The Tower of London’s dry moat will be transformed into a 15th century medieval court gathered to welcome a new Queen, Margaret of Anjou, for the May bank holiday this long weekend. The world of 1445 is being reimagined in a series of festivities – under the banner of Go Medieval at the Tower – which will include sword-fighting knights, hands-on experiences for kids such as the chance to fire a real crossbow, the “scents, sights and sounds” of a medieval encampment, and the chance to witness trades such as armoury and coin-striking. As well as, of course, opportunities to meet King Henry VI and his 15-year-old queen, Margaret who, upon her coronation, was honoured with a lavish pageant from Westminster Abbey to the Tower in which she received extravagant gifts including a lion. Runs from 10am to 5pm from Saturday to Monday. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/. PICTURE: © Historic Royal Palaces.

Working Londoners from the past 500 years are the subject of an open air exhibition opening in Guildhall Yard on Saturday. Londoners: Portraits of a Working City, 1447 to 1980 features a range of photographs, prints and drawings – many displayed for the first time – from the London Metropolitan Archives. The exhibition – which includes images of Jack Black of Battersea, Queen Victoria’s rat-catcher, and Charles Rouse, believed to be the last nightwatchman in 19th century London as well as pictures of Savoy Hotel page boys, a brick dust seller, a farrier in 1980s Deptford and a 15th century Lord Mayor – complements The Londoners exhibition currently running at the LMA in Clerkenwell which features 50 portraits not included in the Guildhall display. The free outdoor exhibition can be seen into 23rd May – for more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/thelondoners. The Clerkenwell display can be seen until 5th July – for more, follow this link.

The life of the butler will be up for examination at Apsley House, home of the Duke of Wellington, this long weekend in an event which will also see the duke’s Prussian Dinner Service laid out in all its glory. Butlers and Banquets will feature talks about the history of the service – commissioned by King Frederick William III of Prussia and presented as a gift to the 1st Duke of Wellington after his victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 – with younger visitors also having the chance to meet the butler of the house and find out what running a grand home like Apsley House was like as well as learning skills such as how to lay a table. Runs between 11am and 4pm from Saturday to Monday. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/apsley.

A new exhibition marking the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution opens at the British Library in King’s Cross on Friday. Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths tells how the revolution unfolded during the reign of the last tsar, exploring the growth of the revolutionary movements with a special focus on key figures such as Tsar Nicholas II and revolutionary leaders such as Vladimir Lenin. Among the items on display is a letter Lenin wrote in April, 1902, applying to become a reader at the British Museum Library which he signed with his pseudonym, Jacob Richter, to evade the tsarist police. Other items on display include a souvenir album of the Tsar’s coronation and wallpaper hand-painted by women factory workers propaganda along with posters, letters, photographs, banners, weapons, uniform items, recordings and films. Runs until 29th August. Admission charge applies. For more, follow this link.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

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This weekend marks the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt (25th October, 1415) when King Henry V and his army of English archers overcame the larger French host in what is now northern France during the Hundred Years War.

To mark the occasion, the Royal Armouries have launched a new exhibition at the Tower of London, The Battle of Agincourt: 600th Anniversary Exhibition which tells the story of the battle and its aftermath as well as some of the myths which sprang up in its wake.

Below are some of the “treasures” presented in the exhibition in the White Tower which runs until 31st January. There will also be a programme of associated events running at the Tower from tomorrow until 1st November. For more, see www.royalarmouries.org/agincourt.

King Henry V played a key role in the battle, which came more than two-and-a-half months after he launched an invasion of Normandy. Until Agincourt, the campaign had not gone well – dysentery had taken a considerable toll on his men and his army had only taken one target – the port of Harfleur – when, after crossing the River Somme, the French heralds summoned him to the fight. It was on the morning of the battle – St Crispin’s Day, 25th October – that he gave a short speech to stiffen the resolve of his army which William Shakespeare subsequently embellished in his play Henry V: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…”. This painting of the king is by unknown artist, oil on panel, late 16th or early 17th century. PICTURE: © National Portrait Gallery.

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Three scenes from a four metre by two metre model of the battlefield of Agincourt, supported by the Arms and Armour Heritage Trust and constructed by MM Dioramas and Perry Miniatures. The model features 4,000 detailed scale model figures – 2,600 French and 1,750 English, representative of the larger forces each brought the fight (the exhibition puts the number of English 8,500-9,000 and the French at 12,000 although we should note others have claimed the English were outnumbered by as much as three or four to one). In the model, which draws on recent research to accurately bring to life the arms, armour and heraldry of those involved, English archers – who played a critical role in the battle (in fact, the battle is seen as an exemplar of the use of archers in battle) – are shown positioned behind wooden stakes that King Henry V asked them each to carry for protection against the French cavalry, seen charging towards them. The battle, which started in late morning when the English archers provoked the French into attacking, was all over by early afternoon and while it’s not certain how many died, sources are agreed that the French losses were considerably higher than the English. Following the exhibition the model will be going on permanent display at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds. PICTURE © Royal Armouries.

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Lyle Bacinet, north Italian, late 14th century. Rare in terms of its quality, it would have been used mostly by mounted knights. By the late 14th century, men-at-arms would have worn complete plate armour. PICTURE © Royal Armouries.

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An arrowhead typical of the period. These would have been made in ‘sheaves’, bundles of 24 arrows which would have been worn on the archer’s waist. PICTURE © Royal Armouries.

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 An English ‘ballock dagger’, dating from the late 14th – early 15th centuries. A common weapon and characteristic shape of the period. Such weapons may have been carried by archers to finish off the wounded. PICTURE © Royal Armouries.

 

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Shakespeare’s retelling of events in Henry V has kept the story of the famous battle alive down the centuries. In a nod to the important role the Bard has played, the exhibition features a rare First Folio of Shakepeare’s plays as well as tabard (below) worn by Richard Burton in the title role of King Henry V at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1951. It was made of hessian and felt with simulated armour at the shoulders so it would appear to have been worn on the battlefield. PICTURE © Victoria and Albert Museum.

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Other 20th century artefacts related to Agincourt include a film poster for Henry V (1944), a film adaptation of Shakespeare’s play which starred and was directed by Laurence Olivier. PICTURE: © ITV / REX.

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For more information on events surrounding the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, see www.agincourt600.com.

This week we’re starting a new series in honour of the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta in which we look back at the London of 1215. First up we take a look at the Tower of London which was a smaller version of the complex of buildings which today exists on the site.

By 1215, the Tower of London – the fortress first constructed on the orders of William the Conqueror – had already existed for more than 100 years, nestled into a corner of the city’s walls which had existed since Roman times.

Then, as now, the White Tower – initially itself known as the Tower of London, it was later dubbed the White Tower thanks to the whitewash used to cover the Kentish limestone to protect it from the weather (and for its visual impact) – stood at the heart of the complex. Unlike today’s building, it lacked the large windows which date from the early 18th century, and while the towers were believed to be capped with cones, the present cupolas date from the reign of King Henry VIII.

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While it had long been surrounded by a palisade and ditch, in 1189, King Richard I’s chancellor William Longchamp, the Bishop of Ely, had begun to extend the castle’s defences while the king was on crusade (in fact, the first siege of the Tower took place in 1191 when the then Prince John did so in opposition to Longchamp’s  regime – it only lasted three days before Longchamp surrendered).

This extension, which was completed by King John following his accession to the throne in 1199, saw the size of the bailey around the White Tower doubled and a new curtain wall and towers – including the Bell Tower – built around its outer perimeter with a ditch below (the ruins of the Wardrobe Tower, just to the east of the White Tower show where the original Roman-era wall ran).

But it wasn’t until the reign of King John’s son, King Henry III, that the royal palace which now stands on the river side of the White Tower was constructed. Until that point – and at the time of the signing of the Magna Carta – the royal apartments remained within the White Tower itself, located on the upper floor.

Like those of the garrison commander known as the constable (located on the entrance level), the king’s apartments would have consisted of a hall and a large chamber, which may have been divided into smaller chambers with wooden partitions as well as a chapel (on the upper level this was the still existing Chapel of St John the Evangelist, although it would have then been more more richly decorated). Unlike the lower levels, the king’s level was of double height with a gallery (this level now has its own full floor).

The royal apartments had a variety of uses – as well as a residence and refuge for the king, they were also at times a place to keep high profile prisoners such as the Bishop of Durham, Ranulf Flambard, who was imprisoned on the orders of King Henry I (and who escaped from an upper window on a rope which had been smuggled in to him and fled to Normandy).

It is also worth noting that while King John apparently kept exotic animals at the Tower, it is his son, King Henry III who is usually credited with founding the Royal Menagerie there.

And it was his son, King Edward I, who expanded the Tower to its current size of  about 18 acres by rebuilding the western section of the inner ward and adding the outer ward.

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5.30pm Sunday to Monday; COST: £24.50 adults; £11 children under 15; £18.70 concessions; £60.70 for a family (discounts for online purchases/memberships); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.  

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London has been making headlines around the world recently thanks, in part, to the estimated £200 million  heist which took place in Hatton Garden last week. So we thought it was a good time to take a look back to one of London’s most famous robberies (or attempts at least)…

The attempt dates back to 1671 when a self-styled colonel, Irish adventurer Thomas Blood, made an attempt to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London.

The Irishman – whose history included fighting on both sides in the English Civil War, first with the Royalists and then with the Parliamentarians when he saw the tide was turning – visited the Tower of London several times in the lead-up to the attempt as he, disguised as a parson, cultivated a relationship with Talbot Edwards, an elderly keeper of the jewels, and his family.

On the night of 9th May, he and a group of accomplices, including his son, attended a dinner put on by the Edwards at the Tower. While waiting for the meal, Blood asked to see the jewels which were housed behind a grille in the basement of the Martin Tower (pictured above) above which the Edwards had an apartment.

Edwards complied and once in the Jewel House, Blood and his accomplices attacked him, knocking him to the floor with a mallet and then stabbing him before binding and gagging him.

They then turned their attention to the jewels – Blood used a mallet to flatten St Edwards Crown so he could hide it beneath his coat while his brother-in-law Hunt filed the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross in two to fit it in his bag and a third man, Robert Perot, stuffed the Sovereign’s Orb down his trousers.

Things didn’t go smoothly after that and the alarm was raised before the gang could make their getaway. It has been suggested it was Edwards who raised the alarm – that despite efforts to shut him up he managed to remove his gag and raise the alarm  – but other versions say it was his son, returning from service in Flanders, who raised the alarm on seeing the gang.

In any event, the gang fled, evading efforts of the warders to stop them, before Blood, Hunt and Perot were captured on the Tower of London wharf. The crown, globe and orb were all recovered, albeit damaged.

Blood refused to speak after his capture and was eventually taken before King Charles II for interrogation. But he was evidently so impressed with his captive that he not only pardoned Blood but also rewarded him with land in Ireland.

Blood did later end up briefly in prison after a dispute with the Duke of Buckingham and died soon after his release in August, 1680, but in the intervening years he had become something of a celebrity around London including the Royal Court.

Security around the Crown Jewels, meanwhile, was upgraded somewhat in the wake of the attempt. While others have tried to steal them, none have ever been successful.

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube station is Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5.30pm Saturday and Monday (last admission 5pm); COST: £24.50 an adult/£11 a child (5-15 years)/£18.70 concession/£60.70 a family of four (discount applies to online bookings); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/.

Poppies4The Tower of London is bidding farewell to the sea of poppies that has filled its dry moat while two major features of the instalment – created to mark the centenary of World War I – prepare to head off on tour. Known as Weeping Window (shown above) and Wave (shown immediately below) – the two features of the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation will both tour various locations across the UK for the next few years before going on permanent display at the Imperial War Museum in London and Manchester. So, we thought we’d take a look back at what has proved to be one of the most popular and moving memorials to appear in the capital in recent years. Created by ceramic artist Paul Cummins (with setting by stage designer Tom Piper), the project saw as many as 888,246 ceramic poppies –  representing all British and Colonial fatalities during the war – planted by volunteers in the moat. The last one was planted on Armistice Day  – 11th November – last week before the process of removal began. PICTURES: ©Richard Lea-Hair and Historic Royal Palaces. 

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The Tower Hill Memorial was originally built to commemorate those of the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets who died at sea in World War I and was later expanded to include those who died in World War II.

Tower-Hill-MemorialLocated in the south-west corner of the garden in Trinity Square, the part of the memorial relating to World War I has the form of a 20-plus metre long vaulted corridor inside of which are a series of bronze plaques engraved with the names of 11,919 people whose grave was the sea.

Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and featuring sculptures by Sir William Reid-Dick, the Portland Stone memorial was unveiled on 12th December, 1928, by Queen Mary. The names are placed alphabetically under the names of their ships with the skipper or master the first name.

Located to the north of the original monument, the World War II extension, which was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II on 5th November, 1955, takes the form of a semi-circular sunken garden and features the names of almost 24,000 seamen who died in World War II. It was designed by Sir Edward Maufe with sculpture by Charles Wheeler.

The memorial’s register is located inside nearby Corporation of Trinity House office (Cooper’s Row entrance).

PICTURE: Chmee2/Wikimedia Commons

 

 

A new display commemorating the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I has opened at the Tower of London, coinciding with the sea of ceramic poppies which has been ‘planted’ in its moat (see our earlier post on the poppies here). The exhibition, housed in the Flint Tower, features photographs and film from 1914 showing how the Tower was used for in the recruitment, deployment and training of the military and as a place for execution. Photographs from today have been combined with those from 1914 to create moving composite images. The display can be seen with general admission entry. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/.

A copper element which represented Team GB and was one of 204 – one for each country – used in the Olympic cauldron during the 2012 Games is on display at the Museum of London. It and Paralympic GB’s element will be on alternate display in a new gallery, Designing a Moment: The London 2012 Cauldron, which follows the cauldron’s journey its design and manufacture to its unveiling, ceremonial role, and legacy. The gallery features two seven metre long sections of the cauldron, which was designed by Heatherwick Studio and which featured one element for each country represented at the Games and then for the Paralympics. Until 27th August, it will also feature the Team GB’s element which will then be returned to the British Olympic Association/British Olympic Foundation and replaced with the Paralympics GB copper element, on loan from the British Paralympic Association, which will remain on show until 23rd October, after which it will be replaced by an unassigned Paralympic copper element. Admission is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

A portrait of author Roald Dahl as a young RAF pilot during World War II has gone on show at the National Portrait Gallery near Trafalgar Square. Painted by Matthew Smith, the work is featured in Colour, Light, Texture: Portraits by Matthew Smith & Frank Dobson, a new display which brings together Smith’s paintings with Dobson’s sculptures. The portrait was painted in 1944 when Dahl was in his late twenties. Found in Room 33, the display can be seen until April 6th. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

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More than 800,000 ceramic poppies are being “planted” in the moat of the Tower of London to commemorate the centenary of World War I.

The work of ceramic artist Paul Cummins, Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red will grow throughout the summer until, by Armistice Day, 888,246 ceramic poppies are ‘planted’ in the dry moat, each one representing a British or colonial military fatality during the war.

The first poppy was planted by Yeoman Warder Crawford Butler back in July (pictured) and the work was officially “unveiled” today – 100 years since the first full day of Britain’s involvement in the war. 

More than 8,000 volunteers will be involved in planting the poppies which can be purchased for £25 with 10 per cent from each poppy plus all net proceeds shared equally among six service charities: the Confederation of Service Charities (COBSEO), Combat Stress, Coming Home, Help for Heroes, Royal British Legion and SSAFA (formerly the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association).

Starting today, the public will also be able to witness the daily twilight reading of a roll of honour featuring the names of 180 serving military killed during the World War I from Tower Hill terrace. The reading will be followed by the bugler playing the Last Post. Members of the public can nominate a name for the roll of honour. 

For more, see poppies.hrp.org.uk. PICTURE: Photo: © Richard Lea-Hair/Historical Royal Palaces

Hung-longThe rather grisly name of this pub (and there’s some debate over whether hanged or hung is grammatically correct) relates to its location close by the former public execution ground of Tower Hill.

While for many Tower Green inside the Tower of London is synonymous with beheadings, only seven people, including Anne Boleyn, were ever actually executed there. Far more people were executed outside the Tower’s walls at nearby Tower Hill, just to the north.

HungSome of the names of those executed here are recorded on a memorial at the site – everyone from Simon Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury who was beheaded here by an angry mob in 1381, through to Sir Thomas More in 1535 (gracious King Henry VIII commuted his sentence from being hung, drawn and quartered to mere beheading), and Simon Fraser, the 11th Lord Lovat, a Jacobite arrested after the Battle of Culloden and the last man to be executed here when his head was lopped off in 1747.

While, as you can see above, many of those executed at Tower Hill were beheaded (and most were of the nobility), there were some executions there which did involve the guilty party being hung, drawn and quartered – a punishment reserved for those being convicted of high treason and also enforced at other sites in London including at Tyburn and Smithfield. Among them was William Collingbourne in 1484 for supporting the cause of Henry Tudor against that of King Richard III.

A plaque on the external wall of the nearby pub quotes a passage from the famous diarist Samuel Pepys after he witnessed an execution in Charing Cross on 13th October, 1660: “I went to see Major General Harrison. Hung drawn and quartered. He was looking as cheerful as any man could in that condition”.

Thomas Harrison fought with Parliament during the Civil War and was among those who signed the death warrant of King Charles I. Found guilty of regicide after the Restoration, he was hung, drawn and quartered (though as Pepys tells us, not here).

The pub, located at 26-27 Great Tower Street, is part of the Fuller’s chain. For more, see www.hung-drawn-and-quartered.co.uk.

The most complete woolly mammoth ever found is the star attraction at a new exhibition opening at the Natural History Museum tomorrow. Lyuba – a one month old mammoth – was found by a reindeer herder in Siberia in 2007 and was named after the reindeer herder’s wife. Thought to be 42,000-years-old, the young mammoth was thought to be healthy when it died and still has remnants of its mother’s milk in its stomach. It is the first time the mammoth – normally housed at the Shemanovsky Museum-Exhibition Complex in Salekhard, Russia, is being shown in Western Europe. Mammoths: Ice Age Giants will also feature life-sized models and skeletons of mammoths. Runs until 7th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nhm.ac.uk.

The German naval ship FGS Niedersachsen will take part in the Ceremony of the Constable’s Dues at the Tower of London tomorrow, having saluted the Tower with a gun salute yesterday – the first time a gun salute has taken place in honour of the ceremony in 40 years. The ceremony dates back to the 24th century and while past offerings have included barrels of rum, oysters, cockles and mussels, this year the Tower’s constable, General the Lord Dannatt, will be presented with a barrel of wine. The ceremony will see the ship’s Commander Kurt Leonards led his crew to the Tower’s West Gate where they will be challenged by the axe wielding Yeoman Gaoler before marching on to Tower Green to “present the dues” or deliver the wine, to the Constable. The ceremony takes place at noon. For more on the Tower, see www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/.

A new exhibition about ancient lives in Egypt and Sudan has kicks off at the British Museum today. Ancient lives, new discoveries will reveal new research about one of the museum’s most popular collections – that of ancient Egyptian and Sudanese mummies – and uses state-of-the-art technology to take you inside the mummy cases and bring you face-to-face with eight people who lived in the Nile Valley thousands of years ago. The selected mummies come from a period spanning 4,000 years, from the Predynastic period to the Christian era, and come from sites in both Egypt and Sudan. They include an adult male from Thebes mummified about 600 BC and a female singer called Tamut who lived in Thebes around 900 BC. The museum received its first mummy in 1756 and hasn’t unwrapped any of them relying on increasingly advanced technologies to see inside. The exhibition runs until 30th November. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

On Now – The World of Rupert Potter: Photographs of Beatrix, Millais and Friends. The amateur photography of Rupert Potter, father of children’s author Beatrix Potter, is on show in his exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. The display features selected works from the gallery’s extensive collection of his works including two new acquisitions which show Beatrix Potter on holidays both before and after her publishing success. Other photos depict the sitters and paintings of artist Sir John Everett Millais, who was a friend of Rupert Potter’s. The free exhibition runs until 16th November in Room 28. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

Send all items of interest for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

There’s a working drawbridge at the Tower of London, something not seen at the fortress since the 1970s. The bridge, which would have originally spanned a water-filled moat, was created in 1834 to allow munitions to be brought into the basement level of the White Tower from the wharf (the moat was drained in 1843 on the orders of the then-Constable, the Duke of Wellington). The bridge has been altered many times but the last time it was completely replaced was in 1915 while the tradition of raising it was carried on until the 1970s before it was permanently fixed in 1978. The new bridge draws on historic designs from 1914 and has been constructed of steel and English oak. It will be raised and lowered on “high days” and holidays and for educational purposes. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/.

The Churchill War Rooms – a complex of underground rooms from where then PM Winston Churchill and others directed the course of Allied troops during World War II – is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its public opening with a new displaying showcasing never before seen objects related to its creation as a tourist attraction. The objects include a private admissions ticket from the days when the only way inside was via specially granted permission, correspondence about the fate of the War Rooms and a poster from 1984 advertising the opening of the Cabinet War Rooms to the public. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk/visits/churchill-war-rooms.

On Now: John Pantlin: photographing the mid-century home. This free exhibition at the Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch celebrates the work of Pantlin who is noted for his extensive work for the architectural press in the 1950s and 1960s. The small exhibition focuses on his shots of domestic interiors with shots of sun-filled living rooms and bedrooms filled with toys with all images drawn from the Robert Elwall Photographs Collection. Runs until 29th June. For more, see www.geffrye-museum.org.uk.

The-MinoriesLocated close to Tower Hill in the eastern part of the City, this pub – and indeed the street in which it sits (at number 64-73) – takes its name from a former nunnery that was once located here.

Known as the Minoresses, the nuns – who belonged to the Order of St Clare (also known as the Poor Clares) – lived in a nunnery here. The institution was founded by in 1293 by Edmund, the brother to King Edward I (reigned 1272-1307), and the earl of Lancaster, Leicester, and Derby, to house nuns who had been brought to England from Spain by the earl’s wife, Blanche of Artois, the widow of King Henry I of Navarre.

As with the case of the Black Friars, the name came to be used to refer to the district in which the now long-gone nunnery once stood (it was dissolved in the Great Dissolution and later used as a residence by the likes of Henry, Duke of Suffolk and father of Lady Jane Grey) and lives on in the name of the street and the pub.

The pub, which has undergone a paint job since our picture was taken, is located under a railway bridge (and may have once been part of the former Minories Railway Station which closed in 1873. For more, see www.minories-london.co.uk.

Ravens

OK, so they’re not people as such, but the ravens at the Tower of London are renowned the world over.

Known as the “Guardians of the Tower”, there are currently as many as eight ravens living at the tower, lodged in a space on the grass next to the Wakefield Tower.

Raven-pensLegend has it that there must be at least six ravens living at the Tower – should they leave, not only will the Tower fall but the kingdom as well (although we hasten to add that it’s been argued this tradition only started in the Victorian age and that there have been times when the numbers of ravens dropped below the required six, such as at the end of World War II when only one raven remained).

It was King Charles II who first ordered the ravens be protected – an order which must have upset Astronomer Royal John Flamsteed who complained after he found that the birds were interfering with the observation work he was carrying out from the Tower’s north-east turret. He later moved out to Greenwich.

The eight ravens who now live at the tower include Rocky, Merlin, Hugine and the latest additions Jubilee – given to the Tower last year to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – and Grip, named after Charles Dickens’ pet raven.

The birds are looked after by a team of four headed by the raven master, Chris Skaife, who each day feed them 170 grams (six ounces) of raw meat and special biscuits soaked in animal blood.

Not all ravens can cut the mustard to work at the Tower – one recent addition Pearl was apparently bullied by other ravens and had to be withdrawn. And while the birds have the feathers on one wing trimmed to stop them escaping to a new life on the wing, that hasn’t stopped some from doing so including Grog who took off in 1981 and was last seen outside an East End pub.

The oldest raven to ever live at the Tower was Jim Crow, who died at age of 44 in 1928.

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5.30pm Sunday to Monday; COST: £21.45 adults; £10.75 children under 15; £18.15 concessions; £57.20 for a family; WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.  

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In this special edition of Treasures of London, we’re taking a quick look at a new permanent exhibition which has opened at the Tower of London focusing on the 500 years it served as the Royal Mint.

Opened in partnership with the Royal Mint Museum, the new exhibition, Coins and Kings: The Royal Mint at the Tower, features a series of rare coins and other coin-related paraphernalia, including a rare silver groat from the time of King Edward I (1279-1307), a gold “trial plate” dating from 1542 in the reign of King Henry VIII, and a Charles II petition crown dating from 1663 – pictured above, it was sent to King Charles II by engraver Thomas Simon as an example of his work (Simon never got the job and died of plague three years later).

Coin1There’s also a silver ‘testoon’ from the reign of King Henry VIII (it bears a Holbein-style portrait of him) which has been debased – indeed, such was the state of coinage during his reign that the “silver” coins often contained more cheap metal, like copper, than silver so that as they wore down, the copper shone through earning the king the delightful nickname, ‘Old Coppernose’ (pictured right).

The tower was used as the country’s mint from about 1279 – when King Edward I moved the Royal Mint inside the Tower as part of his efforts to clean up England’s coinage – to 1812 – when the Royal Mint was relocated out of the Tower to a purpose-built premises on Tower Hill – and the exhibition focuses on five moments from its history.

They include a look at the efforts of Sir Isaac Newton, Warden (and later Master) of the Royal Mint, in tracking down forgers in the late 1600s (his rather zealous prosecutions of those creating forgeries, in particular one William Chaloner, is retold with aplomb in Thomas Levenson’s book Newton and the Counterfeiter), King Edward I’s harsh punishments for people who dared to tamper with his coinage, Queen Elizabeth I’s restoration of the coinage after her father, King Henry VIII’s meddling with the currency, and King Charles II’s rejection of Commonwealth money.

There’s a series of events to go with the exhibition’s opening including the change to see some of the coins up close and family activities (check out the Tower of London website – link below – for more details).

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5.30pm Sunday to Monday; COST: £21.45 adults; £10.75 children under 15; £18.15 concessions; £57.20 for a family; WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.  

PICTURES: Historic Royal Palaces/newsteam