A number of years ago I wrote a post about Tower Bridge, and more specifically Dead Man's Hole which can be found secreted on the north side of the bridge by the Tower of London. Dead Man's Hole is in fact a mortuary (no longer operational), once used to temporarily house corpses retrieved from the murky clutches of the River Thames.
Galvanised by the video I recently posted of my Thames River walk, I set out on my bike one night last week and did a spot of filming on Tower Bridge. The next day I hastily edited the footage in to a video to accompany a song I wrote and recorded years ago, which has a suitably macabre subject matter about someone committing murder on a bridge; the victim's body left to the embrace of the river.
You can perhaps therefore see why I chose Tower Bridge to film. The song is called 'The Bridge Last Night' and was recorded by my friend William Reid and includes the talents of other friends; Joantoni Segui Morro (Satellites) on drums, John Parker (Nizlopi, Ed Sheeran) on double bass and Matt Park (Mystery Jets, Helsinki) on electric guitar.
A visit to London isn't complete without stopping off at the Tower of London. I recently accompanied some people who had said they wanted to “pop in” to the Tower, as part of a morning we spent together. We ended up spending the best part of four hours there.
The name itself is a little misleading, as the Tower of London actually comprises of 21 different towers, the most prominent being the White Tower, situated in the centre. The people I was with on our visit were surprised how big the Tower of London is. It has a village feel to it once you're inside, a fact heightened by the presence of the Yeoman Warders (or Beefeaters) who live there with their families. Because of the sheer scale of the place, both in terms of its size and also the incredible history, it’d be impossible to condense the whole lot in to a short blog post, so I’ll just pick out a few bits and pieces.
Development of the Tower
It is important to remember that the Tower of London didn’t magically spring up, fully formed in the incarnation you can visit today. What you see today is the result of centuries of additions and also subtractions in the form of fires, bombing and alterations. The Tower of London began life during the reign of William the Conqueror (1066–87) and has constantly been tweaked and changed right up to the present day. Major additions took place in the 13th Century under Henry III (1216–72) and Edward I (1272–1307) which included pushing back the Thames, building St Thomas’s Tower, the Beauchamp Tower, the Bloody Tower, Wakefield Tower … and many of the other towers for that matter.
Prisoners and Execution
The Tower of London has always held in the public perception, the mantle of being at the centre of England’s blood soaked history; as a place of torture, execution and of course as a prison. It was initially built as a palace and fortress and in fact only ten people have actually been executed inside the Tower walls on the tranquil Tower Green. Two of them, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard had the misfortune of being married to Henry VIII. In effect, it was a VIP execution site. Sculptor Brian Catling has marked the execution site with a memorial on which is written the names of the ten men and women condemned to death on Tower Green, in the centre of which rests a glass pillow. Non VIPs were executed on Tower Hill just to the north of the Tower.
Perhaps the most well known and intriguing story relates to the Bloody Tower (originally known as the Garden Tower) which actually gets its name from the disappearance and supposed murder of two young princes, Edward V and his younger brother Richard who after their father, Edward IV died in 1483 were taken under the wing of their uncle Richard, the Duke of Gloucester. The two boys were declared illegitimate and their uncle was crowned King Richard III. The two young boys disappeared and rumours of murder not surprisingly spread quickly. Skeletons of two boys were found hidden beneath a staircase in the White Tower in the 17th century and are generally believed to be the two princes. Their bones were reburied in Westminster Abbey.
Some prisoners had it better than others. Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618) for instance spent almost 14 years as a prisoner in the Tower of London, but whilst he was there wrote a book, grew vegetables and was visited by his family. His son Carew was both conceived and born at the Tower whilst Raleigh was held prisoner.
The Lower Wakefield Tower will give you a brief insight in to the use of torture at the Tower. The main instruments used were the Scavenger’s Daughter, manacles and of course the Rack; the mere mention of which was often enough for prisoners to tell the authorities whatever it was they wished to hear.
As you wander around you’ll undoubtedly notice a number of men and one woman dressed in blue and red uniforms. These are Yeoman Warders, popularily known as ‘Beefeaters’. There are 35 in total and they have all completed at least 22 years military service and upon appointment, they must be within 40 and 55 years of age. Although they spend a great deal of time giving tours of the Tower, they’re officially the Sovereign’s bodyguards, and as such can be seen accompanying the Queen on state occasions. As previously mentioned, they all live inside the Tower with their partners and families and each night at exactly 9:53pm perform the ‘Ceremony of the Keys’ during which they formally lock the Tower. They’ve been doing it pretty much exactly the same since the 14th century.
Medieval monarchs had a habit of giving each other gifts of exotic animals, and as such they became housed in the Tower of London, known as the ‘Tower’s Menagerie’. The Tower in essence was a pre-cursor to a zoo with the public paying to see them, often with catastrophic consequences. In 1686, Mary Jenkinson died after thinking it a good idea to stroke one of the lions. Over the centuries, the Tower housed animals such as lions, bears, a wolf, eagles, an ostrich, monkeys, an alligator, an African elephant, polar bears and baboons … to name but a few. As you wander around you can see some great sculptures by artist Kendra Haste which allude to the Tower’s animal past. The Menagerie came to an end in the 1830s and some of the animals that remained, formed a new zoo in Regent’s Park which is still there today and known as ZSL London Zoo.
The White Tower
The imposing structure in the centre of the Tower complex is the White Tower, built in the 11th century as a fortress and amongst other things, a reminder to Londoners of the power and authority of their new Norman rulers. Although today, the White Tower is dwarfed by the likes of the Shard and other buildings close by in the City of London … it was, at the time of its completion the tallest building most people would have ever seen. Today the White Tower houses a collection from the Royal Armouries including armour worn by King Henry VIII. The entrance to the White Tower is via a wooden staircase. The main door is set well above ground level, which was for security purposes. The original staircase was temporary and could be dismantled in case of attack, thus making it much harder to gain entrance.
There are loads of other fascinating aspects to a visit to the Tower of London, not least the Crown Jewels, a massive collection of Royal bling housed in the Waterloo Barracks. You’ll notice during your visit, that the walls are festooned with centuries old pieces of graffiti from numerous prisoners left to fester within the Tower of London and a number of other exhibitions relating to different episodes in the Towers long and varied history. It can get pretty crowded at the Tower of London in the summer, but well worth a visit and don’t forget, if you’re in the area, you might want to pop in the nearby church of All Hallows-by-the-Tower or nip to St Katharine Docks just to the east, which you’ll probably do via the ominously named Dead Man’s Hole.
Last week marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War and you'll find that some of London's most iconic landmarks, as well as museums, churches and organisations are all remembering 'The Glorious Dead' as is inscribed on the Cenotaph in Whitehall.
If you visit the Tower of London in the next couple of months you can watch volunteers placing red ceramic poppies in to the dry moat that surrounds the historic building. In case you're unaware, the poppy was one of the only plants to grow on the battlefields of northern France and Flanders after the ground had been ravaged by conflict. In those fields, unimaginable numbers of soldiers lay buried beneath where the poppies grew after the war had ended, and are still found by farmers to this day. The red poppy has become a memorial symbol to the fallen. The incredibly powerful and poignant installation at the Tower of London is called 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red', created by ceramic artist Paul Cumming and stage designer Tom Piper.
I took some photos last week of the work in progress, but by the time the whole piece is finished in November, 888,246 poppies will have been added; each one representing a British or Colonial soldier who died during the First World War. It will be quite a sight. Each ceramic poppy can be purchased for £25, the proceeds of which will be spread amongst the six service charities.
St Paul's cathedral, another of London's famous landmarks has chosen to mark the 100th anniversary of the First World War in a very different way. On display, in the cathedral until 2018, mirroring the duration of the Great War, is an altar frontal. Many of the men who returned from the battlefields, did so with terrible wounds and afflictions; scarred by the experiences in the trenches. One of the many forms of rehabilitation was embroidery, as it involved a steady hand and concentration which men suffering from 'shell shock' invariably lacked. 138 men from the UK, Australia, South Africa and Canada who were recovering in a number of different hospitals all contributed small sections of embroidery to form what became the St Paul's cathedral altar frontal. 'Lest We Forget', the title given to the display can be seen at the cathedral over the next four years, and on the St Paul's cathedral website, you can find information about each of the remarkable men that contributed.
Also, having been closed for most of the year, the Imperial War Museum in south London has just reopened along with their new First World War galleries, telling the story of the war through the lives of those that experienced it, both on the front line and at home, so if you are visiting and have an interest in this particular period of history, you should perhaps add it to your itinerary.
If you were to visit the Tower of London (which as I mentioned in my last post that about 2.5million people do each year) and also fancied popping along to the museum housed within Tower Bridge, then you'll walk through a rather eery looking cobbled archway. To add to the eeriness, you might notice that you're being directed towards a place called 'Dead Man's Hole'.
You see ... I wasn't kidding! You'd be forgiven for thinking twice about making the short journey and no doubt your head will become filled with various macabre thoughts as to why you're even going to a dead man's hole, what it might be and what will happen when you get there. The short answer is ... not much. Dead Man's Hole actually refers to a mortuary that at one time was housed beneath the north tower of the bridge. It's still there, but you'll be pleased to hear, no longer used. As you'll probably be aware, the Thames is tidal, and for one reason or another, corpses that found their way in to the murky river; either suicide jumpers, by accident or dumped, often found their way to this particular part of the river. Once 'fished' out of the Thames, bodies could be laid out to await identification ... if possible. The area is now closed off, but still perfectly visible as you take the steps up to the main part of the bridge.
So that's Dead Man's Hole very briefly explained. Now, the thing that never ceases to amaze me about London, is that I spend a lot of time wandering around its streets, but constantly discover things I've never noticed before. I've walked through the cobbled archway I just described loads of times, but last week was the first time I noticed that hanging on the wall is a huge pole, I'm guessing about 8 feet long, and on the end is a series of hooks.
Due to the proximity of this pole to the mortuary I just mentioned, built expressly for the purpose of taking in dead bodies retrieved from the Thames, this pole would seem to me, to be the perfect bit of equipment for pulling those corpses ashore. However, there was no explanation that I could find, no little plaque, so being an inquisitive sort of chap, I went to ask the security guard sitting in his little cabin about 10 feet away. He looked rather perplexed, mildly uninterested and admitted that he'd never actually noticed it himself, but agreed it sounded very much like the sort of thing that at one time, might have been used for the aforementioned reason.
So, if anyone is able to corroborate my theory, or indeed disprove it, then I'd be delighted to hear from you. Either way, it has added another layer of intrigue to the short walk through the archway to Dead Man's Hole.
(Incidentally - Dead Man's Hole is situated within the arch to the left on the above photo, and the pole I just mentioned is fixed to the wall, behind the door on the right hand arch behind the guy with the red jacket).
Each year, the Tower of London apparently has something in the region of over 2.5million visitors. Most of these people will have either passed or certainly seen a church perched next to Tower Hill, quite literally a stones throw away from the Tower, one of London's most popular tourist attractions. I'd be quite intrigued to know how many of them also visit the much over looked church whose name actually acknowledges its more famous and popular neighbour. It's called All Hallows-by-the-Tower, but funnily enough pre-dates the already ancient Tower of London by about 400 years and comes with the tag line 'oldest church in the City of London.'
Founded in 675, it was originally called All Hallows Barking, as it was built by the Abbey of Barking who owned a small plot of land on the most eastern edge of the City. In the intervening years, All Hallows has undergone many changes, and seen so much of London's history and its characters come and go. It survived the Great Fire of London in 1666, and Samuel Pepys who lived nearby climbed the spire to view the destruction 'and there saw the saddest sight of desolation that I ever saw' but finally succumbed to German bombs in 1940. Like many churches, it was rebuilt, but the damage caused, opened an intriguing window in to the church's past, revealing a 7th century Saxon arch and what is now considered to be one of the most perfectly preserved Roman pavements in the City, which belonged to a domestic house in the 2nd century.
All Hallows is a veritable Aladdin's cave of London throughout the ages, with pretty much every century of the city's existence represented in one form or another, not to mention forming the backdrop to a 'who's who' of famous personalities. I've already mentioned Pepys, but visitors from the USA might be interested to know that John Quincy-Adams (6th President of the United States of America) was married there and William Penn, who founded Pennsylvania was baptised there.
Aside from a great crypt museum where you'll discover the Roman pavement, a model of Roman London (made in 1928) and numerous pieces of Roman and Saxon pottery and curios, the church itself is littered with fascinating artifacts. Due to its close links with the Port of London Authority there's loads of models of ships and coats of arms of shipping companies. The screen to the Mariners Chapel has a crucifix made with wood from the Cutty Sark and the ivory figure is said to have come from the flagship of the Spanish Armada. There are 17 memorial brasses on the floor, the earliest dating from the 14th century and a quite incredible font cover, carved in 1682 by Grinling Gibbons, Christopher Wren's 'go to' man where wood carving was concerned.
All in all, you could make numerous visits to this church and still not see all there is to see or absorb in full its amazing history. What I've mentioned here is just scratching the surface, but one thing remains, and for me, it is encapsulated by the huge Visscher panorama of London (made in 1616) that greets you as you walk through the main door. The church itself features on the print, and although on the photo below you can clearly see what is now Southwark Cathedral in the foreground and the old London Bridge, All Hallows is actually hidden behind the door, much like the church itself is hidden in the shadow of its more famous neighbour.
You'll find All Hallows-by-the-Tower on Byward Street, EC3R 5BJ, but basically, if you head towards the Tower, you'll find it. I'll leave you with a few other photos to whet your appetite.
The other week, I was asked to do a three day London walking extravaganza. Sheree and Cortney were visiting London for the first time, over from Wisconsin before heading off on a cruise, and wanted to pack in as much as possible in to their three days.
We spent the first day around Westminster, and aside from passing by Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, 'Big Ben', Downing Street, Horse Guards Parade. Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly, St James's Palace and much more, they also spent some time in both Westminster Abbey and The Churchill War Rooms.
The second day began at the Tower of London (which they visited), and of course Tower Bridge, which is currently adorned with the Olympic Rings.
Then, after a minor detour through the City, including Leadenhall Market, the old Royal Exchange and the Bank of England we headed over London Bridge to Borough, taking in the 17th Century George Inn, Borough Market, Southwark Cathedral and of course Shakespeare's Globe Theatre before heading over to St Paul's cathedral.
After Sheree and Cortney had finished having a look around St Paul's we headed through Fleet Street taking in lots of places including Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, Dr Johnson's House and Twinings Tea Shop, before finishing off at Covent Garden.
The final day was split between east and west London. It was pouring with rain in the morning. East London was grey and miserable, so I don't think it ingratiated itself with my two London explorers, but we did manage to pop to Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station, a constant source of delight for Harry Potter fans from all over the world.
In the afternoon, we headed west and Sheree and Cortney had a look around the recently refurbished Kensington Palace, where Queen Victoria was born and Princess Diana lived.
I think I'm still a bit undecided as to my thoughts on it, but it's certainly a different way to impart information in a museum setting, with the emphasis less on information boards and artifacts behind glass and more on exploration and uncovering information through emotion led stimulus, activities and participation.
Anyway, by this time I think we were all pretty knackered after three days exploring London, so on the way back to Victoria, where Sheree and Cortney were staying, we passed by the Royal Albert Hall and had a quick stop off at Harrods.
That's them pretending to be interested in the Albert memorial. We did a lot of walking over the three days and saw absolutely loads of stuff, and I should also add that Sheree and Cortney had both bought The London Pass before coming to the UK, so all the museums, cathedrals, palaces and wot not they visited had already been paid for, they didn't have to queue for a ticket and it also included all public transport travel for the three days.
Thanks to them both for putting up with me for three whole days.
Bits of london at night
Here are some photos of London at night. Not because I'm a photographer of any note, or can take night-esque photos, but purely because I really love London at night ... as well as most other times of day. No doubt I'll do more at some point.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.