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.


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:  



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 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

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


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:  


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:  

PICTURES: Historic Royal Palaces/newsteam

With former PM Margaret Thatcher’s funeral held in London today, we take a look at five prominent funerals in the city’s past…

Queen Eleanor of Castile: King Edward I was lavish in his funeral for Queen Eleanor (perhaps in an effort to restore her reputation given suggestions she had been unpopular among the common people although it may well have simply been because of the king’s level of grief) and when she died at Harby, a village near Lincoln, on 28th November, 1290, he ordered her body to be transported from Lincoln Cathedral to Westminster Abbey where the funeral was held, with a series of elaborate memorial crosses to be built close to where-ever her body rested for the night. Twelve of these were built including at Westcheap in the City of London and Charing (hence Charing Cross, see our earlier post here), the latter thanks to her body “resting” overnight at the Dominican Friary at Blackfriars. Her funeral took place on 17th December, 1290, with her body placed in a grave near the high altar until her marble tomb was ready. The tomb (one of three built for the queen – the others were located at Lincoln – for her viscera – and Blackfriars – for her heart) still survives in the abbey.

St-Paul's-CathedralVice Admiral Lord Nelson: Heroic in life and perhaps seen as even more so after his death, Nelson’s demise at the Battle of Trafalgar was a national tragedy. His body, preserved in brandy, was taken off the HMS Victory and transported to Greenwich where he lay in state for three days in the Painted Hall. Thousands visited before the body was again moved, taken in a barge upriver to the Admiralty where it lay for a night before the state funeral on 9th January, 1806, more than two months after his death. An escort said to comprise 10,000 soldiers, more than 100 sea captains and 32 admirals accompanied the body through the streets of the city along with seamen from the Victory to St Paul’s Cathedral (pictured)  where he was interred in a marble sarcophagus originally made for Cardinal Wolsey located directly beneath the dome. The tomb can still be seen in the crypt of St Paul’s.

Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington: Given the last heraldic state funeral ever held in Britain, the Iron Duke’s funeral was held on 18th November, 1852, following his death on 14th September. His body, which had been brought to London from Walmer where it had laid in state by rail, lay in state a second time at Chelsea Hospital. On the morning of the funeral, the cortege set out from Horse Guards, travelling via Constitution Hill to St Paul’s. The body was conveyed in the same funeral car used to convey Nelson’s and accompanied by a guard of honour which included soldiers from every regiment in the army. Masses – reportedly more than a million-and-a-half people – lined the streets to watch funeral procession pass through the city before a service was held in St Paul’s Cathedral under the great dome and he was interred in a monumental sarcophagus alongside that Vice Admiral Lord Nelson. Like Nelson’s, it can still be seen there today.

Sir Winston Churchill: Widely regarded as one of the great wartime leaders of the 20th century, the former British Prime Minister died in his London home on 24th January, 1965, having suffered a stroke nine days earlier. His funeral (plans for which had apparently been code-named ‘Hope-Not’), was the largest state funeral in the world at the time of his death with representatives of 112 nations attending and watched on television by 25 million people in Britain alone. His body lay in state for three days (during which more than 320,000 people came to pay their respects) before on 30th January, it was taken from Westminster Hall and through the streets of London to a funeral service at St Paul’s Cathedral. After the service, a 19 gun salute was fired and the RAF staged a flyby of 16 fighter planes as the body was taken to Tower Hill and then by barge to Waterloo Station. From there it was taken by a special funeral train (named Winston Churchill) to Bladon near Churchill’s home at Blenheim Palace.

Diana, Princess of Wales: Having died in a car crash in Paris on 31st August, 1997, her body was flown back to London and taken to St James’s Palace where it remained for five days before being transported to her former home of Kensington Palace. More than a million people crowded London’s streets on 6th September, 1997, to watch the funeral procession as it made its way from the palace to Westminster Abbey. Among those present at the funeral (which was not a state funeral) were members of the royal family as well as then Prime Minister Tony Blair, former PMs including Margaret Thatcher and foreign dignitaries and celebrities, the latter including Elton John who sang a rewritten version of Candle in the Wind. After the service, Diana’s body was taken to her family’s estate of Althorp in Northamptonshire where the “People’s Princess” was laid to rest.

Our new series will be launched next week due to this week’s events…

Recently making news headlines thanks to the work of Adrienne Barker of the University of Dundee in reconstructing his face, Simon of Sudbury wasn’t born in London and, in fact, spent much of his early life elsewhere. But, as Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury, he was a key figure in the 14th century city and it was in London that he eventually met his grisly death during the Peasant’s Revolt.

Simon Theobold was born around 1316 – the son of a wealthy Norfolk merchant – and, while details of his early life are scant, it has been suggested he studied at Cambridge before eventually entering the service of William Bateman, the Bishop of Norwich. He apparently became caught in the middle of a dispute between the bishop and the Abbot of Bury St Edmunds (the details of which we don’t have time to get into here) and it was this which is said to have led to the issuing of a royal order for his arrest, a move which forced him to flee England for the papal court at Avignon.

He quickly came to the attention of the popes and took on an official role, the reward for which was the income from various positions in the English church including Chancellor of Salisbury. In 1356, Pope Innocent VI sent him on a peace mission to King Edward III and it was during this mission that he came to the attention of the king. Having never been formally outlawed, he was apparently forgiven his earlier crimes and was soon acting on behalf of the king including at the Papal court.

In 1361, Simon was made Bishop of London and spent the next 10 years in the role, as well as continuing to act for the king, notably as a diplomat.

In 1375 following the death of incumbent William Whittelsey, he was elevated to the position of Archbishop of Canterbury. His time as archbishop was somewhat troubled – as well as facing accusations of being too close to the king, he also faced criticism over his treatment of Bible translator John Wycliffe – but it was his role in secular politics which led to his demise.

Following the accession of King Richard II in 1377, in 1380 Simon was appointed chancellor, a position which meant he bore the ultimate responsibility for the imposition of an extremely unpopular new poll tax. In 1381, there were calls for his death at the outbreak of rebellion in Kent, notably when the rebels entered Canterbury Cathedral. But as the crisis now known as the Peasant’s Revolt gained momentum, Sudbury remained with the king in the Tower of London where he apparently counselled a hard line.

King Richard II when to parley with the traitors at Mile End on 14th June and there apparently indicated that action would be taken against traitors around him (Wat Tyler was killed when the king again met the rebels, this time at Smithfield, the following day). A group of rebels subsequently stormed the tower and dragged out Sudbury and the treasurer, Sir Robert Hales. Taken to Tower Hill, they were there beheaded. Sudbury’s head, which apparently had a skullcap nailed to his skull, was impaled on a lance and put on display over London Bridge. His body was buried in Canterbury Cathedral.

The skull, meanwhile, was apparently taken down by a Sudbury man and taken back to his home town where it was kept at St Gregory’s Church. Some 630 years later, following an approach by Sudbury locals, forensic artist Adrienne Barker from the University of Dundee was asked to recontruct Simon’s head.

Following some CT scans of the skull, Barker – who carried out the work as part of her MSc Forensic Art studies under the tutelage of renowned facial reconstruction expert Professor Caroline Wilkinson – used state-of-the-art reconstruction techniques to recreate Sudbury’s facial features and complete a series of 3-D bronze-resin casts of his head. The models, one of which will be on permanent display at St Gregory’s Church in Sudbury alongside Simon’s skull, were unveiled in September.

PICTURE: University of Dundee

Nestled on Tower Hill, somewhat overshadowed by the monumental memorial to the merchant naval casualities of World War I and II nearby, lay a series of plaques commemorating more than 125 people who were executed there.

The plaques, which stand on the site of the former scaffold, list the names of some of the most prominent who died there including Simon of Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was beheaded by an angry mob during the Peasant’s Revolt in 1381, John Fisher, the Bishop of Rochester, and former chancellor Sir Thomas More – both of whom were executed in 1535 on the orders of King Henry VIII, and Thomas Cromwell, another chancellor who fell foul of King Henry VIII and was executed in 1540.

Later executions include William Laud, another Archbishop of Canterbury who was executed in 1645, James, Duke of Monmouth, the illegitimate son of King Charles II who was executed in 1685, and Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, who became the last man to be executed there in 1747 (and the last man in England to be beheaded) after his capture following the Battle of Culloden in Scotland.

An inscription at the site reads that the memorial was created to “commemorate the tragic history and in many cases the martyrdom of those who for the sake of their faith, country or ideals staked their lives and lost”.

It’s worth noting that contrary to popular belief only 10 people were ever executed on Tower Green inside the Tower of London including two of King Henry VIII’s queens – Anne Boelyn (1536) and Catherine Howard (1542) – as well as the tragically young Lady Jane Grey, queen for only nine days before she was beheaded in 1554, and three Black Watch soldiers who were shot in 1743 after being charged with mutiny.

This year marks 1,600 years since what many posit was the “end of Roman Britain” based on a letter Emperor Honorius is said to have written in 410 AD telling Britain to look to its own defence. So we thought we’d take a look at Roman London – Londinium – in a short series running until the year’s end.

To kick it off, we’re taking a look at one of the easier to find Roman remnants, that of the city wall which encircled first Roman and later the medieval City of London.

The wall can be seen in several places, but one of the easiest places to see it is next to Tower Hill tube station, where one of the best preserved sections of the wall can be seen (along with a statue believed to be that of the Emperor Trajan – see right).

Standing to a height of more than 35 feet or 10.6 metres, the Roman section extends as high as 14.5 feet or 4.4 metres with the upper part dating from later periods. The Roman wall would have originally been around 20 feet or 6.3 metres high and would have had a V-shaped ditch running along its outside.

First built around 200 AD, the city wall largely ran along the same course over the ensuing centuries. There were initially five gates with another added in the Roman period and another in medieval times. None of these now survive.

Further substantial remains of the Roman wall can be seen in a courtyard at nearby Cooper’s Row (head around the corner from Tower Hill tube station along Cooper’s Row and then turn right, past a hotel, into a courtyard) and on what was the north-west corner of the city at Noble Street, not far from the Museum of London, where a Roman base supports a later brick wall.