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.
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
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.
(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
(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.
(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.
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.