December 05, 2016

Animals and Armour at the Tower of London

Tower Bridge is one of London’s most famous landmarks but it’s not as old as it appears. The bridge was built in the late 1800s and designed in keeping with its medieval neighbour, the Tower of London. I got a closer look at the bridge while crossing the River Thames to visit the Tower, the oldest of Her Majesty’s Historic Royal Palaces and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Tower Bridge, London

Tower of London Yeoman Warder

The Tower of London

I’d toured the Tower of London on my first trip to England (including the Crown Jewels in the Jewel House) but not the infamous White Tower which was undergoing restoration. Built in 1078 by William the Conqueror, the Norman fortress has served as a royal residence, a prison, home of The Royal Mint and a zoo.

The White Tower

Jewel House

An installation of wire animals by Kendra Haste entitled Royal Beasts celebrates the exotic beasts that once lived at the Tower of London. These animals include lions, elephants, and a polar bear that fished in the River Thames (a gift from the Norwegian king in 1252). The Royal Menagerie closed in the 1800s when the remaining animals were moved to establish the London Zoo in Regents Park.

Elephant Head, by Kendra Haste (2011)

Polar Bear, by Kendra Haste (2010-11)

There was more art in the White Tower in the form of Keeper, centrepiece of the Royal Armouries’ new Power House exhibition. The 1,200 kilogram dragon was constructed using objects representing the ten institutions which were housed in the Tower of London, including 2,000 gold and silver coins (The Royal Mint), 400 glass rubies (Jewel House) and 26 telescopes (Royal Observatory).

Keeper the Dragon, Royal Armouries Power House Exhibition

The White Tower also hosts The Line of Kings, the world’s longest running attraction which has drawn visitors for over 300 years. The exhibition of royal armour includes a suit worn by King Henry VIII.

The Line of Kings Exhibit, Tower of London

Suit of Armour of King Henry VIII

The Dwarf and the Giant

The Royal Armouries Collection also features an execution block and axe dating from 1746.

Execution Block and Axe

In keeping with the Tower of London’s royal theme, we had plans to dine with the Tudor court of Henry VIII at the Medieval Banquet in nearby St. Katharine Docks. We were delayed by a raised footbridge as a large yacht entered the marina.

Girl With a Dolphin, by David Wynne (1973)

Timepiece, by Wendy Taylor (1973)

The Medieval Banquet takes place in the vaulted cellars of Ivory House, the only original warehouse still standing in St. Katharine Docks. The theatrical dinner experience features minstrels, contortionists, sword fighting knights and, of course, the portly king.

Ivory House, St. Katharine Docks

Dinner includes soup, roasted chicken, potatoes, vegetables and fruit pie, plus red wine or ale. And I discovered that the Medieval Banquet isn’t just for tourists. The diners at our table included local honeymooners and a couple celebrating their anniversary.

I first learned of the Medieval Banquet from Rick Steves’ London guide book. As one of his readers I got a 15% discount on the £50 ticket price. (Unfortunately this offer’s no longer available.) For more information and bookings, visit the Medieval Banquet web site.

After dinner we boarded a Thames Clipper riverboat at Tower Pier for a twilight cruise to Westminster Bridge where we caught a bus to our hotel.

The Shard

River Thames at Dusk

London Eye

In the morning we would be heading out of London once again to a place on my bucket list, Downton Abbey’s Highclere Castle.

My Tip for the Day:
Readers of Rick Steves’ European travel guides can benefit from special offers and discounts.

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