An illustration of the White Tower facade. The building is an example of Romanesque architecture built in the 11th Century. The Tower can be found in East London in Tower Hamlets Click the image to enlarge

But when you walk through yonder gate, you'll find yourself in a London you no longer know.

— Winston Churchill

Learn more about The White Tower below...

History

The White Tower is the central keep at the Tower of London and is still one of the most important pieces of Norman military architecture in England.

William the Conqueror commissioned it around 1078 and appointed Gundulf, a Norman monk skilled in architecture, as the overseer of its construction. It was used as a military defence base to watch attacks coming in from Europe, but also acted as a symbol of power to the Saxons already living there.

Throughout its lifetime, the building has been altered many times: in the Tudor period, cannon emplacements were added to the roof and the Tower was used as a storage facility for armour and gunpowder, which eventually led to structural changes and the facing material of the building having to be replaced. By the early 19th Century, the Tower became a tourist attraction, and displayed the effigies of England’s kings and Queen Elizabeth’s I Armoury.

Today, The White Tower is Grade I listed and also a World Heritage Site together with its surrounding buildings and the wall. Under the care of Historic Royal Palaces, the Tower went through a £2 million conservation programme, cleaning and repairing the structure.

Did you know?

The Kray Twins, Ronnie and Reggie, two of the most infamous English gangsters were among the last prisoners held at the Tower of London in 1952 for failing to do National Service as part of their sentence.

The architecture

Originally built of Caen stone, the Tower is about 27.5m high and forms a rectangular plan with 3 rooms on each floor. The basement is roughly finished with walls measuring 4.5m deep and was often used for storage purposes. The first floor, which used to be the main entrance floor, has a large and a small hall which each contain a fireplace and large windows and would have been used by important officials and the Constable of the Tower who was in charge when the king was not in residence.

On the second floor stood St John’s Chapel, a crypt which occupies the south-east corner of the White Tower. The nave is barrel-vaulted and ends in a semi-domed apse, with groin-vaulted walkways and aisles on either side. The columns run round the whole of the crypt holding up the gallery, and have different styled capitals. The plain and simple aesthetic of the chapel today is how it would have looked back in the Norman times, however during Henry III’s reign, it would have been decorated with more elaborate ornaments such as stained glass windows and gold-painted cross.

Most of the exterior is now faced in Portland stone after renovations made by Inigo Jones in the 17th and 18th centuries, and has blind arcading around the building with buttresses in between. Recently, the exterior of the Tower had to be cleaned of the pollution it had accumulated over the years to prevent further damage already caused to the structure.

See images of The White Tower