On the third day of our visit to London, EJ had to go into his office and take care of business so the kids and I had the day to explore on our own. One place I was looking forward to visiting with my kids was the Tower of London.
The Tower of London was built to be both a royal residence and a show of power to the people of London. William I, also known as William the Conqueror, built the stone “White Tower” in 1078 and kings that followed after him enlarged the Tower to it’s present 18-acre size. Over the years, the Tower has served not only as a royal residence, but also as the Royal Mint. It has also housed the Crown Jewels for many years but is perhaps most famously known to be a place of imprisonment, torture, and execution for the most notorious traitors and martyrs.
When you enter the Tower of London, make sure to locate one of the Yeoman Warders, also known as “Beefeaters” and join them for a very interesting free one-hour tour. You’ll get a good overview of what you will find in each of the towers as well as quite a bit of history. The tours begin every 30 minutes and start near the main entrance.
After the tour, walk around and explore each of the towers. You’ll first notice the White Tower which is a wonderful example of Norman Architecture. Inside you’ll find the Royal Armory where suits of armor worn by Henry VIII, Charles I and James II are kept. On the top floor of the White Tower is an actual execution ax and chopping block possibly dating back to Tudor times. Inside the Tower is also the Chapel Royal of St. John and in the basement of the Tower is believed to be the actual site of torture and interrogation of prisoners.
Be sure to notice the ravens located within the walls of the Tower. According to tradition, the Tower and the British throne are only safe as long as ravens are present. The wings on each of the ravens are clipped so they won’t fly away. Eight ravens are kept at the Tower and you can see some of them in a cage at the entrance to the White Tower. The ravens are well cared for and are fed fresh fruit, cheese and meat. They live to 40 years or more.
Just across from the White Tower, enter the building next to the guard to view the Crown Jewels. This spectacular display is something you won’t want to miss. In addition to the collection, a part of which is still regularly used by The Queen is also a brief history of the collection of royal jewels and how the Crown Jewels are used in the coronation of a new monarch.
You’ll notice the pretty courtyard called Tower Green. Tower Green was also known as the “town square” for those that lived in the castle. It was also the final stop for many residents on their way to their execution. A few of it’s famous residents include, Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey.
Execution inside the Tower was actually a privilege reserved for high-ranking men and women. People who were not of high-rank were executed on Tower Hill just outside the gates of the Tower.
The Scaffold Site from a distance…
Take a tour through the Bloody Tower. Thirteen year old King Edward V and his younger brother were kidnapped in 1483 during the War of the Roses by their Uncle Richard III and locked in the Bloody Tower. The boys disappeared from the Tower but in 1674, two little skeletons were found buried close to the White Tower and are thought to be theirs.
Make sure to walk around the walls of the Tower. This walk provides beautiful views of the city as well as Tower Bridge.
As you walk along the walls, notice the apartments below. Thirty-six Yeoman Warders (Beefeaters) along with the Chief Yeoman Warder and the Yeoman Gaoler live within the walls of the Tower with their families. They stand guard over the Tower, conduct tours and lock up the Tower every night with the Ceremony of the Keys.
As you explore each of the towers, notice how small and narrow the stairways are.
Inside the Tower of London is a very nice cafe which serves hot meals as well as sandwiches and salads, soft drinks, wine, coffee and desserts.
A few additional tips…
* The Tower is located in East London. If you take the Tube, get off at the Tower Hill stop.
* When you arrive at the Tower of London, pick up the free map/guide. Everything you will see is well described and I don’t feel the audio guide (which isn’t free) is necessary.
* Allow at least 3 hours to tour the Tower of London. My recommendation would be to arrive early and immediately take one of the Yeoman Warder tours to get a good overview of the Tower. Next, tour all floors of the White Tower and then see the Crown Jewels. Following the Crown Jewels, break for lunch or a snack then continue to tour each of the other towers and do the Wall Walk.
* As you explore the towers, be sure to notice the “graffiti” on the walls. Many prisoners carved their names into the stone walls during their imprisonment.
* After you finish your visit to the Tower of London, take a stroll along the Thames toward Tower Bridge.
* A nice break would be to stop at the Starbucks on the Thames near the Gaoman Hotel. There is outside seating and both times I’ve been there, I’ve enjoyed musicians playing outside.
More to come! Next, we take the Eurostar to Paris, attend Mass at Notre Dame and explore Versailles!
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