Friday, 6 November 2015

Sitting on Tower Green listening to sad tales of dead Queens ...... Saturdays at the Tower of London part 2

Never underestimate the power of gruesome tales to fire the imagination of a ten year old.

And there were plenty of them on Saturday mornings at the Tower of London.

It was a place I went to a lot and usually on my own which was how I liked it.*

After all if you wanted to sink into the history of the place dwell over one of those stone inscriptions carved by some long forgotten prisoner it had to be done without the distraction of someone else.

I did attach myself to the guided tours but by the time I stopped going I knew the stories almost back to front.

That said each guide was different and tended to emphasis slightly different things which  made me realize that retelling the past comes with a big dollop of personal preference  so that one person’s tale of injustice is another’s just deserts.

But I never tarried overlong with the organised tour and instead wandered off on my own pulled by all the dark corners and musty places the Tower had to offer.

And of these it was always the White Tower with its umpteen floors spiral staircases and rows of impressive armour.

You made your way gallery by gallery to the very top and then there was that long descent via one of the towers to what had been the cellars and a collection of more armour made just that bit different by that damp and bone cold atmosphere.

Now I was never over bothered by the Crown Jewels which were I think housed in the Wakefield Tower before they were moved to the very impressive Wellington Block.

Not that I was ever that impressed with the Wellington Block, it had only been built in 1845 and so hardly qualified as an ancient building.

And any way there were far more interesting places which included those bits of the walls you could walk along, the Tower Green with its water fountain and a heap of other towers all with their own grim past.

But no trip was complete without a wander past all the old cannons and if the tide was out a walk along the wet sand in the shadow of Tower Bridge.

Like many I sat on those cannons and like many others felt compelled to dig in the beech.

Why I found it necessary to risk all sorts of infections from that sand I will never know.  I never found any treasure and usually came away with hands which smelt of Thames mud flavoured also with the occasional bit of shell fish which lay just below the surface.

But that was all part of the adventure and one that I have never quite managed to recreate.

All of which just leaves me with these pictures of the Tower which Ryan has kindly allowed me to use, along with just one family snap of me with Nana and granddad sometime in the early 1950s.

It will have been the first time I went to the Tower and so mark the start of that love affair with the place.

More recently I did go to the Royal Armouries in Leeds.  Like the Tower it sits beside river and there I found some of my favourites from half a century ago.**

And much more “including some 70,000 examples of arms, armour, and artillery dating from antiquity to the present day. 

It includes royal armour of the Tudor and Stuart kings; arms and armour of the English Civil Wars, including the Armoury from Littlecote House; British and foreign military weapons from the Board of Ordnance and MOD Pattern Room collections; hunting and sporting weapons; as well as an exceptional collection of oriental arms and armour.”

So for some who long ago exchanged south east London for Manchester the Leeds experience offers a bit of my childhood if sadly without the damp 1,000 year old walls.

Pictures; scenes of the Tower 2014 courtesy of Ryan Ginn, and me circa 1953 from the collection of Andrew Simpson

*An adventure, a fish market and the promise of some gruesome stories ..... Saturdays at the Tower of London part 1,
** Royal Armouries in Leeds

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