Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

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.


Morning's Minion said...

So much in this post to think about. I enjoy English history, although I take it rather watered down into historical narratives [aka historical fiction.] I'm always appalled that anyone who displeased the reigning royalty could lose their head at the monarch's whim. How did they get away with so much for so many years?

JoAnn ( Scene Through My Eyes) said...

Fascinating and wonderful - thanks so much for the tour.

Hildred said...

Fascinating post, - so full of history. Wonderful pictures too, - thank you for sharing this. Hope you have a great holiday.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this post a lot as it added to what I already knew. I'm left thinking about how for centuries decapitation was such an important ritual and what it signified, the barbaric base nature of all peoples and how primitive our own society was until recently. I send best wishes for your holiday, lucky you having a cottage by the sea.

Bovey Belle said...

What a wonderful post - I wish I could see it first-hand, but we're a bit too far away for a day trip these days! Easier when I lived in Southampton and I hardly went even then! Enjoy your break. I will write snail-mail whilst you are away.

Unknown said...

Hello Rowan,

As ever, I have learned more things. I have a photo of the fire monument taken from outside St. Paul's dome. Great views! The Tower has so much history, one needs an age to spend there. Have a good break.

Sal said...

Brilliant. I'd love a sightseeing trip to London...have not been for years! ;-)

Thimbleanna said...

I love London -- there are so many reasons to visit -- history being the foremost. You crack me up too -- "where the heads of recently executed prisoners were tastefully displayed" -- I guess heads could be distastefully displayed? Thanks for sharing your London visit and have a wonderful break Rowan!

Sara at Come Away With Me said...

Thank you for the Tower of London tour! When we were in England this June we had only limited time in London and so skipped the Tower in favor of St. Paul's Cathedral.

I was fascinated by the All-Hallows-By-the-Tower and all the connections to American history. And that Pepys and Penn watched London burn from there in 1666!


Shirl said...

Lovely, a trip down memory lane. I have been up the monument, once or twice in my youth, and it does indeed make the legs ache lol!

Have a lovely holiday ... :0)

Rosie said...

Super post, Rowan - what a wonderful time you had seeing so many places whilst you were in London - it is ages since I visited the Tower of London - I remember the names and carvings on the walls, the ravens and the traitor's gate - plus loads of groups of tourists following guides with umbrellas held up in the air. Hope you have a lovely break:)

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Such a fascinating place. I do love to visit the Tower. As a tourist, mind you!

Did you have your photo taken with a Beefeater??

Janet said...

Rowan, this post is so full of information. Every time I "go along" with you on one of your trips it's fantastic. You have a wonderful way of describing things and your photos are always great....even if there are spotlights that cause a glare! Thank you again for taking us along with you as I'm sure I'll never see any of these places in person.

laoi gaul~williams said...

thank you for the most amazing post rowan! as i read down i kept thinking 'i hope she got a good photo of a raven'~and you did! i adore the crow family so much. and as for the graffiti, i felt quite emotional seeing that as it is such a personal part of the past.
i once nearly bought a small house in lymington, one of six, that had been built by Napoleonic prisoners of war and their graffiti still existed in the cellars~driving by nearly every week i see the hosue and wish i had bought it just for the graffiti!

Anonymous said...

Your photos are wonderful, as always. Bit grim, Tower Green is with it's history. A fascinating, if dangerous time to be a citizen of England. That is if you fancied yourself a Royal!


Tea said...

Really enjoyed learning more about the fire and the tower of London tour Rowan! Hope you`re having a lovely time at your house.

Love tea

Ragged Roses said...

Haha, I was reading this post and before I reached the end I wanted to tell you about the little church next to the Tower but I was very relieved to read you stumbled across it too, it's a gem isn't it? I think this is one of my favourite parts of London, the roads and streets are steeped in history - I love it.

Ragged Roses said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Julie said...


This was so interesting, informative and thorough. The next time I'm reading a book and some character is in the Tower of London I will be able to see it in my mind, thanks to all those photos. I am so glad you went. I have heard that the crowds there are enormous, and my knees couldn't take all that waiting, walking and climbing.

Bovey Belle said...

Blogger doesn't recognize me on C&C and I can't get in! I have had to start the alternative:

Bovey Belle said...

Just to let you know that I can no longer get into my blogs and have had to start up a new c&c on

I hope you enjoyed your holiday. Yarrow and children have just visited and we had a wonderful time.

Hollace said...

I've been missing you. Hope you are having a great time by the sea.

Fascinating post about some of London's history. Our short past in Oregon (over which we make much) just began in 1800 with Lewis and Clark. Of course, there were native Americans beforehand, but no recorded history. It makes dates like 1200 or 666 incomprehensible to me...
I'm wondering what exacting does the term "medieval" mean/

Jasmin said...

It's been many years since visited the Tower - I always enjoyed it so much. My husband took our granddaughter Jasmin when we were in London in 2004 - unfortunately I had sprained my ankle and sat home with it in a bowl of ice all day!

Anyway Rowan, that was a fabulous tour and history lesson, thanks so much for sharing with us. Of course Sir Walter Raleigh is well known around here - his statue stands here in Raleigh, NC.

Mary said...

Rowan, not until I posted my comment did I notice that it's probably under my granddaughter Jasmin's name! Apparently she forgot to switch user back to me when on my laptop this afternoon - sorry!


Anonymous said...

London is wonderful isn't it?

Jenn said...

I have loved visiting your blog for a while now, so informative, great pictures and rich history and details. Thank you for sharing with others. I love my time spent here browsing...I have now read your entire journal from beginning to present and it took a while but was a lovely treat.

Granny Sue said...

Interesting, and chilling. People were so barbaric to each other. Then I think about today's headlines and think we haven't improved much.

Wonderful photos. Thanks for the tour.

Diane said...

Ive never done the fire of London bit of London - it looks really interesting. Thanks for the tour.

thesnailgarden said...

Looks like you had a great time. We visited the Tower in May, but sadly missed the undercroft - maybe next time. Hope you are having a lovely holiday - looking forward to hearing about it, best wishes, Pj x

Greentwinsmummy said...

I loved reading this,I have never been to the Tower or much of London to be honest! so much history there,I am looking forward to sharing it all with the smalls as they grow up.Our country is steeped in history,some very bloody indeed...
Can you imagne the terror one would feel slowly drifting on a boat under that Traitors Gateway...yikes...

The graffeti in the cell is very poignant too.

GTM xx