Just how old is the Tower of London and why was it built?
One of the most iconic images of London the Tower of London, is quite possibly one of the oldest buildings any visitor to London will see.
The structure so strikingly visible today, is Norman, the Tower was built in 1077 but the fortification reaches way back to the Roman era. When the Romans invaded they came up the Thames Valley and founded a settlement Londonium.
- The Romans proceeded to construct a large stone building, close to the site of the present tower and reclaimed the marshy land around it.
- The Romans were using the river Thames to bring goods and people up to the settlement and the area became a wharf, with wooden piers and buildings. Maybe the stone building served as a secure warehouse.
- The Romans then set about constructing a substantial city wall that passed through the site of the present tower and close to the Roman stone building.
- The first wall ran in a north south direction to the water’s edge but as time went on this wall was extended along the foreshore, presumably to face off any attack from the river.
- The point where these two walls met was to become the position of the tower we see now.
- When the Romans left Britain in 403, the site of the tower appears to have become derelict although the incredibly strong Roman walls remained, protecting the people from other invaders.
Alfred the Great realised the potential of the settlement of London and ordered that the city be restored and there are traces of a fortification on the Tower site. Two churches were built nearby in this era, both would later be enclosed in the Tower’s expanding defences.
The next building phase of the Tower came with the Norman invasion of 1066.
- William the Conqueror, having defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings, realised he needed to secure his gains by fortifying the major settlements.
- Having attacked and subdued the land and people on the approaches to London he turned to securing the great city itself, London.
- Such was the destruction of the land on the approaches to the city, that the leaders in the city gave themselves up to William, the year was still 1066 and London fell to the Norman invaders.
- William sent an advance guard to London to build a fortress and secure the city for his arrival as the first part of his subjugation of the people of London.
On Christmas day in 1066, William was crowned King at Westminster Abbey but he knew that he needed to strengthen his hold on the city and it’s fierce population, if his invasion was not going to falter. More fortifications were built in the city and quite possibly, given the prominence of the position the former Roman fortifications held, the Normans would have built a substantial fortification here, probably wooden to begin with.
- It is not clear exactly when work started on the Conqueror’s White Tower or precisely when it was finished but the first phase of building work was certainly underway in the 1070s and no expense or energy seems to have been spared as William stamped his mark on London.
- Gundulf, the new Bishop of Rochester, was in charge. Masons and stones from Normandy were put to good use but the labour was provided by Englishmen.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle comments in 1097;
‘many shires whose labour was due to London were hard pressed because of the wall that they built around the Tower’.
- The Tower had other buildings alongside and a wall was built around it, by 1100 it was complete
- The White tower must have been striking and unlike anything seen before, certainly it would have been one of the biggest buildings in the land and certainly the most intimidating.
It continued to serve the Monarchs through the centuries, it’s use evolving but to be ‘sent to the Tower’, invoked terror in even the bravest of hearts.
It’s legacy lives on.