It seems that mystery has clung to the damp, foggy streets of London since its ancient beginnings as Londinium, a Roman settlement. Far from being dreary and depressive, as its weather often suggests, one of the world’s most well known cities has a bright and exciting mix of things to see and do. If you are in London and you feel bored, you aren’t a true world traveler! It’s impossible to see London in a few days, but for most tourists, that’s all the time that is available. Of course you want to see the big attractions like Big Ben, the Tower of London, and Westminster Abbey. You may know what they symbolize, but do you know the history behind them?
Big Ben, as the huge clock tower is affectionately known, had its beginning in 1858 when it was first cast. It was cast at a place known as Whitechapel and is more formally known as the Great Clock of Westminster (although the millions of tourists who have seen it will most likely still call the old tower by its “common” name). The idea for the clock tower was first conceived in the mid 1830s when a fire ripped the Palace of Westminster to shreds, destroying one of London’s most historical buildings. Part of the architecture was salvaged, including a hall from the late 11th century. No one is sure where the name “Big Ben” came from, but it has been speculated about since the 1800s.
Speaking about the Tower of London brings a shiver to the heart of any person who’s studied even a minimal amount of London’s history. It’s the original “Tower of Terror” and has had more than its fair share of violence, intrigue, and mystery. Sketches from the Renaissance era show that the tower has changed very little over the years. Perhaps workers are afraid to radically alter its appearance? Beginning with William the Conqueror, many royal personages have placed their mark on the Tower of London. Some have apparently never left! Whether or not you believe in the ghostly presences that haunt this place where innocent people literally “lost their heads,” you’ll have to admit it’s not the sort of place you’d like to be after dark.
A very different kind of fortification stood there in ancient days; the spot of the Tower of London was once inhabited by the Roman fort and if you look carefully at the architecture, you can still find parts of the ancient masonry. If you happen to pass by Tower Hill, note that this was once the spot of some of the tower’s infamous hangings, where London’s sheriff was allowed to treat unfortunate criminals how he wished. This place has a very dark and dusty air, so if young children – or adults – feel uncomfortable here, there is plenty of reason for such feelings.
Westminster Abbey, begun in the 1200s, was added onto in the centuries following until the architectural marvel of this modern day structure was complete. Royalty, along with other influential people throughout history, are buried here. Make a special agenda note to have a reverent moment of silence at the tomb of a favorite king or queen, perhaps leaving a tiny flower or other item as a token of your remembrance. Some parts of the Abbey include the Poet’s Corner, where tombs of some famous writers and statues of others can be found; a chapel that belonged to the famous Edward the Confessor; and the Lady Chapel where you can find tombs and vaults of many kings and queens including Henry VII, James I, and Elizabeth I. This is an extremely important stop on a tour of England’s history.
The history of London Bridge is a long and sometimes strange one; there have been various bridges over the same spot since ancient times. In medieval times, traitors’ heads were hung over the bridge’s ramparts, a warning for others who contemplated treason. In the 1800s, a newer version of the bridge was taken to Arizona as a tourist attraction. Another bridge was then built, but did not retain the charm of the older versions, which had Tudor style homes and medieval churches along the span of the bridge.
There are many other things to do in London, of course, but these few major attractions will help you to get the head start you need for a memorable British vacation.