Archive for August, 2016

General the Lord Dannatt recently retired from the ancient position of Constable of the Tower. Here, LH Member Chris West writes a guest post about some of the highlights of this 900 year old office.

This is the most senior appointment at the Tower; the first Constable was Geoffrey de Mandeville, appointed by William the Conqueror in 1078. In the medieval period, four Archbishops of Canterbury held the office, Thomas à Becket being the most famous. The Constable of the Tower was nominally responsible for management of the site when the monarch was not in residence; the duties for managing the site devolved to a deputy known as the Lieutenant of the Tower, who had an office with clerks to oversee administration, accounting and running the Constable’s own court of law.

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Over time Constables acquired a variety of legal and financial privileges which included collecting tolls on selected goods from trading ships and entitlement to all flotsam and jetsam on the Thames. They also gained from fees paid by state prisoners for their upkeep, the ownership of livestock falling from London Bridge and passing swans. Sir Henry Bedingfield was appointed Constable by Queen Mary and was responsible for Princess Elizabeth while incarcerated at the Tower prior to her removal to Woodstock. The Princess was reported by some sources to have lived in fear for her life while at the Tower. Following her succession, Queen Elizabeth may have advised Bedingfield to stay away from Her Court. Sir John Holland, Duke of Exeter, was a leading army commander who had served at Agincourt. He was appointed Constable and died in 1447. Originally, his tomb was in the nearby Royal Foundation of St Katharine but is now in St Peter ad Vincula at the Tower itself. Since 1784 the Constable has been a senior Army officer, either Field Marshal or General. Henry VIII built The Queen’s House for Anne Boleyn which has since been used by Constables and Governors.

duke of wellingtonArthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington was Constable from 1769 to 1852. He made important changes, which included draining the moat, removing the menagerie of wild animals, reorganising the establishment of the Yeoman Warders, overseeing the building of the Waterloo Barracks and other extensive restoration of the site. He also made the last, unsuccessful attempt to refill the moat. Wellington did not favour its development into a museum and preferred the Royal Repository at Woolwich for the prizes from Paris in 1815. He did ensure that the guns captured in the Peninsular War and at Waterloo would be preserved at the Tower, some of which are still outside the Waterloo Block. His memory is honoured with a plaque in the Chapel Royal- though interestingly, this was only initiated recently.

Since 1933 the Constable’s appointment has been for five years. His installation is celebrated on Tower Green before an invited audience. The Lord Chamberlain hands the keys of the Queen’s House to the new Constable, who then entrusts them to the Resident Governor, responsible for the management of the Tower.

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The Constable still retains the right to direct access to the monarch. Ceremonial events are attended, including gun salutes, state parades and the Ceremony of the Dues, representing the historic toll of wine or goods paid by ships entering the Pool of London. A Royal Navy vessel berths at Tower Wharf, bringing into the Tower a ceremonial keg slung from an oar, accompanied by a parade headed by the Chief Yeoman Warder, then a military band followed by the ship’s company. At Tower Green, they are met by Tower officials in full dress uniform and the keg is presented. Both parties and guests then retire for refreshments.


Former Chief of General Staff, General the Lord Dannatt has just finished his tenure as the 159th Constable, having served for seven years instead of the usual five. He has further distinguished himself with his extensive input while resident. Being a Trustee of Historic Royal Palaces (the independent charity responsible for running the Tower), he was involved in the excellent 2014 poppies installation in the moat, ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’. He also helped coordinate the services charities involved and was a central figure in the daily Roll Call ceremony.

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Lord Dannatt was extensively involved in life at the Tower, its residents and the various ceremonies, while still regularly attending at the House of Lords. Lord and Lady Dannatt were key figures in raising money to renovate the Chapel Royal and to improve funding for the unique choir, successfully hosting many special day and evening events.

General Sir Nicholas Houghton replaces Lord Dannatt as the 160th Constable.


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eykalisSorry for the lack of posting of late: I’ve been overseas for three weeks. This, at least, enabled me to catch up on some reading, including this assertively-titled work by Matt Brown, which was published very recently.

Most of us who love London are aware that there are many canards out there, some of the most obvious relating to Dick Whittington, for example, or the American hotelier who purchased London Bridge. What Brown has done is to undertake as deep and wide a trawl as possible and deliver from the most obvious to the most obscure, and if you know him personally or from his writings at Londonist, you’ll realise that he’s just the man for the job. The obvious trap in a project of this kind is, of course, to come across as a didactic bore. This is something the author acknowledges in his introduction and then skillfully manages to avoid through lightness of touch and twinkleness of eye: it’s joyous to read and a book that will make you smile frequently.

From a review point of view, the danger here is spoilers. So I will just mention that there are bits which debunk beliefs relating to Guy Fawkes, Dick Turpin, Hitler, the Great Fire (topical), Bob Holness, Boris, Napoleon and Boudicca. That’s a tiny percentage of it. There is tons more, nicely arranged thematically into 10 chapters, including an important section which throws a huge bucket of freezing water over the most idiotic trivia fed to tourists.

I think my knowledge of the capital is pretty good on the whole, so it was occasionally disappointing – but in a nice way – to discover that some things I believed turn out to be complete bollocks (nylon, Jeremy Bentham); and other new things (to me) of which I was completely unaware (Green Park and flowers; Jimi’s parakeets). I’m sure you too can look forward to similar triumphs and disasters, and treat those two impostors just the same.

So lots of juicy and factual content, then, but also room for editorialising. There is one item in particular which takes a sideswipe at Victor Meldrews like me who dislike change, in this instance relating to names of areas. It’s a point well made, as is the book itself which is very nicely designed, illustrated, printed and bound.

Well-written, knowledgeable, amusing, authoritative. This is a fine book to own and one which friends will thank you for as a gift. And mean it.

Everything You Know About London is Wrong (192pp) by Matt Brown is published by Batsford with a cover price of £9.99. It can be purchased directly from the publishers www.pavilionbooks.com, in good and some bad bookshops, and on Amazon.

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