The Tower of London

Monday 13 January 2020. In the three years that I lived in London during my bachelor days I managed never to visit the famous Tower of London. Now, twenty years on, and at the very end of the Handels’ wonderful holiday, it seemed appropriate to mark our final full day in London with a visit to one of that city’s great landmarks. It was with some anticipation then that we caught the train from Lewisham station to Cannon Street and from there the Circle Line to Tower Hill. Upon emerging from the station we saw the famous edifice before us: the White Tower of William the Conqueror, completed by 1100; the concentric 13th- and 14th-century walls built by Henry III and Edward I respectively; the miscellaneous royal buildings added over the centuries; the whole a harmonious and imposing complex attesting to the power and might of monarchy. Upon entering we headed immediately for the Jewel House to see the fabulous Crown Jewels. In particular I was keen to see the world’s most infamous diamond, the Koh-i-Noor, witness to dreadful events across its long and turbulent history. Stolen from the Mughal rulers of India by Persian raider Nader Shah in 1739, it was acquired by Ahmad Shah Abdali, founder of the Durrani Empire, encompassing today’s Afghanistan and Pakistan, either in 1747 or 1751 (sources differ). By 1808 the diamond had passed to Ahmad Shah Abdali’s grandson Shah Shuja, from whom, in 1813, it was extorted by Ranjit Singh, founder of a Sikh kingdom in the Punjab. When the East India Company annexed the Punjab in 1849, the diamond was ceded personally to Queen Victoria. Today, sitting in its secure case in the Jewel House, it graces the crown of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. It is a indeed pretty bauble – and a bloody one. Next came a series of towers: Beauchamp Tower for famous prisoners, Wakefield Tower for torture, Bloody Tower for Sir Walter Raleigh, and the White Tower – the original tower of the Conqueror – for the Royal Armouries. All of which were very interesting, as was the walk along the battlements that followed. The views are exceptional; the transformation of London’s skyline over the past 25 years is astounding. Finally, to the inevitable shop. Among other souvenirs, we bought junior Handel some plastic armour for £10.99, an amount that centuries ago may have gone some way towards kitting out a real knight, or at least covering several months’ fodder for the horse. The sword lasted a few weeks before a lightsabre proved too much for it. Following our splendid visit to the Tower, we crossed Tower Bridge and walked to the Golden Hinde and Winchester Palace, and thence along Bankside to the Tate Modern, where we enjoyed the art and the cafe. It was an altogether spectacular note on which to finish our sojourn to Europe and Britain.

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