Today we got up fairly early to go to the Tower of London, the castle around which London was built. We began by going to see the Crown Jewels, the Royal collection of precious metals, gems and other Royal items. Many crowns worn by various royalty and some other things like sceptres are on display. The movies sure don’t exaggerate the brilliance of the crowns worn by royalty, One interesting thing about the things on display in the Crown Jewels exhibit is that they are still used today.
After seeing the Crown Jewels, we went to the White Tower, the main structure in the middle of the fortress. The Royal armoury is on display there. Everything from suits of armour for various kings and princes to large cannons were in the collection. There were some exotic weapons as well such as a highly decorated mace-pistol and a gold plated semiautomatic gun. They also had a display about the Royal Mint. Originally, 240 pence equaled one pound because the weight of 240 pence weighed one pound.
At this point, it was time for a tour guides by the Yeoman Warders, the guards for the Tower of London. They are nicknamed beefeaters but nobody really knows exactly why. Our guide said that the most likely explanation is that the guards were once paid in meat, but the pheasants outside couldn’t afford anything but vegetables. Therefore, they were dubbed beefeaters because they had beef.
He took us to the Traitor’s Gate through which many people convicted of treason were taken over the years. Then he led us to the chapel where he talked about some of the people buried inside. Most of the people were convicted of treason (some justly, some not). Three ex-Queens of England were laid to rest there. The guide pointed out the tower where one of the Queens was held before her beheading and told some of the other execution stories surrounding the Tower complex.
After the tour, we went to walk on the tower wall. We could see many of the major London sites from the wall including Tower Bride, the London Eye, and the Gherkin to name a few. Towers are placed along the wall, and many of the rooms had prisoner-graffiti from the various people who were held there.
We then proceeded out of the Tower to Westminster Abbey. The structure is very magnificent, but I didn’t like it as much as St. Paul’s because it felt too much like a graveyard. Many of the English Royalty were buried here and there were an overwhelming number of shrines, tombs, and memorials to them and other important figures in English history.
After seeing Westminster Abbey, we went to the Churchill War Rooms, the office/bunkers of Prime Minister Winston Churchill during WWII. The museum was very extensive. The included audio guide led us through all of the offices, meeting rooms, and sleeping quarters in the complex. I’ll list some of the most interesting things here in no particular order.
- The war rooms were merely a converted basement, reinforced as the war went on. If there had been a direct hit from a 500 lb bomb, the bunker would probably have collapsed.
- We saw the room where Churchill conducted most of the business of the war. When Churchill came to inspect the basement, he declared “this is room from which I will direct the war” and it was so.
- Churchill only slept in the underground bunker overnight three times, though he often had his afternoon nap in there.
- Churchill’s working hours were often from 08:00 until 03:00 the next morning.
- Churchill made a few BBC broadcasts from the bunker and we saw the BBC broadcast room and the equipment (or at least a replica thereof) for transmitting the broadcast all over the world.
- We saw the map room where the progress of the conflict was tracked and many crucial decisions were made.
- We saw the conference room where Churchill met with his Chief of Staff.
- Some of the displays told stories of the various people who worked in the war rooms during the conflict. They could not tell anyone where they were working or what they were doing because if a Nazi spy had gotten that information, bye bye war rooms.
- The war rooms are in very close proximity to 10 Downing St., the residence of the Prime Minister, and to the Houses of Parliament.
Inside the museum, there was a large room that gave information about Churchill’s life. It was very interesting learning about his post and pre war career. I’ll outline his life chronologically here.
- Churchill was born into an aristocratic family. His mother was an American, his father a Britton.
- He became an MP (Member of Parliament) and quickly rose to the position of Lord of the Admiralty (basically the political head of the Navy).
- His career was nearly ended after the failed Gallipoli invasion of which he was the prime orchestrator.
- He resigned from his position, and actually served in the army on the Western Front for a brief period.
- He returned to politics and became Prime Minister after WWII broke out. If ever there was a man to lead Britain through the war, it was Winston Churchill. His “get stuff done”, no-nonsense attitude, and quick wit was just what was needed.
- Churchill’s speeches helped keep the morale of the British nation up, even in the face of the Luftwaffe’s Blitz.
- He was ousted from the Prime Ministership at the end of the war, but he remained a prominent figure in international politics. It was at this time that he made his famous “Iron Curtain” speech.
Churchill’s life began in the age of cavalry charges and ended during the nuclear arms race. He made many enemies during his career, but he knew how to lead Great Britain through WWII.
I spend a good deal of time reading some of his quotes. He has a sense of humor like mine, dry and very hilarious (if I may say so myself). I even bought two books of his quotes and excerpts from some of his speeches.
We went to a very nice Italian restaurant this evening. I had a lasagna that was very good. Then we went to bed.