Final Destination - Death At The Tower

By Richard Moss
a colour photograph of a castle exterior walls with battlements draw bridge and circular towers

The Tower of London © Jon Pratty/24 Hour Museum

1000 years of the nation's history has been played out within the walls of the Tower of London. Built by William the Conqueror, the fortress has borne silent witness to the execution of Queen Anne Boleyn, the interrogation of Guy Fawkes, the incarceration of Walter Raleigh and the murder of the Princes in the Tower. But it has an even darker, more recent history - spies were executed in the Tower during World Wars I and II.

Between 1914 and 1916, eleven German spies were imprisoned to await their death. By firing squad, either in the 'shed of death' (the miniature rifle range - since demolished), or strapped to the 'killing chair' and despatched in the castle moat.

a colour photograph of a castle exterior walls with battlements and circular tower

Despite the Tower's fearsome reputation, German spies were actually the first people to be executed here since the late Tudor period and the first without 'Royal connections.' © Jon Pratty/24 Hour Museum

A little known fact is that during the First World War, the Tower of London remained open to visitors. The firing squads usually despatched the condemned with a volley at 7am. They were the first executions at the tower since that of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, beheaded for treason in 1601.

Shows a photograph of the White Tower at the Tower of London.

Government held the belief that executions in the Tower of London would have more impact, both at home and in Germany, than those in HM Prisons. © Jon Pratty/24 Hour Museum

Josef Jakobs was the last person executed at the tower. Caught and accused of spying for Germany after he broke his leg during a parachute drop, he was executed on the rifle range on 15 August 1941.

Another fourteen German spies were hanged, either at London's Pentonville or Wandsworth prisons, during the Second World War. Three British nationals were also executed during the war for spying or treachery.

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