Tower of London Trivia

Tower of London Trivia

The Tower of London is a must-see attraction for any tourist visiting England’s capital city. But for those keen to look deeper than Beefeaters, executions and ravens, here are five lesser known facts about the Tower.

1: Going Up in the World

Why does the staircase in the White Tower spiral up in a clockwise direction?

The White Tower could be described as the beating heart of the Tower of London. When William the Conqueror invaded and defeated King Harold in 1066, he needed a fortress to intimidate and subdue Londoners. His answer was to build the White Tower.

As a stronghold, William’s masterpiece had to be easy to defend. For this purpose he built a single staircase in the north-east corner, which spiralled up in a clockwise direction. This was because most soldiers are right-handed and an attacking enemy at the bottom of these stairs would find his sword arm impeded by the wall. However, the defenders on the steps above would have the advantage of being able to swing their weapons unimpeded, hence a clockwise spiral gave them an advantage.

2: Valentine’s Day at the Tower.

What links the Tower of London to Valentine’s Day?

The answer lies with the Duke of Orleans who was captured after the Battle of Agincourt. The Duke was a nephew of the French king and such a valuable hostage that he was incarcerated at the Tower.  Whilst there he was homesick and filled his time by writing love poems to his wife back in France (sixty of these letters survive to this day in the British Museum). Whilst in the Tower the Duke penned a poem to his wife calling her: ‘my very gentle Valentine,’ which is the very first documented Valentine’s message.

3: Stones that Drip Blood

What was the original name of the Bloody Tower?

The Bloody Tower is a place to send shivers down the spine. Linked to the murders of Henry VI, the princes in the tower, and Henry Percy, the very name suggest the stones run with blood. However, it was the infamy of these deaths that led to the tower being given a new name as the Bloody Tower. Previously the building went by an altogether more optimistic title, the Garden Tower.

The Garden Tower sounds a much more pleasant place, indeed it was so named because the upper floor gave access to an area of open ground used for parades, previously called the Constable’s Garden. Luckier prisoners, such as Sir Walter Raleigh, were allowed to stroll outside in the sunshine and indeed Raleigh passed time during his imprisonment by conducting scientific experiments in the garden – so the Bloody Tower wasn’t so bloody after all.

4: Superstitions and Signs

Why Would a King Lose Sleep When a Lion Died?

The association of British monarchs with lions goes back to Richard the Lionheart and it was Richard’s nephew, Henry III, who first kept lions at the Tower. Indeed, the lions were housed near to entrance so that their roars would intimidate visitors. For several centuries a collection of exotic animals, often gifts from other monarchs, was kept at the Tower of London.  This regal tradition extended into Victorian times and it was customary to name one of the Tower’s lions after the reining monarch.

However, superstition held that the lion’s health was linked to that of their namesake. To prove a point, the lioness Elizabeth, sickened and died just day before the elderly queen passed away. This might have made any reigning king nervous, were it not that it was also rumoured that if his lion died unexpectedly, the beast was rapidly replaced by another of the same name.

5: All Mod Cons

Which Building had the First Indoor Toilet?

Built by the Normans, the White Tower is credited as being the first building to have indoor toilets. This is not as grand as it sounds for each toilet was only a small room, or garderobe, built into the thickness of the outside wall with a shaft down which effluent drained. In order to maintain their dignity as conquerors, the Normans built their toilets in the wall facing away from the city so that Londoner’s couldn’t sneer at the stains left by their masters’ ablutions.

The word garderobe derives from a French word, meaning to guard robes. The idea being that valuable fabric and furs were hung in this small room where the ammonia fumes from urine would repel fleas and parasites. It is from garderobe that the piece of furniture called a wardrobe developed.

So there you have it: From lions to letters, from toilets to towers, five lesser known facts about the Tower of London.

East London History - East End Facts

Malcolm Oakley - East London History - A Guide to London's East End.

I grew up on the fringes of London's true East End and have been fascinated by the ever changing history and landscape of the area.

Visitors and tourists to London may only ever explore the City centre but for those that care to travel further east, a rich and rewarding travel adventure awaits. So much of London's history owes a debt to the East End. Colourful characters, famous architecture, hidden treasures of changing life over the years.

Author by Malcolm Oakley.

Follow Me on Google+

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Recent Comments

  • Wendy Linge on The History of Beckton Gas WorksThe History of the Gas Light & Coke Company, 1812 to 1949 By Stirling Everard gives an excellent insight into the Gas Works. My father was an apprentice fitter and
  • Paul Short on History of Canning Town East LondonGood morning Charlie, Just a stab in the dark, but was your mum edie who lived at number 36 next to us in 38. I was only young but I
  • Richard Doxford on London’s East End and The BlitzThere was a pub called The Last One Standing near limehouse and I saw a picture in I believe the Grapes late eighties and want to return there but can't
  • Paul Cannon on The History of Beckton Gas WorksHas anyone got any photos of Beckton gasworks and the marshes nearby? I would love to see them as I have a fascination with Beckton.
  • Irene on History of Canning Town East LondonMy name was Irene Bull , lived in Mary Street and then Silveryown Way, loved going to Rathbone market for the sarspirella and Murkoffs icecream. Love looking back to those
  • Charles W M Parker. on London Police Officers – Old Photos.Hello Chris, I come from a long line of London Met. Policemen my paternal great grandfather William Micheal Parker born in York in 1829. He served in “V” division from
  • Charlie Sage on History of Canning Town East LondonHi Alfie I will ring Ivy and get your number and give you a ring.
  • alfred brown on History of Canning Town East LondonBy the way Pat we lived the brown family next door to you at 441 Beckton Rd
  • alfred brown on History of Canning Town East LondonHello pat leach. I remember your family very well Pat Sylvia mick and mum dad, Do you remember who lived above you in Beckton road. Mr rattenberry. my sister dolly
  • Sue on London East End Street NamesMy grandmother lives at 52 park street in the page 1900's and went to gill street school
  • alfred brown on History of Canning Town East Londonreading about charley sage brought back lots of memmories his sister Doreen who sadly passed away as well as her mother edie and there was . Pauline.we were all related
  • Debbie westwood on The East End in the 1950sRemember them both well ... also in Hainault surgery
  • Debbie on The East End in the 1950sHe was also my doctor.and Dr ,depla. Also down in Hainaut where we moved from Burdett rd and they were there too.
  • Charlie Sage on History of Canning Town East LondonHi Pat I’m Charlie Doreen’s brother , sadly Doreen died some years ago. I remember you well and your sister Sylvia , we lived at 451 beckton road and my
  • Alison on Christ Church at Spitalfields HistoryDid you ever see the BBC TV programme about the clearing of the crypt? It would have been made at the time of the work being done. Fascinating!

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 151 other subscribers.