London is packed full of amazing places to see, some famous and some which you have to search out. There is so much history and beauty here, great theatre, art galleries and museums – and as you’ll know, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, we like to explore as much of it as possible!
Although I’m a big fan of the Westminster area of London, I hadn’t, until recently, discovered the Jewel Tower, which is right opposite the House of Lords. If you’re coming to London, a walk around here is a must, to take in Parliament Square, with its iconic statues (including Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela), Big Ben and, of course, the Houses of Parliament themselves. Exploring the Jewel Tower is kind of an added extra – I wouldn’t come here just for this, but a a visit won’t take you very long, and is intriguing.
It’s history buffs (like me) who will really enjoy this place. The Jewel Tower dates back almost 650 years – it was built originally in around 1365 to house Edward III’s treasures, mainly gold and silver – and is very different to the rest of the Gothic Houses of Parliament. In fact, it’s one of only two buildings from the Medieval “Palace of Westminster” to survive the fire of 1834.
The Tower is three stories high, but not very wide. It originally had a moat going round it and you can see this when you go outside (although it’s gravel now)..
It’s a small place, the kind which will only take you an hour, or even less, to look around. We enjoyed our visit (be warned – there are steep stairs), finding out about the history and seeing the eight pieces of medieval sculpture (initially from Westminster Hall) which you can find on the upper floor. They date back to the late 11th century! We also enjoyed the old records room, which is in one of the turrets and is entered through an iron door which bears the date 1621 and the cipher of King James I, as well as seeing the items on display in the various cases, including a sword which was over 1000 years old.
The tower was used for storing the treasures of many monarchs until 1512, when Henry VIII was on the throne and relocated his court to Whitehall.In 1547, an inventory listed an whole range of objects including clothing, table and bed linen, furniture, gaming-tables and even toy dolls used by Henry VIII’s daughters, Mary and Elizabeth.It seems it had become a bit of a overflow house!
Later on, the House of Lords began to use it as a repository for all its parliamentary records (these are now in a new archive), while later still it was used for storing and testing official weights and measures.
When we went into the shop afterwards, we enjoyed seeing some 14th century carvings on the ceiling, and some weights and measures on the wall. And it meant that I finally understood what a bushel and a peck are (they’re in a famous song from Guys and Dolls, but I had never seen them before!)
Our visit to the Jewel Tower was free as we are English Heritage members. It costs £4.70 for adults and £2.80 for children. You can find out more about it on the English Heritage website.
More London history: