From the Museum of London, I took a double decker bus to Tower Hill and bought a £24.50 (~$37.91 USD) ticket to the Tower of London. Yes, it is pretty expensive, but there was actually a lot to see and learn about inside.
When I arrived, there was a free yeoman warder (also known as a beefeater) guided tour starting so I decided to take advantage of it and join the group. Unfortunately, it also started to rain. Instead of going around the grounds, our guide just brought us into the Chapel of St. Peter and gave us a brief history lesson of the tower and the church. Many of the tower’s prisoners are buried there, including Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and Lady Jane Grey.
Though our guide was really interesting, I was ready to actually get out and explore the rest of the tower. My first stop? The Jewel House to see the crown jewels.
The crown jewels have been at the Tower of London since the early 14th century, though they were originally kept in Westminster Abbey. What makes the crown jewels different from regular jewels? Well, they generally have been used in the coronation of England’s kings and queens and include crowns, swords, orbs, scepters, and more. The most famous is probably the Imperial State Crown, which is decked out in all kinds of bling (sorry) and is usually worn at the end of a coronation. Unfortunately, no pictures allowed.
I went to see an exhibition on the royal beasts afterwards, which focused on the animals of the Royal Menagerie. Back in the early 1200s, an assortment of creatures was brought to the tower during the reign of King John. These included tigers, baboons, elephants, bears, and, most importantly, lions. The area where the animals were kept is even called the Lion Tower. Even though the menagerie closed in 1835, there are still random animals that appear around the tower today.
Next stop was the White Tower, which stands right at the center of the courtyard. The tower was built by William the Conqueror in 1078 and has seen different uses as a fortress, military storehouse, and site for ceremonial and government functions. There are several floors of galleries to look at which means that there are also a lot of stairs that you need to take to get up and back down again.
There’s a lot of armor, including some for children (the one featured here belonged to Henry, Prince of Wales) and horses.
You can also look down a Norman garderobe (aka a toilet, aka just a hole in the wall that leads directly outside the tower. The sign for this one added that there was an order in the 14th century to build another wall to hide the wall of filth, ending with the assumption that “the building was clearly in heavy use at this time”. Gross.
One of the rooms has this giant dragon made out of things like guns, swords, shields, and chain mail to represent the tradition of displaying strength by creating trophies and other objects out of weapons. This kind of conjures up images of the iron throne from Game of Thrones. Anyway, the dragon’s name is Keeper.
Who was the last person to be executed at the Tower of London? An old king or queen? Some dude caught and charged with treason in the 1800s? Nope! The last person executed there was Josef Jakobs, a German spy, in 1941! That was actually really surprising to me since I didn’t think the tower was still in use like that only a little more than half-a-century ago. The chair that Jakobs sat on when he was killed and one of the guns in the firing squad is on display at the White Tower.
One more curious thing is this strange gilded statue of a winged lion that was captured by British forces in Corfu in 1809. The lion is supposed to represent St. Mark the Evangelist. I just thought it was interesting because it has this facial expression where it appears like he’s just looking up at the heavens asking “WHYYYY?” defeatedly.
There are other exhibition areas inside other towers, such as one about torture in the aptly named Bloody Tower, where the two sons of King Edward IV, Prince Edward and Prince Richard, were presumed to have been murdered, at the age of 12 and 9, respectively, possibly by their uncle, Richard, who took the throne for himself. Geez, nine commas in one sentence? The torture exhibit includes a replica of the rack, which could stretch victims, and the “scavenger’s daughter”, which was fastened around the victim and tightened to continuously squeeze them. Oi, I can’t believe these methods were actually used in the past.
You can find some interesting thing just by walking around the grounds, including the scaffold site where all those heads would be chopped off. There is also the raven enclosure, though I didn’t get a great look at it since the accommodations are actually getting an upgrade. It is said that the kingdom would fall if any of the six resident ravens ever leave the tower, so there are always at least seven (the six and a spare) just in case.
Like I said, there is a lot to see here, so it may be worth the admission price to check out. The Tower Bridge is just outside and I had planned on getting a closer look, but hunger overruled that decision and I got some fish and chips nearby.
After eating, it was time to cross the river Thames for a night of Shakespeare.