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Published 21st December 2007 by

The Tower of London is one of the most famous landmarks of the English capital, but it also has a sinister past and has been the scene of thousands of executions and torture over the years. The prison cells are among the most haunted in Britain.

The first castle was of a motte-and-bailey construction, started in 1066 after William the Conqueror became King. The castle was built on the remains of the old Roman walls, which once formed the corner of Londinium. The White Tower, completed in 1097, was the first stone building on the site. Since then the White Tower has changed little, other buildings and towers have been built around it.

The Tower of London seen from across the River Thames

The Tower of London seen from across the River Thames


Almost all of the towers had prison cells, the White Tower has torture chambers within its basement. Many thousands of souls have been imprisoned, tortured and executed in the towers over its 900-year history. There have been hundreds of executions on Tower Hill, from claimants to the throne, political activists and petty criminals. This has lead to the belief that the Tower is one of the most haunted places in Britain.

One of the most interesting stories was written by E. L. Swifte keeper of the Crown Jewels in the 19th century.

He and his family were sitting at a candlelit dinner in his room in the Martin Tower in 1817, when his wife spotted something on the other side of the room. She cried out in alarm and Swifte turned round to see a cylindrical object resembling a glass tube, filled with bubbling blue fluid. The strange apparition started to move and came round behind his wife, who was still sitting at the table. She cried out that it had tried to grab her, and Swifte let fly at it with a chair, which passed straight through the object. The cylinder then receded backwards and disappeared.

One of the most frequent apparitions is that of Ann Boleyn. She haunts the vicinity of the White Tower, the King's House, Tower Green, and the chapel of St Peter and Vincula, where her headless body was interred in an arrow case under the floor. Ann Boleyn was beheaded in 1536 when Henry VIII become tired of her.

There is also a "White Lady" who can be seen in a window waving. It is believed that her "cheap perfume" impregnates the air around the entrance to St John's Chapel, an aroma that has caused many a Guard to feel sick.

Sir Walter Raleigh's ghost is said to haunt the Queen's house, near the cell that he was locked away in.

Lady Jane Grey, the 9-day queen, is also said to appear on the anniversary of her execution on the 12th February 1554, at the age of sixteen.

Other ghostly traditions include the screams of Guy Fawkes echoing through the tower, as they did when he was tortured before being hung drawn and quartered, the ghost of Lord Northumberland who was executed in 1553.

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