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Tower of London


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"A World Heritage Site"

Tower of London from across the Thames, traitors gate in the front
By  Viki Male 

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
Photo by Paul Allison 

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:-

  • Wakefield Tower to the SW

  • Lanthorn Tower to the SE

  • Wardrobe Tower to the NE (now ruined)

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:-

  • Wakefield Tower - the largest of the towers in the curtain wall. It is said that this was where the imprisoned King Henry VI was murdered as he knelt at prayer.

  • Lanthorn Tower

  • Salt Tower

  • Broad Arrow Tower

  • Constable Tower

  • Martin Tower - The Crown Jewels were kept here from 1669 until 1842. This was the scene of the attempted theft of the jewels by Colonel Blood in 1671.

  • Brick Tower

  • Bowyer Tower

  • Flint Tower

  • Devereux Tower

  • Beauchamp Tower (pronounced 'Beecham')

  • Bell Tower - the oldest tower in the circuit, built in the 1190s as part of the fortification of Richard I and later incorporated into that of Henry III. Named after the curfew bell which has been rung from this tower for over 500 years.

  • Bloody Tower (or the Garden Tower), so named after a legend that the Princes in the Tower were murdered there.

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:-

  • Byward Tower

  • St Thomas's Tower, built between 1275-1279 by Edward I to provide additional Royal accommodation for the King

  • Cradle Tower

  • Well Tower

  • Develin Tower

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.

Tower of London with Tower bridge behind taken from Swiss Re Tower central London


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:-

  • Lions, leopards, lynx's and camels in 1235 according to William of Malmesbury.

  • Henry III received a wedding gift of 3 leopards in 1235 from Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, although records show this, they may have been lions.

  • In 1264, they were moved to the Bulwark, which was duly renamed the Lion Tower, near the main western entrance.

  • A lion skull was radiocarbon dated to between 1280 and 1385, making it the earliest medieval big cat known in Britain.

  • A polar bear in 1252, which was a gift from the King of Norway.

  • William Blake saw the tiger which may have inspired his poem The Tyger.

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.

Crown Jewels

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:-

Yeoman Warders  or Beefeaters

These are the guards, prison officers and more recently guides in the Tower. There are 35 Yeoman Warders, the most senior being the Chief Yeoman Warder, and his deputy being the Yeoman Gaoler. They report to the Constable of the Tower.

The Yeoman Warders today live in the tower, and are principally the guides and are one of the attractions, although technically could still be the gaolers should the need arise. Each evening they take part in a ritual, known as the Ceremony of the Keys, see below for details on this.

The security of the Tower of London as a whole is entrusted to the Tower Guard, which is provided by whichever unit is charged with providing the Queen's Guard at Buckingham Palace at the time. The Guard has been based in Waterloo Barracks since 1845, and is 22 strong, under an officer. The Tower Guard mounts sentries throughout the Tower of London.



Beefeaters (Yeomen warders)

Picture by Kenneth Allen


Major Tower Attractions

  • The White Tower.

  • Crown Jewels (about 20min) - 23,578 gems that make up the Crown Jewels, in the Jewel House.

  • Lady Jane Marks - Lady Jane Grey was queen for nine days. She was imprisoned and executed at the Tower, but before her death, it is said she left some marks on a stone.

  • Yeoman Warder (tour 60min) (included in entry ticket) - Medieval palace - contains fabulous interiors. Discover what life was like and experience the sounds and aromas of life in a surprisingly luxurious medieval household.

  • Prisoner exhibition.

  • Tower Green.

  • Ravens - Legend says that the kingdom and the Tower will fall if the 6 Ravens ever leave the Tower.

  • Instruments of torture in the Lower Wakefield Tower.

  • Decide who murdered the Little Princes in the Bloody Tower.

  • Traitors' Gate - where prisoners accused of treason are supposed to have passed through, including Queen Elizabeth I.

  • Scaffold Site and see where seven of the Tower's most important prisoners were executed, including three Queens.

  • Henry VIII - dress to kill - largest collection of Henry VIII armour - check website that this is still running before visiting.

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.

Further information Grid



Tower of London, London

Ceremonial County: London

Grid Reference:


Map Link:

Multimap                     Google

Aerial photo:

Multimap       Multimap birds eye view - excellent

Google Google maps has a walking man view facility, giving a range of roadside views of the tower.



Best Times to Visit:

Any Time its open





PDF plan of the tower

Other useful websites:

Wikipedia      Wikipedia commons (images)

A site with a lot of images     Geograph (images)

Authorised Guide to the Tower by W. J. Loftie, circa 1904, from Project Gutenberg.

Nearby Locations: Tower Bridge
Other Relevant pages:

World Heritage Sites     

World Heritage Sites - Further Information



Planning Grid


Tower of London, London

Grid Reference:


Getting there:

Pdf map of tower and local area including parking

nearest tube :- Tower Hill underground station (circle or district lines)      other access information


Well signposted


Nearby but expensive, but within the London Congestion Zone area.


Everything you would expect from a main tourist attraction.

Things To Do, See and Photograph:

Tower, ravens, beefeaters, uniformed guards, costume re-enactments, armoury, Tower bridge, canons, River Thames, Roman wall.

What to take:

A range of lenses would be an advantage, flash

Nature highlights:



The Tower of London





0844 482 7777               Ticket line 0844 482 7799

Opening times:

01 Mar-31 Oct Tues-Sat 9am-5.30pm; Sun & Mon 10am-5.30pm

Last admission at 5pm and last tour starts at 3.30pm

01 Nov-28 Feb Tues-Sat 9am-4.30pm; Sun & Mon 10am-4.30pm

Last admission at 4pm and last tour starts at 2.30pm



Adult £17; Child (under 16) £9.50; Concession £14.50;

Family (2+3) £47

Buy tickets online cheaper: Adult £16; Child (under 16) £9; Concession £14; Family (2+3) £44

Annual ticket unlimited entry to 5 Royal Palaces £39

Joint tickets with other places and events available.

Ceremony of the Keys - FREE - see above

Photo Restrictions:

No photos at the Ceremony of the Keys, most other situations are probably OK.

Other Restrictions: None known
Special Needs Access:  
Special Needs Facilities:  
Children Facilities: A good pace for children, a lot to see and do with special exhibits for children.
Dogs Allowed: Guide dogs only.

Please let us know any other information that we can add to the Further information and Planning Grids or page and any errors that you discover. Before making a long trip to any location it is always wise to double check the current information, websites like magazines may be correct at the time the information is written, but things change and it is of course impossible to double check all entries on a regular basis. If you have any good photographs that you feel would improve the illustration of this page then please let us have copies. In referring to this page it is helpful if you quote both the Page Ref and Topic or Section references from the Grid below. To print the planning grid select it then right click and print the selected area.

Please submit information on locations you discover so that this system continues to grow.


By: Keith Park  Section: Castles Key: Most Significant
Page Ref: Tower_of_London Topic:  Castles Last Updated: 07/2009


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