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Big guns at the Tower

Date Sent:  30 JUNE 1963      

Sender: Mother & Dad 

Recipient: Mr & Mrs J K Whitaker, 121 Regent Road, Morecambe, Lancs 

Transcript: My dear B & K, 

Hope you are all very well.  Have just returned from London after another grand day.  Think we shall return on Tuesday. 

All send love to you all 

Mother & Dad 

A handwritten postcard with a red and a blue stamp

William the Conqueror chose to build his White Tower overlooking the Thames’ deepest inland waters accessible to larger ships. Conveniently it also dominated the approach to the City of London, London’s commercial heart, and he could capitalise on earlier defensive works left behind by the Romans. Originally serviced by a small quay to the west of the site, the demands of supplying English forces fighting abroad in the Hundred Years’ war (1340 – 1453 – what’s an extra 13 years between foes?) led to the creation of the wharf as we know it today.  Mother and Dad were probably unaware of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer’s personal involvement in the project in his day job as Richard II’s Clerk of the King’s Works, and it was the cannon and Yeoman Warder which decided their postcard choice. 

Cannon have been a feature of the Tower Wharf for many centuries – both for defence against river borne attack and a convenient storage place prior to despatch to equip British forces globally.  Numbers dwindled after the Board of Ordnance’s collapse in 1856 and lessening of the Tower’s role as ordnance storehouse.  Today the Honourable Artillery Company bring their own guns to the Wharf on specific state occasions, but in the past, having the cannon to hand, Tower gun salutes were a much more regular occurrence. The guns shown in this post card were relative newcomers, arriving there in 1916.  Many were survivors of the Grand Storehouse fire of October 1841, having spent the intervening seventy-four years as the Gun Park in the shadow of the west face of the White Tower. They were the plain jane’s of the collection – their more glamorous sisters treated to accommodation in the White Tower as concern grew that the weather was affecting their  inscriptions and decoration (1916 Guidebook, p.19 Tower Guide – Tower Armouries in the White Tower – Royal Armouries collections). 

Postcard of a row of Cannons with tourists and a Yeoman warder behind them

Anyone following in mother and Dad’s footsteps today will find the Wharf once again denuded, with only 2 naval cannon and 2 mortars – albeit one very large one – remaining.  And the rest? The White Tower Basement still houses a number, with the odd one in the galleries above, and a further 25 are scattered about the site. The remainder relocated in 1996 with the Royal Armouries’ move to Leeds and the opening of the museum’s artillery outstation at Fort Nelson, overlooking Portsmouth.  

Blog link (RS): #Watford #Morecambe #Artillery #Cannon #Ordnance #White Tower #William the Conqueror #Normans #Geoffrey Chaucer #Honourable Artillery Company #City of London #Tower of London #Fort Nelson #Portsmouth 

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