Tower Hill History

WW2 Memorial


Tower Hill has been an important place in Britain's history since Roman times. Located within the walls of Roman Londinium, it became the location of William the Conqueror's Tower of London, and was used as a place of punishment and execution from at least the 14th Century.

By 1797 Tower Hill had become a dumping ground, but an Act of Parliament was passed to transform the area and lay out Trinity Square Gardens - initially open just to residents and 'subscribers'. At the end of WW1, Trinity Square Gardens was chosen as the location for a war memorial to Merchant Seamen With no grave but the sea. A further memorial was added after WW2, and yet another after the Falklands Islands Campaign.

Much of the historical information on this page is derived from the Trinity Square Gardens Management Plan [11].

Early Occupation

The antiquarian Walter Thornbury in his 1878 book "Old and New London" [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.

Based on archaeological discoveries and Roman texts, the area was inhabited from very early times - probably by Celts at the time of the Roman invasion. The area we now refer to as Tower Hill lies within the walls of what was once the Roman city of Londinium. Remains of the Roman walls can be seen near the entrance to Tower Hill underground station.

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

King William I, the Norman invader of England, otherwise known as William the Conqueror or William the Bastard, depending on whether people loved or hated him, started construction of the Tower of London in 1066. The White Tower at its heart 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 and modified many times over the following centuries. It has been used as an armoury, a treasury, a menagerie, the location of the Royal Mint, a public records office and for secure storage of the Crown Jewels. Buildings gradually encroached onto the Liberties, but the Tower Hill area, where a scaffold for public hangings 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 about it; the focus of this site is the adjacent Tower Hill.

I will use old maps as a way to show changes in the use of Tower Hill over time.

Sixteenth Century

William Newton's beautifully drawn 1855 retrospective Map of London shows his imagined view of what the area would have been like in the time of Henry VIII and includes the monastery of the Crutched Friars just north-west of Tower Hill. In Latin they were called Fratres Cruciferi meaning 'cross-bearing brethren'. The origin of this order is uncertain, but they first appeared in the UK in 1244 and settled in London in 1249 at the site which still bears their name. They were variously known as the Crutched Friars, Crossed Friars, Crouched Friars and Croziers and were named for the staff they carried which was surmounted by a crucifix. The Order was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539.

Click image for enlarged view
Tower Hill
There is still a road named Crutched Friars and this statue is on the corner of one of the buildings there. It has to be said that the staff is not cross-like and does not look very convincing. [47]

Seventeenth Century

The earliest contemporary 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 - the location is described on the map as Towre Hyll.

At this time the moat around the Tower was filled with water. The waterway leading north from 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". This ditch, or a continuation of it, was known as Houndsditche in the 13th Century - allegedly because it was used to dispose of rubbish and often had dead dogs thrown into it. The name was changed to Houndsditch and a street of that name exists to this day. The ditch itself was filled in at an unknown date and a number of dog skeletons were discovered during excavations in 1989.

Tower Hill
Magnified view from Civitates Orbis Terrarum with Tower Hill in the top left quadrant. [47]

Eighteenth Century

A survey of the Tower of London area was undertaken in 1597 and the map below was engraved by Gascoyne and Haiward in 1742. It 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. It would later become known as Little Tower Hill and later still East Smithfield.

Click image for enlarged view

The image below is an enlargement of part of the above map. The scaffold used for public executions from 1381 to the late 18th century is marked. This is considered to be indicative rather than a precise location as scaffolds were erected and taken down as required. A postern gate controlling access from the east is also marked.

Tower Hill
Magnified view of the Tower Hill section of Gascoyne and Haiward's map. [47]

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. The area previously known as East Smith Piece is now referred to as Little Tower Hill and 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.

Tower Hill
Magnified view from John Rocque's 1746 map of London. [47]

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. This map denotes both Great Tower Hill and Little Tower Hill. Trinity Square Gardens would 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.

Tower Hill
An extract from John Stow's map of The Tower Liberty. [47]

The Establishment of Trinity Square Gardens

The Tower Hill area lagged behind the development of areas of the City of London to the north and west and stood out as neglected compared to the surrounding area. There were no defined roads and it is said to have been 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 of Parliament 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 of his own. Compared to his other works, which included construction of Trinity House, 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 the Trinity Square Gardens Management Plan [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.

Nineteenth Century

Laurie and Whittle's 1809 Plan of London is the first to show Trinity Square. 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 more genteel use of the area.

Tower Hill
An extract from the 1809 Laurie and Whittle plan. [51]

The plan below, which was surveyed by Thomas Chawner, and which seems to be dated January 1818, shows buildings at Postern Row which state they occupy the position of the old London Wall.

Postern Row
Plan showing buildings adjacent to Postern Row [51]

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

Tower Hill
An extract from the Greenwood and Pringle 1827 plan. [52]

There is clearly nothing new in what we nowadays refer to as 'anti-social behaviour'. According to Trinity Square Gardens Management Plan [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.

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 may be that the gardens were made open to the public at this point.

The image below is an engraving from 1870 and shows a view of Trinity House and Trinity Square Gardens at that time.

Tower Hill
Engraving of Trinity House and Square [11]

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.

Tower Hill
An extract from Edward Stanford's School Board map of London of 1872. [47]

The OS map for London for 1875 shows a little more detail of the Trinity Square Gardens layout with paths or walkways. The site of the Scaffold is marked and so 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. There is an older use of the word to refer to a brothel, but it seems unlikely that this would be noted on a map.

Tower Hill
An extract from the 1875 Ordnance Survey map. [49]

Towards the end of the Victorian era, Tower Hill became the scene for protests about unemployment with disorderly scenes being reported in the South London Press. The authorities are reported to have asked police to remove the protesters from the Social Democratic Federation. This organisation had been founded in 1881 and counted William Morris, George Lansbury, James Connolly and Eleanor Marx as its members. It eventually merged with the Marxist British Socialist Party. There are a number of later reports of similar protests at Tower Hill. I believe this may be because the legal status of the land was uncertain for some time.

Tower Hill
Cutting from South London Press 9 February 1884 [50]

The Boundary Commissioners Report of 1885 provides a view very similar to the 1872 map. This is the first map showing Fenchurch Street station, the railway line, and the Tower Subway under the Thames. There is no sign of Tower Bridge as construction did not start on it until 1886.

Tower Hill
An extract from the Boundary Commissioner's report of 1885. [49]

The Town Plan for 1896 is the first to show the railway tunnel underneath Trinity Square 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. 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.

Tower Hill
An extract from Town Plan for 1896. [49]

Twentieth Century

According to the Trinity Square Gardens Management Plan [11]:

The Tower Hill Trust formed an agreement with the (Whitechapel 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.

Bartholomew's Handy Reference Atlas of London and Suburbs of 1908 shows further developments of the area though there is no great detail regarding Tower Hill. It shows Tower Bridge that was opened on 30 June 1894, and Mark Lane station which was opened in October 1884 to replace a short-lived Tower of London Station located more or less where the current Tower Hill station was built. Mark Lane station was renamed to Tower Hill in 1946 but the station became unable to cope with the volume of passengers and closed on 4 February 1967 with a replacement station in its current position.

Tower Hill
An extract from the Bartholomew's Handy Reference Atlas of London and Suburbs of 1908. [49]

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. It was converted into a hotel and opened as the Four Seasons Hotel at Ten Trinity Square om 2017. This map also shows the disused Tower Hill station to the north-east of Trinity Square - Mark Lane being the station in use at this time.

Tower Hill
An extract from the Town Plan of 1913-22. [49]

Although it shows part of 'Little Tower Hill', I have included a photo of an 18th century building that stood to the north-east of the area on the corner of Eastminster (formerly King Street) as there seem to be few photos of the area. I don't know when it was demolished.

Tower Hill
Photo of 32-34 Tower Hill taken approximately 1920 [45]

A memorial to some of those executed at Tower Hill was built at some point after 1913 but I have been unable to find out when or who designed the memorial. It is located at the approximate position of the gallows shown on earlier maps and just outside the area occupied by the WW1 and WW2 Merchant Navy Memorials. Click HERE for more information.

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 to access information about the construction and dedication of this memorial.

Construction of the WW2 Memorial to Merchant Seamen

The aerial photograph below shows the appearance of Trinity Square Gardens as it was in 1947 with the WW1 memorial clearly visible to the south of the oval shape of Trinity Square Gardens.

Tower Hill
Part of Britain from Above photograph EAW022338 [61]

Trinity Square Gardens was the natural choice for a memorial to seamen and fishermen lost during WW2 given the existence of the WW1 Memorial. The design for the memorial was approved in 1952 and construction started in 1954. The completed memorial was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II on 5 November 1955. Click HERE to access information about the construction and dedication of this memorial.

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 drinking trough for horses in the south-east corner of the site and a group of posts not shown on earlier maps. There is also an air shaft marked in the south-west corner of the site that provides ventilation for what is now the Circle Line railway. No road is shown between the Trinity Square Gardens and the moat of the Tower of London. The addition of these items may simply reflect policy decisions by the Ordnance Survey about what to include on maps.

Tower Hill
An extract from the Ordnance Survey Map of 1957 [49]

The Ordnance Survey map for 1960 shows new roads between Trinity Square Gardens and the Tower. It is not clear from the legend of the map exactly what data was used so it is possible that the roads were constructed earlier than this.

Tower Hill
An extract from the Ordnance Survey Map of 1960 [49]

Construction of the Falklands Memorial

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 lost in the Falklands War 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 to access information about the construction and dedication of this memorial.

Tower Hill in 2017

In the image below, The Tower of London is the large, fortified building at the bottom 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.

Tower Hill from Google Earth
A view of Tower Hill from Google Earth. [44]
Tower Hill from Google Earth
Enlarged view of previous photo showing the locations of the memorials [44]

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