Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Yet another visit to the Tower of London – and an encounter with George, Duke of Clarence

Whenever I visit London, I always seem to end up visiting the Tower of London. Having visited in October, I found myself heading there again in July. I didn’t intend to, but finding myself with a spare 3 hours, in which I intended to go shopping, I realised that yet again I’d be able to fit another visit in. So once again, I found myself heading for Tower Hill tube station. Once inside, I decided not to visit the White Tower or the medieval palace exhibition. My focus was on the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, the Beauchamp and Bloody towers, and the Bowyer tower. I’d managed a fleeting visit to the previous 3 last time, but decided to take my time this visit. I always start off with my visit with a Yeoman Warder’s tour. Yes, I’ve heard their stories and jokes many times, but still enjoy them. They are a huge asset to the Tower – part of the tradition of the Tower. Plus, in my previous visits, it was the only way I could access the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, where the remains of, amongst others, Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey are buried. I was surprised when the Yeoman ended his tour at the site of the scaffold, and on asking abot the chapel, I was informed it was now open to the public to visit whenever they wished. I headed to the chapel and having been in there many times, knew my way around and who was buried where. I wondered how other visitors would cope without the Yeoman warder giving his usual chat, and that’s when I discovered the latest addition for visitors to the Tower – the audio guide. I have mixed views about audio guides. I used one at Westminster Abbey, and still got confused, and didn’t bother with my visit to Hampton Court. I appreciate their usefulness for those not fluent in English or who have difficulty using guide books. However, I much prefer the Yeoman taking you into the chapel, telling you al you need to know and who is buried where, plus there is a sense of reverence. I also prefer to see people communicating with each other, asking questions and making observations – seeing families walking around in silence with headphones on seems odd to me. There’s virtually no inter-action between them.

The Tower seems to be gearing up for another exhibition shortly – the zoo at the Tower. There is scaffolding, coverings and banners behind the Jewel House making visitors aware of it. The Bowyer tower is behind the Jewel House, and I’d completely forgotten about it during my last visit. Having read Susan Higginbotham’s ‘The Stolen Crown’, which had me absolutely gripped from the start, I made a point of visiting the Bowyer tower, for it was here, as tradition has it, that George, Duke of Clarence, met his end – drowned in a butt of malmsey, if we are to believe Shakespeare. Although there were many visitors to the Tower that day, I think many may have been put off going further than the Jewel House because of the scaffolding and coverings. So when I ventured around the back of it to go to the Bowyer tower, there was no-one there except for one other visitor, heading into the Bowyer tower. Outside was a board informing visitor this was where George had met his end, and I admit I only skimmed it, and inside, was the story of his imprisonment. The tower was empty, apart from a large barrel in the corner and the sound of dripping. The other visitor, a man, was on the opposite side of the Tower. I headed over to the barrel, and thought how clever they had made it look - the top had an image of a hole projected onto it and you could see rippling liquid. As I gazed down on it, the image of a drowning man appeared, clearly intended to be George. It was cleverly done to make it appear as if one was watching from underneath the barrel. It was unbelievably realistic, and so unexpected, I confess I let out an almighty shriek! Very embarrassing, but luckily there was only the other visitor present. He swung round to face me, clearly shocked himself, and I could only garble ‘it’s supposed to be Clarence in there’ and point at the barrel – and of course, there was no sign of the image then. We had to wait several minutes for George to pop up again. On leaving the tower, I noted on the board outside, it did warn to expect a ‘surprise’. That will teach me to skim information boards!


Susan Higginbotham said...

Love the Clarence encounter!

When I last visited the Tower, the chapel wasn't open for some reason. I'm really hoping that I'll get the chance to visit it next time (hopefully this year!) and pay my respects to those buried there.

Anerje said...

Sometimes, various towers are closed off, either for repair, or, in my case, 20 years ago, the Beauchamp tower was closed because there was a flu epidemic and the Yeoman warders were hit really hard and there was no-one available to be in it! Fingers crossed it's all open when you visit.

Kathryn said...

I really laughed at your Clarence story - I'm sure I'd have done exactly the same! :-) I've never been in the chapel, unfortunately, so hope I get to visit, some day! My favourite thing in the Tower was the Peasants' Revolt exhibition, which I thought it was great.

Gabriele C. said...

Looks like I need to plan an entire day for the Tower should I ever visit London. The place seems to be huge.

Anerje said...

Kathryn - I didn't get to see that exhibition - maybe they'll bring it back again? They will have 'Beasts at the Tower' from next Easter.

Gabriele - I could spend 6 hours in there, and still not see everything. And I never bother with the crown jewels!