Last weekend we decided to visit the Tower of London, partly because our pal Russ had, amazingly, never been there, and partly because we had a yen to see the amazing art installation commemorating the Start of the First World War. There were 888,246 British military men who died during the conflict, and every death is being marked by the planting of bright red ceramic poppies, one for every death. ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red‘ by Paul Cummins features thousands of ceramic poppies pouring out of the tower flowing into the moat, and it’s an amazing sight !!
Planting was started on August 5th, with more poppies being planted every day until Remembrance Day on 11th November, and each day in the moat at sunset, names of 180 Commonwealth troops killed during the war will be read out as part of a Roll of Honour, followed by the Last Post.What a fantastic way to remember what the First World War actually meant to the people of Britain.
This amazing aerial photograph of the Tower really brings home the extent of this art installation:-
We walked all round the battlements, going in and out of each tower on the wall, looking at various exhibitions and fascinating bits and pieces. We emerged on the South bit of wall that runs up the right hand side of this aerial photo, and looked across to the Tower Bridge going across the river and took these photos of the poppies being planted in the last bit of moat:-
Here’s what they look like in close up:-
Fabulous idea to mark such an important centenary !!
The Tower itself was absoutely fascinating and you can see why it’s practically the number 1 attraction in London for visitors – we live here but we haven’t been in a long time. The last time Adam and I came here was when his parents and his nephew Jason came over from Canada on a trip, and this was on their list of things to definitely see !! That time though, we didn’t have time to walk the wall, which is probably one of the most interesting things to do here, and the reason we didn’t get time was because we had to queue for simply ages to see the Crown Jewels, which are housed within the Tower of course !! So be warned, leave yourself enough time to see everything.
One of the first things you see when you arrive at the Tower, and walk along the outer path is this:-
This is where poor Queen Anne (neé Boleyn) was brought when she was imprisoned in the Tower prior to her execution for treason on Tower Green. In those days, the river came right up to the steps and the only approach was by boat.
As the label isn’t very clear, here is a close-up:
What must she have felt like passing under this portcullis under armed guard, I wonder ?!!
Directly opposite is this:-
Actually, this is a massive fortified gateway with a dangerously spiky portcullis under a huge tower – there is no evidence that any torture actually took place in this tower, but there is plenty of evidence for that elsewhere !! Here is the view coming the other way:
You can see the Traitor’s Gate opposite and interestingly, the red brick Tudor building on top of the gate is actually a royal apartment that was prepared for Anne Boleyn to stay in to get ready for her Coronation.
The walk along the walls is pretty interesting because every little tower you go through has something different inside. The first one we went into was St Thomas’s Tower which had the recreated bedchamber of Edward I who stayed here in November 1294, whilst getting ready for war.
Just look at all the brightly painted furniture and rich hangings around the bed. Pretty comfortable I should think !! (Incidentally, the inside of Dover Castle is presented in a similarly recreated way, and is just as brightly painted as this.)
The next tower was Wakefield Tower with the audience room and throne belonging to Henry III – well not the real one of course – this is a replica based on the 13th century description:-
There was a gorgoeous vaulted ceiling in this tower – a 19th century reconstruction – and a restored fireplace too:
The next tower – the Lanthorn Tower – had a small exhibition with various facts and figures concerning the medieval kings, and what they took with them when they went on a ‘progress’ round the country to see the people and, more importantly, be seen by them.
Apparently, the daily food and drinks list was absolutely phenomenal – this was due to the fact that the Court that went on tour involved hundreds of courtiers, servants, cooks and sundry hangers-on who all needed to be fed !! The six-monthly bill for food and drink amounted to 200 kgs of wheat and malt (beer and ale was the main drink for everyone in those days) 1500 cattle, 3000 sheep, 1200 pigs, 400 bacon carcasses, plus large quantities of fish and poultry. The wine was phenomenal too – they ordered 12,000 litres of wine just for Christmas Day in 1286 !!
I couldn’t resist taking a photo of these amazing bone game counters:-
Along the next bit of wall was a timber fighting platform which was pretty impressive – a huge wooden stage where archers could fire arrows down onto an invading enemy. There was a number of these cast iron sculptures along the wall too, in various places – they were fabulous :-
The next tower along was this:
This was where all the goods that came to and from the Tower were stamped with the Broad Arrow stamp to demonstrate royal ownership !! It was used as a storehouse for weaponry and other hardware, and also the royal robes and valuable furnishings were kept here too. From this bit of the wall, we could see down into the area with the cannons, where you went towards the Waterloo Barracks where the Crown Jewels are housed these days.
From the walk along the fortified wall, we went down into Tower Green, and the White Tower, which is the most famous part of the Tower of London – a magnificent white stone building with beautiful towers at each corner and impressively huge arched doorways.Here’s a view from Tower Green:
A MURDER MYSTERY
The main doorway was up on the first floor, so to get to it, we had to go up a wooden staircase. Half way up there was a tiny little arched opening with a stone stairway visible inside. This apparently was where the bones of two young boys were found when builders demolished an old stone staircase in 1674, dating back to the original stone tower.
The famous Princes in the Tower? Very likely…
Here’s what happened:-
After King Edward IV died, his sons, 12-year-old Edward V and his younger brother Richard, came to London to get ready for Edward’s coronation as the heir apparent. They were housed in the Royal Apartments within the Tower by their uncle, the Duke of Gloucester. By July 1483 they were declared illegitimate and the Duke was crowned King Richard III. The Princes were never seen again. That’s all we know for certain.
Richard III has usually been considered the most likely culprit. By declaring the princes illegitimate, he cleared his way to the throne. He would safeguard his position by having them killed. In 1485, Richard III was killed in the Battle of Bosworth. The victor, Henry Tudor, was crowned King Henry VII. It was in the Tudors’ interest to paint Richard as a villain.
Henry VII is also a suspect. He married the princes’ sister, Elizabeth of York, strengthening his claim to the throne. This could have been jeopardised if the boys had survived. It does seem unlikely that they survived beyond the end of Richard’s reign without being seen. There are also other suspects including the Duke of Buckingham, once Richard’s closest ally, whom he later had beheaded.
Sir Thomas More, writing over 30 years later, stated that the princes were smothered on their uncle’s orders, secretly buried ‘at the stair foot’, and then reburied elsewhere in the Tower. Two skeletons, identified as those of the princes, were discovered when a building in front of the White Tower was demolished in 1674.
This is a mystery that has endured for hundreds of years, and we are no nearer the truth than we were at the time they disappeared !! So there you go…
The White Tower is a most impressive display, with many interesting exhibits as well as the royal armour – loads of guns, muskets and rifles too – also the most amazing array of weaponry gifts from other cultures too, including a Japanese Samurai suit and an American Indian chieftain’s head-dress !!
Also inside the White Tower is the infamous Block and Executioner’s Axe which as been used for centuries for royal and political beheadings – this was an enormous and pretty impressive piece of wood with a circular indent for your head:
Outside on Tower Green, we went to see the site of the executions that were deemed to be ‘private’ – that is around 100-150 witnesses only, and not open to the general Public, where numerous famous people down through history had lost their heads – the site is now a brick-cobbled square set into the lawn, with a fairly newish memorial which was unveiled back in 2006:-
It’s a beautiful thing actually – a massive circle of polished black marble inscribed round the edge with this inscription:
‘Gentle visitor pause awhile : where you stand death cut away the light of many days : here jewelled names were broken from the vivid thread of life : may they rest in peace while we walk the generations around their strife and courage : under the restless skies’.
The green glass circle above it is inscribed round the edge with the names of all the people who were executed here for treason – only around ten or so. It’s a truly beautiful modern piece, and it’s something that makes you stop and think. Designed by British artist Brian Catling, the circular memorial focuses on the ten executions that have taken place on Tower Green, within the Royal castle’s walls. It is intended to remember all those executed over the years at the Tower – providing a focal point for contemplation, reflection and remembrance.
We really enjoyed our visit to the Tower last weekend, and highly recommend that you give it at least the best part of a day to see what we saw. If you want to see the Crown Jewels too, then a whole day is most definitely needed !!