One castle a day: A trip to London part 2

Ahoy travelers!

Welcome on board, welcome! Please sit down comfortably, fasten your seat-belts and be prepared for another adventure. We might not be traveling through space and time but still, amazing places are waiting to be discovered. Our photographer-in-chief, Malicia is signalling that we are ready for a take off. London, here we go again!

If you have not seen the first part of our review from the trip to London, please click on the link below and our excellent board computer will display all information on your personal screen:

Coat of Arms at at the Main Entrance to The Tower of London
Coat of Arms at at the Main Entrance to The Tower of London

As you know, Tower Hill offers so many attractions and ancient nooks that you can wander around for ages and you won’t see everything that’s truly worth viewing. We remember spending there so much time, that our feet got sore from walking and we had to sit down to take a rest. Since resting is boring and walking is fun, let’s not waste anymore time and take a closer look at the most impressive building in the neighborhood: The Tower of London!

1. Tower of London

Don’t be fooled by the name – The Tower of London is not just a single tower. This is a majestic castle constructed on the north bank of River Thames and is formally known as Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress. In direct opposition to the castles we have seen before, Tower of London isn’t ruined – it is a fully functional museum opened for visitors. If you ever have a chance to see it, please take a full guided tour.  Be prepared to pay a lot of money, especially if you are traveling with friends or family, but it is so worth to see it all!

The Tower of London - be afraid, be very afraid...
The Tower of London – be afraid, be very afraid…

The castle has been founded sometime around 1066 during the Norman Conquest of England by William the Conqueror. To fully celebrate his new found victory and strengthen his rule over Britain, the new king and his advisers undertook what the historians call the most extensive castle building program in Europe’s feudal history. William is credited with founding more than 47 castles; another 30 probably have been built by his generals and knights. The majority of castles survived to our times but many have fallen into disrepair or were taken down. One thing is worth mentioning here -bricks and stones used to constructs William’s castles were of excellent quality, they were re-used in creation of other buildings even several centuries later!

Designed to become a symbol of power and authority, The Tower of London was considered to be the most important castle by the new ruling elite. Its thick defensive walls and tall steeples dominated the surrounding area and brought fear and respect to local residents. Popularly known only as a prison, the castle consists of a complex of several separate buildings within two rings of walls. A 50 meter (160 ft.) moat is also included. We can easily call it a multi functional building: a fortification, prison, status symbol and splendid royal residence constructed to the newest and most luxurious standards in one.

All along the Watchtower!
All along the Watchtower!

The Tower of London has been extended several times, especially in 11th, 12th, 14th and 17th century, additional works were also necessary to fix the damages suffered during the London Blitz. During Williams’s reign, the castle was a center of politics, cultural events and administration. In later centuries, the Crown used this massive castle almost exclusively as a prison or defensive post which greatly contributed to the poor reputation of this magnificent structure. Throughout the medieval period (especially during Tudor times when many people have been imprisoned there) the Tower was a mere symbol of oppression. Londoners bitterly hated it and were afraid to even mention the castle by name. At some point, discussing the Tower was forbidden in local pubs and inns as it was spoiling the moods of the patrons.

We do not intend to write a historical essay about the castle. If you require more information, please refer to Wikipedia or visit the official site of The Tower of London at:

The old walls surrounding the Tower of London
The old walls surrounding the Tower of London

However, there is a few very interesting facts that you might want to hear. The first person ever to become imprisoned in the Tower was Bishop Ranulf Flambard. Ranulf was kept under the lock and key after he demanded high taxes from the local inhabitants circa 1100. This unlawful act earned him a luxurious cell with two personal servants and a right for a party once in a while. Bishop didn’t enjoy his golden cage and bribed his captors to help him escape. During an official evening meal with the security guards on 2nd of February 1101, Bishop managed to dissolve a sleeping medicine in wine and escaped on a rope through the window when everybody fell asleep. This act of bravery earned him his freedom but also accusations of witchcraft and selling his holy soul to the devil.

In the 14th century, Margaret de Clare, Baroness Badlesmere spent a full year in the Tower after the assault on Queen Isabella. When Isabella arrived with her royal guards to Leeds Castle, Baroness not only refused her the admittance but also ordered her archers to shoot at the Queen. Isabella’s guards protected the monarch but six of them have lost their lives. Please don’t judge Margaret de Clare too harshly. Queen Isabella is popularly known as She-Wolf of France. Extremely well educated, highly intelligent and ambitious, she has met her match in Margaret. Both women have a lot in common: they were married young for political reasons and were expected to follow and serve their husbands. They had to live in turbulent and unstable times and fought hard to find their own place in the world. Historians believe that Isabella’s unexpected arrival at Leeds Castle during pilgrimage to Canterbury was a clever plot to attack Margaret’s husband, Baron Badlesmere who fell out of royal favor. Margaret knew that allowing the Queen into the castle would not only disrespect her husband’s direct orders but also give Isabella a chance to destroy the plans for rebellion against Edward II. Margaret paid a dear price for her loyalty: she and her children were imprisoned and  Bartholomew de Badlesmere, 1st Baron Badlesmere was killed. Isabella’s victory was short-lived too. Her own son, Edward III ordered the execution of her lover Roger Mortimer, removed her from the court and kept her away from politics and power.

The famous Torture Chamber
The famous Torture Chamber

And if we are mentioning Roger Mortimer, we have to say that he was the  main hero of another famous escape from The Tower that took place in 1322 when Sir Mortimer, 1st Earl of March was sentenced to imprisonment in the lower part of the castle. Thanks to generous bribes handed to the sub–lieutenant and his men, Earl escaped the royal prison in a boat, but spent several hours digging his way out through a wall with a shovel.

It is worth mentioning that The Tower was not only the place of torture. Joan of England (1321–1362), known as Joan of the Tower was born there on 5th of July 1321. The youngest daughter of Isabella of France and Edward II was connected to the fortress throughout her entire life. As a princess, she visited the Tower repeatedly over the years and was given her own private quarters. Later, when her husband, David II of Scotland has been imprisoned there by Edward III, Joan was granted the rights to visit him in hopes to produce an heir to the Scottish throne. As you can imagine, sex was not enjoyable and Joan never got pregnant.

According to popular beliefs, The Tower is haunted by several ghosts: the murdered Princes (Edward V and Prince Richard), Catherine Howard, Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Boleyn, Viscountess Rochford and even a grizzly bear!

A perfect gift card. Let's go shopping!
A perfect gift card. Let’s go shopping!

2. The White Tower

In the heart of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress stands a massive white building commonly known as The White Tower. Again, despite the name, White Tower is not technically a tower at all – it is a keep, also known as a donjon. In medieval castles, the keeps were always the strongest structures designed to withstand prolonged sieges and attacks. As the rest of the fortress, The White Tower served several purposes. As a self reliant building, the keep offered a solid protection in case of a war. Thick stone walls rising nearly up to 30 meters could survive not only cannon balls but also mortar fire, the most advanced weapon known to a man in the middle ages. The keep had a luxurious interiors suitable for a the royal couple, several administrative rooms, garrison, servants quarters, a chapel and towers that offered a perfect look out points.

Even by today’s standards, The White Keep is a gigantic building, strikingly impressive. It has been founded in 1065, but the construction started more than a decade later, sometime between 1075 and 1079. Archaeological testing also proved that at least two long breaks in construction occurred:  the first in 1080’s and later around 1090–1093. We do not know the reasons for the pauses but historians debate that they were probably caused by financial difficulties. Constable of the Tower, the oldest existing military title in Britain, was usually given to the most senior soldier stationed in the castle. The Constable was in charge of the  entire fortress when the King was away. The position was especially prestigious as it came with personal lodgings, servants, royal grants of land or money, fantastic salary and sometimes a noble title. Not to shabby, eh?

The White Tower
The White Tower

We visited the tower several years before it underwent a 2 million pounds restoration in 2011.  Right now the monument is a sparkling gem as the pollution gathered during the centuries has been successfully removed. The frontal facade has been restored to former glory and was bleached with traditional technique used to whiten walls since the reign of Henry II.

3.  St. Thomas Tower and The Traitor’s Gate

St. Thomas Tower is one of 21 towers constructed around The Tower of London as an additional protection to the White Tower and the inner walls. Constructed around 1270 on orders of Edward I, St. Thomas Tower lies in the heart of the great fortress. Along with two other neighboring towers, the Wakefield Tower and the Lanthorn Tower, they are known as the Medieval Palace as they served as royal lodgings for Edward and his father, Henry III. Historic Royal Places charity managed to reconstruct Edward’s private bed chamber withing St. Thomas Tower and it is now open to visitors. It consists of 13th century furniture (four post bed, chests, table and chairs), beautifully painted fireplace and wall decorations. St Thomas Tower can be rented for wedding receptions through May to September and will accommodate a party of 40 guests. Just be warned, the price to pay will be royal!

A gate build underneath St Thomas Tower is known as the Traitor’s Gate. It was built by Edward I to provide an easy water gate access to the tower straight from the river Thames. Originally intended to deliver food and weapons , the Gate  gained a sinister reputation in Tudor era.  Royal prisoners were brought to Tower on a barge, passing under the  London Bridge where they could see the heads of killed prisoners displayed on pikes. Both, Queen Anne Boleyn and Sir Thomas More, entered the Tower by Traitors’ Gate.

St. Thomas Tower and The Traitor's Gate
St. Thomas Tower and The Traitor’s Gate

3. Tower Bridge

Located near the Tower of London, The Tower Bridge has been named after the fortress. Built between 1886 and 1894, it was officially opened by Prince of Wales (future Edward VII) and Princess of Wales (Alexandra of Denmark) on 30th of June 1894.
The Tower Bridge is one of the instantly recognized symbols of the capitol and is universally known. There is little need to describe it as the bridge is as famous as the Queen, red phone boxes or The Beatles. We can add that it took 5 architects to oversee its construction, nearly 500 engineers and thousands of workers. The bridge is 244 meters long and its twin pillars anchored in the river bed weight 70.000 tones each.  Tower Bridge is extremely popular with tourists and sometimes it’s hard to pass on the other side of town without stopping because somebody wants to take a picture! Expect  larger crowds in 2014 as the bridge will be 120 years old!

The bridge serves also an an art gallery. Please check the official website at:

Lower view of Tower Bridge
Lower view of Tower Bridge
Tower Hill panorama with The Tower Bridge.
Tower Hill panorama with The Tower Bridge.
Tower Bridge as seen from River Thames
Tower Bridge as seen from River Thames

4. The battle of Canary Wharf

As you know, Rita and Mal are huge fans of Doctor Who. Being in London, we just couldn’t resist visiting one of the locations used in the show. For “normal” human beings, Canary Wharf is an important business district and second  financial center in the capitol (the other being City of London). For a respectable Whovian, it is a site of a deadly battle between Daleks and Cybermen, with humanity trapped in a crossfire (July 2006). Thanks to the Tenth Doctor and several of his associates, mankind survived this horrendous experience but many lives has been lost. It is here that The Doctor also lost his beloved companion Rose after she became trapped in an alternative universe without the ability of ever coming back again.

We have paid our respects to brave Torchwood operatives and the common men and women of London who sacrificed everything for the sake of our planet. Enjoy the pictures and don’t forget to watch an excellent documentary about the battle entitled “Doomsday” produced by BBC with memorable performance by David Tennant (as Tenth Doctor) and Billie Piper (as Rose Tyler) among others.

Canary Wharf just two years after the battle
Canary Wharf just two years after the battle
The site has been known to Whovians simply as Doomsday
The site has been known to Whovians simply as Doomsday

Our trip to London Town is slowly coming to an end. We hope that you have enjoyed this strange mix of history, modern photography and a bit of science-fiction!

Our next destination will be a true castle again, so stay tuned!
We will see you shortly.

Don’t leave anything on board (except for tips for the captain and the crew!)
Rita and Mal


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.