A Chronology of the Tower of London

A journey through 2000 years of archaeology in the heart of London

By Historic Royal Palaces

Alfred Hawkins, Assistant Curator

Illustration of Roman London from south-east corner by David LawrenceHistoric Royal Palaces

1. Roman Londinium

We start our journey with the Roman occupation of Britannia. Londinium, now London, was established between 43-60AD, and one of its most important features was its defensive walls, built between 190-300AD, which encircled the city and provided protection along the riverside.

Remains of Wardrobe Tower, Tower of London (2024) by Richard Lea-HairHistoric Royal Palaces

Much of the physical remnants of the Roman Wall have been lost, but at the Tower of London there are two exceptional survivals with much more hidden below ground. The earliest is the Wardrobe Tower, the lowest section of which is formed of the remnants of a Roman bastion.

Tower of London riverside wall (2024) by Richard Lea-HairHistoric Royal Palaces

Another visible survival is a section of the riverside wall, which was the last element added to the defences of Londinium. We are not sure why the wall was built, as it severed the city’s connection to the river - which means that at this point trade mattered less than defence.

Illustrated interpretation of the Tower of London c.1080 by Ivan LapperHistoric Royal Palaces

2. White Tower and the Anglo Norman Kings (1066-1135)

Following his victory at the Battle of Hastings and coronation in 1066, William the Conqueror built a defensive ring-work fortification at the eastern extent of the surviving Roman walls in 1067, creating a defensive point to both dominate and protect the City of London.

Detail of original roof level inside White Tower, Tower of London (2024) by Richard Lea-HairHistoric Royal Palaces

Between 1078 and 1100 the White Tower was built. This massive keep was made to appear as though it had an additional upper floor, adding to the status to the building. The scar of the original roof level can still be seen, revealing the original layout of the building.

White Tower, Tower of London (2024) by Richard Lea-HairHistoric Royal Palaces

When finished, the White Tower was one of the tallest buildings in the country and would have dominated the skyline for miles with its white caen stone. It formed the centrepiece of the Anglo-Norman king's iron grip over England.

Illustration of Tower and surrounds circa 1190 by David LawrenceHistoric Royal Palaces

3. The Angevin Expansion (1189-1216)

The next major expansion pushed the fortress out from the Roman wall and deeper into the City of London. The Bell Tower was constructed and new sections of walls surrounded by a deep ditch created an additional defensive area surrounding the original enclosure.

The Bell Tower's outer structure is a formidable bastion, built to defend against a concentrated attack. Its base is built from Sussex marble to protect it from erosion by the River Thames. 

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While externally the Bell Tower is a defensive bastion, internally it holds a beautifully carved vaulted space. This area, clearly built as a high status space, shows the delicacy and precision of medieval masons and the dual purposes of the Tower as both fortress and palace.

Henry III's Tower of London by Chris WormellHistoric Royal Palaces

4. Henry III (c.1220 - c.1260)

This huge period of work expanded the boundary of the castle beyond the limits of the Roman walls. The Inner Curtain Wall surrounded by a deep ditch was constructed during this time.  Included in the construction of this outer circuit were the Wakefield and Lanthorn Towers.

The Wakefield Tower housed the King's apartments and is an important example of the development of royal lodgings at the Tower, which once sprawled across the area to the south of the White Tower including a hall, kitchens, chapels and apartments, known as the 'Inmost Ward'.

Lanthorn Tower, Tower of London (2024) by Richard Lea-HairHistoric Royal Palaces

The Lanthorn Tower, initially built as the Queen's apartments, evolved to become part of the the Kings lodgings. The building was badly damaged by fire in the eighteenth century before being demolished. The current tower was rebuilt in the nineteenth century.

Henry III's Tower of London by Chris WormellHistoric Royal Palaces

As part of his defences, Henry also had a new gatehouse built along the line of Great Tower Street, a principal Roman Road. In April 1240 this gate collapsed ‘as if struck by an earthquake’. The gate was rebuilt but collapsed again a year later!

5. Edward I

During the reign of Henry III’s son, Edward I, the Tower was greatly expanded in all directions, creating what are the current dimensions of the fortress. By ringing the Tower with an additional wall, the Tower became a formidable concentric castle with an additional Outer Ward.

Within his new outer ward Edward I founded the Royal Mint, which became the centre for the creation of coinage within England. Though no archaeological evidence has yet been found for the Medieval Mint, spectacular remnants survive from the Tudor period.

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Tower of London, Legge's MountHistoric Royal Palaces

This exceptional survival is an assaying forge, likely dating to the sixteenth century. Used to test the purity of precious metals prior to minting, this forge enabled Mint officials to regulate the quantity of gold or silver in any given coin.

A True and Exact Draught of the Tower Liberties (16th Century) by John Gascoyne and William HaiwardHistoric Royal Palaces

6. The Tudor Tower

A huge scheme of works from 1532 renewed the palatial buildings of the Tower, located to the south of the White Tower in preparation for Anne Boleyn's coronation. Sadly these buildings are now lost, though they can still be seen in this sixteenth century plan of the Tower.

The finest survival of the works from this period is the King's House, which today serves as the residence of the Constable of the Tower. Construction of the building, an L-shaped plot in the southwestern corner of the Inner Ward, took place in 1540.

The house is formed of four gables on each range and is made distinct within the Tower complex through its exposed timber framing on the external elevations. It is the finest timber framed building to survive the Great Fire of London of 1666.

7. The Stuart Tower

During the reign of the Stuarts, the administrative function of the Tower expanded dramatically, resulting in the repurposing of many buildings as lodgings and offices. This is clearly seen through 4 & 5 Tower Green, which stand next to the King's House.

These residences were built in 1680 on the site of stables related to the King's House. Though many of the buildings constructed during this period have been demolished, archaeologically recording those that survive helps us to better understand life in the Stuart Tower.

Salvin's Bridge (1919) by H.M. Office of WorksHistoric Royal Palaces

8. Re-medievalisation

By the middle of the nineteenth century the perception of the Tower had begun to change from a garrison, storehouse and foundry to a site of historic importance. In the latter half of the century Anthony Salvin and John Taylor led the process of re-medievalising the fortress.

Cradle Tower (2024)Historic Royal Palaces

These works touched most of the Tower’s buildings, even rebuilding ‘lost’ elements of its towers and walls including the upper storey of The Cradle Tower, which had been built during the reign of Edward III.

The Tower of London - proposed restoration of Ballium Wall (c.1890) by The Tower of London. Proposed restoration of Ballium Wall between the Wakefield Tower and the Lanthorn Tower. Plans and sections.Historic Royal Palaces

Alongside this was the reconstruction of the Inner Curtain Wall between the Salt & Wakefield Towers, including the Lanthorn Tower. Though often seen as destructive, this period in the Tower's history created the fortress as we know it - along with many of its myths.

The Tower of London and River Thames (2021) by Richard Lea-HairHistoric Royal Palaces

9. The Future

The story of the Tower of London spans over 2000 years of development at the heart of London, but it isn’t over yet. The Tower requires constant maintenance and conservation in order to conserve and repair its historic fabric and keep the site safe.

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