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The Tower of London is a must-see attraction for any tourist visiting England's capital city.
Tower of London Trivia; Did You Know?
Intrigue lurks for those tourists keen to look deeper into the Tower than the famous Beefeaters, bloody executions and mysterious ravens, here are five less well known facts about the Tower.
1: Going Up in the World
Why does the staircase in the White Tower spiral up in a clockwise direction?
The White Tower, could historically be described as the very heart and core of the Tower of London. When William the Conqueror invaded and defeated King Harold in 1066, he needed an impenetrable fortress to intimidate and subdue London's vengeful population. His answer to the problem was to build the White Tower.
As a stronghold, it was of key important that William's masterpiece had to be easy to defend. For this purpose he built a single staircase in the north-east corner, which spiraled upwards in a clockwise direction. This design feature was because most soldiers are right-handed and an attacking enemy at the bottom of these spiral stairs would find his sword arm impeded by the solid wall to his right.
However, the Tower's defenders on the steps above would have the advantage in close combat. The wall would of course be on their left, so they had the advantage of being able to swing their weapons unimpeded, hence a clockwise spiral gave defenders of any castle an advantage in close combat.
2: Valentine's Day at the Tower.
What links the Tower of London to Valentine's Day?
The answer to this conundrum lies with the Duke of Orleans who was captured after the Battle of Agincourt. The Duke was a nephew of the French king and as such an extremely valuable hostage. So valuable in fact, that he was incarcerated at the Tower. Whilst kept prisoner there he became homesick and filled his time by writing love poems to his wife, stick back in France (sixty of these romantic letters still survive to this day, kept safe for the nation in the British Museum). Whilst incarcerated in the Tower the Duke penned a poem to his wife calling her; 'my very gentle Valentine,' which historians have us believe, is the very first documented use of a Valentine's message.
3: Stones that Drip Blood.
What was the original name of the Bloody Tower?
The very mention of the Bloody Tower is enough to send shivers down the spine. Linked to the murders of Henry VI, the princes in the tower and Henry Percy, the very name suggest that the stones are dyed red from the blood of traitors.
However, it was the infamy of these deaths that led to the tower being given a new more sinister name; The Bloody Tower. Previously the building went by an altogether more genteel title, the Garden Tower.
The Garden Tower sounds a much more subdued and pleasant place, indeed it was so named because the upper floor gave access to an area of open ground used for parades, previously called the Constable's Garden. Favoured prisoners, such as Sir Walter Raleigh, were allowed to stroll outside in the London sunshine and indeed Raleigh passed time during his imprisonment by conducting scientific experiments in the garden - so the Bloody Tower wasn't quiet so bloody as history would have us believe.
4: Superstitions and Signs.
Why Would a King Lose Sleep When a Lion Died?
The association of British monarchs with lions goes back to Richard the Lionheart and it was Richard's nephew, Henry III, who first kept lions at the Tower. The Tower's lions were housed near to the main entrance so that their very roars would be enough to intimidate visitors. For several centuries a collection of exotic animals, often gifts from other monarchs, were kept at the Tower of London. This regal tradition extended into Victorian times and it was customary at the time, to name one of the Tower's lions after the reigning monarch.
However, superstition dictated that the lion's health was closely linked to that of their human namesake. This superstitious prophecy harbours some truth; the lioness Elizabeth, became ill and died just a day before the elderly Queen passed away. This might have made any reigning monarch nervous!
It was however, also rumoured that if a lion died unexpectedly, the beast was rapidly replaced by another of the same name so keeping one step ahead of superstition.
5: All Mod Cons.
Which Building had the First Indoor Toilet?
Built by the Normans, the White Tower is credited as being the first building to have indoor toilets. This is not as grand as it sounds for each toilet was only a small room, or garderobe, built into the thickness of the outside wall with a shaft down which the effluent drained into the River Thames eventually.
In order to maintain their dignity as conquerors, the Normans built their toilets in the wall facing away from the city so that Londoner's couldn't sneer at the stains left by their masters' ablutions.
The word garderobe derives from a French word, meaning to guard robes. The idea being that valuable fabric and furs were hung in this small room where the ammonia fumes from urine would repel fleas and parasites. It is from garderobe that the piece of furniture called a wardrobe developed. A charming thought.
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