Posts Tagged Westminster Abbey

Mysteries of the Tower of London

25 April 2012

This segment of the Tower of London walk takes visitors through Traitors’ Gate, the Medieval Palace and the Bloody Tower.

Traitors’ Gate

In pre-Tudor days, the Tower of London was used primarily as a royal palace and not yet as a full-time prison. At the time, the river came right up to the Tower wall where today there is a wharf. The Thames River was the city’s lifeblood and provided a busy thoroughfare for commerce and trade. The river entrance to the palace was called “Traders Gate” and acted as a sort of tradesman’s entrance where vendors could pull up in barges, sell their wares, then push off again and ferry to their next stop.

When the Tower’s purpose took a more sinister turn, the river entrance offered a way to sneak the monarch’s more controversial prisoners into the Tower away from public eye. Princess Elizabeth made a low-key entrance through this “Traitors’ Gate” at the age of twenty-one when her Catholic half-sister Queen Mary Tudor imprisoned her on suspicious of inciting a Protestant rebellion. Elizabeth vehemently protested her innocence and, although Queen Mary’s throne was not considered secure as long as Elizabeth was alive, Queen Mary did not order her execution. After Mary’s death in 1558, Elizabeth acceded to the throne as Queen Elizabeth I and reigned for nearly 45 years.

The Medieval Palace

Just beside Traitors’ Gate lies the entrance to the Medieval Palace, where modern visitors can get a vivid sense of life at the Tower during the 13th century. The Medieval Palace is the collective name used for the three towers of St. Thomas, Wakefield and Lanthorn, where King Henri III and his successors Edward I and II lived at various periods during the Middle Ages.

In medieval times, kings and their courts traveled frequently, sometimes at a moment’s notice. All furnishings and decorations required portability. Rooms themselves had to be adaptable, since each chamber held multiple functions throughout the day, serving in turn as a bedchamber, dining hall and a place of entertainment.

Edward I’s bedchamber has been painstakingly restored to its medieval splendor with richly colored furnishings, wall hangings and a magnificent four-poster bed all based on descriptions of the palace found in surviving documents and in archeological research. Costumed interpreters bring the Medieval Palace to life through various speeches and sketches.

The Wakefield Tower includes a throne room complete with a throne replicated from the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey as well as a small oratory (or prayer room), where Henry VI is thought to have been murdered while at prayer.

Did You Know? The Crown Jewels were displayed in the Medieval Palace from 1870 to 1967.

Bloody Tower

The Bloody Tower, formerly known by the more prosaic name of Garden Tower, enshrines in its walls the secrets of its many prisoners. Chief among its secrets is what happened to two young princes once imprisoned there.

At King Edward IV’s death in 1483, his 12-year-old son acceded to the throne as Edward V. But things went downhill for him after that. On his way to London, Edward was met by his uncle Henry, the Duke of Gloucester, who escorted him to the Tower of London where he was to be kept until his coronation. Edward was joined by his brother Richard, age 9, a few days later. Before Edward has a chance to be officially crowned, his uncle declared his brother Edward IV’s marriage to the young princes’ mother unlawful, making the boys illegitimate offspring and therefore ineligible for the throne. The Duke of Gloucester then declared himself king and reigned as Richard III.

The princes at the Tower were seen less and less frequently until they seemed to disappear altogether, never to be seen again. Foul play on the uncle’s part was suspected, as William Shakespeare depicts in his play Henry III, but nothing was ever proven. Fueling rumors that the boys were murdered was the discovery of two small skeletons, presumably of two boys around the princes’ ages, in the White Tower 200 years later. What really happened to the young princes remains one of the Tower’s darkest mysteries.

The Bloody Tower is also known as the place where the great poet and explorer Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned for 13 years, accused of treason by King James. Despite his long imprisonment, Raleigh lived in considerable ease and comfort and managed to write his History of the World before his beheading in 1618.

PrayerWalk London: Good News, Bad News

6 March 2012

Several people have asked lately how PrayerWalk London is coming along. With the London 2012 Olympics just a few months away, it’s an understandable question. Well, as the saying goes, there’s good news and bad news.

Westminster Abbey

The bad news is that due to a technological mishap, I’ve lost all my PrayerWalk London manuscript files. I have all my hard copy research documents but it would take months to retype and rewrite all the walks. I had transferred all my files onto a jump drive — temporarily — while I returned a loaner laptop from work and waited a couple of weeks for my new laptop to be delivered. When I put the drive into the new machine, it did not recognize the device. In another laptop, the device was recognized but it said there were no contents. Yeah!! Just what every writer wants to hear!

My dad asked the IT people at his office and they said there was nothing that could be done. I have a vivid memory of him coming home from the office and almost casually tossing the flash drive in its Ziploc bag to me and saying, “Sorry. They said it’s dead and there’s nothing that can be done about it.” I was nearly in tears — but c’est la vie! 

I contacted IT at my work to see if by any chance they could still access the loaner laptop’s information … but it had been sent out for recycling.

Picturesque Pub

So much for that. Discouraged, and with only myself to blame, I put the project on hold for a few months while I grappled with the realities of my new job as a freelance writer and editor (esp. the part where if you don’t work, you don’t get paid!). I’m only just now coming back to it and have looked up some data recovery businesses in town that may, just may, be able to help recover the files.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that I’m reenergized about the project and the need for prayer and prayerwalking in London. Today, I searched online for “london prayer walk” and found that after the first search result (which was a dead link), results #2 and #3 direct to my PrayerWalk Guides website. That was pretty neat. But I was actually wanting to see if there are any prayerwalks currently going on in London and couldn’t find much of anything. That’s okay, though, that’s what PrayerWalk London is for: to fill a gap — a “prayer” gap.

Tower of London

On Thursday I should find out if the documents on my flash drive can be saved. Please pray!!!!

In the meantime, I’m working on the only chapter I was able to salvage: the Crime & Punishment Walk, starting at the Tower of London and winding its way through the narrow streets of London’s “City” district to a monument called, ironically, Monument (where the Great Fire of London started in 1666) then to the Bank of England and finally to St. Paul’s Cathedral and Old Bailey, the court of justice. It’s an exciting chapter and I’m loving going back through it and trying to remember little descriptive details from my own walks in the area.

Stay tuned for more! I hope to have some of the chapter posted within the week.

Your prayers for this project are most appreciated!!

Preview of PrayerWalk London

20 April 2011

Church & State: Westminster Abbey and Houses of Parliament

Summary of Area

Palace of Westminster & Big Ben

Let your imagination run back in time a thousand years as you stroll through Westminster, the religious and political heart of London. Rich in history, culture, and iconic landmarks, this walk takes you through Westminster Abbey, where William the Conqueror was crowned in 1066, past the Palace of Westminster, home to the House of Lords, House of Commons, and Big Ben, to the residence of the Prime Minister at No. 10 Downing Street, and finally to the underground headquarters of Churchill’s wartime government.

Key Facts       

  • Starting Point: Parliament Square (Underground station: Westminster)
  • Finishing Point: Churchill Museum & War Rooms (Underground station: St. James’s Park; Westminster)
  • Days to Avoid: Sunday (Westminster Abbey open for worship only)
  • Best Day: Any week day
  • Length of Walk: 1 ½ miles
  • Time Needed: 3 hours

Walk Highlights

1. Parliament Square

Each side of this centrally located square represents a different branch of the state: legislature to the east (Houses of Parliament), executive to the north (Whitehall), judiciary to the west (Supreme Court), and the Church to the south (Westminster Abbey). In recent years, the square has been taken over by protesters who have renamed it “Democracy Village.”


Westminster Abbey

2. Westminster Abbey

This magnificent church has witnessed a thousand years of history and the coronation of nearly every king and queen of this country. Its “Poet’s Corner” is the burial place of the famous – not just poets, but also authors, painters, musicians, and even well-known actors. Most recently, it has become known as the location where the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton will take place.

3. St. Margaret’s Church

Though lesser-known than its adjoining sister church, St. Margaret’s has joined Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It, too, has seen its share of historical weddings, funerals, and burials, among which was Winston Churchill’s wedding to Clementine Hozier in 1908.

4. Houses of Parliament

In this impressive Gothic structure on the banks of the Thames, the most powerful branches of the British government – the House of Lords and the House of Commons – gather to debate the nation’s important issues. The most recognizable feature of the Houses of Parliament, aka the Palace of Westminster, is the clock tower of Big Ben.

5. Big Ben

The world’s most famous clock bell chimes every quarter hour and has been an iconic symbol of London since its completion in 1859.

6. Cenotaph

The cenotaph is a war memorial in the middle of Whitehall, designed to honor the dead of WWI. The Queen lays a memorial wreath at the cenotaph every year on November 11, Remembrance Day.

7. No. 10 Downing Street

“Number 10,” as it is known in the UK, is the headquarters of the Queen’s Government and the home of the Prime Minister. It is one of the most famous addresses in the world (perhaps second to 221b Baker Street, home of the famous Sherlock Holmes!).

8. Churchill Museum & Cabinet War Rooms

This museum provides a rare chance to glimpse the makeshift wartime seat of the British government during the German Blitz of WWII. Once the war was over, inhabitants of this underground world were only too glad to leave, and the bunkers were left untouched for decades before they were reopened as a museum.

One Perfect Day in London

20 September 2010

As the cultural, political and business center of the United Kingdom, London is like LA, DC, and NYC all rolled into one. You’ll enjoy discovering this vibrant, multi-faceted city, even if you only have one day.         


Big Ben

Big Ben

8:30 am – Beat the crowds to Parliament Square and snap pictures at leisure of Big Ben – the world’s most famous clock – and the Houses of Parliament.

Tip: Some of London’s biggest attractions like the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace are only open to tourists seasonally. Check before you go to see if you can reserve tickets online. 

9:15 am – Join the “queue” for tickets at Westminster Abbey. 

9:30 am – Walk through Westminster Abbey, the coronation place of royalty and burial place of the famous. Take the 60-minute audio tour included with the entrance fee. You’ll hate to leave after only an hour but will have gotten an excellent overview. 

10:35 am – Walk to St. James’s Park. As you turn right onto Horse Guards St. and walk past the War Rooms & Churchill Museum, glance to the right at No. 10 Downing Street.

10:45am – Grab a coffee and snack “to go” at Inn the Park or one of four refreshment points in St. James’s Park, then head towards Buckingham Palace.  

Changing of the Guard11:15 am – Secure a good viewing point for the Changing of the Guard and shoot pictures of Buckingham Palace as you wait for the ceremony to begin. 

Tip: The Changing of the Guard takes place daily in the summer but alternate days outside of summer. Check online schedule to avoid disappointment. 

11:30 am – Witness the Changing of the Guard, an ageless pageant full of color, sound, and drama. The ceremony lasts about 40 minutes.  

12:10 pm – Walk up the Mall towards Admiralty Arch. Hang a left and you’ll see Nelson’s Column across the way. That’s Trafalgar Square.  

12:20 pm – It’s lunchtime. Fortunately, you’re in Trafalgar Square and choices abound. Look around the square for appealing restaurants or consider eating in the National Gallery itself.

Tip: For additional choices, including fast food and Italian, walk up the road between the National Gallery and St-Martin-in-the-Fields to Leicester Square.   


1:00 pm After lunch, browse the National Gallery with the help of the complimentary Highlights audio tour. Admission is free. 

2:00 pm – Take a left just past the National Gallery. A few steps after the National Portrait Gallery turn into Irving Street and walk through Little Italy to Leicester Square.   

2:05 pm – Wander through Leicester Square where red carpet events and London premieres are held with royalty and movie stars in attendance. Notice the ticket booth on one side of the park: “Tkts” offers half-priced tickets to the evening’s shows on a first-come, first-served basis.  

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul's

2:20 pm  – Take a taxi, subway, or walk to St. Paul’s Cathedral. At St. Paul’s be sure to allot enough time to see not only the nave and the Whispering Gallery, but also to climb up the dome for some outstanding views of London. 

Tip: If you’ve invested in the London Pass you can jump the line at St. Paul’s and save time, as the queue seems to get quite long. At £40 for one day, however, the pass may not be worth the money. 

 4:00 pm – Enjoy a leisurely and stylish afternoon tea at the Restaurant in St. Paul’s

5:00 pm – Take a taxi, subway, or walk to the London Eye, near the Houses of Parliament but on the other side of the river. 

5:30 pm – The “flight” on the London Eye takes 30 minutes, but allow an hour to an hour and a half because of wait times. Be prepared for spectacular views of places you’ve seen throughout the day. 

Tip: You can book tickets for the London Eye in advance on their website, even if you don’t know the exact time you’ll arrive. 


7:00 pm Head for Piccadilly Circus and Trocadero, London’s equivalent of New York’s Time Square, for a dizzying taste of the city’s nightlife. Nearby Chinatown offers a multitude of delicious options for a quick pre-theatre dinner. 

7:30 pm – Take in a favorite musical performed on the London stage in the famous West End district. Alternatively, attend an unforgettable performance of a Shakespearian play at the reconstructed Globe Theatre in the Southwark District.   

10:00 pm – Congratulations! You’ve seen the highlights of London! Your feet are killing you, your mind is spinning, but don’t forget to plan another trip to London: there is still much more to see!

For other perfect days, see Paris and Beijing.