Victorian London - Buildings, Monuments and Museums - Tower of London

The Tower of London ... Prior to entering on a second notice of the Tower, the editor requests the reader's particular attention to the accompanying plan of that ancient fortress, that, associated with some of the most eventful periods of British history, entitles it to rank as the spot of greatest historical interest in London. Its annexation will, he trusts, be deemed no inconsiderable improvement in his work, more especially as the only duty at present assigned to the warders appointed to show it, is that of conducting the company to the armouries and jewel-house, leaving unnoticed the many prison- towers, wherein, previous to execution, have pined in solitude kings, queens, princes, and nobles; and of whose misfortunes thus reminded, the intelligent reader will, in all probability, visit exteriorly (they are not generally shown) the scenes now for the first time brought regularly under review. The portion of the Tower publicly shown is open daily, Sundays excepted, from 10 till 4, at the following prices: - to the armouries, 6d. ; to the jewel-office, 6d. The reduced price of admission to the Tower, now visited by much greater numbers than formerly, has rendered an alteration in the arrangement, as regards the attendance of warders, indispensably necessary; and the following is the plan at present acted on. Upon entering the Spur Gate, which is nearly opposite Thames Street, the visitor will find the ticket-office, a little beyond it, on the right (see plan), where he will obtain tickets for the exhibitions he is desirous to visit, and from whence he will be directed to the ante-room, a spacious apartment, amply provided with refreshments, and wholly appropriated to the reception of visitors, who here assemble, and wait the arrival of a warder, of whom one is appointed at the interval of every half hour, to conduct them either to the armouries or jewel-office.

The Tower of London.-This celebrated fortress stands on the north bank of the river Thames, at the eastern extremity, and just without the limits of the City. it is generally believed to have been erected by William the Conqueror, with the view of intimidating the citizens from any opposition to his usurpation. Twelve years afterwards he built the White Tower, which was repaired and strengthened by Henry III. in the year 1240. The interior of this fortress, which occupies an extent of upwards of 12     acres within the walls, presents the appearance of an extensive town, consisting of various ranges of buildings and streets besides the barracks for the garrison. The exterior circumference of the moat, or ditch, as it is generally denominated, which entirely surrounds the land side, measures 3156 feet. The moat on the side of Tower Hill is broad and deep, but becomes considerably narrower on that nearest the river, from which it is divided by a handsome wharf, much used in fine weather as a promenade by the residents of the fortress, which, till the close of Elizabeth's reign, was deemed a palace, but since that period has been devoted to the purposes of a royal arsenal, a depositary of the regalia of England, a garrison, and a prison. The chief entrance is by a stone bridge thrown over the moat at the south-west corner of the Tower; at the outer extremity of this bridge are two gates, and within the moat another, all of which are shut every night and opened in the morning with great ceremony.
    The principal buildings within the walls are the Church, the White Tower, the Ordnance Office, the Old Mint, the Governor's House, the Record Office, the Jewel Office, the Horse Armoury, the Grand Storehouse* (*Destroyed by fire on the 30th October 1841), the Middle Tower, Byward Tower, Bell Tower, Beauchamp Tower, the upper chamber of which was the prison of Anne Boleyn.* (*The Devilin Tower, the Flint, the Martin, Constable, Broad Arrow, the Salt and Brick Towers; the last supposed to have been the prison of Lady Jane Grey; the Duelling, Well, Cradle, and Bloody Towers.) The Church, called St. Peter ad Vincula, erected in the reign of Edward I., is only remarkable as the depositary of the headless bodies of numerous illustrious personages (among whom may be named Anne Boleyn), who suffered death either in the Tower or on the adjacent hill. The White Tower is a large square irregular building; within it is the Chapel of St. John, formerly used by the English Monarchs; it now forms part of the Record Office. The Record Office contains all the Rolls from the time of King John to the reign of Richard III.; those since that period are kept at the Rolls Office in Chancery Lane. In a part of the Record Office, denominated the Wakefield Tower, is a fine octagonal room, where, tradition asserts, Henry VI. was murdered by Richard III. The Horse Armoury, always a great attraction here, is an apartment 150 feet long, and 35 feet wide; it is filled with curiosities of different kinds, amongst which are the figures of the Kings of England and others on horseback; they are all arranged in chronological order, and are as follow:*(Edward 1., 1272; Henry VI., 1450; Edward IV., 1465; Henry VII., 1508; Henry VIII., 1520; Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, 1520; Clinton, Earl of Lincoln, 1535 m Edward VI., 1552; Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon, 1555; Dudley, Earl of Leicester, 1560; Lea, master of the armoury, 1570 ; Devereux, Earl of Essex, 1581; James 1., 1605; Sir H. Vere, Captain-general, 1606; Howard. Earl of Arundel, 1608; Henry, Prince of Wales. 1612; Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, 1618; Charl~, Prince of Wales, 1620; Wentworth Earl of Strafford, 1635 Charles I., 1640; James II., 1685.)  The Grand Storehouse was chiefly occupied by the Small Armoury, which contained arms for 100,000 men, all in the highest state of preservation; and, being displayed in a variety of fanciful forms, time effect was at once brilliant and beautiful. Queen Elizabeth's Armoury, formerly the Spanish Armoury, now occupies the room traditionally said to have formed the prison of Sir Walter Raleigh, wherein hems supposed to have written his History of the World: an adjoining dungeon is also shown as his sleeping-room. Here are shown, among other curiosities, the helmet, belt, and scymetar of Tippoo Saib; a representation of Queen Elizabeth; the heading-block and axe that severed the heads of Anne Boleyn and the Earl of Essex. Of the Bowyer Tower, the basement floor alone remains: here, according to tradition, the Duke of Clarence, brother of Edward VI., was drowned in a butt of malmsey wine. In the Jewel Office are preserved the imperial regalia, and all the crown-jewels worn by princes and princesses at the coronation, together with the whole of the paraphernalia used on those occasions. Independent of a variety of articles, many of which are inestimable, the value of the precious stones in this office considerably exceeds two million sterling. These, as well as the government of the whole fortress are confided to the care of the Constable of the Tower, who has under him a lieutenant, deputy lieutenant, tower major, gentleman porter, and a number of inferiors. The garrison is generally composed of a detachment of the Guards.

source: Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844


Sir, - Few strangers leave town without paying a visit to the Tower, and every one must be struck with the incivility and want of accommodation therein. Upon entering the gates this afternoon I found some hundreds of persons, male and female, huddled together, striving to obtain tickets from a window under a portico where no two persons can pass abreast, and the scene there reminded me of what might be expected at the gallery entrance of a theatre on boxing night. After waiting just one hour we obtained our tickets and were ordered into what is called the ante or refreshment room. This room is about 12ft. by 18ft., with a counter containing ginger pop, buns, &c., immediately behind which are two waterclosets (I understand recently erected). I will not attempt to describe the stench one had to contend with, the place being completely crammed with persons waiting their turns or numbers to be called, but merely add that this room seems to be the resort of pickpockets, two ladies having been eased of their purses, containing some pounds, during the half hour I was present therein.
    The management, or rather the mismanagement, of this fortress devolves upon the Board of Ordnance, and is really a disgrace to them, and such as no public company would dare to offer. Surely, with the many thousands of pounds annually spent upon this place, a room might be erected, in the interior of the fortress fit for respectable people to enter, instead of a tarpauling covered shed, formerly the receptacle of coals, &c.
    As this will probably meet the eyes of the officials, I will just observe that it would be as well if the "wardens" were taught a little civility. They appear under no control, and quarrel among themselves, in language not the most refined. I do not see the use of these gentlemen, as most of the figures, &c., are ticketed. I think their services might be dispensed with, at any rate, as far as the public are concerned. The Tower has also a police force within its walls, but it appears of no use to the visitors, as robberies committed this afternoon took place within two yards of one of them, who, when appealed to, replied that he was not aware of the presence of the swell mob. Did this worthy expect notice to that effect?
    Asking your pardon for troubling you at such length and advising visitors to the Tower to take care of their pockets,
    I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
Bishopsgate-street, Aug.20.

source: letter to The Times, August 23, 1851

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Tower of London? once a fortress, a royal residence, a court of justice, and a prison, is now a government storehouse and armoury, and an interesting show place for visitors. The most conspicuous part of the series of buildings enclosed by the moat is the White Tower, whose founder, tradition has it, was Julius Caesar. William the Conqueror was the authentic builder of the structure, which was subsequently improved upon by Henry III. Inside is the chapel of St. John, the most perfect specimen of Norman architecture in the kingdom. Surrounding the White Tower is a series of battlements now used for government purposes, flanked by a number of smaller towers, many of which are celebrated for the captives who have been imprisoned in them. For instance, in the Well Tower Queen Elizabeth was immured; in the Devereux Tower the Earl of Essex was confined; and in the White Tower Sir Walter Raleigh. In the Bloody Tower the two Sons of Edward IV. were murdered; and in Bowyer?s Tower Clarence is supposed to have been drowned in a butt of malmsey wine. The Beauchamp Tower was built probably by Henry III. The last executions took place after the rebellion of 1745, when Lords Lovat, Balmerino, and Kilmarnock were beheaded for high treason. The latest occupants of the Tower as state prisoners were Sir Francis Burdett, and the gang of ruffians known as the Cato-street Conspirators. The regalia or jewel-house is a show place, and contains the royal crowns and sceptres and other jewels, whilst in the armoury is as magnificent a collection of armour and weapons as there is extant. A gun outside the White Tower is worth notice. It is nearly eighteen feet long, and was cast by the Sultan Solyman the Magnificent for his intended invasion of India. The Tower is open free to the public on Mondays and Saturdays. On other days a fee of a shilling will pass the visitor to the regalia, the armoury, the Beauchamp Tower, and other points of interest. NEAREST Railway Stations, Aldgate (Metrop.) and Cannon-street (S. E.); Omnibus Routes, Fenchurch-street and Aldgate High-street; Cab Rank, Great Tower Street.  

source: Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879

TOWER OF LONDON ... This celebrated fortress covers about 12 acres of ground, and is surrounded by a high wall and broad moat. The "White Tower" stands in the centre, and is the most ancient part, having been erected by William the Conqueror, about 1078. Its walls are from 12 to 15 feet in thickness, and 90 feet in height. On the second floor are the Banqueting Chamber, now used for the storage of small arms, and St. John's Chapel which is said to be the simplest as well as the most complete and earliest Normal Chapel in Britain. On the upper floor is the "Council Chamber" in which there is a valuable and interesting collection of ancient arms and armour arranged in chronological order. In the basement is the dungeon known as "Little Ease." Around the Keep are twelve mural towers, all in former times used as State prisons. In one of these, "The Wakefield Tower" is kept the very valuable collections of Crown Jewels, which forms one of the chief among the many attractions of the place. Open daily from 10 to 4p.m. Admission to the Armoury, 6d. ; to the Jewel House, 6d. ; by tickets obtained at the entrance gate, Gt. Tower Hill. On Mondays and Saturdays, free. Trains on Underground Railway to Mark Lane Station.

source: Reynolds' Shilling Coloured Map of London, 1895

source: George Birch, The Descriptive Album of London, c.1896

And the approaches to the Tower in those days were not the broad and well-lighted avenues such as the Eastcheap of to-day; tortuous alleys and dingy, narrow streets had to be traversed, and the garrotter was very much in evidence. Officers returning late carried knuckle-dusters and short blades in their right-hand overcoat pockets, ready to job any footpad who attempted to seize them from behind. Men seldom returned but in parties of twos or threes, and so it was the Major's "lady" found herself constrained to hug the walls of the grim old fortress during the early hours of that memorable night in the long-ago sixties.

source: 'One of the Old Brigade' (Donald Shaw), London in the Sixties, 1908

see also George Sal in London Up to Date - click here


Although Shakespeare asserts that Julius Caesar began the building of the Tower of London, the oldest part of it now extant is the White Tower, which easily dominates the rest of the structure. This White Tower, or Keep, was erected by William the Conqueror in 1078, is 92 ft. high, and has walls 13-14 ft. thick. The Tower generally, which lies outside the old city, is the most famous fortress in the world, but from time to time it has undergone great transformations. Once it was a royal palace; then, the chief State prison; and now it serves as a Government arsenal and barracks, as well as a public show place. The view from outside the moat here presented enables the extent of the buildings, covering 13 acres, to be well appreciated.

source: The Queen's London, 1896


    On the second floor of the White Tower or Keep, of the Tower of London, that part which William the Conqueror built in 1078, is the Chapel of St. John, a singularly interesting specimen of Norman architecture - the best preserved, indeed, in all England. Nothing could be simpler, nothing more effective. Its massive pillars, rising from square bases and ending in cubical capitals, support a triforium gallery, and the intervals between these pillars are spanned, like the windows, by semicircular arches. The walls are of coarse masonry; the barrel vaulting of the roof and the groining of the aisles are rougher still. The fortress also contains the chapel of St. Petrus ad Vincula, shown on the next page.

source: The Queen's London, 1896


     Our picture shows a portion of Tower Green, with the chapel of St. Petrus ad Vincula, at the north-west corner of the famous fortress. In the centre of the Green, which is well planted with trees, is a small, square place, marked off and railed in by the express command of Queen Victoria. The flat stone shows the site of the block on which six persons were beheaded in the years 1536 to 1601 -  Henry VIII's Queens, Anne Boleyn and Katherine. Howard, the Countess of Salisbury, Lady Jane Grey, the Viscountess Rochfort, sister-in-law of Anne Bolevn and arraigned with Katherine Howard, and Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. All these were buried in St. Peter's Chapel, with many others who were executed in public on Tower Hill. Of the little cemetery adjoining, Macaulay wrote that there was no sadder spot on earth.

source: The Queen's London, 1896


The interior of the chapel of St. Peter-ad-Vincula is not shown to the public. The building was erected by Edward I. on the site of a still earlier church (the demolition of which cost forty-six shillings and eightpence!), was rebuilt by Edward III., somewhat altered by Henry VIII., and thoroughly restored in 1877. It stands at the northwest corner of the Tower, and within it lie buried Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey, and others who were beheaded on Tower Green (see page 213), as well as Sir Thomas More, the Protector Somerset, and those who were executed on Tower Hill or were privily put to death The restoration has destroyed much of the interest of this old church, but the monument are unspoiled.

source: The Queen's London, 1896


Below St. Thomas's Tower is the stone archway with a strong double gate, known as the Traitor's Gate, which may be seen by anyone passing up or down the Thames. This famous entrance to the Tower was used for the admission of State prisoners who were brought hither by water. Could the stones of this gate speak, what grim stories they would tell of those who passed through to life-long imprisonment or death - the just and the unjust! The flight of steps from the Traitor's Gate leads to the Bloody Tower (one of the twelve towers of the Inner Ward), where the sons of Edward IV. are supposed to have been murdered and Raleigh spent the greater part of his fourteen years' imprisonment. Our picture shows the Gate open, but guarded by one of the "Beef-eaters."

source: The Queen's London, 1896