In 1075 Londoners could only stand and stare as the White Tower rose up to dominate their skyline. In 2011, following a 3-year £2 million cleaning and conservation project, Londoners and visitors can again be in awe of this iconic, historic building and admire the Norman architecture in all its glory.
Begun by William the Conqueror shortly after the Norman invasion in 1066, the White Tower is emblematic of one of the defining moments in European civilization. A royal palace and fortress for almost half a millennium, the White Tower is interpreted throughout the world as an iconic symbol of royalty, and of national and civic identity. One of the most famous castle keeps in the world, it was built to awe, subdue and terrify Londoners and deter foreign invaders.
During the 1990s, building surveys revealed that work was required to repair historic stone masonry and slow the rate of decay caused by natural weathering and past interventions, including the very hard mortar used to re-point the building during earlier repair campaigns. Work to the south elevation, the highest priority, was completed in 1998. In 2008, with the generous support of our sponsors, including Man Group plc Charitable Trust who contributed £1 million to the cost of the project, work began on the remaining elevations to ensure its long-term survival.
A phased programme of repairs commenced on site in January 2008 and completed now in March 2011, in time for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and Olympic celebrations in 2012. The work has involved cutting out the hard, cement-based pointing and replacing it with a permeable lime mortar; some stones whose faces have eroded severely have been replaced. Damaging crusts of sulphation and pollution have been removed, often painstakingly by hand. This has not only removed the threat to the historic fabric, but has also restored the natural colour of the stone, allowing the building to be once again seen as white.
The programme of archaeological and material research has significantly increased our understanding of the White Tower. An archaeological survey has revealed evidence of earlier buildings built against the tower, periods of rebuilding and a mysterious stone with graffiti believed to date from the 12th century. With the help of our principal contractor Carrek and petrographic surveys, we have identified the geographical nature of each and every stone – over 30 different types have been identified. This has helped the project team to select appropriate stones to replace those that were too decayed. In total 709 stones had to be replaced across the 3 phases of the project and 1367 stones have been re-fixed.
Education and training has also been an important element to the project. ‘Chance of a Lifetime’ has been a learning programme aimed to raise the profile of building conservation and support the development of conservation skills through learning activities, whilst reaching new education audiences. This has been a great success of the project and we have had over 5500 visitors to the site either through conservation workshops, site visits, work experience opportunities as well as 3 fully booked weekends of London Open House.
Historic Royal Palaces (HRP), the charity responsible for the care of the Tower of London, believes this project has provided significant opportunities to learn more about the White Tower and its 1000 year history. Not only have views of one of London’s greatest landmarks been improved and expectations of the famous white fortress restored, but the building fabric of this world-famous monument has been conserved for generations to come.
John Barnes, Director of Conservation and Learning at HRP, said:
“As the world looks towards London in the run up to 2012, it is timely to recognize the White Tower as a building of worldwide architectural, historical and cultural significance. Our three year project has revealed its importance to London and, once again, the White Tower looks proudly out over the Tower of London's walls, undiminished by age.
“The generous support of our sponsors and a dedicated project team of experts have made possible our ambition to repair and conserve this powerful symbol of our nation's history in time for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics.”
Peter Clarke, Chief Executive, Man Group PLC, said:
"Man is delighted to have played a leading role in sponsoring the restoration of the White Tower.
"Although Man has been in the City for more than 250 years, the Tower has been here for a lot longer and it is a source of great pride to know that we are helping preserve the physical fabric of this most iconic of buildings for centuries to come."