The Keep, known as the White Tower, is the oldest part of the Tower of London and therefore seems as good a starting point as any, both for this review, and for a tour of the Tower.
After William the Conqueror’s successful invasion of England in 1066 he needed to secure its most powerful city, and by building an intimidating fortress in a strategic position next to the River Thames, there was going to be no doubt as to who was the man now in charge.
Work started on the Keep around 1078 and wasn’t completed until 1100, 13 years after William’s death.
It would have been the most formidable stronghold in the land when it was built, and was never intended to be used as a palace.
The White Tower – given its nickname after Henry III had it whitewashed – became more of a place to store arms and munitions than anything else and this is reflected in what there is to see inside.
There are three levels and a basement, which the guidebook suggests that you allow 30 minutes for.
Taking the steps up to the Ground Level (!) will bring you to the Armouries and the ‘Line of Kings’.
This fascinating collection of armour of King Henry VIII, Charles I, James II and others has been on display for 300 years and is described as the world’s longest running visitor attraction. There’s no point in rushing through here to be honest because I found this the most rewarding part of the White Tower.
The carousel shows detail from Henry VIII’s armour – The King and his wife’s signatures (Katherine of Aragon), his stirrup and his ‘codpiece’.
Up on the next level is the wonderfully simple Romanesque Chapel of St. John, but unfortunately one of the places off limits for photography.
The top level has a display about ordnance at the tower, which I didn’t find particularly interesting, plus a space for temporary exhibitions which I did, because it was about the Royal Mint. Don’t miss the Block and Axe that was used for beheading though!
The end of the self-guided tour brings you down into the basement where the interrogation and torture of prisoners like Guy Fawkes supposedly took place, but which now holds a fine collection of cannons and other weapons in the Storehouse.
In case you were wondering, there is no access to the roof of the tower.