Medievalists.net had the opportunity to spend the day at one of the iconic medieval sites in England: the Tower of London. Here is a list of our “Must sees” and things you can skip if you’re pressed for time when you visit the Tower.
The Medieval Palace
A brief walk up a few stairs and you’re transported back in time to the thirteenth century and the reign of Edward I. This part of the Tower shows visitors what life was like for King Edward I and showcases his private chambers and bedroom.
This was the best part of the tower visit. Built during the reign of William the Conqueror in the eleventh century, the White Tower is a medieval keep that houses armour, interactive areas for kids and adults, various bits of clothing, curious objects and St. John’s Chapel; a Romanesque chapel built in 1080 which holds the title of the oldest church in London. We had the most fun here, wandering from room to room and level to level taking in all the displays.
The Coins and Kings Exhibition
Want to know how medieval coins were made? Then visit this fascinating building that takes a look at early minting processes between 1279 and 1812. It examines the dangers behind coin production, showcases coins from various reigns like that of King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth and the ways in which they combated counterfeiting. This was the first area we visited when we arrived and we found the various coins on display and explanation of how coins were minted intriguing. There are a few fun interactive features for visitors in this building.
Yeoman Warders: Guided Tours
If you’re unsure of what to see and where to start, a guided tour by the Yeoman Warders (“Beefeaters”) is always a safe bet. They’re extremely knowledgable, friendly and funny. They really bring the Tower to life. While we didn’t do a guided tour this time, I have been on two before and I highly recommend them to those who might want a more structured visit to the Tower.
Points of Interest
We only saw two of the ravens in their enclosure. The legend of the tower is that there must be six ravens (the tower keeps seven in case) or the Crown and Britain will fall.
The Scaffold Site
This is the famous site where Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey and several famous nobles were executed by beheading. These private executions were permitted only to those of high rank and considered an act of kindness. Definitely a place to photograph and reflect during your visit.
The Martin Tower
There was a bit of a line up for this Tower but I enjoyed it. We were able to move through the exhibit at our own pace rather than feel pushed through as we did with the Crown Jewels. This used to be known as The Jewel Tower and the Crown Jewels were on display here for two hundred years until the mid nineteenth century. Currently, it houses a collection of Crowns and a new exhibit entitled: Crowns and Diamonds. It tells the tale of the stones that decorate some of the famous English crowns. The Crowns on display here date from the eighteenth century onward.
We waited in line for close to an hour and a half to get inside the Crown Jewels exhibit and I must say, sadly, it wasn’t worth the wait. I had always wanted to see this exhibit and missed my first chance when I visited London while I was an undergrad in university, so I expected something really spectacular. After all the waiting outside to get inside, we were pushed through a maze of movies, moving pictures and wall writing for what seemed an endless amount of time. We finally got to the jewels and hopped on a quick conveyor belt taking us through various crowns, sceptres, and ornate gold dinnerware. While the crowns and sceptres were exquisite, this exhibit was my least favourite yet it’s the most hyped. It also seemed the least thought out of the exhibits, cobbled together to herd people through in a minimal amount of time. We could barely see what we wanted to see and felt pushed to rush through. Fortunately, you don’t have to pay extra to see the Crown Jewels. If you are going to the Tower, and don’t have the entire day, this is one place you can skip with no regrets. The crowds and the wait to view fifteen minutes of headpieces is just not that interesting or worth it.
The Bloody Tower
Here we found the various methods that were used for torture at the tower. I wasn’t terribly impressed. It was a very small tower and other than a rack and images of other torture devices it really wasn’t that scary or captivating.
The Tower of London is one of those must-see experiences for any medievalist. The importance of this place in English history is immense, as it has been a residence of Kings and Queens, the site of executions, and a witness to political events for over 900 years. The beauty and reputation of the Tower of London does draw in many visitors, so if you decide to go you should expect to wait in a few line-ups. However, even waiting with the crowd is not too bothersome, as various actors walk around in period costume to amuse, and you also will have the opportunity to gaze around at the impressive medieval and early modern architecture of the castle. The highlight of tour (for myself) was the White Tower, the oldest part of the complex dating back to the 11th century. Inside you will find displays of arms and armour that highlights the sites military purpose. Having rows of full suits of armour, along with weapons and cannons, nicely compliments the thick walls of the castle. Some areas contain more modern art pieces or hands-on activities for visitors. Walking along the outer walls of the Tower of London was also a great experience, as each tower along the route presents a different aspect of the site’s history. You can see a representation of how Edward I ‘s bedroom would have looked, see the graffiti of men imprisoned here hundreds of years ago, or learn how the Tower was used as a private zoo by royal monarchs. The Crown Jewels collection was something of a disappointment – having come on a public holiday, the wait to enter this building was more than an hour, but your actual trip through the collection will take not much longer than 15 minutes (25 minutes if you can really linger). The first several of these is spent looking at photographs and videos that describe the history of the collection, and then you often need to jostle with the crowds to catch a glimpse of the crowns, maces and golden objects. The presentation might be useful for those who want to know the background to the collection, but if you just want to go to the artifacts you might find frustration in the lines and waiting. The price for admission is £20 (with a suggested £2 donation) but this allows you full admission into the grounds. While one can go through most of the Tower of London (on a quiet day) in just a couple of hours, there is also enough to see and do that the entire day can be spent there. For those not interested in spending the admission fee, a walk around the Tower of London can be done in about 20 minutes, giving you the chance to see many spectacular views of the castle and get an idea of its immense size. You might even want to try counting the number of arrow slits along the walls – there are quite a lot!
More Photos from The Tower of London
Adults – £22 at the Tower, £20.90 purchased online. Children under 16 – £11 at the Tower, £10.45 purchased online< Family (2 adults, 3 children) – £59 at the Tower, £55.55 – purchased online Special rates – for full-time students, adults over 60 with ID, and disabled visitors : £18.70 at the Tower, 17.60 purchased online.
March 1st to October 1st (Summer Hours) Tuesday to Saturday: 9:00 – 17:30 Sunday, Monday: 10:00 – 17:30 November 1st to February 28th (Winter Hours) Tuesday to Saturday: 9:00 – 16:30 Sunday, Monday: 10:00 – 16:30 For more information about the Tower, please visit: www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/
You can follow the Tower of London on Twitter: @HRP_palaces
You can follow the Tower of London on Facebook: Historic Royal Palaces