top of page

London: Southwark

The second day of our trip to London started where the first day left off: the Tower of London. Ok first we stopped for tea and avocado toast at Dan and DeCarlo, a local coffee joint right by the tube station.

Then we went to the Tower of London. No wait, first we took selfies on the Tube.

THEN we went to the Tower of London. *whew*

The history of the Tower is long (almost a millennium long – which simply blows my mind) and complicated. The short version is that William the Conqueror, the first Norman king of England and prolific castle builder, built it in the year 1066 as part of his conquest of the Anglo-Saxons in England. He used the already existing Roman wall as the start of his fortifications, and built on from there.

(Can we pause for a second here and take in the fact that this picture shows structures built in each of the first, second, and third millenniums?! Ok now let's continue.)

Tower Hill was expanded and upgraded over the years (and parts of it were torn down or destroyed, as well), and was used as a royal residence, zoo, mint, prison, armory, and so much more. It's been a paid tourist attraction since before the United States was a country!

First we stopped by an exhibit about the Royal Mint, which was located on Tower Hill in the late 1200's and continued to be an active mint until the 1800's, when a new one was built across the street. (Today the minting of Britain's coins is done in Wales.) The exhibit itself covered all topics, ranging from minting technology (including a fairly lengthy section about alchemists smelting precious metals from ores) to stories of various forgeries, frauds, and robberies. As a numismatist, I was so enthralled that I forgot to take more than two pictures.

Next we headed to the Wakefield Tower, the construction of which was ordered in 1220 by King Henry III.

The first recorded prisoner was held at the tower in 1100 when Bishop Ranulf Flambard was held there on charges of embezzlement (he escaped, making him both the first prisoner and the first person to escape). From there various buildings were used as to hold prisoners (despite the cliches of being a torture chamber, most prisoners were political prisoners held in very likely one of the nicest prisons they could ask for) all the way up until the last prisoner in 1941: Adolph Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess. Along the way, a few of them literally left their marks.

Easily one of the most fascinating exhibits to me was about the Royal Menagerie. Many exotic animals were kept at the tower from at least the early 1200's up through 1832. Lions were a popular staple, but various kings and queens also kept snakes, monkeys, eagles, hyenas, bears, and even an African elephant! After 600 years for some reason the keepers couldn't stop the animals from biting people so they moved them all to the Royal Zoo.

The Tower Complex was built as a fortress and also served during its 950-year history as an armory, arsenal, and barracks. As such, there were a lot of cool weapons there.

They even had a dragon made out of guns and swords.

There were only two exhibits we didn't see. The first one we thought was going to be the crown jewels, and the line was really long and slow-moving through a cramped building. Turns out it wasn't the crown jewels, but various crowns themselves. The actual crown jewel line was much longer and much slower. Like at least an hour wait to see a bunch of rocks slower. (GEMS! I mean gems! Note to self: edit this part out before Tashia sees it and whacks you upside the head for calling gems rocks. Crazy geologists). Anyway we took some more exterior shots (*cough* or I put all the exterior shots into one montage) before heading to our next adventure.

Hey that last one looks kinda familiar...

Ah yes, it's the London Bridge!

Anyone who just nodded their heads has fallen for the most common tourist misconception in London! The bridge that we non-Londoners associate with "London Bridge is falling down" is in fact the Tower Bridge (because its... right next to the Tower of London! Or maybe because it's a bridge made up of two towers, I wasn't really paying that much attention) and it in fact has never fallen down, unlike the actual London Bridge (stay tuned later for more on that story).

Anyway, we took a prerequisite selfie:

And then we went right on up to the top HOLY CRAP WE WENT ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP!

Our London Passes got us on a "tour" of the bridge. I say "tour" in quotation marks because all we actually did was walk across the plexiglass observation walkway. It was still very cool, but it took all of 10 minutes. The London Pass also got us into the engine rooms, where there we saw an exhibit that showed how the original steam engines powered the bridge lifts from the late 1800's when the bridge was built, through 1976 when it was converted to electric.

Now that we were on the south side of the River Thames (the borough of Southwark, pronounced "suthuck", of course) we took a stroll and took in the famous sites such as:

Familiar Bridge!

Familiar Keep!

Friendly Seagull!

Incognito Cyberman!

Political Graffiti!

Famished, we stopped by Wagamama for some awesome ramen.

Our next stoop was a trip through time at the London Bridge Experience and London Tombs, "UK's Scariest Attraction". It's one part touristy reenactment, one part haunted house, and a surprising amount of history about the London Bridge (or more accurately, London bridges). It was here that we learned that the first "London bridge" was built by the Romans (helping seal the fate for that stretch of land which would eventually become Londinium, and then London), and the first "fallen" London bridge was probably the one torn down by the Iceni queen Boudica and her rebels (who then set Londinium on fire for the first, but far from the last, time). In fact, the current London bridge is probably the most boring, normal-looking-bridge-y bridge crossing the Thames. So normal, in fact, that I don't think I got a picture of it...

Our final London Pass experience for the day was a visit to the top of the tallest building in the EU (err, at least until Brexit anyway). It was fairly grey out still (and the weird holes in the structure meant there were spots where we could get rained on), but we managed to get some pictures, mostly of stuff we already during the day, but from MUCH HIGHER.

After our jam-packed day we were beat! But we had the munchies, so we stopped by The Woodman, one of the "locals" close to our flat (or in American: the pub near our apartment). They had a bar snacks menu including haloumi cheese sticks, house made pork cracklins, and the British dessert staple, sticky toffee pudding.

Oh and on our way home we saw the world's largest mayonnaise container.

That's all for this one, stay tuned for Day 3!

Featured Posts