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7 fun facts that will surprise you about The Tower of London

Chief Yeoman Warder Alan Kingshott popped into the Breakfast Show studio to help launch 500 Words 2017, and shared some fascinating stories about the Tower.

Alan brought in some props to give Chris a 'show and tell' tour, each with their own story to tell.

1. Valuables have been kept in the keep since the 1100s

When you think of the Tower of London, one of the first things likely to pop into your head are the Crown Jewels. Before 1649, the important objects used in coronation ceremonies (such as the the orb, sceptres, and of course the quite crucial crown) were stored in Westminster Abbey. There was a rather strict rule stating that the regalia could not leave the abbey walls, and so royals had to request other ornaments to be made for them to wear during their reign. These personal items were also very precious, which meant that they had to be stored somewhere safe and secure. The Tower was perfect, and so these valuables have been kept in the keep since the 1100s.

During the English Revolution kings and queens fell out of favour, and all crowns and coronation items were destroyed. It wasn't until the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658 that people realised that they actually quite liked having the royals around. Charles II was asked to be the new king, but there was a problem: there were no longer any crowns!

A king couldn't be coronated without a crown, and so a new set of Crown Jewels was created in 1661. These jewels, along with other rarities collected over the many years, are displayed at the Tower of London today.

The largest diamond stored in the Tower is the Cullinan I, also known as the Star of Africa, which is a whopping 530.2 carats! The rough diamond from which it was cut was initially thought to be a hoax, and was thrown out the window in a fit of anger. Thankfully it was rescued, and cut to reveal the glittering gem that now sits in the Sovereign's Sceptre.

2. The Ceremony of the Keys has taken place every evening, for at least 700 years!

Each night the Yeoman Warders use a lantern just like this one in a special ceremony to lock up the Tower. The Ceremony of the Keys has taken place every evening, in every kind of weather, for at least 700 years!

A lantern similar to the one used in the Ceremony of Keys

The ritual begins with the Chief Yeoman Warder walking to Traitor's Gate to meet the foot soldiers, carrying a lantern and the Queen's Keys. The ceremony makes its way around the Tower, locking each gate and tower door along the way, with all guards and sentries respectfully saluting the keys as they pass.

Locking the Tower is an incredibly important part of a Yeoman Warder's day. Historically, monarchs lived in the Tower and so it had to be shut tight overnight to keep them protected, and to stop prisoners from escaping. Whilst you won't find royalty living in the Tower today, it still houses some very valuable artifacts and objects - including the Crown Jewels! - and so it is locked in the same way as it was 700 years ago.

The Ceremony of the Keys has only been delayed once, during WWII, when the blast of a bomb dropping nearby knocked two warders off their feet!

3. The Raven's presence in the tower led to the creation of Greenwich observatory

There is a legend that six ravens must be present at the Tower of London at all times, otherwise the kingdom and the tower will fall. Because of this, to this day, you will always find six ravens going about their business in the Tower's grounds.

Alan holding a feather shed by one of the Tower's resident ravens.

Most people love the ravens, but their presence at the Tower ruffled the feathers of King Charles II's 'astronomical observator' John Flamsteed. During the 17th century the Royal Observatory was situated at the Tower, and the story goes that the ravens were causing so much mischief that they were disrupting his observations. Mr Flamsteed complained to the king and asked for the birds to be removed.

However King Charles II was very superstitious, and so fearing the legend's warning he decreed that the ravens should stay, and that John and his observatory would have to move elsewhere. In a bit of a grump, Mr Flamsteed packed up his observatory and transported it to Greenwich.

4. Tower was home to a whole host of amazing animals, including Lions!

A lion? At the Tower of London? It's enough to make you roar with laughter, but it's true! Alongside royal residents and important prisoners the Tower was home to a whole host of amazing animals.

An historic bone, thought to be that of a lion that once lived in the Royal Menagerie.

For over 600 years the Royal Menagerie could be found at the Tower of London, with elephants (you can hear Alan talking about one of the Tower's elephants in the clip below), African deer, leopards and a tame Bengal tiger called Harry, who was best friends with a small dog. During 1780 there was a fully-furnished room where visitors could mingle with a troop of monkeys, and marvel at their human-like behaviour. The menagerie even had a polar bear that was taken down to the Thames on a lead to hunt for fish!

The animals were presented as gifts from kings, queens and gentry from around the world, and were displayed with pride to showcase the wealth of influence of Britain's monarchs. However in 1832, following a number of incidents with escaped animals, it was decided that the Tower was not well suited to keeping the beasts.

The menagerie's animals were transported to Regents Park, and settled into their new home in London Zoo.

5. There was an elephant in the room

Henry III kept an elephant at the Tower. It was probably the first time anyone had seen an elephant in England!

6. The Crown Jewels have been kept at the Tower of London since the Middle Ages

The Imperial State Crown is set with 2,868 diamonds, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, 5 rubies and 273 pearls

7. Not many people have escaped the Tower but a few have

In 1599, Father John Gerard escaped from the Cradle Tower. He sent his escape plan to his friends written in invisible ink made of orange juice.

Ranulf Flambard was the first ever prisoner in the Tower and its first escapee. Others tried all sorts of tricks to make a daring dash out of here, using sedatives or even disguised as a woman. Ranulf got the guards drunk and abseiled out the window. Simples!

You can find out more fun facts about the Tower of London here on the Historic Royal Palaces' website.

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