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History of the Tower Hill Site


This page provides an overview of the history of Tower Hill; much of the historical information on this page is derived from External Reference #11. The first two photos show the current layout of the site.

Image 1 is a view of Tower Hill from Google Earth. The Tower of London is the large fortified building at the bottom of the image with its moat, now grassed over, clearly visible. The former Port of London Authority building is in the extreme top left of the image with Trinity Square Gardens adjacent to it in the direction of The Tower. See Image 2 for the layout of the memorials on the site. [1]

Tower Hill map 1746

Image 2 is an enlargement of the previous image that has been annotated to show the position of the four memorials at Tower Hill. [1]

Tower Hill map 1746

Note: To go directly to detailed information about specific memorials, click on one of the buttons on the left of the page.

Early Occupation of the Site

The antiquarian Walter Thornbury in his 1878 book "Old and New London" - External Reference #24 - believed that there was a 'simple Celtic hill fortress, formed first at Tower Hill, and afterwards continued to Cornhill and Ludgate. It was moated on the south by the river, which it controlled; by fens on the north; and on the east by the marshy low ground of Wapping. It was a high, dry, and fortified point of communication between the river and the inland country of Essex and Hertfordshire, a safe sixty miles from the sea, and central as a depot and meeting-place for the tribes of Kent and Middlesex.'

I have found much speculation about the early history of London but there is no definitive picture that I have discovered and Thornbury may have got it totally wrong. Based on archaeological discoveries and observations by Romans, the area was certainly inhabited from very early times, and to at least some extent by Celts at the time of the Roman invasion.

The Tower Hill area lies within the walls of what was once the Roman city of Londinium; remains of the walls can be seen near the entrance to the Tower Hill underground station that is adjacent to the Gardens.

The Anglo-Saxons later inhabited this area in the 10th and 11th centuries and it is claimed that King Alfred The Great restored the walls in 896.

William I (William the Conqueror or William the Bastard), the Norman invader of England, started construction of the Tower of London in 1066 and The White Tower at the heart of it was completed in 1078. It became the primary fortress in the kingdom and the area around it became known as the "Tower Liberties" - a building-free area defined by the distance an arrow could be fired from the Tower. The Tower was developed over the following centuries and it was used for various purposes at one time or another including use as an armoury, a treasury, a menagerie, to house the Royal Mint, as a public records office and to guard the Crown Jewels. Buildings gradually encroached onto the Liberties, but the Tower Hill area, where a scaffold was erected, remained clear. There are many internet resources describing the history of The Tower of London and these should be consulted for further information - the focus of this site is Tower Hill.

Changes in the use of Tower Hill over time is evident from old maps as will be shown in the following paragraphs.

Tower Hill Before Construction of Trinity Square Gardens


The earliest map of Tower Hill I have been able to find is the Civitates Orbis Terrarum published between 1572 and 1617 by Georg Braun and Franz Hogenberg - it is described on the map as Towre Hyll.

Image 3 shows a magnified view from Civitates Orbis Terrarum with Tower Hill in the top left quadrant. Note that at this time the moat around the Tower is shown as filled with water. The waterway leading North near the Postern Gate joined up with another area of water on the outside of the city walls off to the North out of view and called "The Citie's Ditch". [2]

Tower Hill


A survey of the Tower of London area was undertaken in 1597 and engraved by Gascoyne and Haiward in 1742.

Image 4 shows Gascoyne and Haiward's map. This shows some interesting features including the location of the scaffold on Tower Hill. Note also the area to the East of the Citie's Ditch which is shown here as East Smith Piece - later to become known as Little Tower Hill, and later still East Smithfield. [2]

Tower Hill

Image 5 shows a magified view of the Tower Hill section of Gascoyne and Haiward's beautifully coloured map. Note the position of the scaffold used for public executions from 1381 to the late 18th Century. This is considered to be indicative rather than a precise location as scaffolds were erected and taken down as required. Note the Postern Gate controlling access from the East. [2]

Tower Hill


Things had changed quite a lot by 1746 when John Rocque produced his map of London. It appears that the Postern Gate had disappeared by this time.

Image 6 shows a magnified view from John Rocque's map of London. Note that the area previously known as East Smith Piece is now referred to as Little Tower Hill and that there are buildings to the North and North-East of The Tower not shown on the 1617 map demonstrating clearly the encroachment that was taking place. [2]

Tower Hill


A plan view of the area is provided in John Stow's 1755 map of The Tower Liberty. This area around the Tower of London was free from the jurisdiction of the City of London until the 19th Century and had its own courthouse, prison and rights.

Image 7  shows an extract from John Stow's map of The Tower Liberty. This map denotes both Great Tower Hill and Little Tower Hill. Trinity Square Gardens will later appear on the site of the North part of Great Tower Hill. Note also that the map shows trees starting to appear in the area. The built up area adjacent to the moat is shown as "Postern Row" and leads up to the position of the former postern gate. [2]

Tower Hill

Construction of Trinity Square Gardens

The Tower Hill area lagged behind the development to the areas of the City on London to the North and West and stood out as neglected compared with its surroundings. There were no defined roads and it was apparently used as a rubbish dump and even a quarry. At the turn of the 18th Century, local aldermen, residents and occupants of Tower Hill promoted a Parliamentary Bill for Paving, Lighting, watching, cleaning, watering, improving and keeping in repair Great Tower Hill and for removing and preventing nuisances and annoyance. An Act was passed in 1797 and included construction of a highway and the enclosure and laying out of Trinity Square Gardens. The work was led by the Corporation of Trinity House and the gardens designed by Samuel Wyatt. Wyatt was one of the greatest engineers of his age and deserves a dedicated website which I hope to construct at some future date. Compared with his other accomplishments, including construction of Trinity House itself, Albion Mill (the most advanced industrial structure of its day) and lighthouses at Dungeness and Flamborough, the design of the Trinity House Gardens must have been a relatively trivial task.

The Act empowered the formation of the Tower Hill Trust to oversee the construction and management of Great Tower Hill and the Gardens. The Trust was entitled to levy a rate from all residents of the Square to pay for the works and their ongoing maintenance. The gardens were completed around 1797-8 and were laid out very simply in the form of an oval, and consisted of a central grassed area with small flowerbeds surrounded by a footpath, shrubbery and iron railings on stone plinths. The land to the south of the Gardens remained clear to the Tower and the river. Access to the gardens was controlled by the Gardener and the Trust laid down regulations for its use - which was restricted to subscribers and the residents of Tower Hill - there was no public access at this time.

According to External Reference #11:

Keys were not to be transferred to others, the gardener was not to let in anyone for payment, no one was to lend keys or use the garden at improper hours, or to leave it unlocked. Male servants and female servants unless accompanied by children of the family to which she belonged, were not allowed in. There was a fine of two guineas for these offences. Other rules regulated behaviour in the Gardens. There were to be no dogs, no wearing of pattens (a kind of wooden overshoe), no walking on the borders and no breaking of, or damage to the trees or shrubs. There was a one guinea fine for each of these offences.

Further details about the layout of the gardens can be found in External Reference #11.

Tower Hill After Construction of Trinity Square Gardens


Laurie and Whittle's 1813 Plan of London is the first to show Trinity Square.

Image 8 an extract from Laurie and Whittle's Plan of London. [2]

Tower Hill


Indications of the development of Trinity Square as a garden is shown on the Greenwood Pringle and Co's plan of 1827.

Image 9 shows an extract from the Greenwood and Pringle plan. There is no trace of a scaffold in this plan; this could be because of the scale of the map but perhaps this reference was considered obsolete given the new use of the area. [2]

Tower Hill


There is clearly nothing new in what we nowadays refer to as 'anti-social behaviour'. According to External Reference #11:

By March 1828 behaviour must have deteriorated. The Chairman and Trustees ordered a copy of part of the Act to be delivered to every house within the limits of the Trust. It was to be “accompanied by the following intimation, viz. that it is the intention of the Trustees to enforce the Penalty to which Persons are liable, who shall offend in the manner therein specified”. Certain other kinds of activities were prohibited, including the beating of carpets.


William Newton's beautifully drawn 1855 Map of London shows a slightly contradictory view with no mention of Trinity Square.

Image 10 Newton's map still clearly shows the scaffold although it had been a long time public execution had ceased at this location. It would appear that this map fails to take account of changes to the area and was based on old data. [2]

Tower Hill


During the 19th century, there were disputes about loans for the works and the levying of rates for their on-going maintenance. A new act, the Great Tower Hill Act of 1869, was passed. This clarified responsibilities for repairing the roads and for levying rates. The Metropolitan Management Act of 1885 gave the upkeep and management of Trinity Square Gardens to the Whitechapel District Board. It is not clear whether the gardens were made open to the public at this point.


Edward Stanford's School Board map of London of 1872 shows more encroachment on the old "Tower Liberties" with a garden area on the site of Little Tower Hill and vegetation around the moat - which is described as a ditch.

Image 11 is a extract from Edward Stanford's School Board map of London of 1872. [2]

Tower Hill


The OS map for London for 1875 shows a little more detail of the Trinity Garden layout with paths or walkways. The site of the Scaffold is marked as is a feature called 'The Cage'. I have been unable to find further details of what this was. It is possibly a reference to the former location of a "gibbet cage" where the remains of an executed person would be displayed.

Image nn is a extract from the 1875 Ordnance Survey map. [2]

Tower Hill


The Boundary Commissioners Report of 1885 provides a view very similar to the 1872 map.

Image 12 is a extract from the Boundary Commissioner's report of 1885. Note the additionn of nearby Fenchurch Street station, the railway line, and the Tower Subway under the Thames. There is no sign of Tower Bridge - construction did not start until 1886. [2]

Tower Hill


The Town Plan for 1896 is the first to show the railway tunnel underneath the gardens and Mark Lane station. The tunnel was constructed as part of what was to become the Circle Line which was completed in 1884. Most of this line was constructed by the 'cut and cover' method, which involved digging a large trench, building walls and a roof over the line, and covering this with soil. Apparently the tunnel was (and presumably still is) just two feet below the surface of the gardens and runs between what would become the WW1 memorial and the sunken garden of the WW2 memorial. The work took place between 1882 and 1884 so Trinity Square Gardens would have suffered major disruption whilst this work was completed. You can certainly feel the vibrations of passing trains whilst in the gardens.

Image nn is an extract from Town Plan for 1896. [3]

Tower Hill


According to External Reference #11:

The Tower Hill Trust formed an agreement with the (Whitchapel District) Board’s successors, Stepney Metropolitan Borough Council, under the 1906 Public Open Spaces Act. The Borough maintained the Gardens for the enjoyment of the public. As far as I can see this is the first time since the gardens were constructed that there was general public access to them.


Bartholemew's Handy Reference Atlas of London and Suburbs of 1908 shows futher developments of the area - though there is no great detail regarding Tower Hill.

Image 13 is a extract from the Bartholemew's Handy Reference Atlas of London and Suburbs of 1908. This map shows Tower Bridge that was opened on 30 June 1894, and the Mark Lane station which was opened in October 1884 to replace a short-lived Tower of London Station located about where the current Tower Hill station is now located. The station was named Mark Lane until 1946 when it was renamed Tower Hill. The station became unable to cope with the volume of passengers so was closed on 4 February 1967 and a new station was built on the site of the original Tower of London station to replace it. [2]

Tower Hill


The Town Plan Map of 1913-22 shows clearly the Port of London Authority building at 10 Trinity Square that dominates Trinity Square Gardens. This magnificent building was constructed between 1911 and 1922 but sadly was sold to Singapore real estate group KOP Properties and the Chinese investment firm Reignwood Group in 2010 and is due to be converted to a luxury hotel complex.

Image nn is a extract from the Town Plan of 1913-22. Note the disused station to the North-East of Trinity Square - Mark Lane being the station in use at this time. [2]

Tower Hill

Construction of the 'Executions' Memorial

A memorial to some of those executed at Tower Hill was built at some point after 1913 but it is not known exactly when or who designed the memorial. It is located at the approximate position of the Gallows.

Click HERE or on the button on the left of the screen to access information about this memorial.

Construction of the WW1 Memorial to Merchant Seamen

Trinity Square Gardens was chosen as the site for a memorial to those seamen and fishermen lost during World War 1 "With no grave but the sea". Work started on the memorial in 1927 and it was unveiled by Her Majesty Queen Mary on 12 December 1928. The land on which the memorial stands was "acquired in perpetuity" by an Act of Parliament for the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission.

Click HERE or on the button on the left of the screen to access information about this memorial.

Tower Hill After Construction of the WW1 Memorial to Merchant Seamen


The Ordnance Survey Map for 1936 shows the World War 1 memorial at the South end of the Gardens. Little else has changed since previous maps.

Image 14 is a extract from the Ordnance Survey Map of 1936 and shows the layout of Trinity Square Gardens after the construction of the WW1 memorial to Merchant Seamen. [3]

Tower Hill

Construction of the WW2 Memorial to Merchant Seamen

Trinity Square Gardens was also chosen as the site for a memorial to seamen and fisherment lost during World War 2 "With no grave but the sea". I don't know when work started on the memorial but the design was approved in 1952 and the completed memorial was unvieled by Queen Elizabeth II on 5 November 1955.

Click HERE or on the button on the left of the screen to access information about this memorial.

Tower Hill After Construction of the WW2 Memorial to Merchant Seamen


The Ordnance Survey Map for 1957 shows the World War 2 memorial to the North of the World War 1 memorial. The map also shows a trough in the South-East corner of the site and a number of posts that were not previously shown. There is also an air shaft noted in the South-West corner - presumably for ventilation of the Circle Line railway beneath the site. [2]

Tower Hill

Construction of the Falklands Campaign Memorial to Merchant Seamen and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary

The tradition of locating memorials to Merchant Seaman at Tower Hill continued with the construction of a memorial to members of the Merchant Navy and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary in the South-East corner of Trinity Square Gardens. It was dedicated on Merchant Navy Day 4 September 2005 by the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Alan West GCB DSC ADC.

Click HERE or on the button on the left of the screen to access information about this memorial.

Image Credits

  1. By courtesy of Google Earth
  2. Unknown provenance - mainly located through a Google search
  3. Courtesy of External Ref. #11