops,Toilets
Map

 

The Tower of London is such a well known site it really needs no introduction. Originally constructed by William the Conquerer to suppress the local population after the Norman Conquest, it has been an important landmark ever since and is now synonymous with London both past and present.

 


 

 


Review

 

Construction began in 1070, as William needed to assert his authority over his new subjects as quickly as he could. A site was chosen next to the river Thames and within the eastern edge of the remaining Roman city wall, some of which still exists on the site today. The huge imposing walls of the White Tower would have left no doubt as to William's power and might. The Tower was never a royal residence, although some monarchs did spend some time there. Its purpose was mainly as a fortress to control the surrounding area. Over the years it was expanded by successive monarchs and was used as a royal mint, a menagerie, an armoury and the quarters of the crown jewels. However the Tower is best known for its use as a prison and the stories of torture and execution associated with it.

 

It was a prison from the 1100s right up until the 20th century, when Rudolf Hess was held there briefly. Ten prisoners were executed on the Tower Green, three of whom were English Queens. Two of Henry VIII's wives - Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard went to the block, as well as  Lady Jane Grey, Queen for just nine days. Lady Jane was just sixteen years old at the time of her execution, a tragic pawn in the power games of her father-in-law the Duke of Northumberland. There is a memorial to those executed out on the Tower Green.

 

Other famous prisoners were the two 'Princes in the Tower', the nephews of Richard III who were kept in the tower until their disappearence in 1483. The Tudor dynasty laid the blame for the demise of the Princes at the feet of Richard III but there is no actual evidence to back this up. The Bloody Tower is thought to be the scene of their murder and runs a film about the Princes, although once again this is conjecture as no one knows exactly what happened to the boys.

 

Another prisoner associated with the Tower is Guy Fawkes who was implicated in the Gunpowder Plot to blow up parliament. He was brought to the Tower and tortured until he betrayed the names of his co-plotters. He was then taken to Westminster where he was hung, drawn and quartered. In the Wakefield Tower there is an exhibition of torture in the tower, however there were long queues to get into this so we did not get to view it.

 

There were also long queues to see the Crown Jewels, so we did not manage to view them either, given our time for the visit was very short. You really need to set aside a whole day to see everything, and to get there early if possible. Due to the distance we had to travel we did not arrive until gone midday and as it was half term the site was busy. We had pre-booked tickets and there were no queues to get into the Tower site, but the more popular exhibitions had queues. I imagine in the height of the tourist season long queues are inevitable across the whole site. Unfortunately this lack of time meant that we did not get to see everything, so we plan to re-visit at some time in the future.

 

 


 

 


 

Others points of interest are the Traitors' Gate, a watergate on the Thames through which prisoners entered the Tower after being brought down the river by boat. There is also an exhibition about the menagerie of animals which were kept in the Tower complex over the years. For example a Polar Bear was given to Henry III in 1252 by the King of Norway, and was kept on a long chain which allowed it to swim in the River Thames to catch fish. In 1255 it was joined by an African elephant, the first of its kind in England. There are sculptures of these animals and others stationed around the site, and the exhibition on them is in the Brick Tower, which can be visited as part of the battlements walk.

 

The menagerie was eventually removed from the Tower in the 1830s as it had become a nuisance to the garrison stationed there. However, ravens are still kept at the Tower, due to a superstition that if they all leave then the monarchy will fall. Charles II decreed that the tower ravens be protected as a precaution, and today there are always seven ravens in residence, their wings clipped so they don't fly away but they are well fed and pampered. The birds are tame and will allow visitors to get up very close to them to take photographs.

 

The Tower wardens, commonly known as Beefeaters are also very amenable to being photographed, as well as giving out information and leading special tours. They also assist the Queens guards, who are on site to protect the Tower as it is still a royal palace and home of the Crown Jewels. As such it is one of the few remaining castles in Britain which still retains a military presence.

 


 

 


 

Depending on how much time you have for your visit, we would recommend going into the White Tower, the main keep started at the time of the Norman Conquest. It now house the Royal Armouries collection. The main rooms are wall to wall with armour from different eras belonging to several kings. 

 

There are toilets, gift shops and cafes within the Tower complex. Tourists have been visiting since the 13th century, so visitor services are very well developed.  It is well served by public transport, with a tube station, bus stops and a pier for river cruises all nearby. We used the river option as it seemed like the quickest way to travel as the river is not congested like the roads.

 

London has of course many other attractions to see, too many to mention individually, although we have included a couple in our picture gallery.

 


 

 


 

More info:  The Tower of London

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