King William began work on what was to become the Tower of London in 1078. His original construction, now known as the White Tower, took 30 years to build and still stands at the centre of the complex. Various succeeding monarchs added to and expanded the Tower, notably Edward I who commissioned the present outer walls in the early 1300's. The Tower was basically a royal castle built to dominate the city, and has been used as a royal residence, a fortress, an armoury, and most notoriously a prison. It was a place of incarceration and execution through the middle ages and up to Tudor times, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I having made extensive use of it.
Since those times it has had less of an impact on history and has housed the Mint, the Royal Ordnance and the record office. Nowadays it is mainly a tourist attraction and has been so for more than a century; it houses the Crown Jewels and an extensive museum of armoury and punishment, but still has a military function and was used once more as a prison during the war.
Tower Bridge was built between 1885 and 1894, to satisfy a pressing need to relieve the narrow streets of the City of cross-Thames traffic. Until that time there was no crossing downstream of London Bridge. To overcome the objections of those whose business interests included ship access to the Pool of London, the central spans of the bridge could be raised to allow shipping to pass. The mechanism was hydraulic, and was replaced only recently by electric motors. There is little need nowadays for the piers to be raised.
The bridge was designed in a Gothic style to match the architectural style of the adjacent Tower of London, and hence looks much older than it actually is. Within the past decade the interior of the bridge - including the high-level walkways between the towers and the old machine rooms on the south bank - has been open to the public as a tourist attraction. Tower Bridge is, along with Big Ben, one of the defining icons of London.
Tower Hill Gardens
Encircling the tower moat to the north are Tower Hill gardens, not very extensive yet pleasant enough and a haven for city workers at lunchtime as well as London's tourists. The beds extend outside the environs of the Tower and, but for the main road, would link up with Trinity Square gardens opposite.
Due to one of those strange bureaucratic quirks that could only be English, the borough boundary runs around Trinity Square Gardens - with the effect that all the buildings surrounding them are in the City of London while the gardens themselves are in Tower Hamlets. The ostentatious surrounding give the gardens an unusually handsome air. Most of the surrounding buildings have some connection with the sea and shipping, including Trinity House (the body that administers Britain's lighthouses).
of London tour website
Camelot's Tower of London page
The Tower Bridge Experience website
Borough of Southwark's Tower Bridge page
Official Royal Palaces guide
Travel Britain guide to Tower of London and Tower Bridge
Map of the Tower Hill area by Streetmap.co.uk
Back to Borough of Tower Hamlets index
This page last updated 22nd October 2002