The Byward Tower probably derives its name from by-the-ward, and gives access to the Outer Ward. It is here that the password is still demanded by the sentry at night. The Byward Tower archway leads to the Outer Ward. Ahead is Water Lane once ten feet lower than it is today. To the left is Mint Street. Here until 1810 stood the Royal Mint. Here too are the casemates where many of the Yeoman Warders live, and at one time there was a tavern with a golden chain as its sign on the site of No 1 Casemate.
The Byward Tower is located on the eastern side of the Tower of London and is one of the oldest surviving parts of the fortress. It was built in the 13th century by King Henry III as part of his expansion of the Tower, and was originally intended as a gateway into the fortress. The tower was designed to be both a defensive structure and a royal residence, with four floors and a range of living quarters, including a great hall and a chapel.
The Byward Tower has played a significant role in English history, serving as a prison for many notable figures over the centuries. Among its most famous prisoners were Sir Thomas More, who was held there before his execution in 1535, and Anne Boleyn, who was imprisoned there before her execution in 1536. The tower has also been used as a royal residence, with King Henry VIII staying there with his new bride, Catherine Howard, in 1540.
The Byward Tower was important as last stand in a series of defenses guarding the land entrance to the fortress. There were the twin towers of the Middle Tower, the drawbridge (no longer there) in the middle of the causeway, and (within the Byward Tower) one portcullis, the gates, and the second portcullis. Only one of the tower’s paintings, made about 1400 of a crucifixion scene, has survived the centuries. It is in a room not open to the public that lies above the gate hall and which contains the winding gear for one of the portcullis.
Today, the Byward Tower is open to visitors as part of the Tower of London’s guided tours. Visitors can explore its many rooms and learn about the tower’s history and its role in English history.
The Outer Ward
The Outer Ward is another notable feature of the Tower of London. It is the area surrounding the inner bailey, or central courtyard, of the fortress and was originally used as a training ground for the Tower’s garrison. Over time, the Outer Ward became an important part of the Tower’s defensive system, with a range of buildings and fortifications built to protect the fortress from attack.
One of the most notable buildings in the Outer Ward is the White Tower, which is the central keep of the Tower of London. It was built in the 11th century by William the Conqueror and was originally used as a royal palace and a fortress. Over the centuries, the White Tower has been used for a variety of purposes, including as a prison, a treasury, and a storehouse for arms and ammunition.
Other notable buildings in the Outer Ward include the Wakefield Tower, the Bell Tower, and the Bloody Tower. These towers were all used as prisons at various times throughout history, with many famous prisoners held within their walls.