Guide to East London

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Tower of London & Tower Bridge

TOWER OF LONDON
Tower Hill, EC3. Tel: (0) 171 709 0765. Tube: Tower Hill

The Tower of London is the oldest palace, fortress and prison in Europe. William the Conqueror chose the same site as Claudius, the Roman Emperor, who had built a fort here over a thousand years before. Its strategic position on the north river bank immediately within the south east boundary of the City Wall controls the Thames, London Bridge and the defends the City.

According to the Domesday Book of 1086, East London had a population of 700 people. The Constable of the Tower exercised certain rights over the eleven hamlets to the east for the recruitment and pressing of labour. These became known as 'Tower Hamlets'.

The original tower, known as the White Tower derives its name from the fact that in 1240 Henry III had the building whitewashed ! As king succeeded king the fortress was continuously enlarged and towards the end of the 12th century Richard I added to its might by encircling it with a moat fed by the River Thames. When the moat was drained in 1830, many human bones were found.

Christopher Wren was commissioned to enlarge the Norman windows in the 17th century, fortunately the interior has retained most of its original Norman character. The White Tower is surrounded by two lines of fortifications, the inner of which is called the Ballium Wall and has twelve towers. These include the Bloody Tower, so called because the two Princes (the boy king Edward V and his brother Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York) were murdered here in 1483. The skeletons of two children were discovered under the stairs leading to St John's Chapel in 1674. The Wakefield Tower in the south wall is where Henry VI was found murdered in 1471. The Devereux Tower is named after its most famous prisoner Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, who was held there before his execution for treason in 1601. It is also where George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence, was supposedly drowned in a barrel of Malmsey wine in 1478. The outer curtain wall has six towers and two gateways, and was surrounded by a moat fed by the Thames, but this has been dry since 1843.

From the 13th century until Elizabethan times the Tower was used as a royal residence, then it became a prison for enemies of the Crown. Dignitaries beheaded within the Tower included Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and the 17-year-old Lady Jane Grey. Public executions were also held on Tower Hill. Those who lost their lives here included 2 Archbishops, 6 Dukes, 10 Earls, 1 Marquis, 1 Viscount, 15 Barons, 33 Knights, 1 Bishop and 1 Prior. Public executions attracted huge crowds and were a barbaric spectacle, the last being carried out on the land known today as Trinity Square Gardens in 1780 after the Gordon Riots. The site of the scaffold is clearly marked.

The Crown Jewels are still kept in the Tower, but the magnificent collection of arms and armour has been moved to Leeds, West Yorkshire. The Yeomen of the Guard, also known as Beefeaters still wear colourful uniforms of the Tudor period. Formerly there was a menagerie here too, but when a lion attacked some soldiers here in 1835, the animals were moved to the Zoological Gardens in Regent's Park.

Today's fortress has a life of its own after the tourists have left. The Tower's resident population consists mainly of Yeoman Warden's families and at night, behind the walls the atmosphere is like a village community.

A 700 year old ceremony still takes place every evening when the Tower is ritually locked. A Yeoman Warder with his escort locks the West Gate, the Middle Tower and the Byward Tower. At the Bloody Tower archway a sentry challenges him. He responds that he brings 'Queen Elizabeth's Keys'. At the close of the ceremony the Chief Warder raises his Tudor bonnet and cries 'God preserve Queen Elizabeth' and the guard replies 'Amen'. A bugler sounds the Last Post and the Chief Warder goes to the Queen's House and hands the Keys to the Resident Governor for safe keeping to the morning. Tickets are available to the public at no charge for the 'Ceremony of the Keys', but you will probably need to book some months ahead.
TOWER BRIDGE
Tower Hill, EC3. Tel: (0) 171 403 3761. Tube: Tower Hill

With its two Gothic towers, this bascule bridge looks almost as old as the Tower of London. Built between 1886 and 1894 this steel bridge is clad with stone. The hydraulic mechanism that lifts the bascules of the bridge can open quickly for ships to pass.

Panoramic views of London are available from the upper pedestrian footway. They were closed in 1909 because of suicides, but now they're open to the public on a museum basis (translation: you have to pay).

In the picture above, to the right you can see the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral and the 'Monument' to the Great Fire of London (1666); on the left side can be seen the BT Tower which is close to London's West End.



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