The Messy History of the Tower of London

The Tower of London has been a major part of the London skyline for nearly 1,000 years, and is famously linked to royalty and treachery. However, for many years the Tower of London was another site in the very grimy history of London Town.

For many years, while it was a medieval castle and home to the Royal family, the Tower of London was much like any other palace in Plantagenet England, where waste and dirt were common, and kitchen waste was usually left close to the door, or thrown out of the window onto the hill below. The Tower would have had to be regularly cleaned in order to prevent the place becoming uninhabitable, and everyone would have left the palace while this was occurring.

In addition to having a large human population during the medieval period, the Tower of London also served as a zoo, or menagerie, for the King’s collection of wild animals. These included leopards and lions, bears and elephants. This habit lasted for more than 600 years, and the price of admission was to bring a live cat or dog. Dogs were often put to fight with lions, and their bodies left on waste mounds – historians have discovered hound and lion skills on the same debris levels.

The Mint in the Tower is another source of dirt and waste products – the process involves smelting down metals, making ingots, and then striking the coins, literally hammering them until the metal was moulded into the required shape. The area of the Mint would be covered with the waste products produced by the mint, including smelted metal, waste stones and debris from the coin hammering process.

Even the condition of the Tower itself left something to be desired, and the ground level rose considerably between the building of the castle in the 11th century, and later alterations – so that builders had to dig down several feet to find the bottoms of windows or doors.

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