Tower of London, World Heritage Site

The Tower of London became a World Heritage Site in 1988. The White Tower was built on the Thames by William the Conqueror to protect London and assert his power following the Norman invasion. The Tower of London was built around the White Tower, and developed over the years. The photograph above shows the Tower of London with the iconic Tower Bridge behind.

The White Tower is the square building with turrets on each corner, at the centre of today's complex. Since its construction the tower has filled many roles - fortress, treasury, mint, palace, place of execution, and prison for important prisoners (Elizabeth I was imprisoned for a time in the Tower during Mary's reign)

The Roman Emperor Claudius Roman built a fort here to protect the city of Londinium.

In 1078, William the Conqueror built the White Tower. Earlier forts, including the Roman one, had been mainly wooden buildings, but William built his tower of stone. King Richard the Lionheart added the moat, which was filled with water from the Thames.

A Royal Zoo was established at the Tower in the 13th century. IN 1235, Henry III received a wedding gift of three leopards ( although they may have been lions) from Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor. In 1264 the animals were placed to the Bulwark, which was renamed the Lion Tower. A lion skull was radiocarbon dated to between 1280 and 1385, making it the earliest medieval big cat known in Britain. By 1804, the zoo was regularly open to the public. This was where William Blake saw the tiger that inspired his poem . When the new London Zoo was opened in Regent's Park, the animals were moved to the zoo. The last of the animals left in 1835, and most of the Lion Tower was demolished soon after, although Lion Gate remains.


Common criminals were executed by hanging outside the Tower. High-profile prisoners, like Thomas More, were publicly executed on Tower Hill. Nobles were sometimes beheaded privately on Tower Green, inside the tower. A list of people beheaded at the Tower for treason includes:-

George, Duke of Clarence, the brother of Edward IV of England, was executed for treason in the Tower in February 1478. Edward IV's two sons, the Princes in the Tower, may also have died there after their uncle Richard III became king.

The Tower's use as a fort became obsolete when artillery became widely available. However the Tower was still occasionally used as a prison. In 1780, the Tower held its only American prisoner, former President of the Continental Congress, Henry Laurens. In World War I, 11 German spies were shot in the Tower. Irish rebel Roger Casement was imprisoned in the Tower during his trial on treason charges in 1916. Corporal Josef Jakobs became the last German spy to be shot on August 15, 1941 during World War II. In 19424, Hitler's deputy, Rudolf Hess, was imprisoned for 4 days.

Waterloo Barracks, where you find the Crown Jewels today, was the home of 1st Battalion Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) up to the 1950s; during 1952 the Kray twins were briefly held there for failing to report for national service, making them among the last prisoners of the Tower; the last British citizen held for any length of time was the Army officer Norman Baillie-Stewart from 1933 to 1937 held for treachery.

The Tower is officially still a royal residence, though the Royal family do not use it as such. Therefore two sentries are maintained, with one stationed outside the Jewel House and one outside the Queen's House.

However the Tower today is mainly a tourist attraction. The Tower itself, the British Crown Jewels, a collection from the Royal Armouries, and part the wall of the Roman fortress can all be seen. The tower is manned by the Yeomen Warders (known as Beefeaters). Every night , the warders take part in the Ceremony of the Keys, as the Tower is secured for the night.

There is an ancient legend that as long as the ravens remain at the Tower ( the flight feathers of the ravens are trimmed, so they cannot leave), then Britain is safe from invasion. The names of the eight ravens currently in the tower are Gwylum, Thor, Hugine, Munin, Branwen, Bran, Gundulf, and Baldrick. They are fed at the taxpayers expense.

The Individual Towers. The Tower includes the following towers, listed in alphabetic order:

* Beauchamp Tower
* Bell Tower
* Bloody Tower
* Bowyer Tower
* Brick Tower
* Broad Arrow Tower
* Byward Tower
* Constable Tower
* Cradle Tower
* Develin Tower
* Deveraux Tower
* Flint Tower
* Lanthorn Tower
* Martin Tower
* Middle Tower
* St. Thomas's Tower
* Salt Tower
* Wakefield Tower
* Wardrobe Tower
* Well Tower
* White Tower

Crown Jewels

The Crown Jewels have been kept at the Tower of London since 1303 when they were stolen from Westminster Abbey. After the coronation of Charles II, they were locked away, with only a custodian to watch over them. A Colonel Thomas Blood stole the Crown Jewels in 1671, after having overpowered the custodian. Since then the Crown Jewels have been kept in a part of the Tower known as Jewel House, where armed guards defend them.

Authorised Guide to the Tower of London

Tower of London Ravens


World Heritage Sites in Britain