The Bell Tower, also known as the Bowyer Tower, is one of the many historic buildings that make up the Tower of London complex. It is located on the east side of the castle and has a long and interesting history. It was built in the 13th century and is so-called because of the belfry on top.
Its primary purpose was to provide a strong point from which archers could defend the castle against attackers. The tower was named after the Bowyers, who were the craftsmen responsible for making the longbows used by the archers.
The Bell Tower History and Significance
Over the years, the Bell Tower was used for a variety of purposes. During the 16th and 17th centuries, it was used as a prison for high-ranking prisoners, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was held there during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Bell Tower was used as a storage facility for gunpowder and ammunition. It was also used as a barracks for soldiers stationed at the Tower of London.
In the past, when the bell was rung in alarm, drawbridges were raised, portcullises were dropped, and gates shut. The bell is still rung in the evening to warn visitors on the wharf it is time to leave.
Among the most famous prisoners confined in the Bell Tower was Sir Thomas More imprisoned there in 1534.
More, at one time close friends with Henry VIII, refused to acknowledge the validity of the king’s divorce from Queen Catherine of Aragon (thereby refusing to accept the Act of Succession) and to acknowledge him as supreme head of the Church. Catherine, it should be noted, was the daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain, known for financing the expeditions of Christopher Columbus.
More was executed in July 1535 and buried in St Peters Chapel.
Henry VIII’s penchant for imprisoning families was not lost on his children apparently. This involved two of his daughters (by two different mothers), both of whom would one day rule. Princess Elizabeth, later Elizabeth I, was also imprisoned in the Bell Tower — sent there in 1554 by her half-sister Mary I on suspicion of being concerned in plots against the throne.
The Bell Tower Tour Experience
In the early 20th century, the Bell Tower underwent a significant restoration, and today it is open to the public as part of the Tower of London visitor experience. Visitors can explore the tower and learn about its history through a variety of exhibits and displays.
One of the most interesting features of the Bell Tower is its collection of graffiti. Over the centuries, prisoners held in the tower carved their names and messages into the walls of the tower, creating a unique historical record of their captivity. Some of the most famous graffiti in the Bell Tower includes the carvings of Sir Thomas More and Lady Jane Grey, both of whom were held in the tower before their executions.
Today, the Bell Tower is an important part of the Tower of London experience. Visitors can climb to the top of the tower and enjoy stunning views of the castle complex and the city beyond. They can also explore the tower’s exhibits and learn about the important role it has played in the history of England.
Overall, the Bell Tower is a fascinating part of the Tower of London’s history and a must-visit destination for anyone interested in the history of England and the Tower of London. Its unique combination of historical significance and stunning views make it a highlight of any visit to the castle complex.