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Posted by Laura Orange | File under : , ,
Tower of London

The Tower of London offers enough to keep you captivated for a good three to four hours. The Tower of London is the city’s best-known and oldest historic site.

There is an architecture to the Tower, and it is not uninteresting. Within the complex as a whole, the 27 m tall White Tower is the central feature that remains substantially as it was in when completed, as the conquering sovereign’s forbidding foothold in the eastern boundary of the City – a dominant place from which he could oversee the City’s cowering and unfriendly inhabitants. The Tower remained an imposing place of imprisonment and executions until World War II although, officially, it was still a royal residence. Inside, residential conveniences included the St John’s Chapel: a small Norman space of distinctly massive charm and it was not until the reign of Henry VIII (1509-47) that the sovereign moved to Westminster Palace and St James’ Palace, in the west. 

The entrance to the Tower is on the west side – at the Middle and Byward towers (adjacent to a Norman Foster building), along a stone causeway that replaces the original drawbridge. The Byward Tower acquired halftimbered parts during the reign of Richard II (1377-1399), but what you see now is the later restorations which paralleled rising tourist interest in the place. 

Tower Hill - The Tower of London

The fortress was completed in stages, mostly between 1066 and 1307, beginning with the so-called White Tower, completed in 1080, which replaced a timber fort built by William the Conqueror, it was "white" because it was constructed from creamy-coloured Caen stone brought over from France. However, the White Tower as we see it now is partly the product of restorative work by Wren, between 1663 and 1709 (he altered all the windows, for example). Not long after, certainly by 1750, the Tower was being opened to the public as an historical attraction. Anthony Salvin undertook further restoration work in 1851. And he was succeeded, in 1870, by the 'medievalising' John Taylor. 

The outcome of it all is an overlay of architectures: a medieval one as a fortress; a more theatrical one of restoration, of mixed qualities; a tourist one of attractions that now includes Stanton Williams’ fine approach work on the west side (2004; ticket office, cafes, etc.); and one of inhabitation (in the north-east corner, where yeoman warders and their families live). It is remarkable both to experience this set of overlays as one architectonic whole, and also to stand at the nearby vantage point of Tower Hill and look around: at nearly two thousand years of London history, from fragments of medieval walls on Roman foundations next to the Underground station, across to the Tower, beyond to the Mayor’s City Hall (Foster again), Canary Wharf, and behind to the old Port of London Authority building, Lloyds.

Tower of London