The Tower of London------Kings, Queens and Queues

The Tower of London is considered to be a must-see attraction when visiting London. Although I have visited London regularly over the last 3 years Sunday, 30 May was my first chance to see this famous site.

Brief history:

The Tower of London is described as the heart and soul of England. Its official name is Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, but it is more commonly known as the Tower of London and historically as The Tower. It is often identified with the White Tower, however as a whole it is a complex of several buildings built over the last thousand years set within two concentric rings of defensive walls, which in turn are surrounded by a moat.

Going back to Roman times and beyond there were already fortifications on this site. In 1066 William The Conqueror landed in England and after beating King Harold won the crown of England. To help control London as well as England he built a new fortress, some parts of which rest on Roman foundations. The fortress became known as the White Tower. Over the following 900 years the White Tower has been extended and added to subsequently becoming a royal palace, state prison, the Mint, a record office, observatory and zoo. Today it is cared for by Historical Royal Palaces and is open all year to the general public.

What can you see?

Once you have passed through the main entrance at Byward Tower you are free to visit whichever parts of the attraction you like. Nearby the entrance there is a Yeoman Warder tours’ site from where you can join a tour party guided by a Beefeater, who will take you on 60 minute tour of The Tower. However I had pre-booked an audio guide on-line so I decided to discover The Tower in my own way utilising this very useful tool.

Walking further you will see a tall wall on your left. From the stones’ colour you can figure out Tower of London is not built in one day. On your right side you can see a water lane and a Traitors gate, in front of which are Bloody and Wakefield Towers, respectively.

(1) Bloody Tower

The Bloody Tower is the most infamous tower. It's believed the Duke of Gloucester, later to become King Richard III, imprisoned and killed his two young nephews, the princes who were the rightful heirs to the crown. Another sad story was linking with the famous English sailor, Sir Walter Raleigh. From 1603 to 1616 he remained in the tower as a prisoner. During the time he wrote the first volume of The Historie of the World about the ancient history of Greece and Rome. At the ground floor you can see what his life was like as well as the book. At the first floor you can find out more about the two young princes.

My observations: I was shocked to hear Sir Walter Raleigh actually had a son who was born here. When I saw the pictures of the young princes in the small room, after climbing the steep stairs I felt more sad.
(2) Queen’s House

To the left of the Bloody Tower can be seen a brown structure with white windows that is the Queen's House, which was built around 1530 with typical Tudor style, trimmed with wood. It survived the Great Fire of London of 1666 and is well preserved. Today the head of The Tower lives there and a guard is placed at the door.
That said Henry VIII built the Queen's House for his second wife, Anne Boleyn. However she was soon afterwards beheaded by him at the Tower Green. Later, in 1608, at Queen’s House Guy Fawkes was made to confess his plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament with gunpowder.
My observations: The name of Anne Boleyn was mentioned a few times during my trip. Obviously she was a key figure in the history of the Tower. She arrived the Tower through the aforementioned Traitors gate. I supposed at the moment she would never foresee the upcoming beheading. I have my deep sympathy for her, but I don’t understand her last statement before she died, in which she still wished the king controlling the country for ever. I also don’t understand why the Tower let their staff live there rather than open it for public.

(3) Tower Green

The Tower Green is located in front of Queen’s House and Beauchamp Tower. Because beheading in the privacy of the Tower Green was considered a privilege of rank, so in fact not many people were killed there except two English Queens and other five British nobles. Most prisoners in the Tower were executed in public on Tower Hill just outside the fortress. Today at the Scaffold site there is a small sculpture to commemorate the died.

My observations: If I didn’t see the grass land in person I would not believe such scary beheading happened there. I was trying to walk slowly and quietly. I also wished they have the permanent peace and the repeat happens nowhere in the world.

(4) Beauchamp Tower

The Beauchamp Tower stands on the west green. It was built by Henry III and his son, Edward I, but takes its name from Thomas Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, imprisoned 1397-99 by Richard II. The three-storey structure was built for defensive purposes but used often for prisoners of high rank. At the ground floor you can read prisoners’ stories with their pictures. At the first floor you can see many inscriptions carved on the stone walls by prisoners.

My observations: I heard a few sad stories about the prisoners there, but the most surprised one is about the Lady Jane Grey, who was Queen of England for just nine days from Monday 10th July 1553 to Wednesday 19th July 1553. She watched her husband go from the Beauchamp Tower to his death on Tower Hill. A few hours later she was executed on the Green and she was just 17 years old.

(5) Crown Jewels

Leaving Beauchamp Tower and walking upwards you can see a guard standing in front of a building called the Jewel House. It is one of the big draws at the Tower of London because there you have the chance to see Crown Jewels, which refers to the objects used by the sovereign of the United Kingdom during the coronation ceremony and at other state functions. Not only can you see the crowns, sceptres, orbs, swords, rings, spurs, and the royal robe or pall, as well as several other objects connected with the ceremony itself, but also you can watch the Queen’s telly coronation ceremony. Mind you it’s a working museum that means at some particular days the Queen will use her crown for opening parliament meeting every year. Every treasure there is priceless, but the most famous two are the 530-carat Star of Africa and Koh-i-Noor diamond.
My observations: it was the highlight of my visit. When I entered the Tower I first popped over here and returned to it when I finished other sites. I was pleased to see these delicate and beautiful treasures and listen to the stories behind them. Believe or not I totally walked around the crowns for six circles because I had the difficulty to figure out Star of Africa due the shining light from these diamonds. If the staff didn’t show me the closing time I’m sure I would spend more time on them. Anyway in case the staff became suspicious of my intentions I had to say goodbye to these crowns, being the last couple visitors on the day. It would be interesting to see one day somebody challenge their safety system. Don’t feel nervous. This astonishing collection has been on public display at the Tower since the 17th with only one attempt to steal them.

(6) White Tower

Leaving Crown Jewels and walking downwards, right in the centre of the Tower, there is a high stone building, well known as White Tower due the colour. It is one of the oldest remaining parts in the Tower and was built for William The Conqueror in 1100. That marks the start of the Tower of London’s history as both a palace and a fortress. Today it houses displays about the Royal Armouries’ collection and the Mint history.
My observations: Different from other towers The White Tower is a massive construction with spacious halls. To many visitors the armour of Henry VIII probably is the most impressive, but to me a small armour for child was the most unforgettable one. There are a lot of interactive activities. I tried to take a weapon and found it very heavy. It’s also educative to discover the development of British currency.

(7) The Medieval Palace and South Wall Walk

On the opposite site of the Bloody Tower there is an entrance to The Medieval Palace and South Wall Walk, which starts from St Thomas Tower. The Medieval Palace contained fabulous interiors used by medieval kings and queens during their frequent but short visits to their most important fortress. At the South Wall you can have a look at Thames river and the Tower bridge. At the end there is a diamond display exposing more details of coronation crowns.
My observations: Walking through narrow corridors from one room to another I was surprised to see the rich colours and comfortable furnishings in Medieval times. The re-creating Edward’s dramatic bed was noticeable, but a small church inside was most appealing to me. I also enjoyed standing on the wall to watch a live show, performed by two actors in another tower.
Above I mentioned the main sites I have seen. In fact I also visited the Royal Regimental Fusiliers’ museum and watched the famous ravens at the green land in front of White Tower. The daily event I came across was about the English Civil War. It was really fascinating to see how they cooked and how they fought 400 years ago. However due the time limit I didn’t come to the ceremony of the Keys that takes place every night at the Tower.

I really enjoyed my visit to the Tower. It’s entertaining and informative. It gave me a big picture about British history. I would like visiting it again in future.

I also would like to recommend anybody to the Tower if you do visit London. It is open daily. From Tuesday to Saturday it opens from 9:00 till 17:30. On Sunday and Monday it opens from 10:00 till 7:30. The entrance ticket is £17 for adult, £14.50 for full-time students and senior citizens, and £9.50 for children under 16, children under five free of charge.

Tickets may be purchased at the Tower itself, at any London Underground station or online. To save time I booked my ticket on line, but found I just spent £16. I also booked my audio guide that is £4 for adult and £3 for concessions. To have a proper visit I highly recommend the audio guide, that is the best tour guide I have used so far. It’s very easy to get there: by bus, tube, taxi etc. Personally I bought Thames clippers daily ticket and got there by boat.

There is a restaurant called New Armouries Restaurant that provides refreshments and full lunch. I had my lunch there and think it’s not bad. The food was priced reasonably and cooked freshly. The service was efficient and the dining room was big enough. However better take some snack with you because it’s really a tiring journey. I can’t remember how many steep stairs I up and down, but I was really excited to find a bench to have a break. There also a few shops for shopping.

At last I would like to mention the staff that work at the Tower. Most of them were really friendly with visitors, but one small thing happened at the end changed a little bit my impression. When I finished my visit at the Jewel House, I attempted to go a toilet nearby, but was told it is closed and you can go to the one near the exit. However when I reached the exit I was told by another staff that this one is closed too. At the same time I saw similar things happened with other visitors. To be honest I feel embarrassed to mention the small thing, but I was really surprised with it. I have travelled a few places in China and the UK it is my first time to experience the situation. I suppose the daily huge visitors there make them want to close the Tower as soon as possible. So it’s no surprise I titled my article as The Tower of London------Kings, Queens and Queues.