Newest Review: ... 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 Towe... more
Sent To The Tower
The Tower of London
Member Name: Essexgirl2006
The Tower of London
Advantages: Super day out, lots to see
Disadvantages: Could be expensive for a family
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.
As 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 PALACE
This 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.
This 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 JEWELS
One of the main attractions at the Tower, situated in Waterloo Barracks (this 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.
THE TOWER AS A PRISON
The 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 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 TOWER
This 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.
Within 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 & FACILITIES
There 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.
I 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.
Summary: Worth making the effort
- Aeroventure Museum (Doncaster)
- The Crystal (London)
- Inverness Museum and Art Gallery (Inverness)
- The Dinosaur Museum (Dorchester)
- Dinosaurland Fossil Museum (Dorset)
- Life and Death Pompeii and Herculaneum (London)
- Brighton Fishing Museum (Brighton)
- Barbara Hepworth Museum (St Ives)
- Charlestown Shipwreck and Heritage Centre (Cornwall)
- Highland Folk Museum (Newtonmore)