Don’t leave home without it!
The metropolis known today as Greater London, with its hundreds of square miles and millions of people is actually comprised of many separate cities and boroughs- each with their own mayor and administration but it still comprises, as a whole, its own enclosure which was once called Middlesex. It’s an odd-sounding name for the American ear but its origin can be found in many other English counties nearby- such as, Essex, Wessex and West and East Sussex. That suffix origin refers to the Saxon state and the prefixes to the respective area. Thus, Wessex was West Saxon and Middlesex was a midsection of the Saxon state, etc. Of the thirty-three boroughs of London, today we will start with the small northern portion of the inner London boroughs. This one is known simply as the City of London.
Tower Hill gatehouse and drawbridge
At one time London had a strong city wall which was built circa 200 but only fragments remain presently. It once stretched from the Blackfriars area near the Thames and ran two miles along the river up to the Tower of London. A large bend in it on the north side of the wall is where a Roman fort once stood. A marvelous museum, The Museum of London, was built on top of the West Gate Barbican of the old Roman fort and you can view the old Roman wall remnants there along with other interesting artifacts which trace London’s history. Additionally, in the Tower Hill area, just beyond the grassed-in former moat of The Tower you can see the excavations of a postern tower built in 1300 along with a good portion of the old wall.
The wall was built against sea invaders and Alfred the Great repaired it after driving the Danish out of the city. Another invasion by the Danes saw the pulling down of London Bridge during the siege of 1014, the wall was rebuilt by the city after 1215 where it was increased in height and provided with approximately twenty-two semi-circular flanking bastions. This coincided with the signing of the Magna Charta by King John when the Baron’s revolt involved the seizing of the Tower. An extension of the wall was made in 1276 when the Blackfriars Monastery was incorporated. The six gatehouses of the wall’s names still exist to their respective areas. The names of Ludgate, Newgate and Aldersgate among others may still be familiar with Londoners. A seventh gatehouse was added in 1415 which was Moorgate. Parliament tore down the old city wall in 1643 to prepare against a Royalist attack.
Tower of London with Tower Bridge in background.
However, back in 1066 the wall prevented William the Conqueror from directly taking the city of London. He had to go further up the banks of the Thames as far as Wallingford before being able to land on soil. His Tower of London, which is also referred to as The Tower, is one of the most famous and strongest medieval castles built in England besides Dover Castle and it possesses one of the oldest and largest of Norman keeps with a formidable towered curtain, albeit rebuilt. Today’s inside tours will reveal rubble-stone remains of former walls with estimated dates- all inside the oldest building used by the English government. The White Tower’s magnificence is over shadowed by its history from the Tudor era where it was to become more a prison than a royal palace and a place of some of the worst executions in England’s history.
William’s part was built along the southeast corner of the city wall which gave defense on two sides. A ditch was dug further along to separate the castle from the city, and the remains corresponded with the inner bailey south of today’s White Tower. These were originally all wooden structures.
The White Tower (the keep) building began circa 1078 within the old Roman walls with pilaster buttresses and corners, doors and window dressings made from imported Caen Stone- the bulk of the building however is Kent ragstone- building it 90 feet high with walls 15 feet thick and which held space for soldiers, servants and nobles. The corner turrets are all square except for the round staircase turret closest to the Jewel House. Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester, is believed to have been the builder and architect as at Rochester and Colchester. It was a building which surpassed many of its offspring (i.e. square towers) for years to come by its sheer size alone! With the keep divided into two by a cross-wall and the ground dimensions at 120 X 110 feet- it was exceeded only by one other, the keep at Colchester. The Chapel of St John, within, is a marvel of Norman architecture in and of itself. It’s located on the second floor above the royal apartments. (A tour of the White Tower will include the chapel, and displays of the armory including the instruments of torture.)
Chapel of St John
Commencement of the building of the White Tower during William’s lifetime continued into William II’s reign and is presumed to have been completed by 1097, when a curtain wall was being erected around the bailey with a moat dug around the curtain and filled with water from the Thames. Around 1190 William Longchamp, the Bishop of Ely, added an outer bailey on the west which encroached on the city. He did this during Richard I’s absence and before the work was finished was besieged by Prince John’s supporters and he was driven out of London.
interior of the Bloody Tower
The White Tower is so called because Henry III had it painted white in 1240 and he rebuilt the defenses of the inner bailey incorporating the Bloody Tower and the Bell Tower (all in all, the inner curtain has thirteen mural towers), enlarged the keep and made the interiors more lavish. He took it upon himself to enlarge the grounds, which Longchamp’s work started, and built a bigger enclosure northwards to Tower Hill and on the east beyond the city wall. (He also built the palatial buildings which are situated south of the White Tower some of which Oliver Cromwell demolished at a much later date.) The people of the city were upset on this further encroachment and were glad when his main gatehouse collapsed twice! In 1281 Edward I closed the gap this created by building the Beauchamp (it’s pronounced Beecham in Britain) Tower named after the captive Earl of Warwick. A large number of royal and high-ranking prisoners were held in this tower and were actually allowed to have their own allotment of servants while incarcerated there.
From 1275 to 1285, Edward I surrounded Henry’s curtain wall with an outer wall which completed it as a concentric castle enlarging it beyond the scale of his castles in Wales ! His outer wall was low with a narrow bailey between his and Henry’s walls so that cross-bow fire could be directed at the enemy from both parapets simultaneously. It has five mural towers all facing the Thames- Develin Tower, Well Tower, Cradle Tower, St Thomas’s Tower ( which Edward used as additional accommodation) and Byward Tower. The north side of the outer curtain was built with three semicircular bastions, Brass Mount, the North Bastion and Legge’s Mount by Edward IV. Much of the cost, which was enormous, was incurred by having to fill in Henry II’s moat to dig a new one beyond the outer curtain. Today, that moat is long since filled in and grassed over. Edward I completed The Tower as an entire concentric castle by 1285 exceeding prior cost by tens of thousands of pounds! When Edward died in 1307 it was England’s most powerful and posh castle and royal palace.
If, when you visit, you get a sense that much of what you are seeing seems relatively pristine for medieval building, especially in comparison to other portions of the complex, it’s not without reason. Much of the integrity of the walls and wall towers were reconstructed at different times. The Middle Gate was refaced in 1717 and the Traitors Gate had to be rebuilt a few times because of undercutting from the Thames river. The smaller water gate on the east, Cradle Tower, was added by Edward III in the 1350s. The great curtain wall along the riverside, which includes the Lanthorn Tower is a Victorian reconstruction after the original was razed in 1777. The Constable, Brick and Flint Towers were also rebuilt with many of these alterations taking place at various different periods of time. Even the White Tower once had a much different forebuilding and the entrance now is much more modern. All but two windows (above the entrance doorway, gallery level) are enlargements attributed to Sir Christopher Wren.
The Tower of London has also served many functions over the hundreds of centuries. It was the setting for the Royal Mint from Edward I’s time up until the early 19th century, the Treasury (including the Crown Jewels which were moved from Westminster Abbey around 1303), records storage and a zoo for the exotic animals of the Royal Menagerie which included an elephant that was given his own house! The Tudor buildings on the inside of the Bell Tower corner are referred to as the Queen’s House but by name only. No part of The Tower is used by any member of the royal family as a residence and the last monarch to do so was James I in the 17th century!
Today, The Tower is an historical, architectural and artifact storehouse museum. It is one of the most lively tourist attractions in England with the ravens natural performances, hour-long Beefeater tours who regale visitors with as many stories as they can pack into the time, a jewel-house tour that will entrance your eyes into the next decade and if you’re there during special events, such as re-enactments, you will get a real sense that you’ve stepped back in time!
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One of the nicest tours in London are the boat tours- the most popular of which are those that run through central London starting from Westminster Pier, Charring Cross Pier or Tower Millennium Pier. These include evening cruises and during the summer months you can take day trips upriver to Greenwich and Hampton Court. The central London half-hour tour will afford you great views of the Houses of Parliament, Somerset House, Oxo Tower, Blackfriar’s Station, St Paul’s Cathedral, Southwark Bridge and Cathedral, the Tower Bridge and Tower of London. It’s a great way to familiarize yourself with the main part of London and relaxing as well.
It has been wrongfully assumed that what was once referred to as Middlesex- now Greater London- is a castle-free zone. While it’s true that The Tower is the only remaining medieval castle standing in London there were some contemporaries of note, one being Baynard’s Castle which once stood where the Mermaid Theatre now stands at Puddle Dock in Blackfriars, a short distance downstream. It was built circa 1100 on the river bank by William Baynard, Lord of Dunmow. It burnt down in 1428 and was rebuilt by Duke Humphrey of Gloucester and was the recorded scene by Shakespeare of Richard III hearing news that his supposed plans to seize the crown were progressing. (Here, I remind everyone that Shakespeare wrote dramatic plays- not historical books!) Henry VII reconstructed it as a spacious palace and Lady Jane Grey was given the news that she was to be crowned queen there in 1553. It perished in the Great Fire of 1666 and was not rebuilt. As a matter of fact, if you are wondering why you see no evidence of the Tudor period around London it is because the Great Fire wiped out the old wooden Tudor houses which resulted in a new city built of brick.
Also gone but equally of note was Montfichet’s Castle which is officially referred to in the Chronique de la guerre entre les Anglois et les Ecossois en 1173 et 1174 par Jordan Fantosme:
“Gilbert de Munfichet has fortified his castle,
And says that the Clares are leagued with him.”
The Clares were proprietors of Baynard’s Castle, Montfichet’s Castle stood someplace northwest of it very close to Ludgate. Built as a motte and bailey, of course, in 1066, it was demolished by King John in 1213 after banishing Richard, the successor to Gilbert de Montfichet, who was a close relative of William the Conqueror, from Rouen, who fought with William quite well at the Battle of Hastings. Montfichet was a native of Rouen but he was considered of Roman lineage. Much of the structure was used to build the monastery at Blackfriars in 1276 and the site where Montfichet’s was located is today the Blackfriars Thameslink Station on Ludgate Hill.
Then, there is Bruce Castle on Lordship Lane which has direct ties to the Robert the Bruce and a rich, varied history and eclectic architecture. Tottenham is also a very lovely part of North London which I highly (and personally) recommend. I lived a part of my life in North London and found this a very charming and lively area although it is undergoing massive changes recently which are good for the economy but devastating to the fading local color.
This Grade 1 listed 16th century Georgian brick manor house became a museum in 1906 and houses archives from the London Borough of Haringey and permanent exhibition on its past, present and future with changing displays of the area’s history. In 1969 it became home to the regimental museum of the Middlesex Regiment and the collection eventually transferred to the National Army Museum.
In July of 2006 an exciting discovery was made of an earlier house on the site during an archaeological dig- organized by the Museum of London- along with a centenary celebration of the opening of Bruce Castle Museum. A large number of local youth took part in both so the discovery was an advantageous revelation. Prior to that, parts of it were only believed to be folly- particularly the detached singular Tudor round tower which sits to the southeast side of the house. This amazingly beautiful crenellated red brick wonder sports a height of 21 feet with walls 3 feet in thickness with ornate arched recesses and an arched window complimented with identical arched recesses built around. It may have been built as a dovecote and it is not known when it was built, however, the July 2006 event dig revealed that its foundations are much deeper than what is visible above the ground. Court rolls of 1742 refer to the repair of a drawbridge, which can lead one to the conclusion that the building which existed before had a moat and later in 1911 an archaeological journal made a reference to “the recent leveling of the moat”. In addition, the chalk foundations of an earlier building on the site were found during the July 2006 dig. Unfortunately, not much is known about this earlier building except for the possibility that it existed before the 14th century with the Bruce family association. The association ended with the holdings in Tottenham when he took the throne of Scotland in 1306.
What you will see today was largely rebuilt in 1684 by overseer Henry Hare, 2nd Baron Coleraine. This is the south façade and end bays, which were heightened, a central porch redecorated with stone quoins, pilasters, a balustrade added, and a small tower with a cupola. Later remodeling occurred in the 18th century when Henry Hare the 3rd added rooms to the north along with the Coleraine crest on the pediment. During the same century James Townsend changed the east entrance front to a typical Georgian style and removed gabled attics on the south front. By the 19th century the entire west wing was demolished and was converted into a school complete with a three-story Gothic Revival extension on the northwest side.
The most mysterious aspect of Bruce Castle is the date of origin. It is believed that Sir William Compton, a groom of Henry VIII acquired the manor of Tottenham in 1514. There is no recorded evidence of this and the earliest known reference to it dates from 1516 when Henry VIII met his sister Margaret, Queen of Scots, at “Maister Compton’s House beside Tottenham.” For a short period of time in the 17th century Lady Anne Clifford (of Cumberland castles restoration fame) and her first husband Richard Sackville owned the house which was called “The Lordship House” who leased it to Thomas Peniston and then sold to the wealthy Norfolk landowner Hugh Hare because of Sackville’s debts.
The Hare estate has a colorful but rather dubious-sounding history. It bears looking into if you care for wild, absurd ghost stories. However, because of a certain twist of events, the future Lord Mayor of London (in 1772) came into legal possession of the estate and castle because of his talented benefactor (his wife): The artist Henrietta Rosa Peregrina, whose engravings of 18th century Tottenham remain in the Bruce Castle Museum.
Their heir, Henry Hare Townsend showed no real interest in the house and leased it to several tenants who were responsible for extensive rebuilds but the most famous English owner came along in 1827. This was Sir Rowland Hill who turned the house into a school in which he was headmaster. This is the man who by all rights and purposes invented postage stamps (the Penny Post) to expedite the mail. (I highly recommend that you research his name so you will understand his profound contribution to the worldwide postal system and Britain’s in particular.) After being headmaster for over forty years he retired and left the school in the hands of his son, Birkbeck, who retired in 1877 and the school closed only a few years later. Tottenham Council purchased the house and twenty acres of grounds in 1891 and was opened as Bruce Castle Park in June of 1892, the first public park in Tottenham.
Lovely is moonlight to the poet’s eye,
That in a tide of beauty bathes the skies,
Filling the balmy air with purity,
Silent and lone, and on the greensward dies-
But when on ye her heavenly slumber lies,
Towers of Brus! ’tis more than lovely then.-
For such sublime associations rise,
That to young fancy’s visionary ken,
‘Tis like a maniac’s dream-fitful and still again.
from Tottenham by John A. Heraud’s 1820 epic poem
Admission free. Open Wed-Sun 1 p.m.- 5 p.m. T- 020 8808 8772 Wood Green
Much further afield near Twickenham in the southwest portion of the old county of Middlesex, Syon House is seated in 200 acres of parkland and has been the London seat of the Dukes of Northumberland, the Percys, since the 16th century! The northeastern portion of the parkland was the scene of two Battles of Brentford- the first in 1016 and much later in 1642. Although only mere remnants were retained, a medieval monastery was situated here from 1431 when the followers of St Bridget of Sweden moved their headquarters to Syon Abbey from Twickenham. Archaeological surveys have located the sites of various outbuildings and determined that the largest structure could have been nearly the size of Salisbury Cathedral in Wiltshire!
This abbey which was named after Mount Zion suffered the cruelest fate of all the religious establishments under Henry VIII’s dissolution and the estate was granted to Edward Seymour, the uncle of his son, the future Edward VI. His uncle Edward was made first Duke of Somerset and Protector of England acting as sovereign in all but name. Given his title and land during the Renaissance period in England he, of course, built Syon House in Tudor-courtyard style over the various foundations remaining of the west end of the abbey church between 1547 and 1552 at which time he was executed. Some medieval features of the abbey remain- such as the vaulted undercroft located below the Great Hall.
It remained unchanged for two centuries and then Sir Hugh Smithson who became the first Duke of Northumberland, inherited the estate through his wife, Elizabeth Seymour and together they employed the wunderkind Robert Adam to remodel the interior and Capability Brown employed for the extensive landscape design. This home with its colonnaded east front is in view from the Royal Kew Gardens just across the Thames. Its nearly stark (primarily)Tudor main front does not belie the incredible interior state rooms that Adam created inside. Being true to the renaissance period for England his neo-Classical style was laid down here.
Anteroom Great Hall
This anteroom shows his darker side with heavy gilding and dark crimson and teal patterned scagliola floor and marble pilasters lining the walls on three sides and gilded statues gazing down from the entablatures atop. By contrast the Great Hall is the most formal with its black and white marble pavement, with an apse on the north end using a pedimented frame for a statue of the Apollo Belvedere, supported by Doric columns and before which a bronze figure of the Dying Gladiator. The ceiling sections reflect the pavement design- a primarily Grecian appearance. All the rooms, including the State Dining Room, Red Drawing room and the Long Gallery display more and more classical features including friezes, cornices, niches and domes. The Red Drawing room displays many Stuart portraits such as Charles I, Princess Mary of Orange, Princess Elizabeth and James II and dominates this gloriously appointed interior.
The Great Conservatory which was built in the 1820s by an innovative architect, Charles Fowler, graces twenty splendid acres of lakes and 200 species of rare trees! This conservatory built from gunmetal, Bath stone and glass is an architectural miracle in its design which features the clear central cupola and wing-end pavilions on either side. Within its enclosure, it houses mostly exotic plants and small birds fly free inside. Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace from the great Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park used this concept very well. However, only Syon’s Conservatory remains. In the 19th century Syon was used by the Dukes of Northumberland as a sumptuous summer residence where they hosted lavish parties on the lawns and had banquets along with dancing and even fireworks.
The Castle Lady with kisses like fireworks!
To see more and larger photos of these castles see the photo album on Live.com !