Located on the site now occupied by the Middlesex Guildhall, the Sanctuary Tower and Old Belfry was where fugitives of the law could seek refuge from those who pursued them.
The 13th century tower was located on the western side of Thorney Island upon which Westminster Abbey stood. Standing two stories high, it was a fortified structure with heavy oak doors.
The tower had some high profile (temporary) residents over the years of its existence. These included Elizabeth Woodville, Queen of King Edward IV, who twice had to take sanctuary in the abbey during the Wars of the Roses, Henry Holland, the Duke of Exeter, who claimed sanctuary after the Battle of Barnet (and was subsequently found drowned in the Thames), and Tudor Poet Laureate John Skelton who had to flee here after crossing Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (he is buried in nearby St Margaret’s Church, some claim he died in the tower).
While the practice of granting sanctuary was abolished by King James I in 1623, the tower wasn’t demolished in 1776.
The name of the building and practice of sanctuary is reflected in the name of the nearby street known as Broad Sanctuary and short drive before Westminster named The Sanctuary.