Tower of London from across
the Thames, traitors gate in the front
Like most castles, the Tower of London has developed in stages over the ages, however it is unusual in that it started as a Royal castle and palace and still is today. The defences although having been changed have generally grown in rings outwards.
This however is more than another castle , it represents a large chunk of history, with loads to see and photograph. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Officially Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, but known by everyone as the Tower of London, it was first constructed for William the Conquer in around 1078 on the site previously used for a Roman fortress. He had built a tower made of Kent stones with finer stones brought from France for the corner stones and around the windows. This was what we now call the white tower, and is the main keep of the castle. The White Tower is 90ft high, and walls up to 15ft thick at the base. A bailey (wall) and nearby town walls of London would have made up other parts of its initial defences. Today it looks much as it would have originally, the white surface added later having been removed.
The central keep known as the
White Tower built for William the Conqueror
Henry III had palatial buildings and ward added. This Ward was entered by the now ruined Coldharbour Gate to the NW and bounded by a wall, fortified by towers:-
Some of the towers remain but the Great Hall and much more have been removed in later remodelling.
Around this, from 1238, Heny III had a curtain wall and outer moat added. So at this point it had an inner wall and an outer wall and moat, filled with water from the Thames.
This wall had 13 towers:-
Edward I, between 1275 and 1285, expanded it further adding a new outer wall, filling in the old moat and adding a new one outside. The space between being the outer ward. This wall has 5 Towers:-
On the north face of the outer wall are 3 semicircular bastions, the Brass Mount, the North Bastion and Legge's Mount.
The Tower of London from Tower Hill EC3 By R Sones
The water entrance to the Tower is often referred to as Traitor's Gate because prisoners accused of treason such as Queen Anne Boleyn and Sir Thomas Moore are said to have passed through it. Traitor's Gate cuts through St Thomas's Tower and replaced Henry III's Watergate in the Bloody Tower behind it.
Entry to the castle was across the moat, originally water filled but now dry, crossing by a stone bridge in the south east, leading to the Byward Tower from the Middle Tower, a gateway which had formerly an outwork, called the Lion Tower.
Entrance in SW corner By R Sones
The tower was a Royal residence up to the period of Oliver Cromwell, who demolished some of the older palatial buildings.
The tower has a long history, was the site of many executions, a lot of torturing, plus has a long history of being included in fictions, both written and TV dramas. It is said to have more ghosts than anywhere else in Britain.
From the 13th century there was a Royal collection of exotic animals at the tower. This was started in 1125 by Henry I at his palace at Woodstock in Oxfordshire, now the grounds of Blenheim Palace. It was moved to the tower in 1204 in the rein of King John. Animals that are known to have been there include:-
It was opened as an occasional public spectacle in the reign of Elizabeth I.
The collection was open to the public by the 18th century, admission was a sum of three half-pence or the supply of a cat or dog for feeding to the lions.
Eventually the animals were moved to the Zoological Society of London's, London Zoo when it opened. The last of the animals left in 1835, and most of the Lion Tower was demolished soon after, although Lion Gate remains.
Legend says that the kingdom and the Tower will fall if the 6 Ravens ever leave the Tower, its not known when this started.
It was said that Charles II ordered their removal following complaints from John Flamsteed, the Royal Astronomer. However, they were not removed because Charles was then told of the legend that if the Ravens ever left the Tower of London, the White Tower, the monarchy, and the entire kingdom would fall, (the London Stone has a similar legend). Charles, following the time of the English Civil War, superstition or not, was not prepared to take the chance, and instead had the observatory moved to Greenwich.
Wild Ravens and many other scavengers were common in London and other cities in past times and cleaned up the streets and markets. Ravens gathering at the gallows, and at executions was a common element of stories especially by Yeomen warders at the tower.
There is evidence that the original Ravens were donated to the tower by the Earls of Dunraven, perhaps because of their association with the Celtic raven-god Bran.
During the Second World War many of the Ravens died of shock in the blitz and only one remained, but 6 were back in place before it was opened again to the public after the war.
The current Ravens cannot fly away, they have their wings clipped, so hop about, they are looked after by the Raven master, one of the Yeomen Warders.
Originally these were kept in Westminster Abbey, but in 1303 they were stolen, most or all being said to have been recovered soon after, and since this time they have been kept in the Tower of London in the jewel house, except during the Second World War when they were taken to Montréal, Canada, along with all the Gold from the Bank of England. Other accounts suggest they were held in the Round Tower at Windsor Castle during WW2.
In 1671 an attempt to steal the Crown Jewels was made by Colonel Thomas Blood and others, at the time they could be viewed for a fee, paid to the custodian, and Blood befriended the 77 year old custodian, then overpowered him, but their attempt was discovered and he was captured. The custodian was pardoned by the King and given an income, eventually dying of natural causes.
More on the Crown Jewels and Blood:-
Major Tower Attractions
Ceremony of the Keys
FREE, but you need to get tickets in advance, applying 2 or 3 months in advance.
This is the ceremony around the locking up of the tower. Entry is at 9:30pm promptly, late arrivals are not allowed in, completes at 10:05pm. NO PHOTOGRAPHY ALLOWED in the ceremony. No toilet or refreshment facilities available.
The Ceremony of the Keys is the traditional locking up of the Tower of London and has taken place on each and every night, without fail, for at least 700 years. The importance of securing this fortress for the night is still very relevant because, although the Monarch no longer resides at this Royal Palace, the Crown Jewels and many other valuables still do.
Click here to get details of how to apply for tickets for this.
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