Beginnings and Structure

Roman Emperor Claudius, William the Conqueror

Roman Emperor Claudius, William the Conqueror

The Tower of London is the oldest palace, fortress and prison in Europe. The great fortress was created by William the Conqueror. The site he chose was the same one on which Claudius, the Roman Emperor, had built a fort more than a thousand years earlier; traces of the Roman wall can still be seen in the Tower.

Sketch of the Tower complex

Sketch of the Tower complex (probably about late 16th century)

As king succeeded king the fortress was enlarged by building walls and smaller towers around the central keep. Towards the end of the 12th century Richard I added to its might by encircling it with a moat fed by the River Thames. The moat was drained in 1830 whereupon many human bones were found.

The Tower of London is roughly square in shape with two lines of defensive walls enclosing the great White Tower. At intervals on the inner wall are thirteen smaller towers; this is the Inner Ward. The outer wall is defended by six towers on the river face, and by two semi-circular bastions at the northeast and northwest corners.

Roman ruins, possibly of a well. [R.Pierce]

Legge’s Mount, one of two bastions, marks the end of one side of the Outer Wall. The grass field is that of the Moat, long-ago drained of water. At the far end of the Moat one can make out the causeway leading to the Byward Tower. [R.Pierce]

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The Tower of London Area

Her Majesty’s Tower of London is situated in East London on the boundaries of the boroughs of Stepney and the City of London. Directly south, spanning the River Thames lies the famous Tower Bridge. To the east of the Tower are the St Katherine’s Docks. The Tower of London dominates the river approaches to the City of London and can be reached by Underground Tower Hill Circle and District lines, or by buses 42 and 78.

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge is a source of never-ending fascination to visitors. Many who come to the Tower of London often wait a long time to see the roadway raised to allow an ocean-going ship to enter the Pool of London. Although the two bascules which carry the roadway each weigh over 1,000 tons, they can be raised in under two minutes. The Bridge was built between 1886 and 1894 by the City of London Corporation to link the southeastern suburbs with the city and eastern London. It cost over a million pounds.

Nearby is Tower Pier, embarkation point for the river launches which take tourists on short trips to places of interest. The river foreshore in front of the Tower of London, which is part of the Tower lands, is used as a pleasure beach by children. They have the late Lord Wakefield to thank for this open air delight. In 1934, when he was Sir Charles Wakefield, he obtained King George V’s sanction for the foreshore to be converted to a playground by spreading hundreds of tons of sand on the gravel beach. It was opened that year and has been popular ever since.


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