Tower of London: Roll Up, Roll Up

Posted: March 17, 2014


I’ve always had an inexplicable fascination with the British monarchy. I am by no means a royalist and have no real political standpoint. Perhaps it is the loosely factual television dramas and documentaries on the subject that have captured my imagination, or perhaps it is a world completely removed from my own that attracts me. Either way, I thought it only right to explore further. So, on the hottest day of the year so far, instead of joining the mass exodus for the beaches and beer gardens, I took myself off to the Tower of London for a butcher’s.

As I queued for my ticket, I had déjà vu of a previous visit to Alton Towers and was surprised not to be greeted by a turnstile and a hand stamp after I passed the security check. Passing the shamefully desecrated front lawn – previously an ice skating rink on which I admittedly shuffled on - I heard the clinking of shackles from inside the Tower walls. At first, I thought my imagination was playing tricks but alas this was a rather tacky attempt to recreate the glory days.

Suddenly swallowed by an imposing snap happy crowd, I was catapulted back into the 21st century. Their leader was a famous Beefeater, formerly a guard responsible for supervising prisoners and protecting the Crown jewels. Now of course, attired in replica outfits, they provide interesting facts to the paying public with a few murder jokes thrown in for good measure - I heard a rupture of laughter fill the air in response to “let’s beheading off”. I wondered if such frivolity would have gone down so well in the Tower’s heyday.

A Beefeater entertaining the crowds

Although the many information points and guided tours offered knowledge of the building and its history, I wanted to delve deeper. Avoiding the bombarded Beefeaters - who seemed to exist mainly for novel photo opportunities - and oddly placed ‘traditional’ fish and chip hatches, I ventured to the theme park’s gift shop. Employees Danny and Myriam seemed quite excited to indulge my wonderings as if I was a rarity, and proceeded to reveal the underbelly of the Tower.

Much to my surprise, the Tower is actually a functioning village, which includes two chapels, a chaplain, a doctor, and a Beefeaters pub (unrelated to the ubiquitous chain) alongside all of the Beefeaters’ family homes. There was even a christening happening that day, which seemed rather ill-placed considering the Kray twins were imprisoned here only 60 years ago. Danny divulged many more golden nuggets, one most surprisingly involving a ghost bear, which I know would be happily shared if you have a thirst for more than just a scripted tour.

Walking through the numerous towers and along the Wall Walks, the landmark’s historical significance surprisingly failed to affect me. Normally I would envisage Elizabeth I ordering her maids to fetch wine, or Anne Boleyn arriving at Traitor’s Gate, fearing for her life. Instead I spent my energy battling through the crowd of wannabe photographers coerced by the age of social media, desperate to show everyone that they’re living life to the full. Surely life isn’t about parading yourself, but getting under the skin of things, learning what has truly shaped the life that you now live.

Ye Olde Fish & Chips

However, I fear I am merely a disgruntled Londoner and that the truly impressive nature of this historic site has not been conveyed. In reality, the Beefeaters aren’t merely sideshow attractions, but highly trained army men with 22 years service under their belt. The grounds aren’t just full of ‘selfie’ fanatics, but a silencing presence that pushes the boundaries of your own imagination. And there are many weird and wonderful rooms to explore, though beware the steep staircases.

The Tower of London is an eye-opening day out, although I implore you to re-think your photographic choices, absorb the significance of what surrounds you, ignore the gimmicks and visit the gift shop.

Tower of London tickets cost £20 and can be booked online here.

Read more posts by Jordan here and follow her on Twitter @jordanwfield