Memorials of the Tower of London

De Ros, William Lennox




The large Hall in the Wakefield Tower has been always traditionally pointed out as the scene of Henry VI.'s murder.

After the total defeat of the Lancastrians at Tewkesbury, in 1471, and the murder of the young Prince of Wales in presence of Edward, the life of Henry VI., a captive in the Tower, became the only stake on which further insurrections of the Lancastrians could be ventured.

Edward was not a man to hesitate in such a case, and on the evening of the day (May 22) on which Edward made his entry into London, Henry was declared to have died in the Tower. Grief and vexation were the causes publicly assigned for his decease; but the common rumour of the day was that he had been stabbed by the Duke of Gloucester, whose after-deeds as Richard III. seemed to authorise the belief of his taking part in any act of blood and cruelty." The funeral was conducted with little reverence or respect, the body being first taken * HENRY VI., Part III., act. v. scene 7. The Tower of London. Enter K. HENRY with a book, and GLOUCESTER with the LIEUT. on the Tower walls.


by torchlight to St. Paul's, and after to Chertsey, where it was buried in the Abbey, " unreverently, without priest or clerke, torch or taper, singing or saying." Shortly after the accession of Gloucester as Richard III., some stories got abroad of miracles wrought at the tomb of the murdered monarch, and the Usurper, in order to prevent any impression being made by these tales upon the public mind, caused the coffin to be disinterred, and removed to the royal sepulchre at Windsor.



The Wakefield Tower has a gloomy vault under its base, where it was supposed that a number of distinguished prisoners taken at the battle of Wakefield were confined, but there seems to be no good reason for supposing that such was the case; and indeed the barbarous custom which prevailed, during the bloody struggle of the Red and White Roses, of executing the principal leaders of the defeated party immediately after the battle, renders it unlikely that any number of them should have been transferred to London after the battle of Wakefield.

But there is a more recent and better authenticated tradition that sixty or seventy of the Scots prisoners, after the Rebellion of 1745, were here placed in close confinement, and so little attention given to proper supplies of fresh air, and even food, that more than half of them perished from overcrowding and neglect, before the Government, at the instance of the Lieutenant of the Tower, caused them to be removed to less unwholesome quarters.

From the time our Sovereigns ceased to make the royal palace within the Tower their occasional residence (James I. was the last who ever occupied it), great abuses have prevailed in the government and management as well as the necessary repairs within the Tower. The Constables appointed from time to time seem only to have considered how they might derive most income from their high office, which was invested with almost unlimited local authority. They sold the Warderships, allowed public-houses to be erected, even against the most venerable Towers and ancient buildings, and filled every


corner with tenants, from whom they collected heavy rents, allowing every sort of encroachment and dilapidation to proceed unnoticed. Besides this, there had existed within the Tower walls, and by royal permission from very early times, a considerable Ordnance and Store establishment for the supplies of the army. The Tower has long been the depot for the muskets, swords, carbines, and pistols issued to the troops, and the Storehouses contained every article required for the furnishing of barracks and hospitals. During the pressure of the Crimean war, stoves, tables, bedsteads, bedding, and all sorts of clothing, were collected in vast quantities, and fresh warehouses and storehouses were run. up on every vacant spot that could be made available, with utter disregard of architectural appearance.

As far back as the reign of Charles II. large barracks, capable of lodging a battalion of Guards, had been constructed in the Tower, without any attempt at preserving the architectural style of the place. But, unfortunately, while the space within the Tower walls was crammed with numerous unsightly buildings in the worst possible taste, the old walls, the ditch, and the ramparts, were suffered to fall into ruin. This state of things would seem incompatible with the security of a state prison; but it must be remembered that all the Bastions and the Ballium or inner wall, and both the Gate Towers, were appropriated to the double purposes of state prisons and Warders' lodgings, each Warder or Gaoler having charge of his prisoner, and being answerable


for his safe custody, in strong rooms, with barred windows and iron-plated doors.

The great fire which occurred in the Tower in 1841, and consumed Charles II.'s barracks and storehouse, together with a quantity of modern arms, which were kept in the latter building, gave an opportunity to the Duke of Wellington, who was then Constable, to urge in the strongest manner upon the Government the necessity of constructing a suitable barrack for the troops in garrison, and at the same time of commencing the restoration both of the inner and outer defences and walls of the Tower.

The dilapidation of the Tower of London, as well as the confusion of the records and papers in the Constable's charge, had long been a matter of concern to the Duke, as likewise the unquestionable fact, that the troops stationed in the Tower were much more unhealthy than in any other of the London barracks and quarters. For these reasons, upon the office of Lieut.-Governor falling vacant, he selected the late Sir George (then Colonel) Cathcart, an officer of distinguished talent and merit, and an able man of business, to fill this post, and carry out the improvements he had designed. On careful investigation of the causes of ill-health in the garrison, Colonel Cathcart came to the conclusion, that the mud and stagnant water of the ditch must be the primary mischief, and suggested a project for draining it and converting it for the future into a dry ditch. This scheme was carried out, and answered so well, that this Garrison is now considered as


healthy as any of the Barracks in London, and the western portion of the ditch, instead of being a nuisance, affords a dry, gravelled parade, commonly used as an exercising ground for the garrison, as well as for several neighbouring Volunteer corps, who are permitted to drill there, on application to the Lieut.-Governor.

At the Duke's urgent suggestion, it was determined by the Government to insert annually in the Parliamentary Estimates a certain sum to be expended, under superintendence of the Engineer department, for the gradual restoration of the Tower walls and Bastions. During several years this plan was successfully executed, nor was a voice raised in the House of Commons to oppose an expenditure due to the credit of the nation, as well as a wise and needful precaution for the security of valuable national property. However, in the year 1852, a sudden stop was put by the Government to any further repair of the Tower defences, just as the western and northern ramparts had been completed, leaving the whole eastern front in the same ruinous and dilapidated condition as before. But the evil did not end here; advantage was taken of supposed exigencies of the Crimean war by the Secretary for War at the time, to order the construction of extensive stores on the very localities where the further restorations were to have taken place, even filling the dry ditch with accumulations of condemned stores, in the teeth of the protest of Lord Combermere, who had succeeded the late Duke of Wellington as Constable of the Tower. The enormous and ill-managed expenses of the war were still held out as


reasons against the resumption of the works, and the dilapidation was becoming worse and worse till 1862, when the Right Honourable F. Lewis, the Secretary for War, resolved, after a careful personal inspection, to bring forward in his estimates the sum necessary for continuing the eastern defences. On Mr. Lewis's lamented death Earl de Grey took up the matter with his usual ability, and under the able direction of Colonel Nicholson great progress has been made in the rampart, which is casemated, in accordance with a characteristic elevation furnished by Mr. Salvin, while the parapet is "arcaded" in the same style, to protect troops from any musketry fire from the lofty warehouses of St. Katherine's Docks. The precaution no doubt is judicious, though, as the late Duke of Wellington remarked on occasion of his last inspection of the Tower, a few heavy roundshot directed at the foot of St. Katherine's wall from the guns on the rampart would very soon induce any venturous rioters who might have occupied the roof, to abandon a post exposed to the risk of the whole building falling about their ears.

Now, as regards the question of the restorations and repairs lately carried on within the Tower, it may be asked why should so much difficulty attend them ? It is a matter which requires explanation, if only to defend the Constable and his officers from the charge of negligence. Unfortunately the authorities of the Tower have, of themselves, no power to order the most common repairs; and it is only by persevering application to different Government offices that the


most trifling restorations can be effected. For what concerns the "Palatial" portions of the Tower, such as the Jewel Repository, the two Chapels, the Governor's residence, and the Quarters of the Warders, application is annually made to the Chief Commissioner of Works, for the proposed repairs or restorations to be inserted in the Estimates, and laid before the House of Commons. By his directions (if he approves what is proposed) a survey is first made of the work, and an estimate goes forward to the Treasury; but here, unfortunately, it too frequently comes to an untimely end; because the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if pressed for other public works, or desirous of coming to Parliament with low Estimates, has the discretionary power of striking his pen through any item in the Tower estimates, however strongly urged upon his notice. Yet it is evident that he cannot be so well informed of the details of such subjects as either the Tower authorities or the Office of Works; and the worst part of the arrangement is, that, by this clumsy routine, many repairs, which would cost very little if done in proper time, become doubly expensive, when allowed to stand over till time and weather have aggravated the dilapidation.

With regard to the military portions of the Tower, such as the ramparts, ditches, guns, storehouses, barracks, hospital, magazines, fire-engines, &c., applications must be made by the Tower authorities to the Secretary of State for War, and are referred by him for the opinion of the Commanding Engineer.



It is on the recommendation of the Commanding Engineer that the Secretary for War enters in the Estimates he prepares for the House of Commons any works or repairs proposed. But here again the Chancellor of the Exchequer can put his veto in action, and the works in question being out of the public view, and not likely to draw attention like improvements in the Barracks, Parks, or Public offices at the west end of London, are too often set aside in favour of other buildings more likely to attract public notice. Thus the eastern walls and rampart of the Tower, facing St. Katherine's, have only lately been approved in the Estimates, having lain for above ten years in a state of ruin and decay disgraceful to public buildings of any kind, but especially to the most venerable and historical fortress of Great Britain.

One great difficulty which the Constable and his officers had formerly to contend with, was the absence of anything like good taste, or appreciation of a suitable style of architecture, on the part of the old Board of Ordnance, as regarded the restoration or construction of military buildings: witness the monstrous Warehouses and Store-offices which disfigure the river front of the Tower, and to which, so late as in 1852, an upper story was added, in the decorative style of the great gin-palaces of London.

A different and more judicious course is now followed, and reference is made to Mr. Salvin, the celebrated castle architect, as well as to the Commanding Engineer, when it is a question of restoration or improvement of the Walls, Barracks, and


Storehouses in the Tower. With no greater expense than was formerly thrown away on absurd modern decoration, the buildings are now treated with due reference to the ancient style of the Tower. A general principle has lately been introduced by Mr. Salvin in making a distinction between the exterior style of building connected with the walls and defences, and the interior edifices of the Tower. According to this principle, the latter should have no defensive character about them, but their fronts and roofs should resemble the common street architecture in London before the Great Fire of 1666. Those readers who happen to be familiar with the appearance of the old parts of the city of Chester, will readily understand the style considered suitable for the interior buildings in the Tower.

The walls and outer defences must of course partake of a military character, though it has been shown, by the effect of the new Rampart and Casemates to the eastward, that it is perfectly possible to combine the requisites of fortification, with the style appropriate to so ancient and historical a pile as the venerable Tower of London.

With deep respect for the memory of one who never meddled but to amend or to improve, it may here be observed that the late Prince Consort, by his discreet intervention on the part of The Queen, in reference to those portions of the Tower which were dependencies of the ancient Palace, first established a proper system of control over the architecture of the Tower, by declaring it to be Her Majesty's pleasure that " no edifice


within its walls should be built, altered, or restored, until the plans and elevations should have been officially submitted for her Majesty's personal approval"-a regulation which is now strictly attended to, and which has produced already some very satisfactory results.