on May 7, 2013
There is too much to say about this place in one review, so please also checkout part 2I am a very lucky girl. My friend knows I love history, particularly that of the royals so for my birthday bought me an annual pass to the Historic Royal Palaces. One such palace included is the Tower of London, which is spite of living 45 minutes away, I have never actually been to before. The Tower is open daily (except 24-26 December and 1st Jan) and times vary depending on the time of year and day of the week, so I suggest checking online. Visiting on a Spring Sunday it was open 10am to 5.30pm. Normal adult admission is £19.50/£21.45, children are £9.75/£10.75, concessions (students, Over 60s) are £16.50/£18.15 and a family of two adults and up to three children is £52.00/£57.20. The second price includes a voluntary donation. Savings are available by booking online. Annual membership is £45. We went on London Marathon day, and accessing the Tower from Tower Hill station (District & Circle line) was a bit of a challenge as it was so busy and we needed to find an underpass to cross. The Tower itself didn’t seem to be too busy (although we were also slightly out of season) and we could see the runners on Tower Bridge. On a normal day getting here from the tube station would take you just 2-3 minutes. The Ticket office didn’t seem to be that busy and there were plenty of staff behind the counters. We both purchased a Souvenir Guide Book for £4.95 (also available inside). The Tower was originally built by William the Conqueror, and although exact dates are not available, the iconic White Tower was certainly under construction by 1075 and completed by 1100. Richard I began expanding it in the late 12th century, and again in mid thirteenth century under Henry III, and his son Edward I built further until the Tower began to look like the fortress we see today. ARRIVALAs you approach the main entrance (groups enter elsewhere) you will spot some lion sculptures that are in what was once a lion pit, when lions lived here (firstly in early 13th century). As you cross the bridge and enter through the Middle Tower (the original first tower – The Lion Tower – no longer survives) you will see the meeting point for the Yeoman Warders’ (Beefeaters) tours. These tours are every half hour and last for approximately one hour. We didn’t do this straight off but came back to do one later. I am not sure how different they are but all warders will have their own ‘voice’ and ours was a highly entertaining gent. He gives you a few more stories than you would get from the guide book and signage (I didn’t get an audio guide so cannot comment on that) as well as pointing out details you may have missed on your own (we did). They are free and are well worth factoring into your visit if time allows. THE MEDIEVAL PALACEThis consists of three towers at the beginning of the Wall Walk. The highlight (for me) was St Thomas’s tower, which was built by Edward I, where you can see a recreation of his bedchamber (c. 1294), from here you walk across a covered bridge to the Wakefield Tower (built 1220-40) which was where Edward’s father, Henry III may have used as his private audience chamber. A replica throne is here too. This is opposite the little private chapel that he would have used, and was later the place where Henry VI was murdered. Within both these towers are a number of signs with background information as well as short films on a loop. As you follow the sign round, beyond the Lanthorn Tower, you will automatically find yourself on the Wall Walk.WALL WALKThis is well worth doing if you are able but it involves stairs (sometimes in narrow staircases), but you do get an interesting perspective of the Tower and it is a good way to ensure you see the attractions offer on this far side of the Tower. Most of the towers along this wall belong to Henry III’s era and six of them are open to the public.The Salt Tower is the first one you come to. Part time storehouse and part time base for archers defending the Tower from attackers on the Thames, it was also a prison and original prisoners’ graffiti can also be seen. A similar use was nearby Broad Arrow Tower: part prison, part storage area for Royal robes and furniture. From here you move onto the Constable Tower which looks as the Peasants’ Revolt from 1381, and you can see some examples of weaponry. The Martin Tower, a bit further along, used to hold the Crown Jewels up until 1841 and nowadays contains an exhibition ‘Crowns through history’ which tells the story of the modern crowns/crown jewels and how they evolved (stones from old crowns would be re-used in new ones). There are some crowns on display here, but the stones have already been removed and can be seen in the Crown Jewels exhibition.One of our favourite exhibitions was the ‘Royal Beasts’ in the Brick Tower (19th century restored tower, after the original was lost in a fire). The Tower’s Menagerie began when King John was given a lion in 1210. Subsequent gifts (usually from other European Royals) included a Polar Bear who fished in the Thames on a long leash, as well as monkeys, other big cats and a grizzly bear called Martin. Eventually the menagerie was disbanded and moved to the new London Zoo in Regent’s Park. By all accounts it is a miracle many of these animals survived as no one had any real idea how to care for them – the elephant died after two years living on meat and bread, and an ostrich died after being fed a nail by a visitor, as it was believed they could digest iron! One woman died from her wounds after trying to stroke a lion. Nowadays they just have the ravens here and they may bite if so inclined, but do seem to enjoy having their photo taken. Around the Tower grounds there are a number of life size sculptures to lookout for.THE CROWN JEWELSOne of the main attractions at the Tower, situated in Waterloo Barracks, 6this has recently been re-presented and done up to celebrate the Jubilee in2012. This was the busiest part of the Tower complex and I would imagine that during peak periods there could be some queues. One of the Yeoman Warders suggested going towards the end of the day as it would be quieter, although we went about lunchtime. They have made some effort to ensure that you have something to look at as you walk through the area. Items such as Royal Gifts are here, one of the most impressive is the Exeter Salt, a 45cm high, ornate, jewel encrusted, priceless salt container given to Charles II by the city of Exeter in 1660. Most of the jewels are from this time or more recent as when Oliver Cromwell took power in 1649 after the Civil War, the original jewels were melted down or sold. A few older pieces survive such as a 12th century spoon used in Coronation ceremonies. As well as these stunning gifts (used in Coronation Banquets past), there are a number of orbs, swords and sceptres along with crowns. For the main selection on the jewels such as the crown of Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) with the famous Koh-i-Noor diamond in it, as well as Queen Mary’s sceptre and imperial state crown from 1937 are in another room and can be viewed whilst riding a slow moving walkway. I think you get a better view if riding on the right hand side (the Koh-i-Noor is facing you), but if it is not too busy there is nothing to stop you doubling back and going again. The whole exhibition is fully accessible for wheelchair users and a must-see, even if there is a queue. End of Part one...
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