19th century Tower

19th century Tower

The White Tower

The Tower becomes an historic monument and tourist attraction.

From Fortress to historic monument

The moat is drained in 1845

The Duke of Wellington was Constable of the Tower from 1826 to 1852. Under his invigorating leadership the increasingly smelly and sluggish moat was drained and converted into a dry ditch.

The Waterloo Barracks

The Grand Storehouse was destroyed by fire in 1841. The Duke arranged to clear the rubble and started work on a huge new barracks, to accommodate a thousand men.

On 14 June 1845 the Duke laid the foundation stone on the barracks named after his greatest victory – Waterloo.

The Chartist threat

London 1840s was the scene of rallies and disturbances by Chartists demanding electoral reform. The Tower exerted its traditional role of state power over the people, probably for the last time.

More defences were constructed, including a huge brick and stone bastion that finally succumbed to a Second World War bomb, but the Chartist attack never materialised.

The institutions depart

It was also at the beginning of this century that many of the Tower’s historic institutions departed. The Royal Mint was the first to move out of the castle in 1812, followed by the Menagerie in the 1830s, which grew to become London Zoo. The Office of Ordnance was next to leave in 1855 and finally, the Record Office relocated in 1858.

An increasing interest in the history and archaeology of the Tower led to a process of ‘re-medievalisation’ in an attempt to remove the unsightly offices, storerooms, taverns, and barracks and restore the fortress to its original medieval appearance.

The new ‘medieval’ Tower

The way the Tower looks today is largely thanks to a 19th-century fascination with England’s turbulent and sometimes gruesome history.

In the 1850s, the architect Anthony Salvin, a leading figure in the Gothic Revival, was commissioned to restore the fortress to a more appropriately ‘medieval’ style, making it more pleasing to the Victorian eye – and imagination. Salvin first transformed the Beauchamp Tower to make it suitable for the public display of prisoners’ graffiti, refacing the exterior walls and replacing windows, doorways and battlements.

Further commissions included restoring the Salt Tower (completed 1858) and making alterations to the Chapel of St John in the White Tower in 1864. Salvin restored the Wakefield Tower, so that it could house the Crown Jewels, which remained there until 1967, and built the bridge between it and St Thomas’s Tower. This he also restored so that the Jewel House Keeper could live there.

In the drive to complete the perfect ‘medieval’ castle, his successor, John Taylor, controversially destroyed important original buildings to create uninterrupted views of the White Tower and to build a new southern inner curtain wall on the site of the old medieval palace.

Tower as tourist attraction

Visitor numbers increased dramatically in the 19th century. Now it was not just privileged sightseers (who were paying for a guided tour as early as the 1590s), but ordinary people who enjoyed a day out at the Tower.

In 1838 three of the old animal cages from the Menagerie were used to make a ticket office at the eastern entrance where visitors could buy refreshments and a guidebook. By the end of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1901, over half a million people were visiting the Tower each year.

Read next article >

You may also be interested in...