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The Tower Of Old London

April 23, 2022
by the gentle author

Much of May is sold out, but some tickets are available this weekend and next Saturday for

A contemplative moment at the Tower

Rummaging through the thousands of glass slides from the collection of the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society, used for magic lantern slides a century ago at the Bishopsgate Institute, I came upon these enchanting pictures of the Tower of London.

The Tower is the oldest building in London, yet paradoxically it looks even older in these old photographs than it does today. Is it something to do with the straggly beards upon the yeoman warders? Some inhabit worn-out uniforms as if they themselves are ancient relics that have been tottering around the venerable ruins for centuries, swathed in cobwebs. Nowadays, yeoman warders are photographed on average four hundred times a day and they have learnt how to work the camera with professional ease, but their predecessors of a century ago froze like effigies before the lens displaying an uneasy mixture of bemusement  and imperiousness. Their shabby dignity is further undermined in some of these plates by the whimsical tinter who coloured their uniforms in clownish tones of buttercup yellow and forget-me-not blue.

As the location of so many significant events in our history, the Tower carries an awe-inspiring charge for me. And these photographs, glorying in the magnificently craggy old walls and bulbous misshapen towers, capture its battered grim monumentalism perfectly. Today, the Tower focuses upon telling the stories of prisoners of conscience that were held captive there rather than displaying the medieval prison guignol, yet an ambivalence persists for me between the colourful pageantry and the inescapable dark history. In spite of the tourist hordes that overrun it today, the old Tower remains unassailable by the modern world.

The Ceremony of the Keys, c.1900

Salt Tower, c. 1910

Byward Tower, c.1910

Bloody Tower, c. 1910


The Tower seen from St Katharine’s Dock, c.1910

Tower Green, c.1910

View from Tower Hill, c, 1900

Upon the battlements, c. 1900

View from the Thames, c. 1910

Bell Tower, c.1900

Bloody Tower, c. 1910

Courtyard at the Tower, c.1910

Byward Tower, c 1910

Yeoman warders at the entrance to Bloody Tower, c. 1910

Vegetable plot in the former moat adjoining the Byward Tower, c.1910

Byward Tower, c. 1900

Water Lane, c 1910

Rampart, c 1900

Yeoman Gaoler – “displaying an uneasy mixture of bemusement  and imperiousness.”

Middle Tower, c. 1900


Steps leading from Traitors’ Gate, c. 1900

Steps inside the Wakefield Tower, c. 1900

The White Tower, c. 1910

Royal Armoury, c. 1910

Beating the Bounds,  c. 1920

Cannons at the Tower of London, c. 1910


Queen’s House, c. 1900

Elizabeth’s Walk, Beauchamp Tower, c. 1900

Yeoman Warder, c. 1910

Tower seen from St Katharine’s Dock, c. 1910

Images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

Residents of Spitalfields and any of the Tower Hamlets may gain admission to the Tower of London for one pound upon production of an Idea Store card.

You may like to take a look at these other Tower of London stories

Chris Skaife, Raven Keeper & Merlin the Raven

Alan Kingshott, Yeoman Gaoler at the Tower of London

Graffiti at the Tower of London

Beating the Bounds at the Tower of London

Ceremony of the Lilies & Roses at the Tower of London

Bloody Romance of the Tower with pictures by George Cruickshank

John Keohane, Chief Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London

Constables Dues at the Tower of London

The Oldest Ceremony in the World

A Day in the Life of the Chief Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London

Joanna Moore at the Tower of London

11 Responses leave one →
  1. Patty Johnson permalink
    April 23, 2022

    The picture of the steps inside the Wakefield Tower is amazing. So much depth and so mysterious.

  2. Susan permalink
    April 23, 2022

    These photos are wonderful; thank you so much for finding them! Aside from the ghastliness of the tinted uniform – which makes it look a bit like a clown suit – the Byward Tower doesn’t look like that anymore, does it?

  3. Susan permalink
    April 23, 2022

    Oooops, I may be wrong about the Byward Tower – I see Joanna Moore’s 2012 drawings resemble the 1910 photos…

  4. JIll Wilson permalink
    April 23, 2022

    Great to see pictures of the Tower without it being overshadowed by massive office blocks!

  5. Annie S permalink
    April 23, 2022

    Great photographs of the Tower.
    Those young lads beating the bounds look as if they are enjoying themselves!

  6. April 23, 2022

    Thanks for the special pictures of the Tower. The Beating the Bounds ritual will probably take place again soon, won’t it?

    Love & Peace

  7. Mark permalink
    April 23, 2022

    … And within a few years of the 1910 photos, The Great War had begun and the Tower was once again hosting executions, Death by firing squad was the fate awaiting captured spies.
    It’s a wonderful place, having visited several times. My 11 year old follows in many others footsteps in June.

  8. Alison permalink
    April 23, 2022

    Really interesting. My Great Great Grandfather was a Yeoman warder from 1868 to 1891 and they lived in the Salt Tower where he raised his young family. My Great Grandfather who was baptised in the Tower enlisted into the army there in 1895.

  9. Boudicca Fawkes permalink
    April 23, 2022

    Great pics yes lots of ghosts in thee tower but in 2014 my husband guy Fawkes and Thomas wintour and Jack kit Wright and Chris kit Wright and Robert wintour left thee tower and live wyth me don’t forget you can see our book as we have donated along wyth a calendar to raise funds for president vododymyr Zelenskyy and Ukraine

  10. gkbowood permalink
    April 23, 2022

    Loved those veggie plots in the moat!

  11. Marcia Howard permalink
    April 27, 2022

    Wonderful images, even if the Yeoman Warders do appear rather ‘jaundiced’ looking!

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