Wednesday, August 12, 2009
A Fire and A Fortress
My plan on the morning after visiting the Waterhouse exhibition was to go to the Tower of London and spend most of the day there and catch a late afternoon train home. I was able to leave my luggage at the hotel which made life easier, I couldn't have done any sightseeing if I hadn't been able to do that. As the Tower didn't open until 10am I decided to get off the Underground at Monument and have a little look round the area where the Fire of London began in September 1666. You can enlarge all the photographs so that you can read what is on the plaques etc.
The fire began in a baker's shop on Pudding Lane and burned for three days destroying virtually all of the medieval City of London. The city was rebuilt using brick and stone as the building materials rather than the wood and wattle and daub of the medieval buildings. This is the period in which Sir Christopher Wren built St Paul's Cathedral and over 50 other London churches. Many of these were destroyed or damaged by the second Fire of London in the Blitz of 1940-41.
Charles ll was the king at the time of the Great Fire of London and he commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to build The Monument to commemorate both the Fire and the rebuilding of the City. It is 202 feet high which is the distance that it stands from the site on Pudding Lane where the fire began. On this site originally was the church of St Margaret, Fish St which was one of 86 churches destroyed. The really amazing thing is that, in spite of the huge amount of destruction,only six people died.
The base of The Monument - I've never actually climbed the stairs to the top of it. It's a spiral staircase and no place to discover half way up that you can't manage to go any further !
This is St Magnus the Martyr Church which is mentioned on the plaque in the previous photo. The original church was one of the first to be destroyed and this one is the replacement designed by Wren. The clock dates from 1700 and used to hang over the road to Old London Bridge which ran through the churchyard to the right behind the white van.
The Tower of London is over 900 years old and was built by William the Conqueror soon after his victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The original part is the White Tower on the right of the photograph which now houses the Royal Armouries Museum including suits of armour worn by Henry Vlll. I didn't go in there - at least, I did go through the door and took one look at the rugger scrum inside and the huge queue edging slowly up the stairs and rapidly changed my mind!
The entrance to the Tower is over a bridge which is where the drawbridge over the moat would have been in medieval times. The archway leads through the Byward Tower built by Edward l in the 13th century. As you can tell by all the umbrellas it was raining pretty hard and not your ideal sightseeing day. The Tower is a huge place and I'm afraid I didn't follow the recommended route as set out by the guide book but wandered about indiscriminately here and there picking out the things that interested me.
The word 'Medieval' is always a surefire draw as far as I'm concerned so the words Medieval Palace on a signpost acted like a magnet and off I went up the steps and into St Thomas's Tower which, with the Wakefield Tower and the Lanthorne Tower, are known collectively as the Medieval Palace. St Thomas's Tower was built by Edward l between 1275 and 1279 and was where he had his living quarters on his visits to the Tower. This is a reconstruction of his bedchamber using replicas based on original 13th century furnishings and decoration. And very nice too!
This is Edward l's private chapel which was through a small door leading out of the bedchamber.
Outside again I headed towards Tower Green. This is where ten people were beheaded including three Queens - Ann Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey who was only 16 years old. Only the most important personages were executed actually inside the Tower precincts and another of these was Queen Elizabeth l's favourite, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. The many others who suffered the same fate were taken to the public execution block on nearby Tower Hill. In the foreground of the photograph is the execution site memorial. You might be surprised to know that the last execution in the Tower took place as recently as 15th August 1941 when a German spy was shot by a firing squad. The building in the background is Waterloo Barracks which was built in the 19th century and is now the home of the Crown Jewels.
There wasn't one particular place where prisoners were kept at the Tower, they were squashed in anywhere there was room. In the Beauchamp Tower the walls are covered with graffiti carved by prisoners over the years, most of them date from the 16th and 17th centuries.Some are really elaborate and must have taken years to carve but I suppose that time was one thing they had plenty of! The photo needs enlarging and isn't that great even then as there were spotlights all over the place which create a lot of glare.
On the left of the photo is the doorway leading into The Bloody Tower and the walkway in the centre is called Raleigh's Walk because it is where Sir Walter Raleigh took his exercise during his 12 years as a prisoner here.
There were prisoners and then there were prisoners at the Tower - this is the room where Sir Walter spent his time furnished as it was during that period. Not exactly a bread and water regime I don't think:) Apparently his family were allowed to visit frequently and his son Carew was born while he was a prisoner! Obviously walking wasn't the only exercise he got!! He was in there accused of treason in case you're wondering...
I seem to have the knack of often being in the right place at the right time invariably purely by chance. I was wandering around Tower Green again when I heard marching feet and turned to see two guardsmen marching smartly round to the sentry box ready for the changing of the guard - the soldiers spend two hours at a time on duty in the sentry box. That's a long time when you have to stand there wearing that heavy bearskin and without moving regardless of the weather.
The ravens are an integral part of the Tower, there is a legend that if ever they leave then the White Tower will crumble and great disaster will befall this country.
It has an interesting origin,according to Geofrey of Monmouth's 'History of the King's of England' written in 1136 an ancient British king called Bran Hen was killed in battle and requested (presumably before the battle!)that his head be buried on the White Mount as a talisman against invasion. The Welsh word 'bran' means raven and the White Mount is where the White Tower now stands. One gathers that William of Normandy wasn't regarded as an invader:) One of the Yeoman Warders is Ravenmaster and has specific care of the ravens who have their own Raven's Lodgings. They also have one of their wings clipped just in case!
This is Traitor's Gate - not the entrance to the Tower that you would want to use in Tudor times! Ann Boleyn, Sir Thomas More, Catherine Howard and many others were brought along the River Thames by barge, passing under London Bridge where the heads of recently executed prisoners were tastefully displayed, and in through this water gate to climb those steps and face imprisonment and death. It actually had a much more cheerful start in life as it was originally built as an entrance for Edward l's royal barge.
I am standing looking through the archway under the Bloody Tower towards Traitors Gate. The portcullis of the Bloody Tower is still visble and the timber framed building over the top of Traitors Gate was built as lodgings for Ann Boleyn before her coronation. By this time it was mid afternoon and the sun had finally come out, but it was time for me to leave so that I could retrieve my luggage and catch the train home. I could have spent much more time here had it been available, it's well worth a visit if you ever get the chance.
Fortunately I'd given myself plenty of time to get back to the hotel because as I walked back towards the Underground I saw a sign which said 'oldest church in the City of London' - well, I couldn't not go and see it could I? The church is All- Hallows-By-The-Tower and there is still an arch from the original Saxon church of 675AD remaining down in the Undercroft. This is where the headless bodies of those people executed on Tower Hill were brought and William Penn the founder of Pennsylvania was christened here in 1644. US President John Quincy Adams was married here too when he was the American Ambassador. In 1666 Samuel Pepys and Admiral Penn, the father of William Penn, climbed the brick tower of this church and watched as London burned.
All Hallows has strong maritime connections, there is a Mariner's Chapel in the South Aisle and all over the church are models of ships, they are all tokens of thanks for cargoes safely delivered and voyages safely completed. I wish I'd had more time to look at these.
In the Undercroft under the Saxon arch is the best preserved piece of Roman tessellated pavement in London, it was once the floor of a Roman house.
The Undercroft was a little Museum full of all sorts of fascinating bits and pieces from an altar that had accompanied Richard ll on the Second Crrusade to this barrel which is the crow's nest from Sir Ernest Shackleton's ship 'The Quest' which he used on his last Antarctic expedition. It's a little jewel of a place and there was nobody else there!
I shan't be posting or commenting for a couple of weeks now as we are off to our house on the coast for the rest of this month and it's a computer free zone there.