I’m a firm believer that History is far from boring and that the best way for children to learn about our past is to see it for themselves. My son was learning about the Tudor period recently and I decided he should see where Anne Boleyn spent her last days. A visit to the Tower of London so we headed down to the capital recently for a day of exploration.
Did you know that the Tower of London was so much more than the place where two of our country’s queens lost their heads. When we stood admiring the Tower Poppies a few years we spotted the stunning lion sculpture but I had no idea of the relevance then. Exploring the Tower of London itself soon revealed the answer. In fact we discovered that long before London Zoo was thought of, the tower itself was a zoo. Home to animals from across the world that had been gifted to the monarchy. Hence the lion! We also found an elephant, monkeys and polar bear. The sculptures are beautiful and my son loved spotting them as we spent time exploring the Tower of London and the exhibits which told us more about the story of the zoo.
Any trip to the Tower of London has to involve a visit to the Jewel House to see the Crown Jewels. My top tip is to visit early on in your visit, as this area gets very busy later in the day. You aren’t allowed to take photographs inside the rooms housing these precious artefacts. We saw the Imperial State Crown, used in the State Opening of Parliament, Queen Victoria’s small diamond crown and frames from previous crowns over the years. Along with all manner of golden platters, the Sovereign’s Orb and Sceptre and Mace. We visited the Crown Jewels twice during our time exploring the Tower of London as there’s so many details to take in. It’s fascinating and certainly a stand out moment from any visit to the Tower of London.
The Jewel House is guarded at all times and my son was mesmerised as we watched the changing of the guard at different times during the day.
We’d entered the Tower of London through the entrance normally reserved for groups, so missed the main queue and information regarding audio tours. These tours are chargeable at the Tower of London and we decided to forgo them in this instance. But I do thoroughly recommend the free Yeoman Warder tours. We didn’t take the full tour, but joined in with a tour close to the site of Anne Boleyn’s beheading. Our guide was informative and entertaining and my 7 year old was enthralled. The tours begin close to the main entrance and run every 30 minutes from 10.30am (check last tour time on arrival). We learned about those who had been beheaded at the Tower (not as many as you might have thought), the history of the Yeoman Warders themselves and how they are selected to this day.
As my son has been learning all about the Tudors in school I wanted him to understand about what had happened to Anne Boleyn and the significance of the Tower of London in her short life. She’d actually stayed at the Tower of London before her marriage to Henry VIII, so how must she have felt to return through Traitors Gate as a prisoner a few years later. The Queen’s house that we admired isn’t where she actually stayed as that was demolished and the present building was built a few years after her death. But it gave my son an idea of the building style and the views she may have had on those last few days.
As we spent time exploring the Tower of London we got a sense of the various layers of history encompassed within the perimeter walls. The oldest part of the buildings date back to the Norman Conquest of 1066, with the White tower being completed in 1078. The White Tower is where it’s widely believed that that young Edward V and his brother Richard were murdered on their Uncle’s instructions so he could take the crown as Richard III.
Inside the tower we found an impressive collection of Royal armour from across the years. It’s well worth a visit and the details on some of the metalwork is really rather beautiful. My son also enjoyed learning more about chain mail and he got to try out a couple of helmets for size.
It’s a well known fact that all soldiers require a hearty meal, and the Armouries Cafe, next to the Fusiliers Museum offers hot and cold food throughout the day. There is a large seating area but in peak times it does get very busy. We knew we were having a long day out in London so opted for hot food. I have to be honest, the children’s fish and chips portion wasn’t great, and in hindsight my nearly 8 year old would happily have eaten an adult sized portion. The chicken dish that my husband and I had was very nice and we can thoroughly recommend the cakes and biscuits for an afternoon treat too. Free drinking water was available, as well as a range of hot and cold drinks.
As we’d walked around the perimeter of the tower of London we’d noticed a lone archer looking down at us.
My son was captivated and when he realised that more of these guards could be found dotted around the battlements he was off on a mission.
As we’d entered the Tower of London we noticed a memorial to some of the famous Ravens who have guarded the Tower over the years. I explained to my son about the belief that the ravens who guard the tower must always be in residence and that it’s long been said that if the ravens leave then the kingdom would fall. There are seven ravens currently living within the Tower walls, you can see them as you walk around the grounds, as well as seeing their aviary.
There’s so much to take in as you spend time exploring the Tower of London, even just walking round the perimeter wall you can see the centuries of history in front of you. Surrounded by the high-rise towers of 21st century London, the Tower is still a real jewel in the capital’s crown. As you walk along the ramparts and through the various towers, you get transported through time and I defy anyone not to be interested in what they see.
My son can be rather timid and he wasn’t sure what to expect from The Bloody Tower, but it really isn’t as gruesome as it sounds and he was fine inside.
We spotted poignant reminders of the Tower’s past as a prison in the form of graffiti on the stone walls. Some it was so intricate.
We got to see King Edwards chamber and touch some of the fabrics that might have been used to create the furnishings and my son also learnt about the Royal mint, which was housed at the Tower of London from around 1279 through to 1812. The exhibition tells the story of the Mint’s history and how coins were used to showcase the power of the reining monarchs. You can also explore Mint Street and see what it was like to work at the Mint in days gone by.
Whilst exploring the Tower of London we also visited the Fusiliers museum. sited in the original Officers Quarters, the museum shows the history of the Fusiliers from their formation in 1685, through their numerous battle engagements, right through to the modern-day. My son got to see a number of Victoria Cross medals up close as well as see medals similar to those awarded to two of his great grandfathers.
We had a full day exploring the Tower of London and all it has to offer. It’s somewhere I can see us returning to again in the future as there’s so much for my young son to take in. But he certainly enjoyed his first visit and was full of facts to take back to school.
For opening hours and ticket information please visit the Crown Jewels website.
disclosure: we were given complimentary tickets to this location in exchange for an honest review.