on May 7, 2013
A continuation of my experience at the Tower of London..THE TOWER AS A PRISONThe area around Tower Green is where you will learn the history of those who have been imprisoned in the Tower at various times (and for various crimes). The Green is situated to the West of the White Tower and ten people (three of which were English Queens: Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey) were executed here on various spots - the scaffold was erected specially, it didn’t remain here as most people who were executed on Royal orders were beheaded publically on Tower Hill, or elsewhere. There is a memorial to all ten here, and you can read the names and dates. The last three were soldiers shot for mutiny in 1743.The first prisoner here was in 1100, and he was incarcerated in the White Tower. Beauchamp Tower off the Green can be visited, and although not a purpose built prison, housed various prisoners from the 14th Century onwards and some of the prisoners’ graffiti is here and visible. A lot of Catholic priests and other potentially influential Catholics were imprisoned here under the reign of Elizabeth I to keep them in line. From here, walk towards the river and the Lower Wakefield Tower where there is a small exhibition of torture in the Tower. This may not be suitable for some younger visitors as it is gruesome by its very nature. Only some of the prisoners in the whole of the Tower were ever tortured, and the exhibition contains replica torture equipment alongside descriptions of how they were used. Nearby is the Bloody Tower (possibly previously the Garden Tower) which was so named because of it has been alleged (but unproven) that this was the site of the prison and murder of the two young princes (Edward V and his brother Richard). There is a room dedicated to them upstairs in this building where you can read about the case and the possible guilty parties and cast your vote (most still think Dicky III was the guilty party). Sir Walter Ralegh was also imprisoned here (for marrying one of Elizabeth I’s ladies-in-waiting without the Queens’ permission) and he would have been kept in some comfort. His room can be seen downstairs in the tower. THE CHAPELThe Chapel of St Peter and Vincula is across Tower Green from the Bloody Tower. Although founded in the 12th century, the current chapel is 500 years old. It is still used by the Yeoman Warders and their families. You can only access it on a Yeoman Warder tour (at the front gate) or after 4.30pm. Many prisoners executed here and on Tower Hill have been buried here. Our Warder told us that 1500 bodies were found, and that they have identified some of the significant ones which are buried ‘somewhere’ under the alter area such as the former Queens. You cannot take photos here.THE WHITE TOWERThis is the iconic building you see so often in photographs of the Tower, and whilst it is the most significant (in that it was latter day Royal apartments, I was surprised how much there was in the whole complex, so obviously I was very much looking forward to going in here, and we left it until last. This Norman building was built partly as a fortress, partly as a Royal home and partly as a place for ceremonial functions) and is open plan, with two massive rooms on each floor, and a basement. A higher floor was added in the15th century. Inside you will see a lot of armour and arms such as a 7 foot sword of Henry V and Henry VIII’s armour, with large codpiece. There are also a number of models of kings and their horses (called Line of Kings) from the seventeenth century, Henry VIII was the fattest by far, with the largest horse. There are also armour suitable for a dwarf and a giant. I the upper floors are not accessible for wheelchairs or pushchairs, as you can only access the other floors by stairs. The first floor was likely to be the royal apartments with the private and attractive St John’s chapel located in one corner. Today the upper floors show the building’s history as well as further armour and weaponry, there are also coins, ordinance survey maps (the head office was at the Tower for many years) and some interactive games for kids (including the big ones!). At the top is also a massive dragon using 2500 items that are replicas from each area/department that is represented here.OTHER ATTRACTIONSWithin the Tower complex is the Fusiliers Museum. The Royal Regiment of the Fusiliers has its HQ at the Tower of London, so this is an additional free museum. It is only a small museum and features personal items used and worn by members of this regiment and various conflicts. Each war has its own display case explaining the history of the war, the weapons used etc. There are also a number of bios of heroes. Wars featured range from the Napoleonic Wars to the Crimea up to Iraq and Afghanistan. I have no real interest in military history but the museum was succinct and clear in its presentation. There is a whole room full of drawers of medals, but with no information. I would have liked to know what these medals were for. The museum should only take you about 15-30 minutes depending on the level of interest. FOOD, GIFTS & FACILITIESThere are about five gift shops here, four within the grounds and one outside next to the Welcome Centre. It is worth noting that they all sell different things. I bought a pretty bracelet in the Jewel Shop (£25) but the prices vary from. There are some premium gifts like jewellery, cuff-links, cushions, scarves and china, as well as simple things like postcards, pencils and novelties. Plenty of books are available, as well as children’s gifts such as games, books, cuddly toys and costumes. Shops were well-staffed and the staff seemed to be friendly and helpful based on my interaction with them.We ate in a sit down self-service cafeteria type restaurant called The New Armouries café, that offered a good range of food: hot meat, fish and vegetarian dishes were available. I had a vegetable and goats cheese pie with two vegetable sides (they were about 6-8 to choose from including chips, cauliflower cheese, new potatoes and a simple vegetable medley) for £8.95. My friend had a pasty. They also did cakes, sandwiches, crisps, sweets and had an interesting salad /bar. There were also a number of kiosks/carts selling drinks, ice creams and little snacks, as well as a little coffee shop with outside seating by the South Lawn. I believe food service stops about an hour or so before closure but that may depend on how busy the day was. There are about three sets of toilets around the complex, although we only visited the ones behind the Waterloo Block (by the exit for the Crown Jewels). They are not particularly modern, but were clean and well-stocked with paper and hand dryers. I believe there are a number of disabled toilets and baby changing facilities around too. SUMMARYI hope that my review of my day at the Tower has given you an insight into what is here and can help potential visitors plan their day. I had an absolutely brilliant day and, although tiring, it was worthwhile. The Tower is informative and interesting with it, and I think it is well worth a visit. The website said allow 2-3 hours, but we were here for six! Obviously if you were coming with younger visitors, you may prefer to see less things, but there are lots of games you can play with them such as counting the soldier sculptures or spotting the animals. Admittedly I didn’t see a lot of younger visitors here, as it may be too much for really young ones to take in. However it is a super day out.
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