Friday, May 14, 2010

Bored? To the Tower!

We’ve talked from time to time about things teens of the nineteenth century did to entertain themselves, particularly in London. Today, one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions is the Tower of London. It was one of the most popular attractions in the nineteenth century too, and for many of the same reasons.

For one thing, until 1834, the Tower housed the Royal Menagerie. That’s right, you went to the Tower to go to the zoo. They had monkeys, ostriches, lions, and tigers, and the first grizzly bear in England. Personally, I’m not fond of animals in cages, and these poor animals would have lived entirely in iron-barred cells surrounded by stone walls. They also didn’t always get the best care. One ostrich died from eating nails!

Okay, so maybe you don’t want to see the animals. There’s always the Royal Armory! The Tower held armor and weapons from England and the nations that paid it court, from Asia to Africa and all points in between. Said an 1809 tourist publication:

The horse-armoury contains, among other appropriate articles of curiousity, the effigies of the kings of England, clad in armour and on horseback, inclusively from William the Conqueror to his late Majesty George II. They are as large as life, and some of them appear in the suits of armour which those sovereigns actually wore.

Hm. Dead guys on horses. The history geek in me squeals with delight, but it probably wasn’t the best choice for a young man squiring a young lady about town. But there was one place in the Tower sure to delight any young lady: The Jewel Office.

The Jewel Office was a small, dark stone room that contained the crown jewels, including St. Edward’s Crown, used to crown all British monarchs for centuries. The Jewel Office even held the silver font used in baptisms of the Royal Family. Says an 1844 visitor’s guide:

In the Jewel Office are preserved the imperial regalia, and all the crown-jewels worn by princes and princesses at the coronation, together with the whole of the paraphernalia used on those occasions. Independent of a variety of articles, many of which are inestimable, the value of the precious stones in this office considerably exceeds two million sterling.

Pretty things in slightly spooky surroundings—what girl wouldn’t hang all over her fellow to be there?

For part of the nineteenth century, the Tower was open to the public on Sundays; at other times it was open daily. The cost ranged from a shilling to see the menagerie, 2 shillings for the armories, and 2 shillings for the Jewel Office to 6 shillings for the whole shebang later in the century.

So, to the Tower with you, young misses and masters. Will it be beasties, swords and pistols, or jewelry for you?


Rachel said...

All of the above! I loved visiting the Tower when I was in London a few years ago. Though I'm glad there weren't any zoo animals on display, poor things!

Thanks for the post! Wish the Tower was still that cheap ;)

QNPoohBear said...

What Rachel said!

Regina Scott said...

I've only seen the Tower from the Thames. There's always so many other things I want to see that there's never time to fight the crowds at the Tower.

Maybe someday!

Dara said...

All of it! I love history and the zoo and what girl can resist pretty jewelry?