I have often thought that cities are great places to have nothing to do. So while accompanying my good lady to a work conference i was able to just amble round London for the day. I opted to visit one of the most famous castles in the country, The Tower of London. This building has been active since it’s construction around 1080 under the orders of William of Normandy. It contains a vast wealth of historical intrigues as well as being an impressive structure to behold. This fortress, and the many other types of fortification including the most common motte and bailey forts that popped up all around England. (Including my town of Newcastle under Lyme) They were the result of a small force in a potentially hostile land. But I digress, the Tower has stood on the banks of the Thames in London near tower bridge and HMS Belfast, a treat for those who love photography. It has seen Murder and execution, civil uprising including the use of wildfire and civil war. Marriage, torture and mystery. It housed the royal mint for many years. As stated in the opening title, If only the walls could talk. Thankfully much of its activity has been documented so they don’t need to. It features in many history book that focus on England at some point or other.
The ravens in the tower.
We all love a bit of myth and legend, don’t we? One thing visitors will notice as they walk around the grounds to the front of the tower is the ravens flying around under the watchful gaze of the raven master (which is a pretty nice title if I may say so). There are many doom and gloom tales linked to kingdoms, the Ravens are one of these tales. Apparently, should the ravens leave the tower, it and the kingdom itself will fall !!!!!!!!!!!!! (Insert dramatic music) probably not, but why risk it? Charles the second was keen for the then six ravens to stay in the tower and measures were taken to ensure this. These days they are still not allowed to leave but more through the encouragement of a good life than stopping them from flying. They have a nice safe place to live and good food too. The primary and secondary wings are trimmed but this does not hinder short flights. There are currently 9 ravens. Side note, birds feather growth is a fascinating topic I learned a little about whilst talking to a fletcher about the production of arrows.
The Guard and the Jewels.
The Crown Jewels are also located at the tower. To see them, you may encounter considerable queues and as far as I remember there was no photography permitted for security reasons. The queen’s guards are there and it is always interesting to observe them on duty as they patrol. Occasionally being treated at them yelling “MAKE WAY FOR THE QUEEN’S GUARD” at some poor soul caught in the way. In this day and age with all the videos posted, it does surprise me somewhat that people still think they are just decoration for show. They are members of our military and are very well trained. They are there to guard the queens interest. Getting in their way or joking about can end badly, as many amusing YouTube videos will confirm.
Since the construction of the tower in the 11th century. It has been in continuous service, from being used as a defensive position against uprisings such as the peasants revolt and the Jack Cade rebellion in the Middle Ages. It had housed some important prisoners such as king Henry VI and witnessed controversies including the unsolved puzzle involving the princes in the tower. Far too many for this simple blog post to cover. There are however many good books on the topic. The tower has been used as a royal residence but also, as with all castles, a symbol of power. Here stands a wall of death to those who would assault. Here stands wealth as castles are not cheap. At the time of construction were London far from the powerhouse of a city full of grand buildings we often think of it as. This building would have been the biggest structure there for many years. Acting as a reminder as to who was in charge, a powerful message indeed.
The tower has a mixed reputation. On the one hand there is the dark side if you will of being “sent to the tower”, but it was also a zoo. As explorers walk around in modern times they will see sculptures of some of the animals that used to roam the grounds, including a polar bear. Further exploration around the outward walls and the towers will bring you to the interrogation room where there is and active example of some of the equipment used to exact a confession from those sentenced to torture. This was not a common sentence in this country and the numbers dispatched for the harsh fate are small. Torture always strikes me as pointless. Questions answered under these conditions are largely useless given the nature and some people would confess to anything in order to stop the abuse. It does make me shudder though when you see what has been used to inflict pain in the past. Including the various methods of execution in that manner. This country mostly used the rack as a method pictured below, designed to slowly dislocate your legs and arms. The Tower also acted as a prison with a number of high profile residence including Henry VI, one of Britains worst kings who’s uselessness was one of the reasons for the wars of the roses, Francis drake and Walter Raleigh, who had an office there. There was also the famous princes in the tower. Their fate is still unknown and possibly always will be. It is said they were killed by their uncle who was Richard III, however there is a growing theory that he did not, that instead they were hidden to lead normal lives. Although may have returned to trouble Henry VII. Theory’s are open if you have ideas. Also not to dismiss the fact he had the motive, the means and the ability to commit the act.
The Tower of London is a very popular attraction and anyone wishing to visit must of course expect queues. But I must say it is a fascinating place to go for a wonder round. I do fully recommend for anyone visiting with a few hours to spare.
One final bit before I let you fine people go. Behind the tower is a section of the original roman wall. It’s a simple and small section but certainly worth a look. When the tower was built this was would have been a much more imposing feature of the landscape. Now much swallowed by Greater London. There is more of the wall and indeed a better look for the classic historians at the London museum located not to far away. Another venue. I would advice a trip to.