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-
HOME AT FIRST'S

ADVENTURE

ENGLAND
-

The

TOWER

of London


LONDON

ENGLAND

— #3 of a series —

            The classic castle, like great art, is difficult to define. Ask anyone to describe his or her idealized castle and you may get the same answer you commonly hear for great art: "I know what I like, and I’ll know it when I see it."
            We love castles — of all shapes and sizes and all states of repair. We have our favorites, too, just like we have our favorite music and painters. In this series we present castles we have enjoyed and hope our enthusiasm compels the reader to make their own pilgrimage to these great shrines of history and monuments to imagination.

This article first appeared in JANUARY, 2004.                                                                  MOST RECENT UPDATE: 2015.

W

hen is a castle not a castle? The Tower of London was not built to protect London from invasion, although it could

have served that purpose. The Tower was never intended to be the principal residence of the kings and queens of England, although many English monarchs have lived there. So is The Tower of London an accidental castle?
          The sprawling collection of buildings, walls, towers, moats, gates and fields called The Tower of London was begun shortly by William the Conqueror after the Norman invasion in 1066. In the 900+ years since, the Tower has been enlarged and modified by successive monarchs. It has seen more history than most castles — as a royal palace, imposing fortress, feared prison and gruesome place of execution, royal mint, military arsenal, private zoo, and repository of the Crown Jewels. Today the Tower of London is one of the world’s most famous castles and a recognized
World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

 

WORLD HERITAGE SITE
Pictured here and above is The White Tower,
after which The Tower of London is named.
The White Tower dates from the 11th century,
and is the oldest part of the Tower of London,
and the best-preserved 11th century royal
castle in Europe. The White Tower is where
English monarchs and nobility lived
and sometimes were imprisoned.

Photo © Home At First

 

 

 

A YEOMAN OF THE GUARD
Welcomes a visitor to the Tower of London. 

Photo © Home At First

 

          London’s most popular destination, the Tower of London, stands just west of St. Katharine’s Dock between the River Thames and Tower Hill. Composed of several towers and other buildings, the Tower is located the southeast corner of the Roman City of London borough. The walled, moated complex dates from the reign of William the Conqueror in the 11th century. Over its 900-year history it has been as a fortress, royal palace, zoo, and prison. The Tower now houses the Crown Jewels, as well as the Imperial State Crown made for Queen Victoria’s coronation and worn by Queen Elizabeth II at her coronation. Visitors can see the location of the scaffold where two wives of King Henry VIII (Anne Boleyn and Kathryn Howard) were executed. The Yeomen of the Guard (also known as "Beefeaters") in their distinctive red and black costumes, patrol the Tower and serve as friendly sources of information. Less friendly are the large ravens that lived at the tower for centuries.

 

 

 

THE TOWER OF LONDON AND TOWER BRIDGE
THE THOUSAND-YEAR-OLD TOWER OF LONDON WITH ITS FAMOUS AND MUCH YOUNGER
NEIGHBOR, TOWER BRIDGE. THE ICONIC BRIDGE — NAMED NOT FOR ITS TWIN
TOWERS BUT FOR THE ADJACENT TOWER OF LONDON — OPENED IN 1894.

Photo © Home At First

A SHORT HISTORY OF
THE TOWER OF LONDON

          When the Normans arrived in England in 1066, it was critical that they secured the most important cities, ports, and road junctions. No city was larger or more powerful than London. Shortly after his coronation at Westminster Abbey William the Conqueror ordered many castles built across the land, including the first tower the so-called White Tower of the complex that we now call The Tower of London. The site chosen was near a key river crossing and close to port landings at the southeast

 

2000 YEARS OF HISTORY ON TOWER HILL
Roman Emperor Trajan greets travelers at Tower Hill
Underground Station by the Tower of London (background)
and the medieval city wall of London (left).
Photo © Home At First

corner of the old Roman walls

 

of London.
          Because the Normans were a conquering minority in a land of potentially hostile Anglo-Saxons, The Tower was built to provide a royal seat of power in London and be a secure fortress to protect the Royal Family against potential uprisings.

 

THE FORTIFICATIONS OF THE TOWER OF LONDON SEEN FROM ABOVE
THE 12-ACRE ESTATE OF THE TOWER OF LONDON SEEN IN 2014 FROM THE NEWLY-OPENED SHARD
 SKYSCRAPER ACROSS THE THAMES. NOTE THE WHITE TOWER AT THE CENTER OF THE PROPERTY,
RINGED WITH TWO CONCENTRIC CURTAIN WALLS AND A MOAT (FILLED AT THE TIME WITH RED
 CERAMIC POPPIES). NOTE THE MILLENNIUM PIER AT BOTTOM LEFT, PROVIDING RIVERBOAT
SERVICE FROM THE TOWER UP AND DOWN THE THAMES. NOTE THE CURTAIN WALLS OF MODERN
 BUILDINGS IN THE UPPER LEFT CORNER THAT RING THE WEST DOCK OF ST. KATHARINE' MARINA.

"Tower of London (Foto- Hilarmont)" by Hilarmont - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

          Two hundred years later, famed castle-builder King Edward I added massive walls to the Tower’s defensive works that his father had begun. The resulting fortress was England’s largest and strongest concentric castle with one line of defenses inside the perimeter of another. The new construction was tested by Edward’s son Edward II, first Price of Wales, a regular resident who used the Tower to protect him from rebellious nobles disputing his authority over England.

 

THE TOWER OF LONDON SEEN FROM THE RIVER THAMES
THE WHITE TOWER AND CURTAIN WALLS SEEN FROM THE SOUTH SIDE OF THE THAMES.
NOTE THE LOW SEMI-CIRCULAR "TRAITORS' GATE" AT THE BASE OF THE WALL ABOUT
ONE-THIRD FROM THE LOWER LEFT EDGE OF THE PICTURE. IN THE PAST, THE TRAITORS'
GATE AFFORDED ENTRANCE TO THE TOWER DIRECTLY FROM THE RIVER.. 

Photo © Home At First

          It was also during this time that the Tower took on its first non-military and non-residential uses, when Edward I established the Royal Mint on its grounds. The Tower’s reputation as a feared prison began during the reign of Edward’s father, Henry III. One of the Tower’s first prisoners a Welsh Prince and enemy of the England Crown died trying to escape by climbing out of the Tower. And, during Edward’s reign that the Tower became a royal treasury when, in 1303, the Crown Jewels were moved there from Westminster Abbey. Edward Longshanks (King Edward I) also is credited with being the first monarch to have his exotic animal collection (the "menagerie") exhibited at the Tower. This tradition lasted five centuries until, in 1834, the menagerie was moved to a new location in London’s Regent’s Park as the foundation of the now world-famous London Zoo.

 

THE MENAGERIE, THE MOAT, AND THE ENTRANCE OF THE TOWER OF LONDON
STATUES OF FIERCE LIONS PROWL THE OLD MENAGERIE AT THE TOWER OF LONDON, WHILE A RED TIDE OF CERAMIC POPPIES FILLS THE MOAT TO COMMEMORATE BRITISH DEAD OF THE GREAT WAR
.
THE MAIN VISITORS' ENTRANCE TO THE TOWER OF LONDON IS THROUGH THE ARCHWAY OF
THE TWIN ROUND TOWERS IN THE RIGHT CENTER OF THE PICTURE. 

Photo © Home At First

          During the 30-year struggle for the throne known as the War of the Roses, monarchs from both competing houses (Lancastrians and Yorkists) used the Tower for various purposes. Court was held there, as were numerous victory celebrations, and, most infamously, executions and royal murders. Lancastrian King Henry VI was imprisoned for several years in the Tower before briefly regaining the throne and then quickly losing it. Yorkist King Edward IV, himself regaining the throne he once held, had his rival put to death in the Tower. But it was the disappearance — and probable murder — of the young sons of Edward IV by their uncle, King Richard III that became the most infamous acts the Tower of London had witnessed. William Shakespeare wrote extensively about these times in his plays "Henry VI" (Parts 1, 2, & 3), and "Richard III".
          After Richard III had his comeuppance at Bosworth Field, the Tudors took over the monarchy.

 

CASTLE, FORT, PALACE, PRISON
The Tower of London has served as home for kings,
queens, and knaves of all suits. Some entered
willingly. Many never exited alive.
Photo © Home At First

Within a few decades, during the

 

reign of King Henry VIII, the Tower would witness more famous residents and more famous executions, including power rivals Sir Thomas More (who sided with Rome when King Henry VIII formed the Church of England), and Thomas Cromwell. Most famous of Henry VIII’s guests in the Tower of London were his wives who lost their heads there: Anne Boleyn (wife #2), KATHRYN Howard (wife #5). Henry’s daughters learned well from their father: Queen ("Bloody") Mary had predecessor Lady Jane Grey (Queen of England for 9 days) executed in the Tower, and her half-sister, Princess Elizabeth, imprisoned there for 3 months.

 

LEAVING THE TOWER OF LONDON IS FREE AND EASY, EVEN AFTER DARK
ABOUT 2.5 MILLION VISITORS ENTER THE TOWER OF LONDON EACH YEAR, AND ALL DEPART WITH THEIR HEADS BY SUNSET, MANY THROUGH THIS EXIT ALONG THE THAMES PATH ON THE RIVER BANK.
EACH EVENING SMALL GROUPS (6 PERSONS APRIL-OCTOBER; 15 PERSONS NOVEMBER-MARCH) OF PRE-RESERVED TICKET HOLDERS ENTER THE TOWER OF LONDON AT 9:30PM UNDER THE ESCORT OF
YEOMEN OF THE GUARD TO EXPERIENCE THE 700-YEAR-OLD "CEREMONY OF THE KEYS", IN WHICH
THE TOWER OFFICIALLY IS LOCKED FOR THE NIGHT. TICKETS ARE FREE, BUT SHOULD BE APPLIED
FOR SEVERAL MONTHS PRIOR TO THE DATE OF ATTENDANCE DESIRED. APPLY FOR TICKETS HERE.

Photo © Home At First

          When Elizabeth succeeded Mary to the throne in 1558, she, too, used the Tower ruthlessly, imprisoning numerous high clerics and nobles fir months and years, and beheading many.
         The traditions of the Tudors were passed on to the Stuarts. King James I enlarged the menagerie and the armory, and continued to imprison celebrities, most famous of whom was Sir Walter Raleigh. Was James fearful of Raleigh, the hero of the war against the Spanish Armada, early colonist of Virginia, noteworthy poet and confidant of Queen Elizabeth I?
          Maybe. He had Raleigh beheaded in 1618 on trumped-up charges.

 

THE MOAT NO LONGER DISCOURAGES INVADERS AT THE TOWER OF LONDON
ONCE UPON A TIME, THE MOAT PREVENTED EASY ACCESS TO THE TOWER OF LONDON'S MANY LAYERS OF WALLED FORTIFICATIONS. TODAY, THE MOAT IS A MULTI-USE AREA THAT HAS SERVED AS AN
ICE SKATING RINK, OPEN AREA FOR COSTUMED MEDIEVAL RE-ENACTMENTS (AS ABOVE), AND EVEN
 AS A CANVAS FOR LARGE-SCALE ARTWORK (2014'S RED CERAMIC POPPIES COMMEMORATION OF
 THE 100TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE GREAT WAR — AS PICTURED THREE TIMES IN THIS ARTICLE).

Photo © Home At First

         Over the last four centuries the Tower has continued to evolve. Its importance as a garrison and armory took on real importance during the English Civil War of the 17th century, and its importance as a prison was rekindled during the World Wars of the 20th century, when several German spies were held and executed there. And, like much of London, the Tower was bombed by Germans during the Blitz, suffering some significant damage.

 

ENGLAND'S #1 TOURIST ATTRACTION REACHES VISITORS ON MANY LEVELS
THE TOWER OF LONDON IS MANY THINGS TO MANY PEOPLE: HISTORY, DRAMA, GLORY, MURDER,
 MYSTERY, ROYALTY, CULTURE. AS A SYMBOL FOR ENGLAND, IT MAY BE UNSURPASSED. ITS
HISTORY IS A MICROCOSM OF BRITAIN'S. ITS USEFULNESS CONTINUES TO EXPAND. NO
LONGER A ROYAL PALACE OR TOP-SECURITY PRISON, TODAY'S TOWER OF LONDON IS
A TOP-ECHELON HOST VENUE FOR EVENTS OF ALL KINDS: CINEMA-MAKING, CONCERTS,
SKATING, AND EVEN AS A CANVAS FOR LARGE-SCALE PERFORMANCE ARTWORK LIKE
'BLOOD SWEPT LANDS AND SEAS OF RED', 2014'S RED CERAMIC POPPIES DISPLAY
 COMMEMORATING THE 888,246 BRITISH EMPIRE LIVES LOST DURING WORLD WAR I.

Photo © Home At First

          The menagerie had been removed to Regents Park in 1834, but the Royal Mint remained in the Tower until moving to Wales in 1968. Its armory and record offices had both moved to other locations by the mid-19th century. But the Crown Jewels remained at the Tower, except for during World War II when they were taken to a still undisclosed location for safekeeping.
          Reopened to visitors after WWII, the Tower of London has become the city’s busiest attraction, with over 2,500,000 visitors a year. In 1988 UNESCO named the Tower of London an official World Heritage Site.

As The Tower evolved over a millennium, its concentric walls became a warren of spaces of differing architectural styles with purposes as varied as royal household, zoo, national treasury, top-security prison, guest quarters, tobacco garden, royal mint, place of execution, chapel, and private cemetery. Photo © Home At First.
As The Tower evolved over a millennium,
its concentric walls became a warren of
spaces of differing architectural styles with
purposes as varied as royal household, zoo,
national treasury, top-security prison, guest
quarters, tobacco garden, royal mint, place
of execution, chapel, and private cemetery.
Photo © Home At First

   
 
 

IF YOU GO:

Photo © Home At First

Getting There:
The Tower of London is easily reached from HOME AT FIRST’s lodgings in
LONDON:

The Apartments at St. Katharine's Marina: walk through the marina to the riverside Thames Path. Follow the path west through the tunnel underneath the Tower Bridge Road approach that leads to the Tower of London's river frontage. Follow the path to the west side of the Tower of London, where the entrance is located. Walking time: 5-10 minutes traffic-free.

The Brewery Apartments: on foot or by bus, follow Tower Bridge Road north across the iconic bridge to the Tower of London. Proceed around the Tower's walls to the western entrance. Total travel time: 10-15 minutes.

Opening Times:
MarchOctober: Tu-Sa 9AM-5:30PM, Su-Mo 10AM-5:30PM.
NovFeb: Tu-Sa 9AM-4:30PM, Su-Mo 10AM-4:30PM.
Closed 4 days a year: December 24-26 and January 1.
Last Tour of Day led by Yeoman Warders: 3:30PM (Mar-Oct);

2:30PM (Nov-Feb).

Admission charges at the gate are (subject to change):
Adults: £22.00/Adult
Children 5-15: £10.00 (children under 5 are free)
Seniors (60+): £17.00
Students (16+, with ID): £17.00
Family (up to 2 adults + 3 children): £55.10
NOTE: Booking tickets in advance
ON-LINE may save money.

The Ceremony of the Keys: the nightly locking up of The Tower of London is performed by Yeoman Warders in the presence of a small group of visitors. The 25-minute ceremony begins promptly at 9PM. Open to the public by pre-reservation only. For official information and ticket applications go HERE.

 

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