Sunday, February 01, 2009

Question from Roland - Opinions on modern Tower Green memorial

Has anyone visited the Tower of London recently and seen the new Tower Green memorial, or has at least seen pictures of it? Basically it's a glass and metal modern looking sculpture (looks like a dinner table!) commemorating the victims.

Here is a link to what it looks like:

Other than the fact that the location of the site is not historically accurate (the Tudor scaffolds were built alongside the White Tower - at least for Anne Boleyn, Katheryn Howard, and Jane Grey - according to contemporary sources) what do you think about the new monument? Do you like it, hate it??

Personally (and this is only my opinion) I don't like it. I think as a 'modern piece of art' it just looks weird against the Tower's medieval to Victorian buildings. If thye had to build something, I would have liked if they made a replica scaffold on the present site. Tourists can climb up the stairs and stand upon it, and get the feel of what it was like for the victims who died there. It will give you a good view of the Tower grounds too.

Any other opinions?


Anonymous said...

I think it's out of place. And I don't understand the point of the pillow. Did of the beheaded get to rest their heads on pillows. If they really wanted a monument that made people think, they should have erected a scaffold.

But at least it's relatively small. I hate having to stand in the Tower and see the Gherkin building. Now that really looks out of place!

Anonymous said...

I don't like it either. It's not as awful as the Louvre pyramids but it's very out of place on Tower Green. I feel a more fitting commemoration of the execution sites would be beds of flowers and stone crosses.

Anonymous said...

yeah, the pillow is a bit much! it's way too modern for those gorgeous historical buildings.

Anonymous said...

I don't hate the new memorial, but I'm not wild about it either. Regardless, it is certainly a vast improvement over the previous cheesy black plastic marker on a wooden tablet.

I like the fact that it is circular and that you actaully have to walk around it to read the names, rather than standing still and staring. I like the circular metal rail forming a barrier between monument and viewer.

I have mixed feelings about it being made of glass. Perhaps the glass is meant to symbolize the fragility of life? A window into the next world?

From the Historical Royal Palaces website, the verse by Brian Catling, creator of the new memorial, that is inscribed on the lower circle:

"Gentle visitor pause awhile : where you stand death cut away the light of many days : here jewelled names were broken from the vivid thread of life : may they rest in peace while we walk the generations around their strife and courage : under there restless skies."

From this verse, with its reference to light and jewels and breaking, glass does indeed seem to be an appropriate medium artistically. But aesthetically, I think a round granite plinth would have been more in keeping with the stone architecture of the Tower.

I agree with Kathy that the pillow is a rather bizarre inclusion. I am not aware of any individual executed within the Tower who laid their head on a pillow for the final stroke of the axe. I did a bit of searching and found this from the artist, Brian Catling:

“It became clear to me that the essential image at the heart of the monument must be one of repose, a side step to the act of violence. The square glass pillow is a replacement for the block; a gesture of repentance.”

It appears as though the pillow is meant to be some kind of modern politically-correct "warm and fuzzy" diversion from the brutal realities of execution by beheading. Pillows usually denote a place to rest one's head, but an execution did not involve "rest." I think Catling's desire to "side step ... the act of violence" does not succeed well. It is too cerebral, too abstract, and requires too much explanation. The average viewer of the memorial will, I suspect, not reach the conclusion intended by the artist.

From YouTube, a rather poorly filmed video of the dedication of the memorial with the artist speaking :

Elizabeth M. said...

It looks like a coffee table. And the modernity of it is jarringly out of place among the ancient buildings of the Tower. I agree with Diane and her thought of flowers and crosses--that would have been much more appropriate.

Anonymous said...

The Tower Green Memorial is to The Tower what The London Eye is to The Thames...not at all reflective of the rich history of Great Britain, or of the wonderful architecture which surrounds them.

Anonymous said...

What I do like about the monument:

1) Some thought and effort went into it.

2) The poem

3) The circular design

4) How the above two encourage people to walk around it.

What I don't like:

1) The modern style looks out of place for the setting.

2) The use of glass- brick or stone would have been much better.

3) The pillow- I'm afraid it reminds me of the cushion which the glass slipper rests upon in Walt Disney's Cinderella.

Overall, I'd say it's not horrible but I'd rather have seen another design.

Anonymous said...

I got an email today from Jane Spooner in the Curator's Office at the Tower, and she reminds us that the memorial is not, in fact, on the actual site of any known scaffold or execution. She says the current location of the memorial corresponds to the spot to which an imaginative Tower official pointed when Queen Victoria visited the Tower early in her reign and asked to see the site of Anne Boleyn's execution. The quick-thinking official chose a spot at random, since he did not know the precise location. His selection became the traditional site of memorials to those executed within the Tower.

Scaffold's were erected specially for each execution and then dismantled afterward. Each one was in a slightly different location. The site of the scaffold for Jane Grey's execution, for example, was to the south of the White Tower, between it and the river. In contrast, the modern memorial is on the northwest side of the White Tower.

Anonymous said...

I like it only because it has the names of famous people who were executed

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to know why the scaffold site moved around The Tower grounds. Did it possibly have to do with the population in the castle, views from certain windows, the weather, the type of death?

I had always just figured it was in one spot, albeit rebuilt for every event.

PhD...could Jane Spooner share more inside information?

Anonymous said...

About Jane Grey's scaffold being on the south side of the White Tower, I have doubts about that.

The south side was the enclosed inmost ward which included the medieval palace complex. Looking at the famous 1597 map of the Tower, there was also a jumble of buildings on the south side, including the Jewel House which was adjacent).

A more likely location was the 'more public' north face of the White Tower (there was a great lawn between it and Henry VIII's Ordnance House; now replaced by the Victorian Waterloo Barracks).

Tower Green in medieval/Tudor times was larger than the modern grass area betwen the so-called Queen's House to the south and St. Peter's chapel to the north.

Interestingly enough, as depicted in old Victorian postcards, there didn't even seem be grass at all at the scaffold site. It was all cobblestones. The modern Tower Green lawn was only covered over with grass at the beginning of the 20th century.

Anonymous said...

Tracey, the Tower was a living and working environment, so things got moved around almost daily, as Roland H points out. Even entire buildings were put up and taken down over the years. Roland H refers to the famous 1597 survey map of the Tower, which depicts a small range of buildings standing almost exactly where the modern scaffold memorial now is, for example. (

The various executions within the Tower walls occurred over a span of decades, so it makes sense that things did not remain in the same place permanently, especially small structures built one day and taken down the next. And yes, I suspect changes in positioning did have to do with the people living inside the Tower, though probably not anything to do with views from windows since executions inside the Tower were by definition not intended for large audiences. Weather played no role, since all executions at the Tower were outdoors (despite the famous Delaroche depiction of Jane Grey's execution indoors) regardless of weather. Neither did type of execution play a role, since all pre-modern executions within the Tower were beheadings, I believe (I am not aware of any death-by-burning within the Tower).

Roland, I agree with you that the area south of the White Tower was more congested in the sixteenth century than it is today. However, I do not believe that congestion precludes erecting a small scaffold there. Mary was exceedingly reluctant to have Jane Grey executed, so it makes sense to me that she would have afforded her maximum privacy in her final moments. Constructing the scaffold in an area where views would have been obstructed makes perfect sense to me, in the circumstances. Jane's execution was not a public event and no crowd was expected or allowed. It was a private matter and thus was conducted in a private part of the Tower. Lastly, the primary sources indicate a location between the White Tower and the Thames, not the north side.

Anonymous said...

Hi PhD Historian - thanks for your interesting remarks. Which source exactly refers to the scaffold (at least for Jane) being on the south side of the Tower? Much thanks! : )

The sources I've come across refer to the scaffolds for Anne Boleyn and Jane Grey as simply being 'over against' or 'by' (or some term like that) the White Tower. One of the ambassadors (either the French or the Imperial) said that Katheryn Howard died on the same spot as Anne.

The site was less likely to be the west side as any scaffold might have obstructed the old Coldharbour Towers gate entrance (see 1597 map). It would not have been on the east side as that was the private royal great garden. Therefore, we're left with the north side - or south - as PhD Historian suggests.

Interestingly enough, Margret Pole was beheaded in 'a corner of the Tower' - where ever that might have been.

I think the only reference to anyone actually beheaded in front of Saint Peter's church was William Lord Hastings. That was unusual as the area in front of the church in medieval/Tudor times was used as the parish church's graveyard.

Anonymous said...

Here's a picture I took in the White Tower of a model of the Tower from around 1550 (if I remember the date right.) There really doesn't look like there was much room for a scaffold except along the northern range from St. Peter ad Vincula over to the area of where the crown jewels are kept today.

16th century tower model

Anonymous said...

I would like to visit the Tower of London seeing how I have never been before.The picture of the glass pillow sets it apart from the rest of the Tower.It looks out of place.But it looks nice though.
In reference to william lord Hastings being decapitated outside St perter's church That is unusual.
But would make sense because his body wouldn't have had far to be laid to rest.It's Like when members of nobility,two of Henry's queens and a royal relative of the Tudors namely being Lady Jane Grey were beheaded outside the Tower of London on the grounds there was a chapel directly near the Tower for burial for quick burial.
Roland your right when you say normally there would be a graveyard at the front or sometimes back of church.(mostly back)But also did you know some churches do not have burial grounds?But i'm not too sure why this is!Have to do some research.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tudorrose - indeed there was a graveyard in front of the chapel of St. Peter back then.

The Wriothesley chronicle covering Anne Boleyn's execution mentions that Anne's 'lovers' - Smeaton, Norris, Brereton, and Weston were all buried immediately outside the church. Anne and George Boleyn, owing to their rank, were buried inside.

Anonymous said...

Roland, I confess I made that assertion off the top of my head and from memory. I will have to dig back through my sources to confirm it. I believe the source may have been Hoby's manuscript diary, but my memory is not what it once was.

Kathy, thanks for that great photo of the modern model of the Tower as it appeared in 1597. The small cluster of buildings is plainly visible exactly where the modern memorial is now situated.

Anonymous said...

PhD historian, thanks for supplying the date. I couldn't find my notes on that. I knew it was 16th century but had forgotten that it was that late. I will be back there in a few months and will try to get some pictures from different angles. I wonder what those buildings in the middle of the green were. It looks almost like a small house. It is definitely not a scaffold though.

BTW, I hope Lara doesn't mind if I sneak in a quick picture that isn't of the Tower. When I was in Greenwich, the gift shop had a gorgeous map of the old palace on the wall. I would love a poster of it, but they didn't have one or a replica in any publication. I had to stand on my tiptoes and try to get a photo of it...not as good as I would like, but the best I could do under the circumstances.


Lara said...

That's a neat map of Greenwich! It looks like the images they put in the brochures you get when you visit a site, with the red dots noting various points to check out when you walk around.

Needless to say, I love Greenwich... it has strong historical ties to both the Tudors and astronomy. Two of my great passions!

Anonymous said...

Lara, I wish I had made better notes on that picture. Since I'll be going back though, I'm going to stand there and write down what all the numbers are. BTW, you can keep that picture if you want and also the one of the Tower of London.

Lara said...

Kathy - I've got my own photo of the Tower model but I'll definitely save the Greenwich pic for future reference!

Anonymous said...

Kathy - about that little building on Tower Green (around where the modern scaffold site is) - that was a Tudor era guard house.

The site was recently excavated and some archaelogical material found. I think Lara had posted the article before.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Roland. I must have missed the post on that. I think that makes it an unlikely place for a scaffold. I still think the area north and north-east of the White Tower is more likely as there is more room for a scaffold, guards, and a crowd there than anywhere else.

Anonymous said...

I think the new memorial is horrible. It is so out of place with the atmosphere of the Tower. Certainly, someone could have come up with something more appropriate than that piece of Modern Sculpture.

Does anybody really know, which are the remains of Anne in the crypt of St Peter's?

Are there any pictures of how it really looks down there?

Anonymous said...

I think the new memorial looks nice but it is out of place.
At the chapel of St Peter ad Vinucla Anne Boleyn's resting place is marked so I would presume this is where her body (now bones)lie.The only time and I think is the last time archeoligists went in on an inspection of the chapel was in Queen victoria's reign.The chapel was in ruin an needed a lot of work doing to it.Another thing there is a coffin above the ground in the chapel that states Thomas More is buried there.I thought this so but he isn't.Thomas more is actually buried in the Roper familly vault on the orders of rhe Roper familly because the More and Roper familly were very close.

Anonymous said...

Your readers might be interested in this:

Lara said...

Corrected URL for above:

Anonymous said...

Just to add to this, it's actually Thomas More's head that's buried in the Roper tomb, buried with his beloved daughter Margaret Roper (who bribed the guard on London Bridge to give her head, rather than throw it in the river once it had been displayed). His body is still within the Tower. Interestingly Bishop Fisher who was imprisoned above More in the Bell Tower now rests within the nearby church of All Hallows by the Tower.

Anonymous said...

Apparently, there was actually a building on the site of the scaffold at one time. That is, some executions were inside, not on an outside platform.

Unknown said...

Why is George Boleyn's name not written on the glass memorial at the Tower of London?

Lara said...

George Boleyn was executed on Tower Hill and the memorial on Tower Green was just for those who were executed within the Tower precincts.

There is a marker for the execution spot on Tower Hill and I believe there are names inscribed on a memorial of some sort. I have managed to forget to look for it all three times I've been there!