The Tower of London has a terrific and grizzly reputation. For me it is one of the must see stops of the United Kingdom. Every damp, dark corner brings another story to life from it’s gruesome past.
It’s beginnings built close on 1000 years ago in 1078 by William the Conqueror. It has been extended and remodeled time and time over but always used in essence as the same thing – an oversized safe.
It has been Royal residences, a treasury, an armory, the home of the Royal Mint and currently it houses and displays the Crown Jewels to the public.
(They’re estimated to be worth between 3-5 billion pounds.)
The most shared stories are those of the Towers famous prisoners and it’s executions. It conjures thoughts of the screams of Guy Fawkes and those final harrowing moments of Anne Boleyn & Lady Jane Grey.
Despite its reputation, all in all there were only around one hundred and thirty recorded executions in the actual grounds of the Tower. (Most others took place to the North on Tower Hill). Eleven of these internal executions were by firing squad during the last 2 World Wars for those convicted of espionage. The actual inner Tower was reserved for executions of high profile prisoners and those with titles such as Henry Tudors’ Catherine Howard, Thomas Cromwell and Sir Thomas Moore.
If you’re a keen historian a really novel way to soak in more of this attraction is way after the daylight hours when every last tourist has gone home and only the lucky few are invite to return.
At precisely 9:52pm the Chief Yeoman Warder of the Tower (a Beefeater) marches out dressed in his long red coat and distinct black Tudor hat. He clutches a candle lit lantern in one hand and the Queens keys in the other. He strides the cold stone walkway down to Traitors Gate with cutting precision. Here he is stopped by an armed guardsman and challenged. The familiar words are cried out “Halt – who comes there?” and the scripted dialogue begins and ends between them as it has every night for near 700 hundred years. The locking of the heavy gates begin.
If the evening so far hasn’t sent tingles up the spine then surely you will have a shiver in your shoe when to conclude the Duty Drummer, in the fog and silence that surrounds, takes up his lone bugle and sounds out The Last Post.
You too can be one of the lucky ones and apply for tickets for The Ceremony of the Keys here.
Tickets are a nominal £1.00 for the transaction and can be made on line.
If you’re not so lucky then the Tower is open daily for all.
If you’re really unlucky…heads could roll!
Tanya Bulmer is an Aussie Expat living in the UK. She can be heard weekly on ABC radio’s, Southern Queensland Drive Program.