And I’m back for the next Countdown:
ONLY 40 DAYS LEFT!
Every time I write another blog post I realise that another five days have passed by and the end is coming closer and closer.
Looking back to all the good times is just amazing and I really enjoy it. Therefore I’m gonna look back on my visit to the Tower of London today.
On Tuesday, 28th February Max and I went to see the Tower of London, as it was his last day in London and we haven’t done one major attraction yet.
The Tower is not only one of London’s oldest and most renowned monuments, but it’s also the best preserved fortress in all of Great Britain.
The complex of 21 Towers was built in 1078 by William the Conqueror and was originally used as a palace. Throughout the time it’s purpose changed from royal palace to astronomical observatory, an armoury, a treasury, a zoo, a prison and lastly the home of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom.
Apart from the Crown Jewels the Tower of London is probably most know for its seven ravens and for the ‘Beefeaters’. A legend says that the Tower and the British monarchy would fall, if the ravens were to ever leave the fortress. As they are formally known as the Guardians of the Tower, the ravens are considered part of the military. This means that they’re subject to the same rights, duties and punishments and therefore can be enlisted, promoted and discharged.
The ‘Yeoman Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London’ is the official name of the Beefeaters, the Tower’s ceremonial Guardians since the 16th century. Next to guarding the Tower of London, they also give free tours around the Tower.
As we arrived at the tower at 10.45am and the next tour started at 11am, we decided to wait for the next tour to take part. It proofed to be the right decision, because this one Yeoman Warder was especially good. He was downright funny and this special humour to him and always had a witty comeback ready.
The tour started with him telling us that he doesn’t want us to take pictures of him during the tour and therefore decided to give us a pose so we can take our picture at the beginning and then don’t feel the need to anymore.
The Tour started at the Byward Tower, where our tour guide first told us a bit of the Yeoman Warders. There are currently 36 men in the team. There are quite a few restrictions if you want to become a Yeoman Warder. You need to have:
– at least 22 years’ military service
– reached the rank of warrant officer
– been awarded the long service and good conduct medal
– be between 40 – 55 years old on appointment.
As they all live with their families there on the Tower grounds, it’s like a little village. Apart from their own church and their own park (Village Green), they even have their own pub – the Yeoman Warders’ Club. The Children live in the Casemates and they have their own ‘squire’ – the Resident Governor.
Nowadays they only wear their distinctive red uniforms on ceremonial occasions as they are with £6000 way too expansive for daily use. Instead they use the blue ‘undress’ uniform for their daily duties, which comes in four weights. This one was developed around 1856, when it was discovered that air pollution after the Industrial Revolution caused the red uniform to rot.
From the Byward Tower he lead us inside the fortress’ walls and to the Bell Tower. It was built in the 12th century and got its name from the curfew bell that has rung from it for at least 500 years.
The Tower was extremely secure and therefore really suitable for important prisoners.
The next stop was the Traitors’ Gate, the most notorious entrance of the Tower. Originally built for Edward I between 1275 – 1279, it was the new water gate called St Thomas’s Tower. But the name comes from the use as an entrance for all those ill-fated prisoners accused of treason.
It was here that the Yeoman Warder first said his catchphrase ‘HEADS CHOPPED OFF’ followed by an enthusiastic ‘EYYY!’. This made us crack up every time and put a smile back on our disgusted looking faces after he told us in detail how someone was executed. If you have a little idea about the history of the Tower and it’s prisoners you’ll know that he said this phrase quite a lot.
‘Gentle visitor pause awhile • where you stand death cut away the light of many days • here jewelled names were broken from the vivid thread of life • may they rest in peace while we walk the generations around their strife and courage • under these restless skies’
This is the inscription on the execution site memorial at the Scaffold Site and the Tower Green where we went to next.
Tower Green once was an execution site where ten people were beheaded (HEAD CHOPPED OFF – EYYY!), three of them were english queens. Although all three executions didn’t took place in exactly the same spots, the special scaffolds and blocks that were prepared each time were always within a few yards of the others. Nowadays there is a memorial close to where the executions took place to commemorate the three queens, but also the other seven men and women that die on or near this spot.
The three beheaded queens were Anne Boleyn, early 30s – 2nd wife of Henry VIII; Catherine Howard, around 20 – 5th wife of Henry VIII and Lady Jane Grey, 16. While the first two have been accused of adultery and both may have not been guilty, Lady Jane Grey was only queen for 9 days and got caught in her father-in-law’s – Duke of Northumberland – failed military coup. Needless to say that she’s been killed innocent.
When we were finished at this site he started to prepare us for the next step of the tour: the Chapel Royal of St Peter and Vincula.
Just like most churches they ask the gents to take off their hats and everyone to switch off their phones. He even joked that the younger generations will survive if we’re not accessible through our phone for ten minutes.
He then told us about the little intelligence test they have, as there is a small step when you enter the church and even though he always warns the visitors, there is ever so often someone who still doesn’t pay attention and stumbles. He kindly offers to catch the women, but he does enjoy a good faceplant and therefore wouldn’t bother to come to the rescue of a guy.
Being prepared and all we went inside the Chapel which is locked off for the public and only accessible in company of a Yeoman Warder on one of their guided tours. Luckily we all proved that we are quite intelligent as no one of our group stumbled. When he told us that Queen Victoria did stumble on her entrance to the Chapel once he even looked at me and then congratulated us that we excelled the Queen on this task.
The modest looking Chapel still operates as a place of worship for the 150 or so people living within the Towers walls. It was here that this Yeoman Warder proudly told us that his soon to be firstborn child will be baptised in the chapels baptistery in just a few months time (probably happened by now..).
But apart from a place of worship, the chapel is also the last resting-place of most of the executed at the Tower or the nearby Tower Hill. Next to the aforementioned three queens, Rochford, Salisbury and Essex are also buried here. The two saints of the Roman Catholic Church, John Fisher and Thomas More, are also among the buried. Both of them were executed on Tower Hill, the latter was convicted of treason because he refused to acknowledge Henry as Supreme Head of the Church of England and to take the Oath of Supremacy.
After a last few information and the chance for us to ask questions, he said his goodbye and wished us a nice visit to the Tower. The tour just lasted for an hour, but that was rather good as this hour was filled with information and it would’ve been too much otherwise.
I really enjoyed it, especially because our guide was very funny and good with his words. He would make a good teacher as he managed to shut all the loud children that were walking past us up with just one look. One time a few children were especially loud and wouldn’t quieten down so he told them to put their pointer finger to their mouth and curious what he’s up to they did it to then get told to keep it there. But it’s a wonderful way to get them quiet.
As no visit to the Tower is complete without seeing the breathtaking and world-famous collection of the Crown Jewels. The display ‘Crowns through History’ has the original crown jewels of many generations on show. Although you are able to stand just a few centimetres away and gaze on the most valuable collection of crowns, coronation regalia and jewels in the world, you are sadly not allowed to take any pictures.
The Coronation Regalia are the objects used at the coronation of a sovereign, which are made out of silver-gilt, which is silver covered with a thin layer of gold and are jewel-encrusted, however there are plenty solid gold objects as well. As the coronation is about recognition, anointing and investiture, therefore the regalia includes swords of state and ceremonial maces, orbs and sceptres and trumpets and tunics. For the anointing of the sovereign with holy oil they use a Coronation Spoon.
But apart from these things there are also items on display that are no longer in use.
Other than additions to the collection at various points, the collection was almost completely replaced after its destruction during the Commonwealth in the 17th century. As they were done with monarchy, the Parliament wanted to be done with the royal regalia as well and the crowns were ‘totally broken and defaced’. A new set of jewels were ordered by Charles II after the monarchy was restored in 1660. His jewels have been used at every coronation ever since, including the coronation for Queen Elizabeth II.
The Imperial State Crown was made for her coronation in 1953 and is the most modern object on view. It is the very same Crown the Queen wears every year at the State Opening of Parliament.
But the regalia wouldn’t be so impressive if it wouldn’t be for the stones. The largest top quality cut diamond in the world is the Cullinan I (First Star of Africa; 530 carats) and is placed in the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross. The Crown of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother is decorated with the Koh-i-noor diamond from India.
However the Imperial State Crown might be one of the most precious ones. Next to the legendary ‘Stuart Sapphire’ is the ‘Black Prince’s Ruby’ and ‘Queen Elizabeth’s Pearls’. These stones are accompanied by 2868 diamonds, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, 5 rubies and 273 pearls.
As you can imagine security is rather important around these jewels and therefore there are soldiers in front of the tower and there are people inside the display room to keep an eye on everyone. These military Guards come from an operational unit of the Armed Forces that is currently employed on ceremonial duties. On this day the Irish Guards were on duty. Their Regiment was formed on 1st April 1900 by order of Queen Victoria. To avoid crowding and giving everyone the chance to have a good view on the jewels there is a roller conveyor on both sides of the showcases you just stand on and be rolled past the showcases.
After being dazzled by the jewels it was time to be brought back into reality and we went on the Wall Walk. While you literally walk on the wall, you can also go into 6 of the Towers that are included in the wall. Sometimes you have a small exhibition about the history of the tower and sometimes you can just enjoy an amazing view over London. As we just came out of the Waterloo Barracks and were close to the entrance to the North Wall Walk, we started over there to then do the East Wall Walk afterwards.
Around 12.55pm we were finished with the Wall Walks and luckily just ended in front of the Waterloo Barracks where the Changing of the Guards took place. If you want to see the changing of the guards at the Buckingham Palace and are disappointed because it’s so far away and you can’t really see it, you have to go to the Tower of London and you’ll get happy.
We not only got lucky to see the changing of the guards, but we also got the chance to admire one of the seven ravens who are just massive.
Our last stop of the day was the famous White Tower. The Tower was the first Tower of the now 21 Tower-complex. It is among the best preserved and most interesting 11th century buildings and has been a symbol of authority and nationhood.
The probably most important purpose of the Tower that required it to be a tower was to serve as a permanent reminder to the new Norman nobility and the native population of the king’s authority. The other two main functions were a fortress and the interiors were designed for the king’s occasional use and as the setting for governmental and ceremonial functions.
From the 14th – 19th century the main use of the White Tower was a military storehouse. From this function emerged the role as a museum of arms and armour today. Therefore it was rather boring, compared to the impressive display of the crown jewels in the Waterloo Barracks. But it was nice nonetheless to be a visitor in this old fortress and the origin of the Tower of London. With this Tower we decided to finish our visit to the Tower and get back on our way home.
I’m sorry for the delay and that it’s been six instead of five days since the last upload, but I had a rather busy weekend and didn’t manage to post on time. Hopefully I’ll be able to upload the next one on time again.
See you in 4 days!