Tudor Era Warders' Gatehouse Discovered At Tower Of London

By Graham Spicer | 12 June 2007
photo of an archaeological dig with several people in hard hats and reflective jackets and a small mechanical digger

Tower Green works area from above. © HRP/newsteam.co.uk

Extensive archaeological remains of an old guard house dating to the Tudor and Jacobean periods have been uncovered at the Tower of London.

Staff were relaying a cobblestone path across Tower Green to conform with disability regulations when they found evidence of walls, which turned out to be the remains of a substantial building.

“The work we were doing was resurfacing for compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act,” explained Jane Spooner, Historic Buildings Curator at the Tower.

photo of a wide cobbled footpath leading to a fort

Tower Green before the repaving unearthed the remains. © HRP/newsteam.co.uk

“There were some 19th century cobblestones put down in a crazy paving style so we were taking them out and relaying them in a more even way, so we were doing very shallow excavations.”

“On day two we found a wall at a very shallow level, about 20cm below the old surface. Whilst we knew about it from discoveries made in 1975 we hadn’t anticipated finding it so close to the surface.”

Historic views and plans of the Tower show a building in this location from at least 1570, variously known as the ‘Old Main Guard’, the ‘Warders’ Guardhouse’ or the ‘Warders’ Houses’, likely to have been used by soldiers and the predecessors of today’s Beefeaters.

photo of someone in a reflective jacket cleaning a part of a broken pot with a brush

An archaeologist cleaning a find from the works on Tower Green. © HRP/newsteam.co.uk

The foundations, floors, drains and cellar walls uncovered show at least two distinct building phases, the first probably late medieval and the second from the late 17th century.

Accounts from the 17th century describe how the structure was demolished in 1684 and quickly rebuilt only to be taken down again shortly after.

“It was one of those very rare cases in archaeology where you can match the actual visual evidence with the cartographic evidence from the past,” added Jane.

Elizabethan prisoners like the disgraced Catholic Earl of Arundel, Phillip Howard, held in the adjacent Beauchamp Tower, would have been able to see the building from their prison windows.

photo of a man in a red and blue tower of london beefeater uniform stood in front of an archaeological dig

Chief Yeoman Warder John Keohane viewing the excavations. © HRP/newsteam.co.uk

As well as the remains of the buildings the archaeologists made other finds like clay pipes, oyster shells, animal bones and even a nearly whole Bellamine jar with a detailed bearded face carved on it, providing insights into Tudor and Jacobean life.

“The finds reflect the daily life of ordinary people who worked in the tower,” said Jane. “It is quite nice because we get an idea of their tastes – drinking from Bellamine jars, eating oysters, which were much cheaper then, and lots of clay pipes some of which were very old.”

After investigations are finished the cobblestones will be re-laid and the archaeology backfilled so that the remains are fully protected. Further excavations are possible in the future.

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