It was so wonderful to catch up with an old friend today and see the magnificent Tower of London! I have been thinking of how to write this blog post and there is just so much in the Tower I know covering everything would be confusing. It is definitely a place you would want to see more than once. Unless, of course, you can read and comprehend masses of information on a range of different topics in one go. I have decided to focus on some personal highlights of the Tower.
I highly recommend you buy the visitor’s book that is available at the ticket desk. For just 5 pounds you can have access to so much more information and maps of the site. We found it particularly useful when we were standing in a long line waiting to see the Crown Jewels.
For those of you unaware, the Crown Jewels are housed in the Tower of London under strict security and protection. They are a working collection meaning they are still in use and can be taken from the exhibition when needed. My favourite part of this exhibition space was the crowd control with the first set of crowns. I know a lot of people will disagree with what I am saying, but, to me it seemed to work really well. Visitors could either walk up some stairs and see the crowns from a platform or opt to hop onto a very slow moving travelator. Luckily no one was rude enough to push past on the travelator so one-by-one we all stepped on and saw the crowns without crowds covering them.
Right at the end of the exhibition is the crown of Queen Elizabeth II. Although not accessible for viewing from a travelator, the solitary crown display worked well in the space. I didn’t find myself having to push to the front to get a better view as people were just walking around and moving away. It was a great example of how similar objects do not always need to be displayed in identical conditions in order for a good visitor experience. Again, my own personal opinion.
Moving on now to the Medieval Palace. You can access the palace through the wall walk which is definitely worth doing! What was fantastic in this space was the material touching board. Here you could feel the different materials that were utilized to make a bed. These included woolen blankets, silk pillows, and linen sheets. You could also feel the curtain fabric. There were a lot of visitors approaching the board to feel the different fabrics before moving into the next room. This tactile experience really added to the space and was ‘hands-on, minds-on’. You could compare how each element felt in comparison to the sheets etc you have on your bed today. My only critique is that the board was quite high off the ground and may have been difficult for children to reach.
Another highlight was the graffiti in the Beauchamp Tower. I still remember visiting the Tower of London for the first time when I was nine and seeing the name Jane carved into the wall. I think we were on a tour and the guide explained how a supporter of Lady Jane Grey, Queen for nine days, carved her name into the wall before their execution. This is just one piece of graffiti out of many. It is fascinating to see the emotions poured into the final pictures and words of those who were held prisoner. Some engraved very simple messages or quotes whereas others had very clearly spent a great amount of time in the Tower perfecting something larger.
The final highlight for me was the memorial to the executed. Unveiled in 2006, the memorial is simple yet beautifully constructed. In the centre is a glass-sculpted pillow. Beneath is engraved the names of the ten who were executed in the Tower and their execution dates. The base of the monument has a poem by the artist inscribed. It is a non-intrusive memorial in the landscape, yet contains so much in terms of symbolism and meaning.
On the topic of deaths in the Tower I was glad to see those executed during the First and Second World Wars commemorated in various exhibitions. It may be surprising to know, but, the last person to be executed at the Tower was Josef Jakobs in 1941. Jakobs, a German spy, was caught after parachuting into London. He was taken to the Tower and killed by firing squad. There was some information on this in the White Tower and again in a very small temporary exhibition on the walkway. The exhibition on the First World War was great to see. The Tower served as a training camp during the war years. The photographs of soldiers placed onto modern-day images of the Tower were particularly powerful.
One last thing – the food in the cafe is unbelievably good. It is worth having your lunch there because the selection is fantastic, the food is fresh, and it is a great eating environment. I had a butter chicken curry and a slice of Victoria sandwich/sponge. I wouldn’t mention it in a blog post unless it was amazing so trust me on this!
I am very glad to have seen the Tower with a friend. It was great to hear her opinions on the exhibitions! Overall, a really lovely day and a great start to the weekend!