I have been to London many times, but I had never realised that the giant pile of bricks to the left of the River Thames was the Tower Of London. I’ve been walking around with my eyes closed!
So, I was in London recently, so I went to The Tower.
The Yeoman Warder – aka Beefeater – who conducted the guided tour was amazing. He was full of life, full of facts, full of fun and good humour. Yeomans are known as Beefeaters because they were so revered by the royalty they served that they were allowed to eat the same food as the royals. Soldiers can only become Beefeaters if they have served 22 years in the army, have achieved the rank of sergeant and have obtained two specific medals. These are highly decorated and highly dedicated men.
The Tower of London is a World Heritage Site. It is the home of the Crown Jewels, and was first built by William The Conqueror after his victory in 1066. It was originally built as a castle, a fortress, to defend William’s new land. Several kings expanded The Tower and, er, built on its success. The White Tower in the centre was constructed in 1078, and this is where the Crown Jewels are kept, along with displays and information about past high jinxery in The Tower such as the tigers and elephants that were kept there as wonders from around the world.
Charles II introduced the ravens to The Tower. He said that if the ravens ever left, The Tower would fall, and indeed the whole of London – maybe even England – would fall. The ravens remain (thankfully!) in The Tower today. They have free run of the place and are bribed – sorry, encouraged – to stay with daily feeds of meat, fruit, yogurt and biscuits dipped in blood. Biscuits dipped in blood would seal the deal for me. High five ravens!
Which famous people have been held and beheaded or shot in The Tower?
Guy Fawkes. You may have heard of Bonfire Night which is a celebration on 5th November every year across the UK. We commemorate The Gunpowder Plot of 1665 when a group of men tried to blow up the Houses Of Parliament because of their dissatisfaction with the way the UK was being governed. Guy Fawkes was the man captured and executed for this crime. The film V For Vendetta references this.
Anne Boleyn, one of the six wives of Henry VIII. You’ve seen the films, you’ve read the books. Nuf said.
John Lilburne aka Freeborn John (1614-1657). John Lilburne was a Leveller – someone who believed all people are born equal and have equal rights given by God – in the English Civil War. He was a Puritan turned Quaker and wrote pamphlets on the equality of all people, as well as leading civilian fighters in their rebellions against the soldiers of Charles I.
There is a fantastic album about Freeborn John by Rev Hammer and leading UK folk musicians, from traditionalists to punks, all taking different parts, telling the story of John Lilburne and his wife Bessie, with excerpts from the man’s diary. I recommend it!
And I recommend The Tower Of London. It’s a great day out!