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The long history of the Tower of London

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The history of the Tower of London is a massive subject and I hope to provide information as concisely as possible, accompanied by historical detail. The White Tower was the first building to be constructed and the evidence points to this being undertaken on the orders of William the Conqueror. The white limestone imported from Caen, was costly and such that only a King could afford. Soon after his victory in 1066, the Conqueror set about constructing a ring of stone castles around London. He came with seven thousand men, when London had a population of two million people. The White Tower was intended to inspire awe in the population, overshadowing the wooden buildings of the city.  Today it is dwarfed by the Shard and other tall buildings but is nevertheless majestic. 
 
The White Tower would probably not have survived for a thousand years, without the building expansion undertake by William’s descendants, Henry III and Edward I. In order to make it impregnable to advances in weapons of war, such as siege towers and catapults, further external walls, a Gate House and a Moat were added as fortifications. 
 
As well as keeping people out, the buildings show evidence of the Tower being used as a prison.  In 1674,  ten feet below the foundations, a wooden box containing the remains of two children was found. These are thought to be the remains of the sons of Edward 1V, held as prisoners by Richard 111 and never heard of again. There is no way of identifying the bones, but nonetheless they have been laid to rest in Westminster Abbey.
Beauchamp Tower, constructed by Edward 1. has graffiti cut into the stone walls.  “Arundel” is thought to have been carved by the Duke of Arundel imprisoned by Elizabeth 1 and the inscription “Jane”, by a supporter of Jane Grey.  Under the floor of the Chapel of St. Peter Vincula, constructed by Henry V111, lie what are thought to be the remains of Queen Anne Boleyn, executed on Tower Green, 19th May 1536. 
 
 Before the two World Wars of the twentieth century, only seven people were executed within the Tower. Most condemned prisoners were sent to the scaffold on Tower Hill, and their heads were exhibited on London Bridge. These numbered one hundred and twelve prisoners executed over a four-hundred-year period. As well as imprisonment and executions, the Tower was a place where torture was carried out to extract information and confessions of wrongdoing.  Staff were required, as they are today, to work in the Tower.  Marks scorched onto the walls, and doors of lodgings are thought to have been made deliberately , using the candle flame to ward off ghosts and spirits.
 
The Tower of London today, is probably most associated with the keeping of the Crown Jewels. These are the Orb, Sceptre and Crown, used in the Coronation of the Monarch and produced at State Openings of Parliament.  Originally kept at the Palace of Westminster, they were moved in the seventeenth century to the Tower of London.  In 1671 Thomas Blood tried his luck at robbery. Posing as a priest, he succeeded in getting the Keeper of the Jewels to allow him to view them. Big mistake on the part of the Keeper. Blood actually succeeded in breaking the sceptre into two and smashing the Crown, before he was interrupted by the guards. Today the jewels are worth £3,666.226.719 GPP.  
The Tower of London hosted a Menagerie, which was started in the reign of King John 1166 – 1216. This gradually grew in size due to gifts from foreign princes. In 1235 the animals included a polar bear, which secured by a chain, which was encouraged to feed from the Thames to reduce the cost of its maintenance.  The keeping of a Menagerie was ended by the Duke of Wellington, when he was appointed as Constable of the Tower of London 1825 – 1852. During that time Wellington was also responsible for the reconstruction of buildings, after a great fire, caused by overheated flues in the Bowyer Tower.  The scale of the fire was  graphically shown in paintings by J.M .W Turner. Wellington also drained the Moat, which over the years had turned into an unpleasant bog. 
 
There is evidence that Edward 1 used the Tower as a place to mint silver coins. Coins with his image have been found during excavations, together with the tools the workmen used for making them. No Monarch has lived at the Tower of London since Elizabeth 1, but the presence of the Crown Jewels ensures that Yeoman Warders, continue to guard the Tower and secure it at night. The Ceremonial Changing of the Keys takes place every evening at 9:55pm. after which the doors are all locked.  Yeoman Warders have been appointed as Tower Guards for over five hundred years, They became known as Beefeaters, possibly due to the amount of meat which was provided for their consumption! The Duke of Wellington ended the practice of purchasing this position, so that men and women were then taken from the armed forces, to ensure the smooth running the Tower. Today they act as Guides to the public, as well as cleaning the grounds and buildings.  Most important job is to look after the ravens, a flock being present since the reign of Charles 11. Legend has it that if the ravens are lost or fly away the Kingdom and the Tower will fall. No chances must be taken then.  

In the nineteen sixties I worked in London stores. Worked as an Insurance Clerk in the City of London during the nineteen seventies. Divorced in the nineteen nineties. Now I am a retired Civil Servant, managing home and garden and escaping onto social media whenever possible.

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History

For the first time you can visit Buckingham Palace’s gardens

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For the first time, the famous Queen’s Gardens at Buckingham Palace will be opened. Normally only the Royal Family and those invited to the Queen’s parties can see them. The reason for this decision is that this summer there will be no traditional opening of part of the building because of the pandemic and to compensate they open the gardens.

Visitors will be able to wander the garden paths and experience the calm of this garden in the heart of London. You will see Horse Chestnut Avenue, the plane trees planted by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and the famous lake with its bee island of Buckingham Palace. You can also have a picnic on one of the lawns. The gardens will be open from 9 July to 19 September but there are also weekend tours in April and May. You can book your tickets here

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The statue remembering the children of Kindertransport

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You might have seen the bronze monument at the entrance to Liverpool Street Station. You may not know what it is. The statue depicts the children of the Kindertransport which brought over 10,000 Jewish children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland to the United Kingdom.

We can see a little girl sitting on a suitcase with a teddy bear in her hand. The boy to her right holds a satchel and a violin case. The older girl behind him looks away as they wait to be picked up and separated.

The names of the cities on a stretch of track behind them show the places of origin of the children: Cologne – Hanover – Nuremberg – Stuttgart – Düsseldorf – Frankfurt – Bremen – Munich, Gdansk – Wroclaw – Prague – Hamburg – Mannheim – Leipzig – Berlin – Vienna

Between December 1938 and September 1939, nearly 10,000 Jewish children arrived on Liverpool Street via the port of Harwich and the Netherlands. Following the attacks on synagogues and German Jews instigated by the Nazi government at the Kristallnacht from 9 to 10 November 1938, the British government allowed children under 17 to immigrate, provided they found a foster family and a benefactor willing to give a deposit of 50 pounds.

The first to come were nearly 200 children from an orphanage that had been burned down in Berlin. The German authorities allowed children to carry a suitcase and a bag, with no valuables and only a photo. No adult escorts and no train station farewells were allowed. 

10,000 children were separated and ended up in different places in Britain and few saw their parents again, many of whom died in concentration camps. A good number of the children decided to stay in Britain at the end of the war.

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The strong tornado that destroyed London Bridge

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Not many of you will know this story, but read on to find out about this extraordinary event that happened in 1091. Extraordinary not so much for having a tornado in London, but for its power.

On the morning of October 17, 1091, it seemed normal and no one was expecting a tornado. Not any  tornado, but the strongest one recorded in London. In fact, it was probably a F4 or even F5 on the Fujita scale. Incredibly destructive with winds reaching 370 km per hour!

London was then almost entirely made of wood. There was just the White Tower of the Tower of London which was about ten years old and a few masonry churches. A tornado of this type blew almost everything away. Including London Bridge at the time that was partly destroyed by the tornado but also by the Thames current, which carried it away. It was still new having been built by William the Conqueror after 1066.

The famous church of St Mary-le-Bow was badly damaged, with the roof being thrown a certain distance violently. With so much force that the nine-meter-long beams were driven into the ground and only about a meter remained outside.

The river flooded the surrounding areas and not many buildings remained standing. London Bridge was rebuilt soon after, the main bridge connecting London with the southern parts of the country. The new bridge also had a short life, in 1140 it was destroyed by a fire.

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