Martin-Tower

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/.

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A new exhibition has opened at the Tower of London celebrating the Royal Menagerie which was located there for more than 600 years.

Over the years featuring everything from lions and leopards to elephants, camels, kangaroos and crocodiles, the menagerie was founded at the Tower of London during the reign of King John (1199-1216), although as far back as the reign of King Henry I (1100-1135) animals were being presented to the king as gifts. Some notable early animals included a ‘white bear’ believed to be a polar bear from Norway and an African elephant, a gift of King Louis IX of France, both of which were presented to King Henry III.

While the early location of the menagerie – which had a long history of attracting curious sightseers – remains unknown, during the rein of King Edward III (1327-1377) there is reference to it being in a position near the Middle Tower (now the main entrance to the Tower) which suggests it was then already located in what became known as the Lion Tower – a now ruined barbican built by King Edward I in 1276-77.

Animal accommodations in the Lion Tower were substantially upgraded during the reign of King James I (1603-1625) – James was noted to have enjoyed watching the lions fight other animals in the tower’s exercise yard). Further upgrades were made under the watchful eye of Sir Christopher Wren, then Surveyor of the King’s Works, between 1672 and 1675.

The office of the menagerie’s ‘keeper’, meanwhile, had been  formalised in the 1400s with the title awarded for life – it was subsequently held by some important officials.

While in 1687 some of the beasts and birds were transferred to new accommodations at St James’s Park, the menagerie remained at the Tower until 1830 when, following the death of King George IV, the decision to move the animals – then said to number 150 – to the recently founded Zoological Society of London’s zoo at Regent’s Park. Initially only some animals were sold to the zoo but by the end of 1835 the menagerie had been completely emptied with many of the remaining animals apparently sold to an American ‘showman’ Benjamin Franklin Brown who exported them to the US.

The new exhibition, Royal Beasts, is housed in the newly opened Brick Tower (entry via the Martin Tower, itself entered via the wall walk), and gives visitors views from a hitherto closed-off part of the north wall. There are also a series of life-size sculptures of various animals (see the three lions pictured), created by artist Kendra Haste, located around the tower. And, to gain a feel for how the menagerie was viewed during different eras, you can watch the short live action show featuring some of the “rarees” and “curiosities” which were housed within the tower (check with staff for times).

For more on the menagerie’s history, see Geoffrey Parnell’s guide, ‘The Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London’, available for sale at the Tower (£3.99).

WHERE: ‘Royal Beasts’, Tower of London (nearest tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5.30pm Sunday to Monday (until 31st October); COST: Included in Tower of London admission – £19.80 adults; £10.45 children under 15; £17.05 concessions; £55 for a family (prices include a voluntary donation); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.