Monday, June 18th

Busy day today!  Our main focus of today was the Tower of London.  We took the tube over, just a short ride, though it was crowded.  Serves us right, I suppose, for going during what is probably here peak commute.  I think that if we had gone at 9 in the US, the majority of the rush would be over.  Not here, though.  We arrived a bit too early for the Tower opening, so we decided to go for a walk while we waited.  We went over Tower Bridge, which is very pretty, and down the side of the Thames, which is less so.  We were trying to decide whether it was high or low tide (it was lowish), and happened to walk past a replica of the Golden Hinde, which was Sir Francis Drake’s ship.  It’s up on dry dock at the moment, and they were doing some mysterious but extremely loud something to it on the far side.  Kevin and I have surmised that they were blasting the barnacles off, or something.  In either case, it looked quite piratical, and at the same time, very silly, because it’s quite bulbous below the waterline.  Can’t imagine 100 people living on the ship for any length of time.  WAY too small for that kind of thing.  We wandered around a bit more, and then decided that it was time to head back towards the Tower, so we crossed back on the London Bridge, which is unspectacular, but it’s nice that there are so many bridges.  You don’t have to go far, that’s for sure.

The Tower from the river side

Looking down the river toward London Bridge.

On Tower Bridge

From Tower Bridge, you could see the walled- up entry to Traitor’s Gate (dun dun DUN!)

Tower Bridge, and a rather overly dramatic sky.


The Tower was really great.  To anyone planning a visit – buy your tickets online, and no one even asked for a student ID.  Just saying.  The one place that did ask, had no problem whatsoever with my totally out of date grad student ID.  We headed straight for the White Tower when we got inside, as there was a tour thing we were interested to catch.  There was momentary confusion as we asked for the tour meeting place (“Chapel, on the first floor”) and ran out of first floor before finding a chapel.  Luckily, we remembered that first floor does not in fact mean “the floor first to the ground” here, but “floor that is first above the ground floor”, so we got there in time.  Our tour was a mostly private tour (just because no one besides us an two other people showed up, even though there were plenty of people around), so our guide Jennifer got to show us a lot of cool stuff.

So, the White Tower is the oldest bit of the Tower of London.  It was built on top of the foundations of an existing Roman fort, and was a living space, but was also definitely defensive, as its builder had enemies foreign, domestic and related.  The tower was apparently built by people who did not speak the same language as the people they were building it for, so in the chapel there are some interesting details that scholars have interpreted as instructions to the builders – this is a chapel, make it pretty, that sort of thing.  There are also a lot of details about the building that are designed to make it more fortified.  One that Jennifer showed us were the fireplaces.  They have a very odd chimney shape, which is intended to filter the smoke through smaller and smaller channels, so that by the time it gets to the outside, it would be nearly invisible to enemies.  They would look for a sign that the king was home, see no smoke and move on, that style of thing.

Secret fireplaces of secret! oooh…

One of the other things that I thought was really interesting was the main staircase.  It was a fairly small spiral staircase, but one of the things they did to make the castle even more impenetrable was that all of the stairs are different heights.  They’re called trip stairs, because if you’re madly charging the castle, you’re probably not going to notice that one stair is 3 inches high, and the other is 8, causing much chaos.  Even now, the Tower only lets people go down them, not up, so they don’t kill themselves.  The Tower’s defenses are so good it has only been breached once – by a rabble of peasants trying to behead a bishop named Simon for an evil tax.  The guards didn’t like the tax either, so they let down the drawbridge.  Also, we learned why there are so few ravens at the Tower these days – Charles II put a royal astronomer in the top of the White Tower to try to make better maps for sailors.   But the flock of ravens, then 100 strong, was getting into his equipment, and generally making his life difficult.  So, he asked to king to get rid of them, but he couldn’t because of the curse thing that if all the ravens leave, the monarchy will fall.  So they compromised by keeping 10 ravens, and clipping their wings so they couldn’t fly up and make trouble in the astronomy tower.

One of the ravens of the Tower. Legend says that if the ravens ever leave the Tower, the monarchy will fall. Well, right after the Restoration, the king installed his royal astronomer in one of the tallest parts of the White Tower. The astronomer soon complained that the ravens, which numbered in the hundreds, were pooing on, and pecking at, and generally destroying his telescopes because they were shiny. Problem is, the newly restored king didn’t want to tempt fate by getting rid of them, so he ordered all but 8 to be chased away, and had the remaining 8 clipped so they couldn’t fly up and bug the astronomer. That’s why they don’t have many, and their wings are clipped. Though, these days apparently they keep spares. Just in case.

The White Tower has been used for various things since its construction, such as storage, housing the treasury, housing the Royal Mint, and of course, housing prisoners.  Now, it’s basically a museum.  It has some of the arms and armor from the various kings who used it, especially King Henry VIII.   It’s funny, we saw some of his armor that was at the Royal Armory at Leeds, and in his youth, he was probably a very fine figure of a man.  But the Tower has a set from his last hosted joust – heavens, but he’d gotten fat!  The armor was HUGE!  And they don’t even know that he competed in that tournament, given his health and age.

Henry the 8th I am, I am!

When we finally made our way out of the White Tower (after being let down the secret back staircase by Jennifer)  we went to see the crown jewels.  There wasn’t much of a line outside the building, and though there were lots of people, it moved along well.  The thing that really gets me about all of the collection were these little tags every now and then – “In Use”.  I mean, some of the stuff was very beautiful, and all of it was over the top crazy valuable, you can tell. And then – someone is using it!  Someone has called the place with the crown jewels and said “Hey!  Can I borrow that tiara for this dance I’ve got on Sunday?? Thanks!”  and then that is that.  That part is hard to imagine.

Outside where they keep the crown jewels. No cameras allowed inside…

We also manage to find a rather smaller collection of the crown jewels hidden away in one of the outer towers.  There were two crowns there, both very interesting.  One was a crown from like, George somebody, but Victoria (I think – maybe Elizabeth II) had had a new crown made, which used all the jewels from the old one.  So this one – all of the silver and all of the mountings are still there, but it was empty of jewels. Looked pretty cool.  The other one was a crown for I-can’t-remember-who, who first had backless jewel settings.  Well, dude apparently LOVED him some diamonds, and the crown was made to hold some 12,300 and some odd diamonds.  Well, the royal family doesn’t own that many diamonds, so they were borrowed, and given back two years later.  So the crown is like, a spiderweb of silver, into which there would have been stuffed a simply obscene quantity of diamonds.  I actually think it would have been pretty.

As we came out of the secret jewel room, we decided that it was time for food. However, our journey to food was rudely interrupted by a man and a woman in costume, carrying on about something in loud voices.  Since we are totally suckers for people in costume, we decided to stick around.  Well, they were doing a thing about  what was happening with a group called the 5th monarchists, who believed that Charles II should be replaced… by King Jesus.  In other words, they believed that in 1666, it was going to be the second coming of Christ, and everyone should be prepared.  The little gig was HILARIOUS.  There was one guy who was playing the Lord Mayor of London, and he was all pompous and silly, and then there was a Monarchist who had snuck into the Tower, and then there was a woman wrongly imprisoned for accidentally attending a 5M meeting (“But they offered me a warm place to sit down, and a piece of cake!  I didn’t know what I was doing!  I was there for the cake!”  Lord Mayor: “Hrm, sounds like my wedding…”  “What?”  “Oh!  Nothing!”)  They had us divide up, totally randomly, into people who were just visiting the Tower for no reason at all, really, and innocent prisoners, falsely accused.  We stuck with the innocent prisoners, and were told that our freedom was at hand! – as long as we were willing to spy on the 5th monarchists and report back to the Lord Mayor.  So we spied on the meeting, after having identified ourselves via secret hand sign, and found out that there was a plot, supposed to go down on October 3rd, 1666, in which we were to kill the king, murder the Lord Mayor, kill the Horse Guards in their sleep and set fire to the city (which we duly reported back).

Now here’s where it gets a bit eerie  – this is basically how it really happened, with people infiltrating the tower, and wrongly accused and imprisoned, and made to spy.  And because there were so many spies, this plot was uncovered long before anything could come of it.  HOWEVER – the great fire of London, the one that leveled some ¾ of the city, and supposedly started by a baker’s accident –  started in the wee hours of the morning on October 2nd, 1666.  Accident or plot, we’ll never know.

We got some food, and spent more time wandering around in the tower, seeing the places where various people were imprisoned, and executed and so on.  A lot of the rooms have carving in the walls, done by the various captives.  Some of them are so good that they think wealthier prisoners might have been allowed to bring in stonemasons to do their prison carvings for them!  We happened to catch the end of one of the Beefeater’s tours, which was fortuitous, as the guy was very funny.

He led us into the chapel on site (which you cannot enter without a Beefeater), wherein lie the remains of 3 of the wives of Kin Henry VIII, and which is still a working chapel today.  The beefeaters and their families live on site so that they are there at any time, because in addition to tour guides, they are also the fire brigade in charge of the Tower, and so on.

Beefeaters! Doing their guard-y thing!

The green, where they did the private beheadings for some of the more esteemed guests of the Tower.

Right next to the Tower is a little church called All Hallows.  By London church standards, it is not particularly impressive, but the cool thing about is is that down in the crypt, it has a bunch of Roman mosaics and road surfaces.  Because the Tower re-used the Roman foundations, a lot of the things nearby have Roman foundations or bits of wall as well.  In All Hallows, they just went with it, sort of a “well, this perfectly nice paved and tiled floor is already down here, so let’s go with that!”  It was pretty cool to see such nicely preserved Roman stuff, like a secret hidden away.

After we finally left the tower, we headed for the nearby reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.  There have been 3 Globe theatres – the first burned down and was hastily rebuilt, the second one was shut down by Puritans and the plague (I think) and then many decades later, someone decided that they wanted to rebuild a new Globe.  It’s not on the site of the old Globe, as someone in the intervening years built a totally different, important building on top of it, but it is nearby.  Also, as they were getting ready to build the thing, they discovered the archaeological remains of the Rose, a contemporary Shakespearean Playhouse, in the basement three doors down.  So they were able to use a lot of the evidence from that, as well as things that were know about the Globe, to re-create the theatre.

It uses only period materials and techniques, so there are no nails in the entire thing, and the thatch roof is open to the outside, and you can get a ticket to stand in front of the stage as a “groundling”.  On our tour, we got to go inside and watch them rehearsing for “Taming of the Shrew” for a while, which was pretty entertaining.  It must be almost opening, because this rehearsal seemed to be mostly about “how to bow and remove your silly hat properly” and “ how to not put our props under the feet of the person coming on next”  and in one case “how to fasten one’s poofy trousers properly”.  Unfortunately, they are sold out well in advance, and in some cases, for the entire run of the show, so we won’t be able to see a full performance there, but it was fun.

Some of the costumes used in past productions. They are not, of course, actually old, but just like the Globe, they are made with as much attention to accuracy as possible.

Ooh! Pwetty!

Some period musical instruments. Music was a very important part of Shakespeare’s stage

After the Globe, we had meant to go to St. Paul’s Cathedral, over the Millennium Bridge, but by the time we got in there, they had closed most of the cathedral, and were doing some evening mass thing.  We stuck around for a bit to listen to the choir and the organ, and the building was gorgeous, but we decided that we’d have to come back on another day when it was properly open, so we headed for the nearby tube, and made our way home.

On the Millennium Bridge!

St. Paul’s Cathedral

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