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The long history of the Tower of London



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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Facts you might not know about St James Park in London



St James’ Park is the smallest royal park, it is a great place to take pictures, in fact it has a perfect view of Buckingham Palace from the bridge of the pond, called Blue Bridge.

In the pond you will find a variety of swans, ducks, loons and geese and even four pelicans. Pelicans have been in St James Park since 1664 when they were donated by the Russian ambassador. At 2.30pm you can see when they are fed.

Apart from the pelicans in this park there are also owls, woodpeckers, great tits and different types of sparrows. During the day the animals you will see are undoubtedly the numerous grey squirrels but in the evening you can also see different types of mice, foxes and bats.

The pond has two small islands one called Duck Island and the other West Island. The land of St James’ Park was bought by Henry VIII, just after his marriage to Anne Boleyn, then it was a marshy area where the River Tyburn passed.

Henry VIII spent his youth at Eltham Palace in Greenwich where there was a park full of deer for his favorite pastime: hunting. Once he became king and had to move to central London he bought this swampy land where there was a hospital for leprous women. He had all the patients thrown out and created a park for deer, a pond for swimming, a vegetable garden and a garden to relax.

James I decided to reclaim the area and put exotic animals there including giraffes, crocodiles, camels and elephants. However, the name St James does not come from the monarch (who was never made a saint) but from the hospital for leprosy women that used to be here.

Charles I, son of James I did not do much in the park but before being beheaded he took a walk in the park covered by a black cloak.

The Birdcage Walk has this name because of the many bird cages, many of which were exotic, placed by Charles II . He also opened  St James’ Park to the public . While in exile in France, he was very impressed with Versailles. On his return to England, he tried to do something similar in the ground of Henry VIII park was by then completely neglected. Instead he wanted the deer park and a beautiful garden full of flower beds like that of the French royal palaces. The French gardener André Le Nôtre convinced the king not to change the landscape, as the natural simplicity of this park was perhaps even better than the manicured flower beds. But they finally decided to compromise. An 800-meter-long canal was excavated for the entire length of the park.


The canal was to be the central point of the park and all the avenues would start from here even if it never reached the complexity of the French gardens.  In those days the canal often froze in winter and could be used for skating. Henry VIII’s pond was left and for years it became a place of suicide for women who were disappointed in love or betrayed.

The small lake or Rosamond’s Pond was then covered in the late 1700s by the well-known Capability Brown who tried to improve the park. In fact, from 1750 onwards the park became a den of criminals and prostitutes.

To celebrate Napoleon’s defeat, the royal family held a great party in which all the royals of Europe participated. A pagoda very similar to that of Kew Gardens was built for the festival but built on a bridge built by John Nash.

During the celebrations with fireworks, the pagoda caught fire and collapsed into the canal. Two spectators died.

Most of the trees you see now are no older than 1827 when the park was modernized, previously the trees were normally cut for lumber and on several occasions fireworks in the park burned several trees. Most of the trees in the park are plane trees, there are also oak and mulberry trees that date back to the time when James I tried to bring the silk industry to London.

Two major changes took place in the park over the course of 10 years, one was when the canal was transformed into the present pond around 1820. In fact, a long and straight channel was not considered very aesthetically beautiful.

The second was in 1911 when the Queen Victoria Memorial was built in front of Buckingham Palace on land that belonged to the park and was part of the pond.

St James’ Park is part of the Diana, Princess of Wales, Memorial Walk and for those wishing to complete the walk, you can find the map here. The park is open from 5 am to midnight every day of the year. It is visited by over 5 million people every year. 

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Weird London: The Cock Lane’s ghost



Cock Lane is near Smithfield Market and is where perhaps London’s most famous ghost was spotted. The reason for knowing this story that happened in the 18th century is that it caused quite a stir, at the inquiry one of the commission was the famous Samuel Johnson and the case was mentioned in many literary works, including those of Dickens. You can also find it in numerous drawings by William Hogarth.

The protagonists of the story were a local church employee named Richard Parsons who was also the landlord of the house with the ghosts, his 12-year-old daughter Elizabeth and the tenants of the house in question William and Fanny Kent. Richard Parsons had alcohol problems and struggled to support his family.

William Kent’s wife Elizabeth had died in childbirth and William began an affair with the deceased’s sister, Fanny. The law of the time did not allow the two to marry but in any case they went to London to live together. And they went to live on Cock Lane in Richard Parsons’ house. Note that William Kent was a money lender and had also made loans to his landlord.

In any case, there were immediately reports of strange apparitions and noises in that house. William Kent had to travel out of London for a few days and asked Elizabeth Parsons to keep Fanny company as she was pregnant. The two always heard strange noises and saw apparitions. 

Since the birth of the child was approaching Kent decided to take Fanny to give birth elsewhere but in the meantime the woman fell ill with what the doctor diagnosed as smallpox and died. As the apparitions continued Richard Parsons organized a séance and here appeared the spirit of Kent’s first wife Elizabeth who said she had been killed by her husband and Fanny’s spirit who claimed she had been poisoned with arsenic.

The case had immense publicity, had political and religious implications. There were many séances, commissions, inquiries, expert discussions and it was concluded that there was no ghost. It ended with William Kent denouncing Richard Parsons of conspiracy against him. In fact if the ghosts had been taken seriously, he would have been sentenced to murder and death. The court agreed with William Kent.

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The 5 oldest restaurant in London that are still open



We don’t know yet if they can survive the pandemic, but these are the oldest restaurants in London. There is never a shortage of surprising facts  when it comes to London and even historic restaurants hide some curious facts.

The oldest London restaurant still open is undoubtedly Wiltons which has been around for almost 300 years, in fact it opened in 1742. It started with George William Wilton opening a market stall selling oysters in Haymarket.

The place became permanent and changed location twice, but even now it specialises in seafood and fish and not just oysters. Just to understand, this restaurant has existed when the United States did not exist yet and Mozart was not yet born. It has been located on Jermyn Street since 1984.

The City of London being the oldest part of London should have the oldest restaurants. But it was almost completely destroyed by the fire of 1666 and there aren’t many restaurants left or much else. We have the oldest restaurant in Cornhill and it dates back to 1757 and is called Simpson’s Tavern, which specializes in meat, steaks and everything to do with butchery.

We cannot forget Rules, one of the oldest restaurants in London Rules bills itself as the oldest restaurant in London. Technically it is also right, in fact, although it has only existed since 1798, over 40 years after Wiltons, it has never changed headquarters for over 200 years. It is still located at 35 Maiden Lane in Covent Garden. It too started out as an oyster restaurant, which was obviously fashionable in the 1700s, but now specializes in traditional British cuisine.

Another Simpson and this is called Simpson’s in The Strand  located not far from Covent Garden. It was born as a place where people drank coffee, smoked cigars and above all played chess. It has existed since 1828 and you can imagine the gentlemen of the time who went to spend the evening there. It is now a traditional British food restaurant.

Kettner’s opened in Soho in 1867, rumored to be a Napoleon III cook who decided to open it, as French food was starting to be fashionable in London. Certainly one of the first French restaurants in London. People like Winston Churchill, Agatha Christie and Bing Crosby ate there.

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