The Garden Guide

Book: London and Its Environs, 1927
Chapter: 33 The Tower and Tower Hill

The White Tower

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The WHITE TOWER, the oldest and most characteristic part of the whole fortress, was begun about 1078 for William the Conqueror, by Gundulf, the architect also of Rochester Cathedral. It stands on a slope and rises to the height of 90 feet on the south side (25 feet less on the north). It measures 118 feet from east to west, 107 feet from north to south, and has walls 12-15 feet thick. At the south-east angle is the apse of the chapel. The exterior was restored by Wren, who altered all the windows but four on the south side; but the interior is still very much as it was in Norman times. Flamsteed (died 1719), the first astronomer-royal, used the south-east turret as an observatory. Internally the tower is divided into two unequal portions by a wall rising from base to summit. Interior of the White Tower. In addition to St. John's Chapel and the Armouries this tower contains many interesting and quaint historical souvenirs. We ascend the external staircase at the north-east corner to the first or GUN FLOOR, which consists of three rooms. The Record Room, which we enter first, contains curiosities and souvenirs. By the entrance: cases of the first shells fired in London at zeppelins and the remains of an incendiary bomb. In the centre: swords presented by the Allies, shrapnel helmets, the swords of Lord Wolseley and Lord Kitchener, Lord Roberts's revolver, and the original manuscript of Lord Kitchener's Appeal to the Nation (May 16th, 1915); guncarriage on which the body of Edward VII. was borne in the funeral procession across London. On the right: coat worn by the Duke of Wellington as Constable of the Tower; cloak on which Wolfe died at Quebec (1759); head of Charles II., carved by Grinling Gibbons. On the left: models of the Tower; figures of 'Gin' and 'Beer' from the old buttery of Greenwich Palace. At the end; Bell's design for a Wellington monument; executioner's sword; bells from the East. To the south of the Record Room is the Crypt of St. John's Chapel, which contains instruments of torture, a small conjectural model of the rack, a gibbet, and the heading axe (1687) and the block last used for Lord Lovat in 1747. Near the east end of the crypt is the small cell in which Raleigh is said to have spent his final and most rigorous term of imprisonment. In the Small Arms Room are exhibited two cannon made for Queen Anne's son, the Duke of Gloucester, William III.'s horsefurniture, and two elaborate field-guns captured at Moodkee in 1845. The glass-cases show the development of firearms from the matchlock to the flintlock. The stands of arms on the right illustrate the evolution of the bayonet.