Travel – St. Paul’s Cathedral

In honor of Sir Christopher Wren (born: October 20, 1632 died: February 25, 1723) this Travel post is about St. Paul’s Cathedral, Wren’s architectural masterpiece and one of the most iconic churches in London, England.  I will begin by discussing the history of the Cathedral and give a brief tour of the interior of the building.  Then to concluded this post, I will briefly discuss the personal and professional life of Sir Christopher Wren who is also responsible for the building of the Royal Naval College at Greenwich and a portion of Hampton Court Palace.

The History of St. Paul’s Cathedral

Dating back centuries ago, the Roman episcopal see (site of a religious leader’s principal church) was located in London on Tower Hill; recent archaeological excavation in 1999 may have revealed the remains of the church.  Then, moving forward a few centuries, a Roman temple dedicated to the goddess Diana was possibly located at the site of the current St. Paul’s Cathedral but there has been no archaeological evidence found to support this theory.  Records indicate that approximately 604 AD the first Anglo-Saxon bishop of London established a church at the same site but it is uncertain what happened to the building after the country reverted back to paganism.  Several centuries passed and the main religion of the country was once again based in Christianity and a new church was built on the site but it was ultimately destroyed in a fire in 962 and rebuilt that same year.  Then, there was another fire in 1087 that severely damaged the existing church.

St Pauls - old photo 2

After the 1087 fire, the Normans began repairs to restore the church but unfortunately another fire slowed the restoration.  This church is now referred to as the “Old St. Paul’s” and building’s style of architecture changed from the previous Romanesque to Gothic.  During the reign of King Henry VIII, the ties with the Roman Catholic Church were severed and the newly formed Church of England was established.  King Henry gave the order that all Catholic and Protestant churches and monasteries properties were to be seized by the Crown and either sold or destroyed.  As a result of this order many interior and exterior religious ornamentation was removed from these buildings including St. Paul’s.  (Perhaps ironically, in 1561 lightning destroyed the 489 foot tall spire of St. Paul’s which was interpreted by Protestants and Roman Catholics as a sign from God indicating displeasure directed at the King and the newly formed Church of England)

By 1661, “Old St. Paul’s” was in a severe state of neglect and King Charles II had requested the advice on the extensive repairs required to restore the building from an upcoming architect named Christopher Wren.  Before any significant repairs were started, the Great Fire of London in 1666 swept through the city destroying everything in its path, it is said that in the aftermath of the devastating fire only a third of the buildings remained standing in London.  Following this crisis, Wren was now appointed by the King to oversee the rebuilding of over 50 churches including “Old St. Paul’s”.


The decision was made that “Old St. Paul’s” would be demolished in 1670 and a new larger cathedral would be built on the site.  Wren’s original design plans for the new cathedral changed several times during the lengthy planning process from a simple building shown in his first drawings in 1669 to a more elaborate design with a grand dome to reflect the importance of the building to the Church of England which were made possible the increase in the building funds through a recently implemented coal tax.  The new St. Paul’s Cathedral was officially completed in 1711.

St Pauls - panorama

Several centuries passed, until the next significant event in the history of St. Paul’s occurred.  On May 7, 1913 St. Paul’s narrowly missed being destroyed by an act of aggression when a bomb was found in the east end of the church under the Bishop’sThrone placed there by members of the Suffragettes.  At this time in history, women in England were literally fighting for the right to vote and unfortunately the actions of the Suffragette organization used to achieve this goal turned violent with various forms of aggressive acts including burning and later bombing of buildings.  Luckily the bomb found in St. Paul’s was able to be defused and ultimately several years later in 1928 the Representation of the People Act gave the right for women to vote.        

Then, during World War II, German military planes attacked England in a series of devastating bombings which became known at the Blitz.  On the night of December 29, 1940 the German planes destroyed the area surrounding St. Paul’s Cathedral, but the building miraculously survived!  A famous photograph by Herbert Mason was taken the morning after the attack and was featured on the front page of the Daily Mail.  The picture, which became known as “St. Paul’s Survives”, shows the dome of the Cathedral illuminated by the searchlights with the smoke from the burning buildings rising into the sky. 

St Pauls - Blitz bombing newspaper

A Brief Tour of St. Paul’s Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral was designed by Christopher Wren in a Baroque style of architecture and is built on Ludgate Hill which is the highest point in London.  The Cathedral building is 574 feet long and 227 feet wide, the two bell towers are 212 feet high and the spectacular dome is 365 feet high.

The ground of Ludgate Hill was formed of soft clay soil and this was a considerable challenge for Wren when he was planning and designing the rebuilding of St. Paul’s in the late 17th century.  To support the massive Cathedral a large area was excavated, this would eventually become the crypt.  Inside this part of the Cathedral large piers were erected to support and evenly distribute the weight of the new Cathedral.

Exterior of St. Paul’s Cathedral –

The magnificent Dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral is constructed with layers consisting of the exterior dome and the decorative interior dome.  Between the exterior and the interior domes is a brick cone 18 inches thick which provides support for the heavy leaded exterior dome and the stone lantern at the top.   To provide additional support for the exterior dome, Wren designed a series of columns which create an open colonnade that encircles the base of the exterior dome allowing it to soar to the height of 95 feet, the columns also serve to support the inner dome and the brick cone located inside the building to support the Lantern section.  The 850 ton Lantern rises above the dome in several sections; the first section is square in shape, the second section is the tallest and is formed with four columns each facing in the direction the main points of a compass and the third section is topped with a small dome which rises into a golden ball and cross.  In 1708, Christopher Wren, Sr. was 76 years old and unable to place the final stone of the Lantern so it was done by his son Christopher Wren, Jr. who had also become an architect and assisted his father in the final stages of building St. Paul’s.  (Special Note: Several centuries later, in 1996 an extensive restoration project of St. Paul’s dome involving copper, lead and slate work and it took 15 years to complete and was finished in June 2011)

St Pauls - exterior 1

The West Front of St. Paul’s is considered the main entrance and has a columned portico which is topped by an upper columned colonnade; it is topped by the pediment which features a bas-relief sculpture known as the Conversion of St. Paul by Francis Bird.  Above the pediment is the statue of Saint Paul in the center with statues of Saint James and Saint Peter on either side.  Two Baroque-style bell towers, known as the West Towers, frame the portico on either side.  The southwest tower holds the clock known as “Big Tom”; made by John Smith and installed in 1893, the bell connected to the clock is known as “Great Tom”.  The northwest tower holds a set of 12 bells, the largest is known as the “Great Paul” bell originally cast in 1882, it the largest bell in England and weights almost 17 tons.

St Pauls - west front

Interior of St. Paul’s Cathedral –

As visitors enter St. Paul’s Cathedral they will see the 30 feet high Great West Door which is only opened for special occasions.  After passing through the vestibule, to the left is the Chapel of St. Dunstan dedicated to the former Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury and located near the northwest door is the All Soul’s Chapel dedicated to Field Marshal Lord Kitchener and all the British serviceman who lost their lives in World War I.  To the right is the Chapel of St. Michael and St. George and located near the southwest door is the Geometrical Staircase.  (Shown below is a photo of the Geometrical Staircase and it may look familiar to fans of the Harry Potter movies.  Check out the interesting facts sections below to find out more information!)

Located directly ahead is the Nave which is 223 feet long and 121 feet wide with a ceiling that soars to the height of 91 feet.  The black and white marble floor was laid by William Dickinson and completed in 1710.  Several piers decorated with Corinthian pilasters separate the Nave from the north and the south aisles.  Special Note: Located halfway down the north aisle is the Wellington Monument.  (More information about the Wellington Monument can be found in the interest facts section later in this post) 

Wellington Mounment

At the end of the Nave there is a wide area that bisects this part of the Cathedral forming a cross which was commonly used in the design of churches throughout the years, this area measures approximately 246 feet wide from the North Transept to the South Transept.  One item of note is located in the North Transept and it is the Italian marble baptismal Font which dates back to 1727.  Then, in the South Transept visitors can access two sets of stairs, one leads down into the Crypt and the other staircase allows visitors to climb to the Whispering Gallery for one of the best views of the Dome, there are 259 steps from the floor of the Nave to the Whispering Gallery.  For the more adventurous visitors, they can climb 117 steps further to the Stone Gallery which goes round the outside of the Dome and then an additional 166 steps to the Golden Gallery into the Lantern located at the top of the Dome.  (Shown below are two photos; the first is taken from the center of St. Paul’s looking back toward the Nave and the second is looking forward to the choir and the high altar)

Center - looking back at the NaveCenter - looking towards the nave

As visitors look down from the Whispering Gallery they will see the flooring of the Cathedral in the Transept area directly below the Dome, it is decorated with an intricate pattern made with colored marble ti

les.  At the center is a large brass grill which had an interesting function during the 19th century, it was used for heating St. Paul’s.  Stoves were lit in the Crypt area below the main floor and hot air would rise up through the metal grating and heat this area of St. Paul’s, other similar but small grates can be found in other areas of the Cathedral.  Circling the grate is a section of flooring with a Latin inscription which pays tribute to the builder of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Christopher Wren.  (Below is a photo of the Transept area as seen from the Whispering Gallery)

Whispering Gallery

From the Transept area of the Cathedral, visitors can look up to see the great Dome of St. Paul’s and at almost 65,000 tons it is one of the largest in the world.  The magnificent Dome of St. Paul’s raises high above the main floor of the Cathedral supported by eight piers made of Dorset stone with eight arches used to evenly disperse the weight of the massive dome, located within the niches are several statues.  The interior Dome features a beautiful fresco painting by James Thornhill which depicts eight scenes from the life of St. Paul; it was started in 1716 and completed three years later in 1719.  The upper area of the Dome is lit by openings in the outer Dome and the brick cones which are both used to support the weight of the interior Dome.  At the apex of the Dome is an oculus, a round opening, and through which visitors will be able to see the decorated interior cone that supports the Lantern.

St Pauls - dome

For this tour of St. Paul’s, we are going to take a side trip down into the Crypt which can be access through a staircase in the South Transept.  As visitors enter the Crypt, overhead is a carving that depicts the faces of death which is a grim reminder that this section of the Cathedral is a burial place.  The St. Paul’s Crypt is the largest one in Europe and visitors will find numerous tombs: such as those of Christopher Wren, the Duke of Wellington and Admiral Nelson.  In the farthest section of the Crypt is the Chapel of the Order of the British Empire and it was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1960.  Also located in the Crypt is the Treasury Room which displays some of the items that have been used within the Cathedral over the centuries and a small gift shop for those visitors wishing to buy souvenirs.

St Pauls - crypt

Back to the main floor of the Cathedral, we will continue the tour into eastern portion of the building where the Quire, the Choir, High Altar and the Apse are located.  The Quire forms the upper portion of the cross shape of the building and it is the most elaborately decorated area of the Cathedral.  As visitors proceed into the Quire, please be sure to look up to the beautiful ceiling which is a series of three smaller domes which depict creation and is created with intricate mosaics of birds, fishes, cattle and other animals of the earth. A frieze surrounding the ceiling of the Quire depicts Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with several more animals; such as tigers, lions, panthers and peacocks.

The Choir area of the Cathedral holds the beautiful carved organ and wooden stalls used by the clergy and the choir during the religious service.  The large organ located near the Transepts was commissioned with Bernard Smith and installed in 1695.  It is one of the largest organs in England with a console of five keyboards and there are 138 stops that operate 7,189 pipes, the working of the organ are enclosed in a wooden case designed by Wren and wonderfully carved by the famous Grinling Gibbons.  Also located in the Choir area is the brass eagle lectern made by Jacob Sutton in 1719 and on the other side is a carved oak pulpit which was installed in 1964 to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the completion of the Cathedral.  The Choir Stalls were also carved in oak by Grinling Gibbons and the Bishop’s Throne is decorated with carved wooden floral garlands, winged cherubs and the arms of the Bishop. 

St Pauls - organ

Located near the High Altar are the Tijou Gates and balustrades created in an intricate design of wrought iron by the French metal worker Jean Tijou.  The High Altar is based on original sketches by Wren and featured in this 20th century version is the beautifully carved slab of Italian marble that weighs nearly four tons and was commissioned by the British people after the previous one was damaged in the German Blitz, it is a memorial to those that lost their lives in World War II.  Placed on the High Altar is a large cross that stands nearly 10 feet tall with a silver enameled base embellished with amethyst and flanked by two five feet tall gilded candlesticks.  The High Altar is covered by a large carved oak canopy that was installed in 1958.  (Special Note: Located in the south Choir aisle in the Lady Chapel is a statue of poet John Donne which is the only item from the “Old St. Paul’s” that survived the Great Fire of 1666.  

altar Interesting facts about St. Paul’s Cathedral

  • “Borrow from Peter to pay Paul” – One explanation of this old English saying goes back to before King Henry VII broke ties with the Catholic Church of Rome to form the Church of England.  It is said that in order to pay the church taxes to St. Paul’s in London the funds were not paid to St. Peter’s in Rome.  Another explanation originated back to the 16th century when the money intended for St. Peter’s in Westminster was used to pay for repairs to St Paul’s in London.
  • Christopher Wren tomb – Sir Christopher Wren the English architect who designed St. Paul’s Cathedral is buried in the Crypt.  On the wall next to the grave there is a plaque written in Latin that reads: “Here in its foundations lies the architect of this church and city, Christopher Wren, who lived beyond ninety years, not for his own profit but for the public good. Reader, if you seek his monument – look around you. Died 25 Feb. 1723”.  This same epitaph is repeated in the flooring of the Transept area as previously mentioned.  (For more information about the personal and professional life of Sir Christopher Wren, please see the last section of this post)

St Pauls - Christopher Wren 1  St Pauls - Christopher Wren 2

  • Lord Horatio Nelson tomb – Lord Nelson (September 29, 1758 – October 21, 1805) Vice Admiral of the British Navy died heroically at the Battle of Trafalgar and he is buried in the center of the crypt directly beneath the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral.  His funeral procession had over 32 admirals and an escort of 10,000 servicemen who progressed through the streets of London to St. Paul’s, he was buried within a stone sarcophagus that was originally carved for Cardinal Wolsey.  The sailors that were in charge of folding the flag that covered Nelson’s coffin and then placing it in the grave instead tore it into fragments to keep as a memento.

St Pauls - Nelson

  • Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington tomb – Wellington (May 1, 1769 – September 14, 1852) the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom was given a state funeral which is normally reserved for British Royalty but on occasion a high ranking British subject can be given the honor.  It is said that almost 1 million people watched the Duke’s funeral procession to St Paul’s before he was interred in a luxulyanite (a type of granite) sarcophagus.  Wellington’s final resting place was decorated with banners from various European countries which were specially made for his funeral procession, during World War I the banner of Prussia was removed and never replaced.  Located between the Nave and the North Aisle of St Paul’s is a massive bronze and stone memorial was sculpted by Alfred Stevens and features at the top a figure of Wellington on his horse and farther before two sets of statues representing valor defeating cowardice, truth over falsehood.

St Pauls - Wellington

  • Sir Winston Churchill memorial – The State funeral for Sir Winston Churchill (November 30, 1874 – January 24, 1965) the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom was held at St Paul’s Cathedral on January 30, 1965, it was broadcast both on radio and television in England.  There is a bronze memorial plaque that marks the spot in St. Paul’s at the Quire steps where the catafalque was placed during the funeral service, it was designed by John Skelton.  There is also the Winston Churchill Memorial Screen located in the crypt, it was designed and made by the blacksmith James Horrobin in 2004.  Churchill’s final resting place is not within St. Paul’s but at St Martin’s Church in Bladon in Oxfordshire, England, located nearby is Churchill’s birthplace and ancestral home of Blenheim Palace.  (For more information about Blenheim Palace, please click on the link)

Churchill funeral 1a

  • 1981 Royal Wedding – Charles, Prince of Wales, married Lady Diana Spencer in a grand Royal Wedding on July 29 1981 at St Paul’s Cathedral, it became known as the “wedding of the century”.  Since it was the marriage of the heir to the British throne St. Paul’s was chosen as the venue instead of the Westminster Abbey because it would hold the 3,500 guests.  (For more information regarding the Royal wedding of Prince Charles and Diana the Princess of Wales, please click on the link to Royal Weddings – Part Four post)

Royal Wedding

  • Mary Poppins – St. Paul’s Cathedral was featured in several scenes in Disney’s 1964 film, “Mary Poppins”.  At the beginning of the movie, Mary Poppins is seen flying over the city of London and the beautiful dome of St. Paul’s designed by Wren is shown dominating the skyline. Then, in another scene, Mary Poppins holds a snow globe that features a miniature St. Paul’s Cathedral and she is about to tell the children the story of the Bird Woman who sells crumbs for “tuppence a bag”.  As she begins singing the song, “Feed the Birds”, the scene changes from the Bank’s house to the top of St. Paul’s and pans down the front of the church to the Bird Woman sitting on the steps surrounded by the birds she is feeding.  (For more information on Mary Poppins – the book, movie and play, please click on the link)

practicallyperfect  Mary-Poppins-St Pauls snowglobe
mary-poppins-feed-the-birds 1Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – The third movie in the Harry Potter series of films is the 2004 “Prisoner of Azkaban”.  The Warner Brother’s film features the Geometric Staircase which is located in the South West Bell Tower of St. Paul’s Cathedral.  In the movie, the students of Hogwart’s need to climb to the top of the “Divination Staircase” to gain access to Professor Trelawney’s Divination classroom.  (For more information about the Harry Potter book series, please click on the link to J.K. Rowling)

St. Pauls - Harry Potter Divination Stairwell

The Personal and Professional Life of Sir Christopher Wren

Christopher Wren (October 20, 1632 – February 25, 1723) the acclaimed architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral also designed the Royal Naval College at Greenwich and a portion of Hampton Court Palace as well as overseeing the rebuilding of 52 churches in London after the Great Fire of 1666.


Christopher Wren was born in East Knoyle in Wiltshire, England.  His father, Christopher Wren Sr., was a rector in East Knoyle and his mother was Mary Cox who died when Wren was a small boy.  In March 1635, Wren Sr. became the Dean of Windsor and they spent part of each year there.  Little is known about Wren’s early education except that he was tutored by Rev. William Shepherd and possibly attended the Westminster School, he also studied mathematics under the guidance of his brother-in-law, Dr. William Holder.

In June 1650, Wren entered Wadham College in Oxford where he studied a variety of subjects such as Latin, mathematics and science. Wren graduated in 1651 with a B.A. and a M.A. in 1653.  In 1657, Wren became a Professor of Astronomy at Gresham College located in London and later a Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford.  Wren also continued to meet with a group of mathematics, scientists and philosophers that he had meet through his association with John Wilkins, the Warden of Wadham College.  By 1660, these weekly meetings eventually evolved into the beginning of the Royal Society of London and in 1662 they were granted a royal charter by King Charles II.  Wren played an important role in the early years of the organization due to his expertise on a variety of subjects (ranging from general medicine, astronomy, meteorology and mechanics) which was helpful in motivating the exchange of ideas between the various groups of scientists.

Wren had been developing an interest in architecture as a form of applied mathematics since his years as a student in Oxford.  Then in 1661, through his connection with the Royal Society, King Charles II became aware of Wren’s work and he requested his advice on the extensive repairs that St. Paul’s Cathedral required after many years of neglect.  Coincidentally, during a trip to Paris, France in 1665, Wren became inspired by the works of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the famous Italian architect of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City.  It was shortly after returning home from Paris that the city of London was almost entirely destroyed by the Great Fire of September 1666.  Wren was appointed by the King to oversee the rebuilding of 51 churches and one of those was the great St. Paul’s Cathedral.

In regards to Wren’s architectural career, St. Paul’s Cathedral took about 36 years from the start of the rebuilding in 1667 to its completion in 1711.  Wren left the teaching profession and was now a fully established architect.  Other major architectural commissions included the Royal Observatory in Greenwich (1675-76), the Wren Library at Trinity College in Cambridge (1676-84), the Chelsea Hospital (1682-92) the reconstruction of the state rooms at Windsor Castle, a new chapel and Queen’s apartments at Whitehall (1685-87), various rooms at Kensington Palace (1689-96) and a large addition to Hampton Court (1689-1700).  In addition, Wren was appointed Surveyor the Greenwich Naval Hospital in 1696 and the Surveyor of Westminster Abbey in 1698.

On a personal note, Wren waited until the age of 37 before he married Faith Coghill in 1669, they had two children.  Gilbert was born in 1672 but died at the age of 18 months old and Christopher was born in 1675 but sadly later that same year Faith died of smallpox.  Christopher was sent to live with Faith’s mother in Oxfordshire for a period of time.  Then, in 1677 Wren married Jane Fitzwilliam and they had two children, a daughter named Jane born in 1677 and died in 1702 and a son William born in 1679.  His second marriage was also very brief and Jane died of tuberculosis in 1680.  In lieu of salary owed for part of his work on the building of St. Paul’s, Wren was given a home near Hampton Court and he also leased a house located on St. James Street in London.  Wren died at the age of ninety-one at his home in London and he is buried in the crypt of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Travel – St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle

St George's Chapel - exterior south side

In Part One of the Travel post series on Windsor Castle, I discussed the history of the Castle, which dates back over 1000 years to when it was built shortly after the Norman Conquest.  In Part Two, I discussed the architecture of the main buildings and gave a short tour of some of the rooms inside the castle and the surrounding grounds of Windsor Great Park.

In this post, I will discuss in more detail St. George’s Chapel which is located in the Lower Ward of Windsor Castle.  St. George’s Chapel is dedicated to the patron saint of the Order of the Carter, which was an organization first established by King Edward III in 1348.  The Order is the oldest British order of chivalry and St. George’s Chapel is where the traditional Garter ceremony takes place every June.  (For more information on the history of the Order of the Garter and the ceremony, please click on the link)

A Brief History of St. George’s Chapel  

Located in the Lower Ward of Windsor Castle, the Chapel of St. Edward the Confessor had been originally built during the reign of King Henry III (1216-1272).  Then in 1348, King Edward III (1327-1377) established the Order of the Garter, St. George is the patron saint of the order.  Ultimately by 1475, King Edward IV (1461-1483) decided that Windsor Castle would be the headquarters of the order and he requested that the Chapel of St. Edward the Confessor be expanded for this purpose and be renovated in a grand style to reflect the prestige of the order.

From the period of 1475 to 1528 St. George’s Chapel was built over the reign of several British Monarchs, starting with King Edward IV, King Henry VII and Henry VIII.  The original Chapel of St. Edward the Confessor was enlarged and rededicated to become St. George’s Chapel.  In 1483 construction on the Chapel’s Nave began and it was not completed until 1509.  Meanwhile, the large stained glass West Window was completed in 1506.  Finally in 1528 the stone fan vaulting was installed on the Chapel ceiling.

During the time of the English Civil Wars (1642-1651) between the Parliamentarians and the Royalists, Windsor Castle and in particular St. George’s Chapel were severely damaged.  As a result of the Parliamentarian victory at the Battle of Worcester in September 1651, King Charles I was removed from power and executed, his son was exiled and Oliver Cromwell oversaw the government of the newly formed Commonwealth of England.  Eventually Charles II returned and was proclaimed King in May 1660.  With these government issues finally settled a period known as the Restoration began and as a result the damage to Windsor Castle and St. George’s Chapel could be repaired.

Until the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) St. George’s Chapel remained relatively unchanged for hundreds of years.  Then, significant alterations were made to the architecture of the east end of the Chapel in the years following the 1861 death of Prince Albert, the beloved husband of Queen Victoria.  In tribute to the Prince, George Gilbert Scott received the commission to create a royal mausoleum was built underneath the Lady Chapel and became known as the Albert Memorial Chapel.

In fact, St. George’s Chapel throughout the years has become the final resting place of several monarchs who are buried beside with their consorts – King Edward IV, King Henry VIII and his third wife Jane Seymour, King Charles I, King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, King George V and Queen Mary, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to name just a few.

A tour of St. George’s Chapel

Before entering St. George’s Chapel, take a look at the top portion of the building.  Located on the roof are heraldic statues which represent the Queen’s Beasts.  The original Beasts date back to the sixteenth century but were removed in 1682 when Sir Christopher Wren felt that the statues detracted from the aesthetic appeal of the Chapel exterior architecture.  In 1925, when the Chapel was undergoing restoration, the current statues were placed on the top portion of the building.  There are fourteen different animals which were used as heraldic symbols dating back to centuries long ago: the lion of England, the red dragon of Wales, the panther of Jane Seymour, the falcon of York, the black bull of Clarence, the yale (a mythical horned creature) of Beaufort, the white lion of Mortimer, the greyhound of Richmond, the white hart (a type of deer) of King Richard II, the silver antelope of Bouhn, the black dragon of Ulster, the white swan of Hereford, the unicorn of King Edward III and the golden hind (a type of deer) of Kent.

St George's Chapel - beasts

St. George’s Chapel is an excellent example of Perpendicular Gothic architecture.  The Chapel design features large windows which allowed light into the interior and tall narrow columns which add an element of elegance.  Visitors access the interior of the Chapel through a side door near the Chantry Bookshop and proceed into the Nave.  Visitor Tip:  When standing in the Nave, be sure to look up to see the beautiful stone vaulted ceiling.  There are 463 bosses (a projecting medallion which conceals the joints were the ribs of the vault meet) and some represent the arms of the Sovereign and Knights of the Garter while others are the Tudor red and white roses.  Beneath the upper or clerestory windows look for a continuous frieze that encircles the entire chapel and features 250 carved angels.

St Georges Chapel - Nave    

Above the Main entrance to St. George’s Chapel is the West Window which is said to be England’s third largest stained-glass window.  The West Window measures 30 feet high and 29 feet wide and was original installed in the early 1500s.  In 1842, Thomas Willement reconstructed the window and it was once again altered in the 1920s when the Chapel underwent a major restoration project.  Each time the window was reconfigured and new figures were added and today there are seventy-five which represent kings, princes, popes and saints.

After visitors have finished looking at the West Window, to the right are two interesting historical statues.  The first one is located in the Urswick Chantry and is a large sculpture by Matthew Wyatt which is a lasting memorial to Princess Charlotte.   Princess Charlotte was the only child of King George IV and she was the heiress presumptive to the throne of England.  The popular Princess had happily married the handsome Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg.  Sadly, the twenty-one year old Princess Charlotte died giving birth to a still-born child in 1817.  Royal Note:  With Princess Charlotte’s death, the future of the monarchy came into question and the brothers of King George IV scrambled to marry and produce the new heir to the throne to continue the line of succession.  As a result, Princess Victoria went onto to ultimately become Queen Victoria with her accession to the throne in 1837 at the age of eighteen.

Princess Charlotte Memorial 2

Located near the Princess Charlotte Memorial is the statue of King Leopold I created by the sculptor J.E. Boehm.  Prince Leopold was the husband of Princess Charlotte and after her death he later went on to become the first King of the Belgium.  He is also noted as the beloved uncle of both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert; he served as adviser to the Queen throughout her early reign.

Located not far from the previous two statues, visitors will see the tombs of several Sovereigns who have their final resting place in St. George’s Chapel.  Located near the West Door is the tomb of King George V and Queen Mary; their effigies were sculpted by Sir William Reid Dick in 1939.  King George V was born on June 3, 1865 and he reigned from 1910 until his death on January 20, 1936.  Queen Mary (former Princess Mary of Teck) was born on May 26, 1867 and she died on March 24, 1953.

St Georges Chapel - King George V and Queen Mary 2

Moving further down the Nave on the North side of the building, visitors will come upon the George VI Chapel which was the first structural addition to St. George’s Chapel since the 1500s.  The architect was George Pace who designed this fairly small area and it is the final resting place of King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and their daughter, Princess Margaret.  King George VI (former Prince Albert, Duke of York) was born December 14, 1895 and he reigned from 1936 until his death on February 6, 1952.  Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (former Elizabeth Bowes-Lyons) was born on August 4, 1900 and she died on March 30, 2002.  Their daughter, Princess Margaret died on February 9, 2002 just a few weeks prior to the Queen Mother’s death and her ashes were interred at the same time.

Tomb of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth 1

The area above the Nave of St. George’s Chapel is the Choir and Chancel (the part of a church near the altar, reserved for the clergy and choir, and typically separated from the nave by steps or a screen).  The Choir features carved oak stalls with tall canopies.  To the back of each stall is brass plate which identifies each individual Knight of the Order of the Garter by name.  The Order is the oldest British order of chivalry which was an organization first established by King Edward III in 1348.  Also, above each stall is the heraldic banner of the Knight along with a sword and crest or helmet, coronet or crown. The Sovereign’s Stall which is used by Queen Elizabeth II when she attends services at St. George’s Chapel, in particular in June on Garter Day, is located in the section of the Choir closest to the Nave.  Interesting Fact: The oldest stall plate circa 1390 is of Lord Basset and throughout the centuries there have been over 900 Knights of the Garter but only 670 stall plates still exist.

St George's Chapel - choir 1St George's Chapel - choir

In the Quire of St. George’s Chapel, between the Choir stalls and the altar is the Royal Vault which is the final resting place of four Sovereigns; King George III who died in 1820, King George IV who died in 1830 and King William IV who died in 1837.  A short distance away is the burial vault of two more Sovereigns; King Henry VIII who died in 1547, his third wife Jane Seymour died in 1537 and King Charles I who died in 1649.

Burial Vault of King Henry VIII and King Charles I at St. George's Chapel

Behind the altar of St. George’s Chapel is the East Window which was made by Clayton and Bell and was first unveiled on the occasion of the wedding of the Prince Albert, the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra in 1863.  The large stained-glass window theme is the Incarnation with scenes from the Nativity and the Resurrection.  Below the window are fourteen wooden panels commissioned as a memorial to Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, who died in 1861 and depicts various moments from both his public and private life.

At the north east corner of the Chapel is the final resting place of two more Sovereigns.  The tomb of King Edward IV who died in 1483 and a short distance away is tomb of King Henry VI who died in 1471, first buried in Chertsey Abbey located in Surrey and in 1484 his body was brought to St. George’s Chapel and re-interred.

On the opposite side of the altar, on the south side of the building is the tomb of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.  King Edward VII (former Prince Albert the Prince of Wales) was born November 9, 1841 and reigned from 1901 until his death on May 6, 1910.  Queen Alexandra (former Princess Alexandra of Denmark) was born on December 1, 1844 and died on November 20, 1925.

St George's Chapel - King Edward Vii and Queen Alexandra tomb 2

One of the final stops on the tour of St. George’s Chapel is the Albert Memorial Chapel.  The original chapel was built in 1240 and continued to be altered throughout the following centuries.  Then, after the death of the husband of Queen Victoria, the site was redesigned and rededicated to become the Albert Memorial Chapel.

    Albert Memorial Chapel 1

St. George’s Chapel has been the site of the several Royal events, most notably the annual Garter Ceremony held in every June.  Several other important events for the British Royal family have also taken place in recent years.  In 1999, Prince Edward, the third son of Queen Elizabeth II, and Sophie Rhys-Jones were married in St. George’s Chapel followed by a grand reception in Windsor Castle.  In 2002, the funeral of Princess Margaret, the sister of Queen Elizabeth, took place at the Chapel and later that same year Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was buried beside her husband, King George VI.  In 2005 the dedication and prayer service of Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles, the Duchess of Cornwall was held at the Chapel after they were officially married in a civil ceremony at the Windsor Guildhall.

Travel Note:  If you are planning a trip to England and a visit to Windsor Castle and St. George’s Chapel, please click on the for more information.

For visitors to Windsor Castle, St. George’s Chapel is included in the admission price.  When entering the Chapel, please be respectful and observe the posted rules.  Also, please be advised that on Sundays the Chapel is closed to visitors for religious services that are held throughout the day.

Travel – Clarence House

Clarence House - exterior 2 south front

Clarence House has been the royal residence of many members of the British Royal Family throughout the last 170 years.  In this post I will discuss the history of the Clarence House and the famous royal family members that have lived there.  I will also discuss the building’s exterior architecture and the interior design throughout the years and give a brief tour of some of the rooms of the first floor of Clarence House.

The History of Clarence House

Clarence House is located in the City of Westminster and is adjacent to St. James Palace.  It was commissioned by the Prince William, Duke of Clarence, designed by John Nash and built between 1825 and 1827.  After the death of his brother, King George IV, Buckingham Palace was still under construction and the new King William IV decided he preferred his home at Clarence House and remained there until his death in 1837.  (Royal Note: When the House of Parliament was severely damaged by a fire in 1834, King William offered Buckingham Palace as its new location but the offer was declined)

Clarence House - engraving 1874

After the death of King William, Princess Augusta, his unmarried sister moved into Clarence House and lived there until her own death in 1840.  The next royal family member to make Clarence House their home was Victoria the Duchess of Kent, she was the mother of Queen Victoria and she lived there from 1841 to 1861.

After the death of the Duchess of Kent, Clarence House remained vacant for five years until the Victoria’s second son, Prince Alfred the Duke of Edinburgh moved there in 1866.  Over the next 40 years he was frequently gone because he was traveling the world with the British Navy or making Royal visits as the Queen’s representative in foreign countries.  During that time he married the Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna, the daughter of Alexander II the Tsar of Russia, in 1874 and Clarence House was renovated and decorated in a more lavish and grand style.  Then in 1893, Prince Alfred became the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and moved his family to Germany but he retained Clarence House for his personal use on his visits back to England until his death in 1900.  (Royal Note: Prince Alfred inherited the title from his uncle, Duke Ernest, who was the older brother of Prince Albert, his father)

After the death of Prince Alfred, Queen Victoria’s third son, Prince Arthur the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn moved into Clarence House and it became his London residence.  Prince Arthur was frequently gone because of his extended overseas duties with the British Army in both India and Canada; he also served as Governor-General of Canada from 1911 to 1916.  Eventually Prince Arthur returned to England after his world travels and he lived at Clarence House until his death in 1942.

With the death of Prince Arthur and the onset World War II, Clarence House served another purpose other than a royal residence and during the war it was used by the British Red Cross Headquarters with over two hundred staff members of the Foreign Relations Department who worked on behalf of the British prisoners of war held overseas.

After the war, Clarence House was in need of extensive repairs because the building had sustained some damage during the German bombing raids on London and the surrounding area.  When the renovations were completed Princess Elizabeth and her new husband, Prince Phillip the Duke of Edinburgh moved into Clarence House in 1949 and they lived there during the early years of their marriage.  In 1953, after the death of her father, King George VI, the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth moved from Clarence House to Buckingham Palace with her husband and two small children.  (Royal Note: Prince Charles was just a toddler when his parents moved into Clarence House and his sister, Princess Anne was actually born there on August 15, 1950)

Clarence House - Royal family

After the death of her husband, King George, the dowager Queen now known as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and her daughter Princess Margaret moved from the Buckingham Palace and into Clarence House.  In 1960, after Princess Margaret married Antony Armstrong-Jones the royal couple moved into Kensington Palace.  The Queen Mother remained at Clarence House as the sole resident but surrounded by her loving and devoted staff of servants.  The Queen Mother loved to lavishly entertain and she enjoyed tea parties and formal dinners which many foreign Heads of State and famous celebrities attended throughout the years.  (Royal Note: One important guest that stayed at Clarence House was Princess Diana and prior to her engagement announcement to Prince Charles she moved in and stayed with the Queen Mother until her wedding day in 1981)

Clarence House - Queen Mother and Princess Margaret 1954

But perhaps one of the most famous events in recent years was the Queen Mother’s annual birthday appearances at the gates of Clarence House on Stable Yard Road to greet the public.  This tradition started for her 70th birthday in 1970 and continued until 2001 for her 101th birthday, the beloved Queen Mother died in 2002.

Clarence House - Queen Mother at  birthday gate

Currently Clarence House is the official London residence of Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.  After the death of their mother, Princess Diana, in 1977 her sons split their time between their father’s house, Highgrove, near Tetbury in Gloucestershire and then later at Clarence House.  Prince William lived at Clarence House from 2003 until his marriage to Kate Middleton in 2011 and Prince Harry lived there from 2003 until 2012 when he also moved to Kensington Palace.  (Royal Note: When Prince William moved out of Clarence House after his marriage he moved into the same apartment at Kensington Palace that Princess Margaret once occupied until her death in 2002.  It is believed that the Prince decided that his mother’s, Princess Diana, former apartment at Kensington Palace held too many memories and it would be too bittersweet to return to his childhood home).

The Architecture and Interior Design of Clarence House

Clarence House was built next to St. James Palace and it was the preferred residence of King William IV.  He commissioned the architect John Nash to design the building while he was still the Duke of Clarence and it was completed in 1827.  Throughout the years, Clarence House has seen many changes and alterations by the various members of the royal family that have lived in the house and bears little resemblance to the original building that Nash designed.  At the time that the Duke of Clarence moved into the building it was a three-story structure that was constructed on a corner lot located on the south-west side of St. James Palace with the main entrance facing Stable Yard Road.  The Duchess of Clarence decorated the interior of their new home in a refined style and it was very simple when compared to St. James Palace or later the luxurious Buckingham Palace.

The next resident to make significant changes to Clarence House was Prince Alfred, the second son of Queen Victoria.  When the Duke of Edinburgh married the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia in 1874 he had Clarence House enlarged and redecorated.  He had a fourth-story added to the structure and the main entrance was relocated to the south side of the building and featured Doric columns.  A Russian Orthodox chapel was also added on the first floor for his wife.

Clarence House - Russian Orthodox Temple

After the death of Prince Alfred, his brother Prince Arthur moved into Clarence House.  When he married Princess Louise of Prussia the rooms were renovated with oak paneling and plaster molding and decorated in a distinct Victorian style with overstuffed furnishings and numerous items gathered by the Prince during his world travels, there is documentation listing over 400 pieces of oriental porcelain, bronze and jade figurines belonging to the Prince.

Then, after the death of Prince Arthur, Clarence House was used as the headquarters of the Red Cross during World War II and many of the rooms were altered to accommodate over 200 workers.  When the war ended the building needed to be reconstructed and the exterior was completely redone because it had been severely damaged during the German bombing of London.

By 1949, Clarence House became the home of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip.  After their 1947 wedding it took two years to complete renovations to the building before they could move in.  Despite the fact that Princess Elizabeth was the eldest daughter of King George VI and heir to the throne, their home was very simple and elegantly decorated.  The royal couple enjoyed their time in Clarence House and lived quietly there for only a few years until King George died after a lengthy illness.  The new Queen Elizabeth II moved into Buckingham Palace with her husband and two small children.

At that time, the decision was made that the Queen Mother and her youngest daughter Princess Margaret would move from Buckingham Palace and into the Clarence House but before that could happen the interior rooms needed to be refurbished and the building needed to be completely rewired.  When the house was redecorated the Queen Mother furnished the rooms with her large collection of important British artwork and wonderful decorative items such as Faberge and beautiful English porcelain and silver pieces.

Over the next 70 years, Clarence House was the site for many of the Queen Mother’s official and private dinners and afternoon teas.  The table was always set with beautiful china and polished silver which made the perfect setting for deliciously prepared meals and best wines were served.  Foreign Heads of State who would customary see the dowager Queen at the start of their State Visit to England and the Queen Mother also entertained an eclectic mix of famous celebrities and ordinary citizens from the her various charities.

When the Queen Mother died in 2002, Clarence House became the official London residence of her grandson Prince Charles.  Before the Prince of Wales and his wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall could move into the house it took almost a year to complete the extensive renovations and redecorations.  As a tribute to his beloved grandmother, the Prince retained the basic color schemes of the rooms and positioned some of the Queen Mother’s furnishings back to their original placement in the rooms.  He also used numerous pieces from the Queen Mother’s art collection combined with his own personal collection.

A Brief Tour of Clarence House

Clarence House is open to the public only during two months each summer and visitors can take a guided tour which includes several rooms on the ground floor.  The tour starts with a walk through the garden and through the famous “Queen Mother’s Birthday” gate and then into Clarence House.

General view of Clarence House

Once inside Clarence House visitors will be in the Entrance Hall and then they will proceed into the Lancaster Room which is normally used as a reception room for the personal guests of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.  The room was given the name because the people of Lancaster generously gifted money to Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh for their wedding in 1947 and the funds were used to decorate and furnish this room of Clarence House.

Clarence House - Entrance Hall Clarence House - Lancaster Room

The Morning Room is located on the other side of the Entrance Hall and is currently used by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall when they entertain their guests.  The Morning Room was the Queen Mother’s favorite room when she lived in Clarence House and Prince Charles chose to decorate it with several of his grandmother’s personal items, such as her collection of Royal Anchor Chelsea porcelain.  Two paintings of important historical significance displayed in this room are of two former residents of Clarence House.  The first is a small portrait set on the fireplace mantel which shows the Queen Mother in 1908 when she was simply known as Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon.  The second one is the first official portrait of a seven year old Princess Elizabeth now known as Queen Elizabeth II and the daughter of the Queen Mother and the mother of Prince Charles.

 Clarence House - Morning Room 2    Photographer: Christopher Simon Sykes

The Morning Room is customarily used for official portraits taken on special occasions, such as 2012 when Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip posed with their sons and daughters for their 65th wedding anniversary and in 2013 for Prince George’s christening.  (Royal Note: The Chippendale gilded sofa that is seen in both photos is part of a set of two sofas and two bergeres chairs dating back to 1773 and originally commissioned by the Duke of Gloucester)

Clarence House - Morning Room - Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillips 65th wedding anniversary    

The Library is located adjacent to the Morning Room and hung on the wall, on either side of the double door entrance, are portraits of the Prince’s grandmother and mother.  Both paintings are by the Russian artist Savely Sorine, the first was done in 1923 and captures the Queen Mother at the age of twenty-three when she was the Duchess of York and the second was done in 1948 and shows Queen Elizabeth II at the age of twenty-two.

Clarence House - Library 2    Clarence House - Library 1

Another set of double doors lead from the Library into the Dining Room.  The dining table is set for a formal dinner with lovely china, beautiful crystal glasses and silverware.  A portrait of the Queen Mother is hung above the fireplace as another tribute to Clarence House’s most famous resident; the portrait remains unfinished because of the onset of World War II.  (Royal Note: When the Queen Mother dined she sat in the middle chair with her back to the fireplace and if Prince Charles was present he sat directly across from her.  Today the Prince retains that tradition and sits in the middle of the table facing the portrait of the Queen Mother)

Clarence House - Dining Room

The final room of the tour is the Garden Room which is said to be Prince Charles favorite room and is filled with his personal items gathered from his world travels.  Some notable items in the room are a large tapestry formerly owned by Napoleon III that the Prince acquired in France and a Welsh harp representing the Prince’s close ties with Wales.  Positioned in a prominent place in the room is a Chinese lacquer writing desk that originally belonged to Queen Mary, the piece was made in the 1700s in Germany.  (Royal Note:  Another treasured item that once belonged to the Queen Mother is a signed copy of “The Noel Coward Song Book”, the playwright was a personal friend)

This concludes the tour of Clarence House and visitors will proceed back down the corridor to the Entrance Hall and exit back into the garden.

For more information about the longest resident of Clarence House, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, please click on the link.  For information about two of the other royal residences in London, Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace, please click on the links.

Travel – Tower of London (Part One)

Tower of London - panorama

One of the most memorable sites we visited during our visit to London in 1998 was the historic Tower of London.  There are so many interesting and dramatic stories about this well-known royal palace, military fortress and former prison.  In this post I will discuss the origins of the Tower including the different buildings located within the Tower walls and their varied history over the past centuries.  In the second post, Tower of London – Part Two, I will discuss the history of the Jewel House which holds the famous Crown Jewels of England, the legend of Tower ravens and the duties of the Yeoman Warders.

A brief history of the Tower of London

The Tower of London, officially known as Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress, is located on the north bank of the River Thames near central London, England.  The Tower has been an important location and was originally intended as the royal palace for the reigning monarch and was built as a fortress against invading forces.  During the centuries the Tower functioned as a treasury and Royal Mint, an armory, a public records office and a secure place for the Crown Jewels of England.  The Tower of London was also used as a prison and according to historic records it is said that some of the prisoners were very important and high ranking people, such as Sir Walter Raleigh and Princess Elizabeth who would later become Queen Elizabeth I.  The Tower was also the site of many executions; some of those people executed were Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey but the most recent execution was during World War II when the German spy Josef Jakobs was killed by a firing squad.

In 1066, the site of the current Tower of London was founded during the Norman Conquest by the aptly named William the Conqueror.  William set out to build several castles and fortresses throughout England as a line defense from invading forces.  In 1078, the construction of the White Tower was started and when it was completed 20 years later the vast size and height of the castle dominated the surrounding city of London and for this reason it became known as the Tower of London.

Currently, the Tower of London covers 12 acres and is laid out in a series of three enclosures or wards with an additional 6 acres surrounding the area outside the walls.  The inner ward was built during the reign of King Richard the Lionheart and it is the area where the main buildings, such as the White Tower, are located.  The outer ward that surrounds the entire castle was built during the reign of King Edward I and the layout of the grounds has basically remained the same since that time with very little changes.  These multiple enclosures of the castle were meant to protect the Tower in the case of an attack and it proved a formidable line of defense.  In addition to those fortifications, a ditch was dug and filled with water to create a moat and 21 additional towers were added over time to provide increased protection.

Surprisingly, the Tower has also been the home of some very interesting animals.  During the reign of King Henry III, there was a Royal Menagerie that included exotic animals such as an elephant, lions, leopards and a polar bear that attracted the public’s attention when it would occasionally be released to go “fishing” in the Thames.  By the late 1800s, before the animals were relocated, the Tower held over 280 animals of 60 different species.  One of the most famous animals associated with the Tower are the large black ravens and for more information about the legend of how they came to be held there, please see the Tower of London – Part Two post.

Tower of London - map

Things to see and do at the Tower of London

The White Tower –

The White Tower was one of the strongest of the Norman fortresses and measured 118 feet by 105 feet at the base and rose to a height of 90 feet, not including the corner towers.  In the traditional style of a Norman keep, the White Tower’s northern side was built into an existing mound and the building entrance was accessed from a wooden staircase that could be removed in the event of an enemy attack.  On the west corners of the building there are square towers, on the north corner there is a round tower with a spiral staircase that ascends to the upper floors and on the south corner there is a large semi-circular section where the St. John’s Chapel is located.   Since the castle was meant to be a royal residence with additional comforts “fit for a king”, four fireplaces were added to provide warmth and latrines were built into the walls.

     White Tower

St. John’s Chapel (located in the White Tower) –

The St. John’s Chapel is located in the southern section of the White Tower on the second floor.  The chapel is a wonderful example of Norman architecture constructed with imported stone from France, there is a vaulted nave and round piers that support simple arches with carved scallop and leaf designs and behind the altar are beautiful stained glass windows that depict the Virgin Mary and the Holy Trinity.  Much later, in a windowless recess in the chapel crypt in the north wall, there was a secured room designed for the safekeeping of the royal treasures and important documents.  Today the St. John’s Chapel is still used for various services held throughout the year.

Tower of London - St. John's Chapel

Line of Kings Exhibit (located in the White Tower) –

For over 400 years, visitors to the Tower of London have come to see a wonderful display called the Line of Kings Exhibit which features royal armor and arms with full-sized wooden horses and the figures representing the Kings of England over the past centuries. The display has been changed several times since it was first put on exhibit after the Restoration.

Today, many of the wooden horses on display are over 325 years old and the exhibit shows the armors of several kings, including those of King Charles I and King James II.  An interesting display case shows two contrasting suits of armor, one of a “giant” and the other a “dwarf”.  But the centerpiece of the Line of King exhibit is the impressive armor of King Henry VIII.

Armor of King Henry VIII    Line of Kings exhibtion

St. Thomas Tower –

The function of the St. Thomas Tower has changed over the past centuries; it was originally intended as a royal residence for King Edward I but it was also used later as a place to hold prisoners.   The St. Thomas Tower was built in the late 1270s and is known as the Medieval Palace of the Tower.  Now, when visitors come to tour the Tower they will see a recreation of the bedchamber of King Edward I.  During the process of researching the recreation of the room design, historians tried to be as accurate as possible.  King Edward was known to travel across the country from one palace to another, so for his comfort the bedroom was made to travel with him.  The large four-poster bed, required because he was an unusually tall man for that time at 6 ft. 2 in., could be taken apart and re-assembled at the different locations.  In addition to the bed, the raised platform or dais, the curtains and other furnishings could easily be transported by cart from place to place.

St Thomas Tower    King Edward I bedchamber

Located below the St. Thomas Tower is a stone archway with a double gate that became known as the Traitor’s Gate.  This is the famous entrance from the River Thames into the Tower and it was the place that many prisoners were brought through when they were incarcerated within the Tower.

Tower of London - Traitor's Gate 1

The Bloody Tower –

At the time that this Tower was built by King Henry II in the mid-1200s it was originally intended as another line of defense for the castle and it was named the Garden Tower since the views from the upper floors looked out onto a garden area.  During the centuries the purpose of the building was changed and it later used to hold prisoners and because of the cruel events that are believed to have occurred there it was given the name of the Bloody Tower.

Bloody Tower

One of the earliest prisoners to this tower was Sir Walter Raleigh, he was held here during his long imprisonment and the lower portion of the tower is currently furnished as it would have appeared during that time.  On the upper floors there is a display telling the story of the two “Little Princes” of the Tower and their mysterious disappearance and possible murder.  After the death of King Edward IV, the next in line to the throne was the 12 year old Prince Edward.  Since he was too young to rule, he and his brother, 9 year old Prince Richard, were put under the “protection” of their uncle the Duke of Gloucester.  Sadly, the two princes were last seen in June 1483 at the Tower of London and been speculated that they were murdered by suffocation.  Coincidently(?) their uncle went on to become King Richard III but it is widely thought that he was ultimately responsible for the death of the two young princes.

Tower Green  –

Tower Green was said to be the historic site of the execution of two queen consorts of England, they were Anne Boleyn the second wife of Henry VIII and Catherine Howard the fifth wife of Henry VIII. Normally executions were performed outside the Tower of London on the nearby Tower Hill so as to accommodate large crowds.  The “privilege” of being beheaded in the privacy of Tower Green was in accordance with a higher ranking person so as to avoid the insults of the crowds and to die with dignity.  At the time of our visit in 1998, there was only a small area in the middle of the Green paved with granite bricks as ordered by Queen Victoria to mark the place of the execution scaffold and a small plaque that was added later with the names of the people who had died on or near the spot.  In 2006, a new contemporary memorial created by artist Bryan Catling was erected; it takes the form of a glass pillow resting on two polished disks, one disk is made of glass featuring the names of ten people (seven historically famous people and three soldiers that died on Tower Green) and the other disk is made of granite featuring a special remembrance poem.

Memorial at the scaffold site - Tower of London

TRAVEL NOTE:  When visiting the Tower of London, I would definitely recommend the free one hour tour given by a Yeoman Warder guide.  These tours are an excellent way to learn the history of the Tower, but they are also surprising entertaining and humorous despite the serious topics of imprisonment, execution and torture.

For more information, such as hours of operation and admission cost for the Tower of London, please see their website at