Monday, 15 July 2013

My Top 10 things to see/do at the Tower of London

Whenever I am in London, I never seem to be able to pass up a visit to the Tower of London.  I seem to be drawn to it - it's definitely my most favourite place to visit.  This weekend, I found myself there again - even if it was uncomfortably hot.  The Tower looked superb!

So, here is my list of Top 10 things to do/see at the Tower of London.

1.  The chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula is a MUST.   It's on the Yeoman Warder tour, and their knowledge is invaluable.  You are not allowed inside on your own, until after 4pm.  It contains the remains of many of those executed at the Tower, although not all the remains have been identified.  Unfortunately, you are not allowed to approach the altar, where the remains of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, amongst others, have been identified and marked with a plaque.

2.  The Yeoman Warder tours are great fun!  They are very entertaining and the Warders delight in telling gruesome tales.  They are not always 100 % accurate - howlers include Anne Boleyn's remains being identified by the legendary '6th finger' on her hand, and Thomas Culpepper hearing Catherine Howard proclaim her love for him from the scaffold.  I always make a point of going on these tours, no matter how many times I have heard the stories.

3.  The White Tower - the oldest part of the Tower, it really is magnificent.  It contains the 'Line of Kings', which is a set of life size figurines of past monarchs and a set of their horses.  They date from around the 17th century, so interpretations of the monarchs are not very accurate.  But it is an amazing sight!   There are suits of armour worn by Henry VIII and other monarchs, on view.  Modern artifacts include the chair on which the German spy Josef Jakobs was executed in 1941 - the last prisoner to be executed at the Tower. 

4.  The Beauchamp Tower - inside this Tower is an exhibition on prisoners in the Tower, which has been there for absolutely ages!  However, the 'must see' in this Tower are the walls, which contain inscriptions by prisoners in the Tower.  Each has been identified as much as possible.  There are two engravings of 'Jane' on the walls, which probably refer to supporters of Lady Jane Grey.  The most spectacular is the carving commissioned by John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland for his family.


5.  The Wakefield Tower - as accessed through the Medieval Palace.   This octagonal room contains a small chapel with a commemorative plaque to King Henry VI, who was allegedly murdered here after the death of his son at the Battle of Tewkesbury. 

6.  The Bloody Tower - probably one of the most visited part of the Tower, thanks to its association with the 'princes in the Tower'  legend.  Formerly the Garden Tower, it gained it's notorious name in late Elizabethan times after it was identified as the Tower in which the sons of Edward IV were imprisoned and later murdered on the orders of their uncle, Richard III.  Other candidates have been mentioned as possible murderers,  and you can vote inside once you have considered the evidence.  Richard III is comfortably in the lead.  There's also an exhibition on Sir Walter Raleigh's life as a prisoner, as well as the strange case of Thomas Overbury, who was poisoned inside the Tower as he awaited trial in the reign of James 1st.

7.  The execution spot - ok, it's not very accurate, but it does contain a memorial to those prisoners executed inside the Tower, on Tower green - most prisoners were removed from the Tower and executed on Tower Hill, but those deemed 'dangerous/troublesome/embarrassing to the monarch' were executed near to where the memorial is located.  It's been replaced in recent years with a glass effect sculpture.  I admit it can look a bit, erm, tacky. 

8.   The Ravens - legend has it that if the ravens ever leave the Tower, it will fall and with it the monarchy.   Six to nine ravens are in residence, and they have a long life span.  They have their wings clipped and are often seen hopping around the Tower.           
9.    The Bowyer Tower - I've blogged about this Tower in the past - it's tucked away behind the Jewel house, and contains a small exhibition on George, Duke of Clarence, allegedly executed in a barrel of malmsey by his brother Edward IV.                    
10.  The role-play characters which pop up frequently throughout the day.  There's no planned itinerary - just catch them when you can.     Here's the infamous 'Judge Jefferies'.                                  

And here's what is not open to the public - but really should be!  The top of the Beauchamp Tower, in which now live the Yeoman Warders, The Queens House, (built for Anne Boleyn but unfinished during her reign.  Prisoners include Katherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey, Guy Fawkes and Rudolf Hesse), the Bell Tower.  The Bell Tower is divided by a floor but you cannot access both floors from inside the Bell Tower - there are no stairs.  Imprisoned here were Thomas More, Thomas Fisher and  Elizabeth Ist as a princess.  As far as I can recall, this Tower does open very rarely - in all my many visits, it's only been opened once.  Number 11 would be the Medieval palace - perhaps I should make it joint 10th?   I've also blogged about this in the past.  And, amazingly, not on my list are the crown jewels - I've seen them about 3 times, but they hold very little interest for me.

Here's the official link to the Tower website -



Kathryn Warner said...

Glad you had a great time there at the weekend! This is such a helpful post and I'll print it out next time I go to the Tower!

Kasia Ogrodnik said...

Great post, Anerje! Very informative!
I remember, while visiting the Tower some time ago (in 2006), how perfectly happy and at peace with myself I felt in St. John's Chapel. It's absolutely my favourite place in England (if not the whole world :-)). And yes, the White Tower in general. Never been closer to history... If you know what I mean :-)

Kasia Ogrodnik said...

Anerje, Would you mind if I recommended your post on my personal FB page? Those planning to go to London this summer may find it be very useful to have it around :-)

Kasia Ogrodnik said...

Unnecessary "be" above. I know... :-)
Always happens to me when I'm in a hurry...

Anerje said...

Thanks Kathryn and Katia. And yes you are welcome to link it Kasia. To be honest, I don't think the Tower makes enough of it 's history, which could sound silly but when you think what has happened there over the years - it's an amazing place.

Kasia Ogrodnik said...

Shared :-)

Gabriele C. said...

Maybe I should put London on my list though it's too big and expensive. ;)

Kasia Ogrodnik said...

Anerje, thank you for your lovely comments on Henry. I just want to let you know that I posted a link to your Arnaud de Gabaston text on FB. One of the ladies there asked if anyone had idea whose tomb it might be (she just paid a visit to Winchester Cathedral). Thanks to you I knew it was Piers's father buried there :-)

Anerje said...

Hi Kasia, that's fine - about posting the link. I'm enjoying finding out about Henry, the young king.