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.