The Jewel Tower: A Hidden Gem
The Jewel Tower is a secret treasure in London that not many people know about. Although the Tower is small, its’ history is rich and varied, with links to both Parliament and the Royal Family. Today, it is run by English Heritage and is preserved for future generations to continue to stumble across it. And at £3.90, it’s one of the best sightseeing bargains in the city.
Be sure to read our complete Guide to London on a Budget for more money saving tips for your time in London.
Where is Jewel Tower
The Jewel Tower is located in the City of Westminster in London. Originally, part of the Medieval Palace of Westminster, the Jewel Tower was built in the south west corner of the main palace, along the border of lands that were owned by Westminster Abbey and was connected to the main Palace by a high stone wall. Due to it’s central location, it can be visited in conjunction with the Abbey, Big Ben, Parliament, 10 Downing Street and many other sites. Read our self-guided Royal London tour for more ideas.
The closest London Underground station is Westminster (Circle, District and Jubilee lines). It is also located within walking distance from Waterloo (Bakerloo, Jubilee, Northern and Waterloo and City lines). We recommend using this Google map link for directions to the Jewel Tower from anywhere in the London area. Read our guide to navigating the London Underground.
What is the Jewel Tower
Commissioned by King Edward III and built by High Herland and Henry Yevele, the tower was built as a place to hold all of the Kings’ personal jewels. In use from 1356, the Tower held treasures such as solid gold model ships, swords decorated with feathers and jewels, and countless gem stones, fabrics, plate, and even toys and clothes for royal children.
When the Palace of Westminster ceased to be a royal residence, the Tower came into the hands of Parliament as they moved into the empty royal buildings. By 1621, a brick vault had been built in the tower to hold and preserve archival materials. All acts passed by Parliament from the mid 1400’s and onwards were kept here and a small house was built adjacent to the tower for the Parliamentary Archive Clerk to reside in. One of the most famous pieces of archival material – the death certificate of King Charles I, signed by Oliver Cromwell – was kept at the Tower.
After the devastating fire at the Palace of Westminster, a purpose built archival space was created in the new build of the Palace (The Victoria Tower), leaving the Jewel Tower empty. But in 1869, the Board of Trade Standards Department moved in. It was at the Jewel Tower that all official standards of weight, volume, and measurement used in the entire British Empire were kept and used. The Department worked here for decades, however, the opening of the nearby Lambeth Bridge in 1932 led to increased traffic on the road nearby. The heavy traffic interfered with the measuring processes taking place inside the Tower, so the Department was forced to move outside the capital.
Now run by English Heritage, the Tower is open to the public. In 2013 new exhibitions were created on the 1st and 2nd floors which can be visited for nominal fee (£3.90), free with the London Pass. Also on display are a number of artefacts found in the old moat, and one of the first ever fire-proof doors built in the country, dating from 1621. The ground floor can be accessed for free and it is there where you will find the original medieval vaulted ceiling, still displaying the stone carvings that were put in place during the 14th century.
Downstairs is also home to a small gift shop and one of the quietest places to have a hot drink in London. Biscuits, crisps and other small snacks can be purchased and enjoyed at one of the few tables inside, or on one of the benches that are lined up along the (now filled in) medieval moat. Small, but with a mighty history, The Jewel Tower truly is a rare surviving example of medieval building, and a real historical hidden gem in London.
[[The Jewel Tower is located close to the finish of our Westminster Tour. Just ask your guide to point you in the right direction at the finish of your walk!]]