The Tower of London – known as The Tower - has been a Castle, Palace, Prison, Museum and a place offering a secure repository for the keeping of valuable. Spanning back to the 11th century its history started with the death of Edward the Confessor who died childless in 1066, Edward’s brother-in-law, Harold Godwinson, was crowned king but William, Duke of Normandy, a distant blood relative, claimed he had been promised the throne. This led to William invading England and the defeat of Harold at the Battle of Hastings.
William then set about securing his position by the construction of defensive structures and the construction of the White Tower on the site of what was to become the Tower of London. The Tower was built between 1078 and 1098 by Norman masons who brought some of the stone from Normandy. The Tower was also built to impress, 90ft tall and 118 x 106 ft in plan. The walls were 15ft think at ground level decreasing to 11 ft as it ascended. The walls on the upper floors had narrow slits positioned in wide splays. On the southern side, four pairs of the original double slits remain. In late 17th and early 18th centuries all others were replaced by Sir Christopher Wren with the windows seen today. The original single entrance was on the south side and it was reached by an external staircase. There were no doors at ground level. On the first floor of the White Tower is the Chapel of St John the Evangelist where the royal family and the court worshipped.The White Tower is one of the most perfect examples of Norman architecture in Britain. Today it houses exhibits of arms and armour. Originally it was protected by the Roman walls on two sides; it also had ditches to the north and west 25ft wide and 11ft deep and an earthwork topped by a wooden palisade.
The next stage of construction was instigated by Richard the Lionheart (1189-99) before leaving for the crusade. He left the Tower in the hands of his Chancellor, William Longchamp, Bishop of Ely who added significantly to its defences doubling the Tower in size. While Richard was away his brother John besieged the Tower, Longchamp held out until lack of supplies forced him to surrender. Richard regained control on his return to England in 1194 forgiving John and naming him as his successor. When John became King he often stayed in the Tower.
A major extension of the Tower included the building of the Wakefield and the Lanthorn Towers which were undertaken by John’s son Henry III (1216-72). Henry had to take refuse from his rebellious barons at the Tower in 1238 and set about building defensive walls which he reinforced by nine new towers, he also surrounded it with a moat. In 1240 Henry moved into the Tower on a permanent basis and further developed it with additional buildings including a church and a great hall and turned the White Tower into a Palace.
When Edward I (1272-1307) came to the throne he carried out major alterations by filling in the moat and constructing another wall enclosing the existing wall before creating a new moat.
In 1381, in the reign of Richard II, the Tower was stormed during the Peasants' Revolt, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Royal Treasurer, a tax official, and a doctor were taken and subsequently executed. Richard and his brother managed to hide, although Richard was eventually thrown into the dungeon at the Tower and forced to give up the throne to Henry IV.
One of the most famous stories of the Tower relates to the two princesses Edward V and his brother, Richard who were the two sons of Edward IV. They were placed in the Tower by their uncle Richard, their Protector. A short while later they disappeared and many believe that Richard was responsible for their deaths with Richard becoming Richard III.
When Henry VII moved into the Tower in 1485 after killing Richard III in a battle he formed a personal bodyguard called the Yeoman Warders, who to this day still guard the tower and act as guides for tourists.
Henry VIII (1509-47)commissioned a range of timber-framed buildings for the use of his second wife, Anne Boleyn, but they were rarely used and the Tower ceased to be a royal residence. After Henry’s break with Rome, the Tower was extensively used for the imprisonment of religious and political prisoners.
The future Elizabeth I was imprisoned in the Tower for two months in 1554, on the order of Queen Mary - her half sister - as she felt that her throne was being threatened by Elizabeth. Also held in the Tower was Lady Jane Grey, the nine day queen, before being executed for treason at the age of 16. Anne Boleyn was also held in the Tower before she was executed. Other residents included Guy Fawkes, famous for his part in the Gunpowder Plot; Sir Thomas Moore and Sir Walter Raleigh who spent most of his 13 years of imprisonment in the Bloody Tower with his wife and two children, his rooms can be seen on a visit. The Bloody Tower was originally known as the Garden Tower due to it being next to the constable's garden. The square-shaped structure at one time served as a gateway to the Inner Ward.It gained its present name in the 16th century because of the events which took place there, including the killing of the two princes.
The last execution at the Tower was that of German spy Josef Jakobs by firing squad in 1941. The last prisoners were the Kray twins for a few days in 1952 for failing to report for National service.
Today visitors entering the Tower along a short causeway to the Middle Tower built in the late 13th century. The archway, together with those of the Byward Tower and the Bloody Tower, were defended by portcullises, two of which remain. Passing through the Byward Tower archway you enter Water Lane. Leading from Water Lane is Mint Street, which is where until 1810, the Royal Mint stood. Along Water Lane is St Thomas Tower built by Edward I between 1275 – 1279 to provide accommodation for the King and a new water entrance to the tower. This being known as Traitors Gate due to prisoners accused of treason being brought to the Tower via this gate.
Tower Green was used for the execution of those whose public beheading on Tower Hill might have incited unrest.Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and Lady Jane Greywere beheaded privately on Tower Green. At the side of Tower Green is the Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula (St. Peter in Chains). This is where most of those who were executed on Tower Hill and some from Tower Green, were buried under flagstones.
Also at the side of Tower Green is the Queen's House, built around 1530, probably for Queen Anne Boleyn, she lived there for 18 days while awaiting her execution. The last prisoner to stay in the Queen's House was Rudolf Hess, the Deputy Fuhrer of Nazi Germany.
Within the Tower are eight ravens, legend has it that if the Ravens ever leave the Tower England will fall; consequently their wings are clipped to prevent them from flying away. They are cared for by the Raven master, a duty of one of the Yeomen Warders.
Visitors are able to see the Crown Jewels which are housed in Waterloo Barracks built when the Duke of Wellington was Constable of the Tower. Next to that is the Museum of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, which was the first Regiment to be armed with an improved musket, called a fusil.
The Tower of London has played a significant part in English history; it has in the past been seen as a symbol of royal power but is now an instantly recognisable symbol of England.
The Palace of
Westminster is perhaps better known as the Houses of Parliament and the meeting place of the House of Commons
and the House of Lords, the two houses of Parliament of the United Kingdom.
The history of the site
started in Roman times when a temple dedicated to Apollo is believed to have
stood on the site. Although its present development began in the 8th
century when a Saxon church dedicated to St Peter was constructed and became
known as the West Minster. In the 10th century it became part of a Benedictine
abbey and was used as the Royal church, it was its association with the Kings
that resulted in the expansion of the site, something that was started by King
Cnut (1016 – 1035).
The sites development over the
centuries resulted in two palaces, the Old Palace, which was a medieval
building constructed in the 11th century and the New Palace constructed after
the Old Palace was destroyed by fire.
The Old Palace became the primary residence of the Kings of England from
1049 with Edward the Confessor (1042 – 1066) until 1532 when Henry VIII (1509 –
1547) acquired York Place from Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and converted it to
become the Palace of Whitehall. The Royal
Council, the predecessor of Parliament, met in Westminster Hall from the 11th
century. From 1295 it was the venue of the Model Parliament, the first official
Parliament of England. This consisted of clergy, aristocrats and
representatives of the counties and boroughs of the Kingdom. It was also the
venue for the various Royal Courts of Justice. The commons were given permanent
use of St Stephen’s Chapel (now St Stephen’s Hall) in 1547 having previously used
various parts of the palace or Westminster Abbey for their meetings.
The Palace underwent a number of alterations from the 18th century onwards,
as more buildings were added including a new west façade between 1755 and 1770
in order to provide more document storage and committee rooms.
On 16 October 1834, a fire broke out in the Palace due to an overheated furnace
which set fire to the House of Lords Chamber. This then spread to the Commons
Chamber and most of the other parts of the complex, with the exception of
Westminster Hall, the Cloisters of St Stephen, the Jewel Tower and the Chapel
of St Mary. King William IV (1830 –
1837) offered Buckingham Palace as an alternative though this was deemed to be
unsuitable and was therefore declined.
In 1836, 97 design proposals for the new palace had been submitted for
consideration and the Gothic style design by Charles Barry was accepted. In 1840 work started and the Lords Chamber was
completed in 1847, the Commons Chamber in 1852 and most of the other buildings by
1860; although it took over 30 years to finish the work completely, delays
occurring due to cost increases and by the death of Barry in 1860.
Built on the neo-classical principle of symmetry it contains over 1,100
rooms, 100 staircases and 3 miles (4.8 kilometres) of passageways, spread over
four floors. Its façade stretches for 266 metres along the bank of the River
Thames. Although mainly completed by 1870 work on the interior decoration
continued intermittently well into the twentieth century.
During the Second World War the Palace was hit by bombs on fourteen
separate occasions. One bomb fell into Old Palace Yard and severely damaged the
south wall of St Stephen's Porch and the west front. The statue of Richard I (1189
– 1199) the Lionheart, was blown from its pedestal, another bomb destroyed much
of the Cloisters. The Clock Tower was also hit blowing out all the glass on the
south dial although the hands and bells were not affected and the Clock
continued to keep time. The worst
incident however, was on the night of 10/11 May 1941, when the Palace took
twelve hits killing three people. An
incendiary bomb hit the chamber of the House of Commons setting it on fire;
while another caused the roof of Westminster Hall to catch fire causing
In 1975 the Palace space has extended to allow MPs to have their own office
when it acquired the Norman Shaw Building and in 2000 the custom-built
Portcullis House was completed. Portcullis House is accessed by a secure tunnel
running from the Palace under Bridge Street.
The building contains a glazed covered courtyard with a cafeteria with meeting
rooms on the first floor and offices above.
A visit to the Palace will normally follow a prescribed route which
includes the main rooms. Unfortunately photographs are not permitted other than
in Westminster Hall so none of the other rooms are shown in the video below
although the official site of the Palace of Westminster does include some
excellent photos and virtual tours. Passing through security visitors enter
Westminster Hall which was constructed in 1097 and is the oldest existing part
of the Palace of Westminster, which at the time of construction was the largest
hall in Europe. The roof was originally supported by pillars, but this was
changed during the reign of Richard II (1377 – 1399) to the hammerbeam roof
which looks like an inverted ships keel.
Westminster Hall has served numerous functions including housing the main
judicial courts of the land. It has also housed a number of important trials,
including that of King Charles I (1625 – 1649), Sir William Wallace, Guy Fawkes
and Sir Thomas More whose commemorative plaque can be found on the floor of the
hall, along with some of the famous who lay in state after their death.
From the Westminster Hall you will enter St. Stephen’s Hall which then
leads to the Central lobby lying below the Central Tower. From this lobby lead corridors
to both chambers of the house, the libraries and committee rooms. Through the
House of Lords Chamber the Royal Gallery leads to the Robing Room which the
Sovereign uses prior to the state opening of Parliament. Their entrance is through
the Sovereign’s entrance in the Victoria Tower with its wrought iron gates. The
Victoria Tower consists of twelve floors, which on its completion in 1858 was
the tallest secular building in the world. It is used as an archive containing
over three million Parliamentary records dating back to 1497.
The Tower which most people are aware of is the Clock Tower known as “Big
Ben” after the name of the largest of its five bells. It dates from 1859 and
has become one of the world’s iconic buildings. Visitors are allowed, although
special security clearance is required and they have to climb the 334 steps.
The Palace of Westminster has been a Grade I listed building since 1970 and was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 yet it remains very much a working building with
significant influence on the United Kingdom and its people.
Westminster Abbey started as a Benedictine monastery established during the period of 960-980, although it is believed that an abbey - known as St Peters - was founded on the site in the 7th century. Between 1042 and 1052 King Edward the Confessor (1042-1066) began to rebuild and develop the abbey as a royal burial church. Although it was consecrated in 1065 shortly before Edwards’s death, it was not completed until the 1090’s. It was the first church in England to be built in the shape of the cross.
Henry III (1216-1272) started to develop the building in 1245 when he chose it as the place for his burial. Construction took place progressively as Edwards’s church was demolished Henry’s new Gothic building replaced it. At the time of Henry’s death the sanctuary, quire and first bay of the nave had been completed but then work came to a standstill. In 1376 the foundation stone was laid for a new nave, the construction of which took place over 140 years, finally being completed and dedicated in 1516.
Henry VII (1485-1509) added the Lady Chapel where
he and his wife, Elizabeth of York are buried; their remains are in a vault
beneath their tombs which are located behind the altar and surrounded by a metal grille. Also buried in the chapel is James I (1603- 1625) although he has no monument depicting his resting place. After World War II an altar and window to commemorate the fighter pilots and crew who died during the Battle of Britain in 1940 was added.
Over the years the abbey was the usual place of burial for the Kings and Queens until George II (1727-1760), with the exception of Henry VIII (1509-1547) and Charles I (1625-1649). The burial place of seventeen monarchs the abbey is also the resting place of many distinguished people including many famous musicians, writers and scientists as well as political figures.
The Abbey was also the place of the monarchs’ coronation, this started with William I, the Conqueror (1066-1087) in 1066. Every coronation since 1308 has used King Edward’s Chair which houses the Stone of Scone (also known as the Stone of Destiny). This is a block of red sandstone used for the coronation of Scottish Kings. The stone was captured by Edward I (1272-1307) in 1296 and placed in the chair. The stone was returned to Scotland in 1996 although provision exists for its return for any future coronation: The chair can be seen in the Abbey.
In 1540 Henry VIII (1509-1547) granted the abbey the status of a cathedral but it was to retain that status only until 1550 when it was returned to the Benedictine monks by Mary I (1553-1558). They were however to lose it again in 1579 when Elizabeth I (1558-1603) re-established the abbey as a Royal Peculiar, which is a church that falls directly under the control of the Monarch.
The abbey suffered during the civil war with damage being sustained by the statues, the organ and religious images, although it was protected by Oliver Cromwell during the Commonwealth Period (1649-1659). Cromwell in fact was buried in the Lady Chapel, which is marked by a plaque, although his remains were removed on the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.
At the sides of the aisle of the Lady Chapel are the tombs of Mary I and Elizabeth I who share the same tomb, Elizabeth’s coffin resting on top of that of Mary. On the other side of the aisle is the tomb of Mary Queen of Scots.
The architecture of the abbey underwent a major change between the years of 1722 and 1745 when the two west towers for which the abbey is famous were constructed. The abbey contains some magnificent architecture from its Gothic vaulting with the nave reaching over 31 metres (100 feet) - the highest vault in Britain - to its flying buttresses supporting the exterior of the building and the many tombs and statues. Today the walls look drab but they would have been adorned with brightly coloured paintings. In front of the altar is a mosaic of over 30,000 pieces of porphyry, glass and onyx laid in marble and dating back to 1268.
A visit to the abbey will also take you into the cloister, used by the monks for meditation and exercise and to the museum. The octagonal Chapter house has its original tile floor dating from 1250 and some 14th century murals.
Located by the abbey is St Margaret’s church, built in the late 11th century to enable people to hear mass without disturbing the monks from carrying out their devotions in the abbey. The present church is the third on the site. The second was constructed in the reign of Edward III (1327-1377). The third church was started in 1482 but was not consecrated until 1523. In 1614 it became the church of the House of Commons. It continues to be used for worship and also music recitals. While the abbey itself still plays a significant part in the history and life of the nation.
Windsor Castle is the world’s oldest and largest
occupied castle dating back to the 11th century and William the
Conqueror. Since the time of Henry I (1100 – 1135) it has been used by the English
Monarch and has undergone substantial enlargements and improvements from Henry
II (1154 – 1189) up to the present Queen
Elizabeth II who uses it as a private residence during her weekends and also
for ceremonial and State occasions.
The castle was originally designed as part of a
ring of castles to protect London after the Norman invasion. Constructed as a
motte and bailey, it consists of three wards built around a central mound. The
palace was built by Henry III (1216 – 1272) as a Royal Palace and this was
improved by Edward III (1327 – 1377). During the reign of Henry VIII (1509 –
1547) and Elizabeth I (1558 – 1603) it was used extensively as a Royal Court
for diplomatic purposes.
During the English Civil War (1642 – 1651) it
was used by the Parliamentary forces as a military headquarters and was subsequently
the place that Charles I (1625 – 1649) was imprisoned prior to his execution.
Following the restoration of the Monarchy Charles II (1660 – 1665) carried out
a number of projects at Windsor Castle.
During the 18th century the castle suffered some
neglect before being renovated by both George III (1760 – 1820) and George IV
(1820 – 1830) who made substantial changes making it into how it is today.
During the time of Victoria (1837-1901) it was used extensively for
On the night of 20th November 1991 it suffered a fire which destroyed some
of the most historic parts of the castle included the Crimson Drawing Room, the
Green Drawing Room and the Queen's Private Chapel. St George's Hall also
suffered damage as did the State Dining Room and the Grand Reception Room. The
cost of repair amounted to £36.5m which was obtained by the formation of a
trust and by charging members of the public an entrance fee to visit the castle
and personal donations by the Queen.
Covering an area of more than thirteen acres
(five hectares), Windsor Castle provides fortification, a palace, and a small
town. The Middle Ward is positioned on a
motte which is a raised earthwork 15 metres high. On the motte is the Keep
called the Round Tower which is built on top of the original 12th century
From the Middle Ward a gateway leads onto the
North Terrace. The eastern exit from the
ward is guarded by the Norman Gatehouse which dates from the 14th century, this
is vaulted and decorated with carvings of medieval lion masks (the traditional
symbols of Royalty) and forms the entrance to the Upper Ward.
The Upper Ward consists of a number of buildings
enclosed by the upper bailey wall, which forms a central quadrangle. The State
Apartments run along the north of the ward, while the private royal apartments
and the King George IV Gate are to the south, with the Edward III Tower in the
The existing building is laid on the medieval
foundations constructed by Edward III. The ground floor provides the service
chambers and cellars, with the first floor forming the main much grander part
of the palace.
The rooms are designed in the Classical, Gothic
and Rococo styles, together with an element of Jacobean. Many of the rooms were
restored after the fire of 1991 to their original appearance, although modern
materials were used in the process. On a tour of the castle visitors are able
to visit some of the State Rooms, although photography is not permitted.