The Tower has seen more history than anywhere else in Britain – but 2020 was one of the most extraordinary years in the tower’s history.
This series goes behind its mighty walls to capture everything from a high-profile royal visit by Prince Charles in February to total lockdown in March, when a small dedicated team keep the famous fortress going in isolation. Then, finally, the Tower reopens – doing what it does best, welcoming visitors again to soak up 1000 years of stories of kings and queens, whilst being at the heart of real history right now.
20:00, Wednesday 14 October on Channel 5
In this episode, it is February at the Tower of London. As thousands of visitors pour through the gates they’re unaware that behind the scenes the staff have gone into over drive preparing for a very special event. Today’s tourists are in for a surprise royal treat: Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall are coming to the Tower to celebrate the Yeoman Warders’ anniversary. It’s the first time the Prince has visited the Tower in over a decade. But after days of meticulous rehearsals there’s a cloud on the horizon. Storm Dennis is forecast to hit just as the royal couple arrive. Fortunately it turns out the Royals ‘never cancel’ and finally, the red carpet is rolled out and the Tower team squeeze into their finery to put on a special state parade for the royal couple – who go on an informal walkabout through the crowds thronging the historic palace and fortress, with the Beefeaters providing the guard.
Meanwhile the business of researching the Tower’s history goes on for Chief Curator Tracy Borman. She digs into the tragic story of Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard, a teenager who was executed at the Tower for failing to be faithful to her 49 year-old husband. History often paints Catherine as little more than an unreliable and flirtatious young woman, but she was the victim of power struggles between the influential men who controlled her destiny.
We meet Lawrence Watts, who became the Tower’s first black Yeoman Warder in 2016. Tonight he’s leading a small group on an ‘exclusive twilight tour’ through the Tower, as its lanes and buildings fall quiet after the main crowds have left.
And there’s a surprise for the Tower’s resident Ravenmaster, Chris Skaife. A DNA test has shown that George, the new raven he’s raised from a chick, is not a boy, but a girl – renamed Georgie!
20:00, Wednesday 21 October on Channel 5
It's early March and Yeoman Warder Barry Stringer is giving a tour as one of the Tower's newest Yeoman Warders. Coronavirus is starting to affect visitor numbers to the Tower, with fewer people visiting.
Eventually on 20 March, the Tower has to close to visitors. We see how the Tower Governor, Deputy Governor and the Yeoman Warders are coping during lockdown and what they are doing at the Tower during lockdown. We also find out how the ravens are missing the scraps of food left by visitors.
In June, the Tower has been in lockdown for 112 days but there is welcome news that the Tower can reopen in July. Staff start to prepare. There are lots of changes ahead like deciding on the one way route and social distancing signage to install to ensure that returning visitors can be welcomed safely once again.
20:00, Wednesday 28 October on Channel 5
It is a red-letter day at the Tower of London; they are lowering the drawbridge specially in order to welcome back visitors after the longest closure in 75 years. Everything has to be perfect for a brand new opening ceremony as the great gates re-open and the crowds start to re-enter the Tower for the first time since March. Chief Yeoman Warder Pete McGowran is ready to personally welcome the first paying guests to enter the Tower.
Before re-opening, everything has to be triple checked. The Union Jack that always flies above the White Tower is lowered and inspected and the Yeoman Warders have to swat up on the Tower’s stories.
Ravenmaster Chris Skaife needs to get his birds ready to mix with the public again while Chief Curator Tracy Borman is exploring a gruesome historical tourist attraction, the public executions on Tower Hill. Hundreds of thousands of people turned up to watch prisoners being killed in this large public arena. She investigates the story of the brutal execution of the rebellious Duke of Monmouth, beheaded by the infamous executioner, Jack Ketch. It took several blows of the axe to finish off the Duke.
The re-opening day is a great success; the Tower is back!
20:00, Wednesday 4 November on Channel 5
Life inside the walls of The Tower of London during 2020 - one of the most extraordinary years in its history. The final instalment this time around sees the Tower reopen its gates to visitors keen to soak up 1,000 years of stories, and be part of a fresh chapter in the landmark’s history.
It’s July and the Tower’s back in business after the longest lockdown since the Second World War. The new one-way system is up and running, but that’s not the only novel feature: the exclusive Tower Green is usually off-limits, but now visitors are getting a chance to see this unique piece of history.
New yeoman warders Barry Stringer and Darren Hardy are a little rusty following lockdown, so they are genning up on their historical facts. But Darren struggles to remember all of Henry VIII’s wives under the firm gaze of a six-year-old.
Darren finds out more about the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula. Constructed by King Henry VIII, it’s famous for being the burial place for two of Henry’s wives, Catherine Howard and Anne Boleyn. But it also houses something many visitors miss: a board commemorating all the Beefeaters to have served at the Tower since 1826.
Darren discovers it’s actually the 500th anniversary of the chapel - but with all big gatherings cancelled, he hatches a plan with Barry for their own special celebration. As professional musicians who have previously performed together at the Royal Albert Hall, Barry and Darren will play a duet in honour of the chapel’s anniversary. Meanwhile, chief yeoman warder Pete McGowran, reflects on how the Tower has survived this difficult time.
And, chief curator Tracy Borman researches a notorious Tudor conwoman who was locked up in the Tower after robbing and murdering two merchants in 1533, finding out how she met a gruesome end.