Trafalgar and the Tower

Moved to my new hotel today. It was raining this morning, and I was still kind of tired, so I decided that, instead of walking the 40 minutes or so back to the tube station1, I’d pay for a cab. This was an important lesson: the money I saved by staying farther away than I had intended was eaten by the cost of the cab. I should have just picked a closer, if more expensive, hotel.

I was, of course, way too early to check in. In fact, I arrived in the middle of what seemed to be half of Germany checking out and storing their bags. But they cleared, and I got my bag stored until later, and then I headed off to the tube station in my rain jacket and very fancy hat to get my sightseeing ticket validated.

That happened to be at Trafalgar Square.

Trafalgar Square features Nelson's Column. It's really very tall.
Trafalgar Square features Nelson’s Column. It’s really very tall. It is, they tell me, the height of Nelson’s ship. They didn’t tell me which one, though, and I’m too tired tonight to look it up.
To put the height into perspective, here's one of the four lions at the corners, with some kids to provide scale.
To put the height into perspective, here’s one of the four lions at the corners, with some kids to provide scale.
So, there are three big plinths in Trafalgar Square. Three are filled with regular (kinda boring) statues. The fourth one apparently changes statue every so often. Right now, it's got a statue of a horse's skeleton with a stock market ticker. It's supposed to be a statement about wealth inequality, but I have an innate distrust for the social messages of art commissioned by the government.
So, there are three big plinths in Trafalgar Square. Three are filled with regular (kinda boring) statues. The fourth one apparently changes statue every so often. Right now, it’s got a statue of a horse’s skeleton with a stock market ticker. It’s supposed to be a statement about wealth inequality, but I have an innate distrust for the social messages of art commissioned by the government.

After looking around a bit, I found the place I needed and got my ticket validated. Then, I got on the tour. We saw a whole bunch of cool stuff but, as usual, it’s very hard to get a good picture from the top of a moving tour bus. I did get one that I liked.

Here we've got the Houses of Parliament, with the Elizabeth Tower, which holds Big Ben, the clock bell.
Here we’ve got the Houses of Parliament, with the Elizabeth Tower, which holds Big Ben, the clock bell.

I got off the bus at the Tower of London, which is one of the main things I wanted to see on this trip. I spent about four hours there, looking at stuff, and I didn’t even get in to see the Crown Jewels – the lineup for that tower was very, very2 long. The Tower is fascinating; it is actually a tiny little village inside the walls. There are about thirty-five Yeoman Warders3 who live in the Tower with their wives and children, plus the Royal Fusiliers who are garrisoned at the headquarters here. In total, there are about 130 people who live on the site.

The entrance to the Tower.
The entrance to the Tower. You’ll notice that the sky is clearing. Yay!
A Yeoman Warder. Each Yeoman Warder must have served at least 22 years in the armed forces, reached the rank of Sergeant Major, and have received the Long Service and Good Conduct medal. According to the Yeoman Warder who led our guided tour, when he applied a year ago, there were 150 applicants for the single opening.
A Yeoman Warder. Each Yeoman Warder must have served at least 22 years in the armed forces, reached the rank of Sergeant Major, and have received the Long Service and Good Conduct medal. According to the Yeoman Warder who led our guided tour, when he applied a year ago, there were 150 applicants for the single opening.

If you go to the Tower, make sure that you take one of the Yeoman Warder guided tours. That’ll show you what you want to spend more time on, and give you a bunch of cool history.

The White Tower is the oldest part of the Tower of London. It's full of amazing exhibits of arms and armour from throughout the almost 1000 years of the Tower's existence.
The White Tower is the oldest part of the Tower of London. It’s full of amazing exhibits of arms and armour from throughout the almost 1000 years of the Tower’s existence.
Like these sets of armour and barding.
Like these sets of armour and barding.
Or this dragon built from armour and weapons on the top floor.
Or this dragon built from armour and weapons on the top floor.

There were some other interesting exhibits around, too:

A 24-pound brass cannon, all painted and polished up.
A 24-pound brass cannon, all painted and polished up. Well, except fot eh verdigris on the body of the cannon itself.
And this halberdier on the walls.
And this halberdier on the walls.
And this recreation of a Tudor-era royal bedroom, in the St. Thomas tower.
And this recreation of a Tudor-era royal bedroom, in the St. Thomas tower.

Now, despite the bloody reputation of the Tower of London, only six people were ever executed within the Tower grounds. The other 2000 or so were merely imprisoned there, and were marched out an up Tower Hill for their executions.

This memorial marks the spot on Tower Green where those six were executed.
This memorial marks the spot on Tower Green where those six were executed.

Aside from being a royal residence, and a fortress, and a prison, and the royal mint, the Tower was also, for a time, a royal zoo. They had loads of fun stuff, like lions and elephants and a room full of monkeys running around loose that you could go play with4. There are sculptures of a lot of the animals, seemingly made of chicken wire, around the place.

They even had a polar bear. They shackled a long chain to its leg and let it swim and fish in the Thames. Now, the Thames at that time was filthy and a source of a number of cholera outbreaks, so it's not that surprising that the bear soon sickened and died.
They even had a polar bear. They shackled a long chain to its leg and let it swim and fish in the Thames. Now, the Thames at that time was filthy and a source of a number of cholera outbreaks, so it’s not that surprising that the bear soon sickened and died.

The only living animals still kept at the tower5 are the Tower ravens. Legend says that if the ravens leave the tower, England will fall. The ravens even have a Yeoman Warder Ravenmaster who looks after them.

But they're making very sure the ravens don't leave.
But they’re making very sure the ravens don’t leave.

I walked the walls of the Tower, as well, and got some very nice views of London.

Here's a nice view of the Tower Bridge, all decked out.
Here’s a nice view of the Tower Bridge, all decked out.
Skyline from Tower of London
And here are some interesting buildings in the London Skyline. London’s got some of the neatest modern buildings I’ve ever seen.

Then, seeing as it was almost five, I went and checked into my hotel for real, and spent a couple of hours getting my photo software working and uploading my pictures, before heading back to the Tower of London for the Ceremony of the Keys.

They don’t allow photographs or recordings for the ceremony, and I can understand why. It’s the oldest military tradition of it’s kind in the world, having been conducted every day for about seven hundred years. It was delayed only once, during WWII, when bombs were dropped on the Tower during the ceremony. After the Warders had helped their injured comrades and put out the fire, they continued with the ceremony, and the next day, sent a letter of apology to the king. The king said he understood, and that the Warders were not to blame because it was enemy action, but that he expected the ceremony to never be late again.

It was kind of moving to be present for the tradition, and everyone was nicely quiet and respectful as the situation warranted. At the end, we were told that all the names of attendees at the ceremony had their names recorded in a big, red book, so that they became part of the history of the ceremony. And that’s just cool.

Then, back home to do up this post, and now, because it’s after midnight, to bed.

Lots to see and do tomorrow.

  1. Assuming I could find my way more easily than I had the night before. []
  2. Like, hundreds of people. []
  3. AKA Beefeaters. []
  4. Right up until a young boy was injured by the monkeys and they had to close that part to the public. []
  5. Besides family pets, I suppose. []

One thought on “Trafalgar and the Tower”

  1. Looks & sounds like it was an interesting day, Rick– and good reading!
    Hope your “body clock” is nearly adjusted and -by the time you read this-it’s 8pm Sun here-
    you’re almost set for day 2!
    Enjoy !!!!
    Popsy

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