The Tower of London
The first structure on the site was a motte-and-bailey castle, which was started not long after William the Conqueror became king in 1066, the castle was built on the old Roman walls, which once formed the corner of Londinium. The first stone building on the site was the White Tower, which was commissioned by William the Conqueror in 1078 and completed in 1097. Gundulf, who was made bishop of Rochester in 1077, oversaw the building of the tower to its completion. It was a bastion of Norman power, towering 90 feet over the capital city. The White Tower has changed surprisingly little from that time, but other buildings and towers have grown around it, so that there are now around 20 towers, and a mix of different buildings dating from different periods of history.
Many of the towers once held prison cells, and the White Tower once held torture chambers within its crypt. Tower Green outside the White Tower was reserved for Royal executions, while Tower Hill served as the public execution place for all the other traitors. Over the centuries the tower has performed diverse royal functions, it has been a prison, palace, observatory, menagerie, place of capital punishment and a museum.
Ghosts and Hauntings
With all the blood, death and intrigue the Tower of London has been involved with in its 900-year history, there is little wonder that it has the reputation as one of the most haunted places in Britain. There have been literally hundreds of executions on Tower Hill, from claimants to the throne, political activists and petty criminals. Many of the towers have also served as prisons, and places of misery for people on the wrong side of powerful people. If anywhere could lay claim to a host of tortured souls it would be the Tower.
E. L. Swifte, who was a keeper of the Crown Jewels in the 19th century, recorded one of the most interesting and fullest descriptions of a haunting within the tower. He and his family were sitting at a candlelit dinner in his room in the Martin Tower in 1817, when his wife spotted something on the other side of the room. She cried out in alarm and Swifte turned round to see a cylindrical object resembling a glass tube, filled with bubbling blue fluid. The strange apparition started to move and came round behind his wife, who was still sitting at the table. She cried out that it had tried to grab her, and Swifte let fly at it with a chair, which passed straight through the object. The cylinder then receded backwards and disappeared.
Swifte was also a confidant in another ghostly oft quoted sighting; apparently a sentry on guard in what is now the Martin Tower, witnessed the apparition of a bear coming from out of the Jewel Room. He stabbed at it with his bayonet, which passed through the apparition and embedded in a door, whereupon the bear promptly disappeared. The sentry died a few days later, possibly of shock, but he had already confided in Swifte and another sentry who verified his story. The sighting has been dated to January in the year 1815 or 1816.
The Bloody Tower was the scene for the infamous disappearance of the two princes; Edward V (12) and Richard Duke of York (10), who are thought to have been murdered in 1483 on the probable command of the Duke of Gloucestershire, who was to be crowned Richard the III. According to one story, guards in the late 15th century, who were passing the stair in the Bloody Tower, spotted the shadows of two small figures gliding down the stairs. These figures were identified as the ghosts of the two princes. In 1674 workmen found a chest that contained the skeletons of two young children, they were thought to be the remains of the princess, and were given a royal burial not long afterwards.
Ann Boleyn is said to be one of the most enduring ghosts of the Tower, she haunts the vicinity of the White Tower, the King’s House, Tower Green, and the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, where her headless body was interred in an arrow case under the floor. She was executed in 1536, after Henry VIII had become tired of her.
In 1864 a sentry is said to have challenged a headless figure thought to be Ann Boleyn, his bayonet passed straight through her, and he fainted in shock. He was saved from court martial for being asleep at his post, on the word of other guards, who said they had witnessed a similar occurrence. In another account a Captain of the Guard is said to have seen a light source coming from within the locked empty Chapel Royal in the White Tower. He climbed a ladder to peer down into the chapel, and witnessed a procession of people in ancient dress, with an elegant woman walking in front of them. He recognised the slender figure as Ann Boleyn from portraits that he had seen.
Sir Walter Raleigh makes an appearance now and again, and has been seen as recently as 1983 by a Yeoman Guard on duty in the Byward Tower. The same apparition was also seen a year and a half later by a different sentry in the same area. Sir Walter is said to wander the tower as he did when he was imprisoned, he was not as restricted in movements as some of the other prisoners during his incarceration.
The bungled execution of Lady Salisbury is said to be enacted on Tower Green, on the anniversary of her execution in 1541. She ran from the block in hysterics with the axe man chasing behind her. She was finally felled with a number of heavy blows from behind, the whole bloody scene is said to be replayed in full.
Lady Jane Grey, the 9-day queen, is also said to appear on the anniversary of her death on the 12th February 1554. She has been seen on the Salts Tower, although it is difficult to reason how you would recognise one royal figure from the next.
Other ghostly traditions include the screams of Guy Fawkes echoing through the tower, as they did when he was tortured before being hung drawn and quartered, the ghost of Lord Northumberland who was executed in 1553, and various other apparitions and shades from its bloody history.
There are many more intriguing stories and legends about the tower, which we will explore at a later date.