Tower of London

This is a long post. It could have been even longer. I loved this place and cannot wait to go back for a better look someday.

…” he closed his eyes and held the little wooden urn in his weathered hands, while tracing its grooves and contours with his fingers.  As he touched it, he was flooded with memories, some so vivid and strong, that they caused him to physically gasp in the cold, crisp night air. Memories touched fleetingly on his sub-conscious like the fluttering wings of a butterfly; delicate and so quick that they were almost gone before he could grab them.

His sense of time, and doom, were momentarily on hold as he imagined glimpses of that wonderful day.  He saw, in his mind’s eye, a vision of a happy, laughing and care-free young man in love, with no idea of the dark clouds circling close-by.  He had been a different man, in a different place, with a different future to the one now before him. With no earthly possessions left, he clutched onto this small token of his past and hoped, perhaps in vain, that he could hold onto it as he was savagely thrust into an eternal darkness.

As his awareness came slowly back, he could hear a distant door slamming within the tower and could just make out the far away sounds of guards talking.  But for that, he was alone in that cold, dark space with only his heartbeat and ragged breath to keep him company. They’d told him he would be taken at 10 o’clock the next morning.  A priest, with mournfully sad eyes, had been to hear his last confession. This, unexpectedly, had bought some sort of peace to him as he contemplated the gruesome fate that was soon to befall him…”

TOWER OF LONDON x

If the Walls Could Talk, Tower of London, photo by Esther Colavecchio

If the walls of the Tower could talk, what stories would emerge through the mists of time… ??  The Tower of London is the oldest palace, fortress and prison in Europe.  In 1078 it was built by William the Conqueror to keep hostile locals off his back.  It was first used as a prison in 1100.  Today, it is a popular tourist attraction that houses the Crown Jewels and is keeper to the Royal Ravens. Superstition dates back to the time of Charles II and says that when there are no longer any ravens, the White Tower will fall and disaster will befall the Kingdom. Six ravens are always kept at the tower and each one has a wing clipped to make sure they don’t fly too far away. Just in case.

RAVENS at the TOL

Ravens at the Tower, photo by Esther Colavecchio

I’ll admit, being a history fan, that this was a place I was especially keen to visit.  We arrived on what was once Tower Hill, in bright summer sunshine as London turned on a beautiful 31-degree day for our visit.  Ice-creams and souvenir shopping were the ‘go’ as we made our way to the tower after a double-decker bus ride to get there. Also, we had a chance to ‘road test’ the London public loo situation. You must pay to use the facilities.  A lady, aka ‘loo attendant’, chose to argue with me as to whether I had paid before passing through the turnstile to go into the public loo’s inner-sanctum. I had paid. Moving right along and it was time to take a few happy snaps and to use our pre-paid London Passes, to head (pardon the pun) through the entrance gate.

All 3 boys outside T O L x

Ice-creams at the entrance gate, photo by Esther Colavecchio

It was awe-inspiring to walk into a place with such a long, murky and bloody history. It was also kind of surreal, since it was a hot, sunny day with crowds of tourists swirling all around us.  On this day it was hard to imagine that for over 900 years, this place struck mortal terror into the hearts of prisoners and enemies of the state.  There were well over 100 executions here, including 93 beheadings, countless episodes of torture and eleven executions by firing squad in the twentieth century.

Possibly the most famous execution was that of Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn.  Private executions, such as Anne’s, took place away from the public gaze that met condemned prisoners on nearby Tower Hill.  Anne was executed on a scaffold erected in front of the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula.  Three English Queens were executed on this spot, which is marked by a monument in the form of a glass pillow, to commemorate Anne and seven other poor souls who were brutally killed there.

Their crimes?  There are many documentaries and historical drama adaptations that tell the story of Anne (and others). Anne Boleyn’s story, in a nut-shell, is that she was beheaded for high treason at the hands of a French swordsman who’d been especially imported to facilitate her quick death.  This took place on the 19th May, 1536.  Katherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife, suffered the same fate as her Queenly predecessor and lost her head on 13th February, 1542.  Lady Jane Grey, who held the position of England’s Queen for only nine days, was beheaded on 12th February, 1554.  The other people executed here were; William Lord Hastings (1483), Jane Boleyn (executed alongside Katherine Howard), Margaret Pole, Robert Devereux and three members of the Black Watch regiment shot for mutiny in 1743.

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Glass Pillow Monument, Photo by Esther Colavecchio

If these gory, gruesome and blood-thirsty tales don’t tempt you to visit the Tower of London then a chance to check out the ‘King’s bling’ should.

We began our visit by joining one of the free tours that set off from inside the gates every half-hour.  These tours are a fabulous introduction to all there is to know about this imposing place.  The Yeoman Warders and tour guides, resplendent in their uniforms of dark blue with red trimmings, are themselves part of the many attractions of the Tower. Kids and adults alike were enthralled by the witty and spine-tingling tales spun by our intrepid Yeoman.  There were more than a few gasps and startled jumps from the crowd of eager listeners as the lively warder told his macabre and mesmerising stories.

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Yeoman Warder/Tour Guide, photo by Esther Colavecchio

This is creepy and atmospheric touring at its best. The Crown Jewels were a breathtaking sight to behold. This proved nearly too much to behold for our youngest little tour group mate who choked up some popcorn on his way into the building that houses the ‘King’s Bling’.

Photos by Esther Colavecchio

Finally, during our quick visit to the Tower that Tuesday, was a wander past and a few photos of the famous ‘Traitor’s Gate’.  In Tudor times, traitors to the Crown were brought in by boat and rarely walked free.  We did walk free, however, and headed off to explore wonderful ol’ London Town a bit more.

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Traitor’s Gate, photo by Esther Colavecchio

 

Written by Esther Colavecchio.

 

 

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