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The Tower of London in 1731
Posted on Aug 21, 2006 - 08:18 PM by Bill McCann

"London in 1731" is a wonderful guide book to the city which was penned sometime in the early 18th century and subsequently brought up to date. The author is supposed to be a Portuguese merchant named Don Manoel Gonzales but the internal evidence demonstrates that this is almost certainly a nom de plume. It is more likely that our author was an accomplished native of London. The guide was edited by Professor Henry Morley and published by Cassell as part of their wonderful little National Library series in 1888. Here is his description of the Tower of London.



The Tower of London is situated at the south-east end of the city, on the river Thames, and consists in reality of a great number of towers or forts, built at several times, which still retain their several names, though at present most of them, together with a little town and church, are enclosed within one wall and ditch, and compose but one entire fortress.

It was the vulgar opinion that the Tower was built by Julius Caesar; but, as I have before shown, history informs us that Caesar made no stay in England, that he erected no town or fortress, unless that with which he enclosed his ships on the coast of Kent, nor left a single garrison or soldier in the island on his departure.

This Tower, as now encompassed, stands upon twelve acres of ground, and something more, being of an irregular form, but approaching near to that of an oblong, one of the longest sides lying next the river, from whence it rises gradually towards the north, by a pretty deep ascent, to the armoury, which stands upon the highest ground in the Tower, overlooking the White Tower built by William the Conqueror, and the remains of the castle below it on the Thames side, said to be built by William Rufus.

As to the strength of the place, the works being all antique, would not be able to hold out four-and-twenty hours against an army prepared for a siege: the ditch indeed is of a great depth, and upwards of a hundred feet broad, into which the water of the Thames may be introduced at pleasure; but I question whether the walls on the inside would bear the firing of their own guns: certain it is, two or three battering-pieces would soon lay them even with the ground, though, after all, the ditch alone is sufficient to defend it against a sudden assault. There are several small towers upon the walls; those of the largest dimensions, and which appear the most formidable, are the Divelin Tower, on the north-west; and the Martin Tower on the north-east; and St. Thomas's Tower on the river by Traitor's Bridge; which I take to be part of the castle said to be built by William Rufus. There is also a large tower on the outside the ditch, called the Lions' Tower, on the south-west corner, near which is the principal gate and bridge by which coaches and carriages enter the Tower; and there are two posterns with bridges over the ditch to the wharf on the Thames side, one whereof is called Traitor's Bridge, under which state prisoners used to enter the Tower.

The principal places and buildings within the Tower, are (1) The parochial church of St. Peter (for the Tower is a parish of itself, in which are fifty houses and upwards, inhabited by the governor, deputy-governor, warders, and other officers belonging to the fortress).

(2) To the eastward of the church stands a noble pile of building, usually called the armoury, begun by King James II. and finished by King William III., being three hundred and ninety feet in length, and sixty in breadth: the stately door-case on the south side is adorned with four columns, entablature and triangular pediment, of the Doric order. Under the pediment are the king's arms, with enrichments of trophy-work, very ornamental. It consists of two lofty rooms, reaching the whole length of the building: in the lower room is a complete train of artillery, consisting of brass cannon and mortars fit to attend an army of a hundred-thousand men; but none of the cannon I observe there were above four-and-twenty pounders; the large battering-pieces, which carry balls of thirty- two and forty-eight pounds weight, I perceive, are in the king's store-houses at Deptford, Woolwich, Chatham, and Portsmouth. In the armoury also we find a great many of the little cohorn mortars, so called from the Dutch engineer Cohorn, who invented them for firing a great number of hand-grenades from them at once; with other extraordinary pieces cast at home, or taken from the enemy.

In the room over the artillery is the armoury of small arms, of equal dimensions with that underneath, in which are placed, in admirable order, muskets and other small arms for fourscore thousand men, most of them of the newest make, having the best locks, barrels, and stocks, that can be contrived for service; neither the locks or barrels indeed are wrought, but I look upon them to be the more durable and serviceable, and much easier cleaned. There are abundance of hands always employed in keeping them bright, and they are so artfully laid up, that any one piece may be taken down without moving another. Besides these, which with pilasters of pikes furnish all the middle of the room from top to bottom, leaving only a walk through the middle, and another on each side, the north and south walls of the armoury are each of them adorned with eight pilasters of pikes and pistols of the Corinthian order, whose intercolumns are chequer-work of carbines and pistols; waves of the sea in cutlasses, swords, and bayonets; half moons, semicircles, and a target of bayonets; the form of a battery in swords and pistols; suns, with circles of pistols; a pair of gates in halberts and pistols; the Witch of Endor, as it is called, within three ellipses of pistols; the backbone of a whale in carbines; a fiery serpent, Jupiter and the Hydra, in bayonets, &c. But nothing looks more beautiful and magnificent than the four lofty wreathed columns formed with pistols in the middle of the room, which seem to support it. They show us also some other arms, which are only remarkable for the use they have been put to; as the two swords of state, carried before the Pretender when he invaded Scotland in the year 1715; and the arms taken from the Spaniards who landed in Scotland in the year 1719, &c.

The small arms were placed in this beautiful order by one Mr. Harris, originally a blacksmith, who was properly the forger of his own fortune, having raised himself by his merit: he had a place or pension granted him by the government for this piece of service in particular, which he richly deserved, no nation in Europe being able to show a magazine of small arms so good in their kind, and so ingeniously disposed. In the place where the armoury now stands was formerly a bowling-green, a garden, and some buildings, which were demolished to make room for the grand arsenal I have been describing.

In the horse-armoury the most remarkable things are some of the English kings on horseback in complete armour, among which the chief are Edward III., Henrys V. and VII., King Charles I. and II., and King William, and a suit of silver armour, said to belong to John of Gaunt, seven feet and a half high. Here also they show us the armour of the Lord Kingsale, with the sword he took from the French general, which gained him the privilege of being covered in the king's presence, which his posterity enjoy to this day.

The office of ordnance is in the Tower, with the several apartments of the officers that belong to it, who have the direction of all the arms, ammunition, artillery, magazines, and stores of war in the kingdom.

The White Tower is a lofty, square stone building, with a turret at each angle, standing on the declivity of the hill, a little below the armoury, and disengaged from the other buildings, where some thousand barrels of powder were formerly kept; but great part of the public magazine of powder is now distributed in the several yards and storehouses belonging to the government, as at Woolwich, Chatham, Portsmouth, Plymouth, &c., to prevent accidents, I presume; for should such a prodigious quantity of powder take fire, it must be of fatal consequence to the city, as well as the Tower. The main guard of the Tower, with the lodgings of the officers, are on the east side of this building.

In the chapel of the White Tower, usually called Caesar's Chapel, and in a large room adjoining on the east side thereof, sixty-four feet long, and thirty-one broad, are kept many ancient records, such as privy-seals in several reigns, bills, answers, and depositions in chancery, in the reigns of Queen Elizabeth, King James I., and King Charles I., writs of distringas, supersedeas, de excommunicato capiendo, and other writs relating to the courts of law; but the records of the greatest importance are lodged in the Tower called Wakefield Tower, consisting of statute rolls from the 6th of Edward I. to the 8th of Edward III.

  • Parliament rolls beginning anno 5 of Edward II. and ending with the reign of Edward IV.
  • Patent rolls beginning anno 3 of John, and ending with the reign of Edward IV. In these are contained grants of offices, hands, tenements, temporalities, &c., passing under the great seal.
  • Galley Quay
  • Charter rolls, from the 1st of King John to the end of Edward IV. in which are enrolments of grants, and confirmations of liberties and privileges to cities and towns corporate, and to private persons, as markets, fairs, free warren, common of pasture, waifs, strays, felons' goods, etc.
  • The foundations of abbeys and priories, of colleges and schools, together with lands and privileges granted to them.
  • The patents of creation of noblemen.
  • Close rolls, from the 6th of King John, to the end of Edward IV., in which are writs of various kinds, but more especially on the back of the roll are entered the writs of summons to parliament, both to the lords and commons, and of the bishops and inferior clergy to convocations. There are also proclamations, and enrolments of deeds between party and party.
  • Little Bear Quay
  • French rolls, beginning anno 1 of Edward II. and ending with Edward IV., in which are leagues and treaties with the kings of France, and other matters relating to that kingdom.
  • Scotch rolls, containing transactions with that kingdom.
  • Rome, touching the affairs of that see.
  • Vascon rolls, relating to Gascoign.
  • There are also other rolls and records of different natures.
In this tower are also kept the inquisitions post mortem, from the first year of King Henry III., to the third year of Richard III.

The inquisitions ad quod damnum, from the first of Edward II. to the end of Henry V.

Writs of summons, and returns to Parliament, from the reign of Edward I. to the 17th of Edward IV.

Popes' bulls, and original letters from foreign princes.

All which were put into order, and secured in excellent wainscot presses, by order of the house of peers, in the year 1719 and 1720. Attendance is given at this office, and searches may be made from seven o'clock in the morning to eleven, and from one to five in the afternoon, unless in December, January, and February, when the office is open only from eight to eleven in the morning, and from one to four, except holidays.

The next office I shall mention is the Mint, where, at present, all the money in the kingdom is coined. This makes a considerable street in the Tower, wherein are apartments for the officers belonging to it. The principal officers are:- l. The warden, who receives the gold and silver bullion, and pays the full value for it, the charge being defrayed by a small duty on wines. 2. The master and worker, who takes the bullion from the warden, causes it to be melted, delivers it to the moneyers, and when it is minted receives it from them again. 3. The comptroller, who sees that the money be made according to the just assize, overlooks the officers and controls them. 4. The assay-master, who sees that the money be according to the standard of fineness. 5. The auditor, who takes the accounts, and makes them up. 6. The surveyor-general, who takes care that the fineness be not altered in the melting. And, 7, the weigher and teller.

The Jewel-office, where the regalia are reposited, stands near the east end of the Armoury. A list is usually given to those who come daily to see these curiosities in the Jewel-house, a copy whereof follows, viz.:

A list of his Majesty's regalia, besides plate, and other rich things, at the Jewel-house in the Tower of London.

  1. The imperial crown, which all the kings of England have been crowned with, ever since Edward the Confessor's time.
  2. The orb, or globe, held in the king's left hand at the coronation; on the top of which is a jewel near an inch and half in height.
  3. The royal sceptre with the cross, which has another jewel of great value under it.
  4. The sceptre with the dove, being the emblem of peace.
  5. St. Edward's staff, all beaten gold, carried before the king at the coronation.
  6. A rich salt-cellar of state, the figure of the Tower, used on the king's table at the coronation.
  7. Curtana, or the sword of mercy, borne between the two swords of justice, the spiritual and temporal, at the coronation.
  8. A noble silver font, double gilt, that the kings and royal family were christened in.
  9. A large silver fountain, presented to King Charles II. by the town of Plymouth.
  10. Queen Anne's diadem, or circlet which her majesty wore in proceeding to her coronation.
  11. The coronation crown made for the late Queen Mary.
  12. The rich crown of state that his majesty wears on his throne in parliament, in which is a large emerald seven inches round, a pearl the finest in the world, and a ruby of inestimable value.
  13. A globe and sceptre made for the late Queen Mary.
  14. An ivory sceptre with a dove, made for the late King James's queen.
  15. The golden spurs and the armillas that are worn at the coronation.
There is also an apartment in the Tower where noble prisoners used to be confined, but of late years some of less quality have been sent thither.

The Tower where the lions and other savage animals are kept is on the right hand, on the outside the ditch, as we enter the fortress. These consist of lions, leopards, tigers, eagles, vultures, and such other wild creatures as foreign princes or sea-officers have presented to the British kings and queens.


 

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