A Visit

Naturally, as a Brit, I have been to this place before.

The Tower of London beneath the City – I rather like the contrast.

It is a famous historical place nowadays dwarfed beneath the glass and steel of the City. Yes, you’ve probably guessed it is The Tower of London – those Ravens are a bit of a giveaway.

Left, walking along the battlements towards the Lanthorn Tower rebuilt by the Victorians. Right, view of the Shard from the Lanthorn Tower.

Many of us visit the Tower of London as part of a school trip or, as in my case, are taken by the parents.

And the four things I remember from my childhood visit are; it was a big, proper castle, the ravens were big too, the Crown Jewels were, well, crowns with big jewels and I was utterly bored by the seemingly endless display of armour in the White Tower.

Left, horse armour on display in the White Tower. Right, the White Tower. Early medieval building completed 1100 AD.

This time, as an ageing adult, I went to the Tower with a purpose. I wanted to walk through the space that Thomas Cromwell had known. I really should have done my research BEFORE this overpriced visit. The Royal Apartments, including the Great Hall, that were the backdrop to the ‘Tudor’ events at the Tower were originally rebuilt by Henry III in the 1220s and 1230s, but are now all long gone.

Most of the Tudor palace of the 16th century was demolished during an extensive remodelling in the 1660s and any remaining parts that had been incorporated into other buildings were lost during the 18th and 19th centuries when more rebuilding was carried out. However, there are still random sections of old wall extant. These would have formed part of the rooms where Katharine of Aragon stayed on the night before her coronation procession with Henry VIII in 1509.

From Traitors’ Gate, up the steps towards the Bloody Tower passing through the arch towards the White Tower. A section of old wall, part of the ruins of the Tudor Royal Apartments, is just visible in the bottom photograph.

These would be the same rooms where later in 1535 Thomas Cromwell would interrogate Thomas More, and where a year later Anne Boleyn would be held before her execution on 19th May 1536. And then later still, those same rooms would be where Thomas Cromwell would spend his last hours before he was beheaded on Tower Hill (outside the boundary of the Tower) on 28th July 1540.

Stone building to the left is the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula.

Interestingly, the bodies of Thomas More, Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell were all buried in the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula, the parish church of the Tower. Their graves had no markers until the Victorians, undertaking renovations in 1876, found human remains. These remains were re-buried and marked with marble slabs (no photography is permitted in the church).

Both Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell were imprisoned during the time of Henry VIII and endured relatively short stays in the Tower unlike those incarcerated during the reign of Elizabeth I. The leading Catholic peer, Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel was imprisoned in the Beauchamp Tower for 10 years. Many of the ‘long stay’ prisoners left their mark as graffiti carving signs and symbols into the stone walls.

Graffiti attributed to Thomas Peverel 1570 including arms, shield of the Peverel family (a skull, damaged) and a cross with heart.

On the day of my visit I arrived just after the Tower had opened and their were no queues. I stayed over two hours and by the time I left it was very busy despite the pouring rain. I didn’t bother to queue to see the crown jewels again, but I did walk up (all 247 steps) and through the White Tower and traipsed past all the armour again (still boring). However, there were one or two gems like the first official guidebook to the Tower by John Hewitt printed in 1854.

The Tower: Its History, Armouries and Antiquities. John Hewitt. 1854.

And, down in the basement there was a rather delightful video installation featuring significant historical events with ravens flying through and across the centuries.

Stills from video installation in the White Tower.

The ravens in the video are luckier than the Tower’s resident living ones as they have their wings clipped to stop them flying away and spend most of their days caged.


Author: agnesashe

Artisan, blogger and passionate East Anglian working from home.

14 thoughts on “A Visit”

  1. Thanks for the post. I visited here 40 years ago and my memory is of nothing but how crowded it was with tourists. I was disappointed. Interesting to see it again in your post.

    1. Yes, I think disappointment is probably a very common response. Thing is it looks better from the outside and, with the exception of the Norman White Tower, all the really interesting buildings have gone. Hampton Court is much better.

  2. It must be 60 years t least since I last visited the ToL. The crowds one sees outside it these days are quite dismaying, but you’ve visited so I don’t have to. I quite liked the armour though. How DID people put up with wearing it?

    1. You know I couldn’t believe how busy it was at 11.00 am on a Friday morning in mid March in the POURING rain. I suppose my daughter and I were tourists in the overheated hordes visiting the Colesseum in 90 degrees plus. I guess there’s always crowds at World Heritage Sites these days. No idea how people put up with wearing armour, but at least they had a choice unlike the poor horses.

  3. Obligatory sight-seeing for Aussies of course. At least once. But I seem to remember it took the whole day. Maybe I got involved in looking at every detail of the armour, LOL.
    The timber on the ravens’ cage looks new. I don’t remember them being shut up when I was there. Maybe risk mitigation in case they peck the tourists?

    1. You could certainly spend more time there than I did, queuing for the crown jewels (urgh) for starters.
      You know I spoke to my sister and my ex husband and none of us remember the ravens being caged when we went as kids 50 plus years ago. I know that in the past before Covid when there was the H5N1 bird flu scare the ravens had to be inside and right now we do have another bird flu problem again with all domesticated fowl inside across the country, but these are just ugly cages in the open air. I expect this garbage government that’s bringing the country to its knees and trashing our international reputation are terrified the ravens might depart in disgust.

      1. I’ve thought on it, and they were definitely not caged. I think of crows/ravens as the bearers of lost souls. I remember being in that area where the beheadings took place and watching them strut around.
        Whether it is the Government’s fault they have been caged I cannot say, but I expect you’re right. LOL

      2. Thanks very much for that. I was really questioning my memory for a while there. I was only a child, but I remember being close enough to realise how big they were, but have no picture in my mind of them in a cage.
        I don’t know when you visited, but they’ve now put a ‘memorial sculpture’ at the site where the Tudor beheadings took place. I am probably in the minority, but I thought it appeared cheap and pointless and focussed attention on the here and now. It feels as though collectively the great and good of the heritage industry have decided that the 21st-century visitor lacks historical imagination.

      3. Yes, I was quite taken aback by it. My memories are more like yours and can’t see the point of this – addition. When I looked up ‘the sculpture’ there was quite a good, rather biting article about it in the Guardian by Jonathan Jones in 2006. In it he writes “The idea that we need to be more contemplative and mournful when we visit a grand guignol tourist attraction such as the Tower of London is manifestly absurd. But our culture increasingly offers no answer to memory, except counter-memory.”

      4. Yeah, I know what you mean. I had to look up guignol, was totally new to me. That’s a 1970’s bog-standard comprehensive education for you!

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