A little bit of a history lesson

As Chris is discovering, understanding the history of the Tower is not easy, so I thought it would be a good idea to provide a few tidbits of history to contextualise Chris’s work.  As with everything we do in the Tower Education Service, I’ll try and make it more interesting than the average history lesson I had at school.  (No offence intended Mr Parks!)

One of the greatest challenges in working at the Tower of London is the history.  Sounds odd I know, but there’s almost too much of it.  Successive monarchs have utilised the convenience and security of the Tower for their own ends, thus ensuring that the Tower quickly became (and remained) the epicentre of political events, or became the host for the fallout of tragic events which we now discuss as defining points in English history.  After all, it’s not every day you behead the Queen of England.  As a result, the Tower has evolved an incredible sense of place which in turn directly contributed to its early development as a (macabre?) visitor attraction.

At the same time, the Tower has remained and still is a working fortress.  The sentries here are serving soldiers, the medals pinned to their chests are from recent campaigns in Iraq or Afghanistan, and their presence provides an interesting continuity and tension between the idea of the Tower as both a fortress and a visitor site.

And because the Tower has always been a living place, with its own community with singular needs, the Tower landscape has changed significantly as buildings have come and gone across the centuries.  The addition of the inner and outer curtain walls reflected the changes in medieval military techniques, the White Tower had an extra floor added and its windows were enlarged in order to allow more light into the building as its use changed.  The Public Record Office started here, had its own building which dominated the south of the Tower, but was removed and replaced by Victorian buildings in the medieval stylee as the Tower evolved into a visitor site.  Talk about postmodern.

Over the next few weeks I’ll update the blog and provide you with some of the complex history the Tower has experienced since its 11th century inception, which in turn will help you appreciate Chris’s work as photographer in residence.


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