Tag Archives: River Thames

Amazing Secrets about the Tower of London

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The Tower of London is a pivotal structure in the history of England. The White Tower, built by William the Conqueror in 1066, is the main edifice and demonstrated Norman power as a military fortress. Possibly the most significant building of the Norman Conquest, the White Tower symbolized the strength and endurance of the new order. Internationally, The Tower was at the cutting edge of military building technology. Built on the north bank of the River Thames, the Tower of London literally “towered” over its surroundings until the 19th century.

Tower of London Historical Facts

The Tower of London has a multifaceted and bloody history. Here are some of the most intriguing facts:

  • Building and Expansion – In the 1220s, Henry III began a major expansion of the Royal Palace and buildings were added to the complex right up until the 16th century, most of which are now underground.
  • Crown Jewels History – Colonel Thomas Blood attempted to steal The Jewels in 1671 and in 1841 the Crown Jewels were rescued from a fire.
  • Gunpowder Plot – In 1605, Guy Fawkes was imprisoned and tortured at the Tower for the failed assassination attempt of James I.
  • Peak Prison Usage – the 16th and 17th centuries led to the phrase “sent to the Tower” for its peak prison usage. Only 7 were executed with its walls before the WWI and WWII. The bulk of the executions were commonly held on Tower Hill, which is north of the Tower.
  • Princes in the Tower – Prince Edward and Richard, Duke of York, sons of Edward IV, were imprisoned in the Tower by their uncle, Richard III. Richard had them declared illegitimate so he could steal the throne from Edward, who would have become king after his father’s death in 1483. The princes were never to be seen again and rumors of their murder spread. In 1674, a wooden box was discovered near the White Tower containing two small skeletons. The Church of England refused DNA testing so no one knows the fate of the princes to this day.
  • Religious Renown – the Tower shaped the Reformation in England. Those Catholic and Protestant prisoners, who survived, recorded their experiences which defined the Tower of London as a place of torture and execution.
  • Ronnie and Reggie Kray – these identical twins were the notorious gangsters of East End London and were held at the Tower in 1952.
  • Royal Executions – in the 16th century, 3 English queens were executed at the Tower: Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and Jane Grey but it was Elizabeth I who narrowly escaped her death.
  • Royal Menagerie – For 600 years, wild and exotic creatures were caged by kings and queens at the Tower of London. The Duke of Wellington had the animals relocated to the London Zoo in 1832.
  • The Tower is Breached – during the Peasants Revolt of 1381, was the one and only time the Tower of London was breached.

Tower of London Today

Officially Queen Elizabeth II’s Royal Palace and Fortress, the White Tower is the most intact 11th-century structure remaining in Europe (additions were made in the 13th and 14th century). The Tower has also served as a model throughout the United Kingdom. Many other castle keeps were built in stone, resembling the Tower, such as Colchester, Rochester, Hedingham, Norwich or Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight.

Attractions of the Tower of London

Tours are conducted Tuesday through Saturday and more than 2 million tourists roam inside its walls per year. Due to the remarkable things inside, it’s no wonder the Tower of London has such massive amounts of visitors.

  • Ceremony of the Keys – a tradition of locking up the Tower of London for 700 years without fail. After all, the Crown Jewels and other valuables must be kept safe.
  • Coins and Kings: The Royal Mint – discover the fascinating story of the Mint during the years it was based at the Tower (1279 – 1812), and how 5 key coins and the monarchs behind them changed history.
  • Commemorative Poppies – there are 888,246 poppies installed in the Tower of London moat, one for each British fatality in WWI.
  • Crown Jewels – a spectacular display of crowns, scepters, priceless diamonds, and unique gems. You can discover how these jewels are regularly used by The Queen.
  • Fusilier Museum – rich with history about this British infantry regiment from its inception in 1685, the Constable of the Tower, and in the how they fought in the American War of Independence.
  • Medieval Royal Palace – this luxurious addition to the Tower is credited to Henry III and for hundreds of years, Kings and Queens stayed in these rooms. It was also a place where children lived and played.
  • Ravens at the Tower – Guardians of the Tower, it is said that if ever they leave the kingdom will fall. Seven reside at the Tower and respond only to the Raven Master so don’t get too close.
  • Royal Armory – the central keep and oldest part of White Tower, much of the arsenal can be traced back to medieval kings of England. The display includes suits of armor, swords, shields, battle axes, and even cannons.
  • Tower Green and Scaffold – also known as the Execution Site, prisoners died by the sword, hanging, and the axe, including some well-known queens of England.
  • White Tower – The oldest structure and heart of the Tower of London, it is the one of the most famous castle keeps in the world. It houses a Romanesque Chapel, the 11th-century Chapel of St John the Evangelist, and the Royal Armory. On the top floor is a block and axe, believed to be used at the last public beheading on Tower Hill in 1747.
  • Yeoman Warders – These ladies and gents will be your guides as you tour the Tower of London. They are the foremost authority on the Tower and you’ll learn even more of its secrets.

Your Tower of London Experience

If you have visited the Tower of London, what was your favorite experience? For those of you that have yet to take a tour, what do you look forward to the most? Log in and post your comments or tweet me at @BritWordaDay with your answers.


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New Year’s Eve in London is Best

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Image by © Terry Bouch/Demotix/Corbis

Without a doubt, London has to be one of the best places in the world to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Well, this year is no different and this iconic city has plenty in store. Even if you can’t make it to England’s capital this go around, you’ll know how to go out with a bang next year.

Top Venues

London Celebrates with Unicef

Lord Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said he was thrilled to ring in the New Year with the renowned children’s charity, Unicef. Together, Greater London Authorities and Unicef want to raise awareness for the some 30 Million children without homes throughout the world. By supporting this event, Unicef endeavors to raise funds to aid homeless children due to wars and disasters, focusing on Syria and Nepal.

This upcoming event was so well received that tickets have been sold out for some time. To learn more about how you can help support Unicef in reducing child homelessness, click here.

Thames River Cruise

For those that like to party on the go, Thames River Cruises’ theme for 2015 is “disco” with loads of classic hits to boogie the night away.

  • Choose Your Boat – These 4 river cruise boats will transport New Year’s Eve guests along the River Thames and provide a primo spot to watch famed London fireworks.
    • Thames Princess Pier: Lambeth Pier (south bank near Lambeth Bridge)
    • Royal Princess Pier: Westminster Pier (north bank next to Westminster Bridge)
    • Viscountess Pier: Embankment Pier (Embankment Tube Station & Hungerford Bridge)
    • Old London Pier: Embankment Pier (Embankment Tube Station & Hungerford Bridge)
  • DJ and Dance – You can dance the night away with your friends or significant other to ring in the New Year in the upper saloon of these boats.
  • Full Bar – For a tipple or a pint, these cruise boats have fully-licensed bars. They are cash only so stop by the nearest hole in the wall before you disembark.
  • Finale – The boats will be moored at the Houses of Parliament, close to Big Ben, where you’ll be front and center for the New Year’s Eve fireworks display near the Coca-Cola London Eye.

Sky Gardens – Walkie Talkie

Imagine an aerial view of the Thames River, inside a swanky bar with elegant ambiance and live music. With a 360 degree view, you’ll have the perfect spot at midnight to see London’s New Year’s Eve fireworks display.

  • Sky Pod Bar – While you wait for midnight to strike, enjoy a drink at one of the lamp-lit tables from this main-level bar, whilst soaking in the nightlife atmosphere.
  • Fenchurch – an upscale restaurant, which serves a British contemporary menu, overlooks the main area of Sky Gardens. If the main dining room is booked, you can reserve a table in the private room which has the best view.
  • Darwin – if the Fenchurch is booked, phone the Darwin Brasserie and reserve a table. With its laid-back luxe furnishings and sports box dining room, you’re sure to have a great view of the lower level and the Thames River.

The Shard

A dinner at the Shard does not come cheap but for New Year’s Eve, it’s a major wallet-buster. Entrance tickets start at £149 in which you’ll be handed a glass of champagne upon arrival. If you make the sort of dosh worthy of a truly posh dining experience, then this is for you.

  • Aqua Shard – located on the 31st floor, this restaurant of contemporary British cuisine also includes private dining rooms and a 3-story atrium bar.
  • Oblix – located on the 32nd floor, this 360 view of London boasts of a 6-course dinner with champagne and wine pairings throughout the meal for £450 per person. Yikes! I told you it was steep.
  • Hutong – located on the 33rd floor, this high-end Northern Chinese cuisine restaurant, based on the one in Hong Kong, will also give you panoramic views of London. From Dim Sum to dessert, plus a half bottle of champagne, you’re asked to drop £345 for this 5-course dinner. Ouch!
  • Lang – this confectionery is based on the world-renowned Shangri-La’s signature cakes, pastries, chocolates, and fresh-brewed coffee. I must visit this place.
  • Ting – on the 35th floor, this modern European cuisine restaurant, with an Asian twist, is based on the one found in the Shangri-La Hotel. It has spectacular views of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the City Centre of London, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, and Canary Wharf. Here you can enjoy breakfast, lunch, and afternoon tea.
  • Gong – on the 52nd floor, this plush Asian cocktail bar gives you stunning views of London. Great for a late-night drink or a champagne toast for New Year’s Eve.

Thames Firework Display

London is well-known for its New Year’s Eve fireworks display. Ever since the city commemorated the start of the 2012 Olympics, with its massive pyrotechnic display, it has become the must-see for NYE. The north and south banks of the River Thames are packed with crowds of people waiting for Big Ben to strike midnight. The best viewing areas are cordoned off for those who have tickets, but you can still get there early and grab yourself a primo spot.

Guaranteed Front Row Seat

Filipino expat, Orion Hombre has been scoping around London ever since the Periscope app was released in March 2015. He thoroughly enjoys showing viewers this architecturally rich city and will be broadcasting for New Year’s Eve in London. Therefore, if you are unable to celebrate this momentous holiday in person, follow Orion on Twitter for updates about his upcoming NYE London broadcast. Download the app on your Apple or Android device and follow Orion on Periscope as well so you don’t miss it!

Your London NYE Celebrations

Any of you ever been in London to celebrate New Year’s Eve? Do you a have particularly nostalgic or exciting memory from your London festivities? Log into our website and post your comments below.

Sign up for our newsletter before 12/31 and learn how to do New Year’s Eve in London on a Budget!

NYE London Celebration Last Year

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Tower Bridge: The Necessity and the Experience

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It was becoming a growing necessity for commercial developers to access the port facilities in the Pool of London in the latter 19th Century. A traditional fixed bridge would prevent access of tall-masted ships between London Bridge and the Tower of London on the River Thames. Therefore, a drawbridge of bascule design was constructed to provide access to and from the Upper Pool of London for registered vessels with a mast or superstructure of 30 feet or more. This was, of course, the renowned Tower Bridge.

The Architect, Design, and Construction

A Special Bridge or Subway Committee was formed in 1877 to find a solution to the river crossing problem. The bridge design was opened to a public competition and over 50 designs were submitted. After much controversy over evaluation of the designs, the committee awarded the project to Sir Horace Jones, the City Architect, in 1884.

  • Architect and Engineer – Though Jones was the architect of this innovative bridge, it was the engineer, Sir John Wolfe Barry, who devised the idea of a bascule drawbridge with two bridge towers built on large piers. Jones died in 1887 and George D. Stevenson took over the project.
  • Design – The central span was split into two equal bascules or leaves, which could be raised to allow river traffic to pass. The two side-spans were suspension bridges, with the suspension rods anchored both at the abutments and through rods contained within the bridge’s upper walkways.
  • Construction – Construction started in 1887 with five major contractors. Two massive piers, containing over 70,000 tons of concrete, were sunk into the riverbed to support the structure. Over 11,000 tons of steel provided the framework for the towers and walkways. It took 8 years through the employment of 432 construction workers to complete the bridge.

A London Edifice and Compliment to “The Tower”

The total length of Tower Bridge is 801 ft. (244 meters) with an impressive height of 213 ft. (65 meters), and its twin towers rise 200 feet (61 meters) above the Thames. The double leaf drawbridge has an opening of 250 feet (76 meters) wide with a clearance below of 28 ft. (8.6 meters) while it’s closed and 139 ft. (42.5 meters) when open. The original brick facade design, of Sir Horace Jones, was replaced with the more ornate Victorian Gothic style, which makes the bridge a distinctive landmark. This redesign was intended to harmonize the bridge with the nearby Tower of London.

Why Tower Bridge is Dear to My Heart

The primary reason Tower Bridge is so near and dear to my heart is that we have something in common. Tower Bridge was opened on June 30, 1894, and I, Jen Reckard, came into the world that very same day over 75 years later. One of these days, I am going to London for my birthday and will drink a toast to our mutual birthday. Tower Bridge has many exciting amenities and I plan to experience each one as a present to myself.

The Tower Bridge Experience

This iconic structure is not just an impressive crossing of the Thames. Tower Bridge is also an experience that should not be missed by visitors to London, England.

Locations and Nearby Landmarks

  • Location – Spans the River Thames East End between the Greater London boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Southwark, and is crossed by over 40,000 people daily.
  • London Underground – The nearest tube stations are Tower Hill on the Circle and District lines, London Bridge and Bermondsey, and the nearest Docklands Light Railway station is Tower Gateway.
  • Nearby Landmarks – Tower of London, HMS Belfast (museum ship), Shad Thames (historic riverside street), St Katharine Docks, London Bridge

Opening, Reopening, Events, Venues

  • Opening – The bridge was officially opened on June 30, 1894 by The Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII), and his wife, The Princess of Wales (Alexandra of Denmark)
  • Reopening – The walkways, which allowed pedestrians to cross even while the bridge was raised, became hangouts for prostitutes and thieves and closed for many years. In 1982, however, Tower Bridge reopened to the public for the first time since 1910, with a permanent exhibition inside called The Tower Bridge Experience.
  • Events – In 1977, for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, Tower Bridge was painted red, white, and blue from its original mid greenish-blue color. For the 2012 Summer Olympics a set of Olympic rings was suspended from the bridge to mark one month to go until the start of the games.
  • Lift Service – Today, the Tower Bridge lift service is provided free of charge to sailing vessels but subject to 24 hours’ notice. The service is available any time, day or night, 365 days per year. The double leaf bascules are raised between 850 to 1,000 times each year.
  • Unique Venues – A 360 degree experience of the glass-covered walkways (143 feet or 44 m above the river at high tide), the North Tower Lounge, the Victorian Engine Rooms, or you can book your dream wedding!

A Video of Tower Bridge in Action

This video will make you feel like you’re actually there, standing on the high level glass walkways seeing all the amazing activity of the Bridge. What’s your favorite thing about Tower Bridge? Are you dying to take a tour?


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