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Originally part of the medieval Westminster Palace in London, the Jewel Tower was built in the 14th century to hold the riches of Edward III. Following a fire in 1834, the Jewel Tower and Westminster Hall were the only buildings of the palace to survive.
Today, the Jewel Tower is open to the public under the management of English Heritage. Visitors to the Jewel Tower can view its vault, an exhibition about Parliament’s history and the remains of its medieval moat and quay.
Jewel Tower history
Built within the Palace of Westminster between 1365 and 1366 on the command of King Edward III, the Jewel Tower was a space to guard and hold the king’s personal treasure. Edward’s treasure consisted of his ceremonial regalia (usually kept at the Tower of London), the jewellery and plate of the Crown, and his personal collection of jewels.
Monarchs of England during this period often used their jewels and plates as cash, drawing on them to fund military campaigns or bestowing them as political gifts. The Privy Wardrobe were the organisation that existed to manage the king’s belonging, initially based at the Tower of London. Building the Jewel Tower reflected the peak of Edward’s personal wealth.
Stone to build the tower was brought in from Maidstone, Reigate, Devon and Normandy. Around 18 locks were bought to secure the treasure and a team of 23 men dug a moat to add extra security. There were also no ground-level windows. The tower overlooked the Privy Palace and King’s garden – the most private part of Westminster.
Henry VIII did not return to Westminster after a fire of 1512 relocated the royal court to Whitehall. During the 16th century the walls were torn down and the moat filled in 1551. The tower remained but was used as the parliamentary clerk’s office. By the 19th century, the Jewel Tower stored records of the House of Lords until a fire in 1834.
With the 1866 Standards of Weights, Measures and Coinage Act creating a corresponding department, they were housed in the Jewel Tower. After World War Two when the tower was hit and partially destroyed by a German explosive, the tower was restored and in 1987 declared a World Heritage Site.
Jewel Tower today
Today, the remaining 14th century Jewel Tower offers a 3-floor exhibition that contains a model of the ‘lost’ medieval palace of Westminster alongside replicas of objects rom the period and an 18th century clerk’s office.
Highlights not to miss are the exquisite ornate ceiling carvings dating back to the 14th century, as well as the history of Weights and Measures. A visit usually lasts around an hour and a half. Located in central London, the Jewel Tower is an unmissable medieval site.
Getting to Jewel Tower
Situated on the bank of the Thames, the best way of reaching Jewel Tower is by public transport. Catch the 3, 87, N£ or N87 buses to Abingdon Street (Stop L), just outside the tower, or walk 4 minutes from the Westminster tube station along the Circle, District and Jubilee lines.
The Crown Jewels
Kings and queens of England have stored crowns, robes, and other items of their ceremonial regalia at the Tower of London for over 600 years. Since the 1600s, the coronation regalia itself, commonly known as the 'Crown Jewels' have been protected at the Tower.
Over 30 million people have seen them in their present setting at the Tower. They are possibly the most visited objects in Britain, perhaps the world. But most remarkable of all is that this a unique working collection. The Imperial State Crown is usually worn by the monarch for the State Opening of Parliament. When the next coronation comes around, key items will be taken to Westminster in readiness for the ceremony.
Header: Detail of St Edward's Crown, © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2001/Prudence Cuming Associates
Did you know?
The question most visitors ask about the Crown Jewels is, ‘are they real?’ Yes, they are!
At the heart of the collection is the Coronation Regalia itself, a group of precious and highly symbolic objects used since 1661 to crown sovereigns of England.
The image shows the objects, made after the restoration of the monarchy, for the coronation of Charles II in 1661. Many were used for the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953.
Image: Charles II Coronation Regalia, Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2017
St Edward's Crown
St Edward’s Crown is the most important and sacred of all the crowns. It is only used at the moment of crowning itself. This solid gold crown was made for the coronation of Charles II to replace the medieval crown melted down in 1649. This original crown was thought to date back to the 11th-century saint-king Edward the Confessor.
From 1661 to the early 20th century, this crown was only ever adorned with hired gems, which were returned after the coronation.
In 1911, St Edward’s Crown was permanently set with semi-precious stones for the coronation of George V.
Image: St Edward’s Crown, 1661. The magnificent solid gold frame makes it a very heavy and tiring crown to wear, even briefly, as it weighs 2.23kg (nearly 5lbs). © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2001/Prudence Cuming Associates
Jewel Tower - History
including the JEWEL TOWER
Westminster was established as a Royal residence by Edward the Confessor. It was later adopted by the Normans and converted into a substantial Palace. By the thirteenth century some components of Government had permanently based themselves on the site and, in the sixteenth century, it became the enduring home of Parliament.
Although there may well have been an earlier residence on the site, the first known structure at Westminster was an Anglo-Saxon church, dedicated to St Peter, which was built in the eighth century AD. At this time Westminster was effectively an island with the River Thames on the east and two branches of the River Tyburn, a tributary of the Thames, surrounding the other sides. It was known as the West Minster (the West Monastery) to differentiate it from the East Minster (St Paul's), which stood in the heart of the former Roman walled town of Londinium, which was the main urban centre at that time. The church was rebuilt as a Benedictine Abbey in the tenth century AD and at this time it was adopted as a Royal church starting a long association with Government that endures to this day.
It was Edward the Confessor (1042-66) who founded the first Royal residence on the site and who also rebuilt the Abbey. The latter occupied the central ground on the island and accordingly the Royal complex - which presumably included a Hall, Royal apartments and ancillary buildings - was built close to the waterfront. The Royal interest continued following the Norman invasion as William I was keen to prove his legitimacy by demonstrating continuity with Edward's regime. By the late eleventh century AD, Westminster was unique in England for being known as a Palace (derived from palatium in reference to the imperial residences that occupied the Palatine hill in Rome) and a clear indication of its special status. Its importance can also be derived from the construction of the Great Hall, today known as Westminster Hall, by William II (1087-1100). At the time of its completion, around 1099, it was Europe's largest building.
Although it has been extensively modified in later years, Westminster Hall was built by William II.
Throughout the early Norman period, the nominal capital of England was Winchester although in reality the Royal court was a mobile entity that moved around the country from site to site. However, during the reigns of Henry II (1154-80) and King John (1199-1216), some Governmental institutions, such as the Royal Exchequer, became entrenched in Westminster. This trend continued during the reign of Henry III (1216-72) who rebuilt Westminster Abbey and permanently based more administrative functions at the Palace including the Court of Common Pleas (which was one of the demands of Magna Carta). In addition the Court of the King's Bench and the Chancery Court were established at Westminster whilst the first known Parliament sat there in 1259 within the Painted Chamber. This trend continued during the reign of Edward I (1372-1307) although the venue altered between the Painted Chamber, White Chamber (later the permanent venue for the House of Lords) or Westminster Abbey. However, by the 1350s, the extent of these administrative roles was increasingly encroaching upon the Palace's Royal residential function. Accordingly the palatial site was divided in two. The northern part, including Westminster Hall, became used exclusively for administration and Parliamentary purposes. The southern portion, which became known as the Privy Palace, was solely for the monarch. An additional Great Hall was added at this time and later Edward I rebuilt St Stephen's Chapel into a substantial two storey structure.
Further modifications were made to the Palace by Edward III in 1342 and again in the 1360s when Henry Yevele, Master Mason, was commissioned to oversee the work. He built the Clock Tower, which contained a bell named 'Edward of Westminster' for regulating the timings of the adjacent law courts, and also constructed the Jewel Tower. The latter was designed as a secure stowage for Royal treasure which had been removed from the Tower of London. Yevele also remodelled Westminster Hall heightening the walls and adding the Gothic windows. Hugh Herland, carpenter, was commissioned to create the vastly impressive hammer-beam timber roof that is still in place today.
The Jewel Tower was originally built to serve as a secure stowage for the Royal Treasury.
Permanent Home of Parliament
Westminster Palace was devastated by fire in 1512 but this disaster ultimately led to the site becoming the permanent home of Parliament. The extent of the damage is unknown but it prompted Henry VIII to abandoned the site as a Royal residence in favour of the newly built Palace of Whitehall. Part of the Privy Palace at Westminster was demolished to provide building materials for this new structure but clearly significant parts were left standing as the Queen's Chamber was used as the permanent venue for the House of Lords. The Commons used the Chapter House at Westminster Abbey until 1547 when they were given the abandoned St Stephen's Chapel that had been closed following the English Reformation. The Jewel Tower became the storage site for Records of Parliament around the late sixteenth century and this evolved into it becoming the formal repository for Acts and Ordinances from the House of Lords. The decaying structure of the Jewel Tower was repaired and upgraded in 1717 with purpose built storages for the records. A brick built parapet, capped in Portland Stone, was added as part of these upgrades. In 1801 the House of Lords was relocated to the Lesser Hall, once occupied by the Court of Requests.
On Thursday 16 October 1834, the Palace of Westminster was gutted by fire. In the early evening, two under floor stoves situated beneath the House of Lords had been inappropriately used for burning obsolete accounting equipment. A fire ensued that engulfed the House of Lords and quickly spread through the rest of the Palace although the prevailing winds meant the Jewel Tower, complete with its precious records, and Westminster Hall were saved. Parts of St Stephen's Chapel were also salvageable including the Undercroft Chapel.
A Royal Commission was appointed to select a design for a new Parliament building and in 1836 held a public competition. A gothic style structure, proposed by Charles Barry, was chosen and work started in 1840. The plan included reclaiming eight acres of land from the River Thames and incorporated the surviving fragments of the Palace (excluding the Jewel Tower) into the design. The facility was purpose-built for Parliamentary business with all key elements of the Governmental machine - the Sovereign's throne, the House of Lords and the House of Commons - positioned in a straight line through the centre of the structure. Construction took significantly longer than expected but the building was sufficiently complete for the House of Lords to start using their chamber in 1847 followed by the Commons in 1852. The new facility included a purpose-built, fire-proof document storage - the Victoria Tower - and accordingly the Jewel Tower became superfluous.
With the outbreak of World War II and the risk of aerial bombardment of London, Parliament relocated to Church House in Westminster which proved to be a prudent move as the Palace was damaged by German bombers on fourteen occasions. The most notable attack occurred on 10 May 1941 when both the House of Commons and Westminster Hall were hit by incendiary bombs whilst the fire brigade saved the latter, the Commons was completely gutted. The Jewel Tower also suffered significant devastation when it too was hit by an incendiary. Nevertheless in June 1941, the Commons moved back into the Palace and sat in the House of Lords. The Lords themselves remained in Church House but returned to the Palace in 1950.
The Palace of Westminster was finally transferred from Royal control to the Houses of Parliament themselves in 1965 although the Crown maintained joint control of Westminster Hall and the historic Chapel of St Mary Undercroft.
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Houses of Parliament : The tour includes Westminster Hall plus both the Houses of Lords and Commons. Highlights include the spectacular medieval hammer-beam roof of Westminster Hall. Note that this tour is only available when Parliament is not sitting (Saturdays or Parliamentary Holidays). (Click here for Official Website)
Jewel House : A three storey building which is architecturally interesting and has some impressive sculpted limestone capitals on display as well as the remains of some timber foundations. However, with no parapet access nor any real interpretation of Westminster Palace (other than a model for children), there isn’t a huge amount to see. (Click here for Official Website)
Westminster Palace Layout . The palace was originally contained within a single walled enclosure but was divided into two when the legal and administrative roles started to encroach upon the site’s use as a Royal residence. The medieval palace was devastated by fires in 1512 and 1834. After the latter, it was completely rebuilt into the structure seen today although Westminster Hall and St Stephen's Undercroft were incorporated into the new building. The Jewel Tower also survived as a detached structure.
Westminster Hall . The Great Hall was built by William II and, at the time of construction, was the largest building in Europe. The hugely impressive medieval hammer-beam roof dates from the late fourteenth century.
Jewel Tower . This tower was built during the reign of Edward III and partly encroached upon land owned by Westminster Abbey. Its original purpose was a secure stowage for Royal treasure but it later became the repository for documentation from the House of Lords. In 1869 it was taken over by the Board of Trade Standards Department who used it until 1938.
Victoria Tower . Built as part of the 1864 Gothic re-imagining of the palace, Victoria Tower was intended to serve as the Royal entrance into Parliament. The tower also incorporated fire-proof chambers to serve as a replacement document repository for the Jewel Tower.
Prices and opening times
|Child Ticket||£2.80 to £3.10 per ticket|
|Concession Ticket||£4.20 to £4.70 per ticket|
|Adult Ticket||£4.70 to £5.20 per ticket|
English Heritage members gain free entry.
Gain discounted entry by purchasing an English Heritage Overseas Visitor's Pass. Please check the website for more details.
This content has been supplied by Jewel Tower
Open every day. April - October 10:00 - 17:00. November - March 10:00 - 14:00. Closed: 24 -26 December & 1 January .
Jewel Tower | A Medieval survivor of the Palace Of Westminster
The Jewel Tower is a small remainder of London’s Medieval history
When it comes to London’s royal palaces, most of them tend to be rather young, with the oldest parts of Buckingham Palace dating back to 1703 and Clarence House, a few years shy of its 200th anniversary. However, long before the monarch resided at Buck House, the King or Queen had a home in the huge Palace Of Westminster. Today, the title belongs to the Houses of Parliament, the seat of our Government.
The fireproof door contains the year 1621 and the mark of James I
Most of the Medieval Palace of Westminster was destroyed by a huge fire in the 1800s, to be rebuilt as the iconic masterpiece, which remains today. However, two buildings managed to survive, the 11th century Westminster Hall, and the 14th century Jewel Tower. Now owned by English Heritage, the diminutive Jewel Tower is open to the public. Recently, I paid a visit to this small, but interesting piece of Medieval London. It’s a small space with the exhibition taking about an hour to see.
The Jewel Tower was built around 1365-6 at the southern end of the Palace of Westminster to house the treasures of King Edward III (1312-1377). The Tower stood at the end of the garden and was protected by a moat to the south and west of the building. It was built under the direction of master mason Henry Yevele (1320-1400) and master carpenter Hugh Herland (1330-1411) on land which had been appropriated from Westminster Abbey, to the chagrin of the monks. The keeper would have worked on the ground or first floor, logging the King’s treasures coming in and going out of the Tower. The most valuable goods were kept on the second floor.
For 150 years, the Tower was used to house the subsequent Kings’ treasures until a fire at the palace in 1512. The building then became home to less valuable items, such as clothing, bed linen, furniture and royal children’s toys, according to an inventory in 1547. In 1600, the building was repurposed for the Government, rather than royals, when it became a parliamentary office. A three-storey timber extension was added to the side of the Tower as a house for the Clerk of the Parliament. The ground floor of the Jewel Tower became the kitchen and scullery, while the first floor was used as a repository for various parliament documents. In 1621, the building was renovated to become more secure to protect the important documents. On the first floor, a brick vault was added with a metal door featuring the year inscribed on the exterior and the cipher of King James I (1566-1625). That very door still exists today and can be seen on your visit.
By the 18th century, the Tower was apparently a bit of a state so work was taken to renovate and improve it. Larger windows and a new chimney were added, while the building was made more fireproof to protect the documents inside. Throughout the century, the Tower was gradually hidden by the buildings popping up around it. By 1827, the House of Lords’ records had been moved out of the Tower because it was too small and it was known as part of Old Palace Yard, with the name Jewel Tower dropping out of use.
On 16 October 1834, a huge fire swept through Westminster Palace, destroying most of the estate. The firefighters focused their energies on saving Westminster Hall, which still stands today. The Jewel Tower managed to survive because it was relatively cut off from the rest of the buildings and due to the direction of the wind. After Westminster was rebuilt to Sir Charles Barry‘s (1795-1860) Neo-Gothic design, the building was renamed the Jewel Tower again because the Victorians believed it used to house the Crown Jewels.
One of the 18th century windows looking across at the Sovereign’s Entrance to Westminster
In 1869, the Tower had a new use again after the passing of the Standards of Weights, Measures, and Coinage Act three years previously. The new government department – the Board of Trade Standards Department – moved in and started to regulate the country’s weight and measures. The standards and testing equipment was housed in the tower, with some of the Victorian artefacts on display today. By the early 20th century, the old Tower was struggling. The standard of the old roof was called into question, while the vibrating from the growing traffic from nearby Lambeth Bridge was affecting the accuracy of measuring. The department moved out in 1938.
With its prime location near the Palace of Westminster and the Abbey, it was no surprise that the area for a target for Nazi bombers. Explosives damaged the roof of the Jewel Tower in 1941. As London recovered from World War II over the 1950s, several of the surrounding buildings were demolished, giving a clear view of the Jewel Tower from Millbank. Since 1956 the Jewel Tower has been open to tourists, with various changing exhibitions through the years. The current presentation dates back to 2013 and features the Tower’s history and the various government and royal departments it has housed over the centuries.
- Jewel Tower, Abingdon Street, Westminster, SW1P 3JX. Nearest station: Westminster. Open daily (30 Mar-30 Sep) 10am-6pm. Closed Bank Holidays. Tickets: Adults £5.40, Children 5-17 yrs £3.20. For more information, visit English Heritage.
For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.
Born in Iowa in 1883, Waite was an identical twin and one of 10 children. Like his older brothers, Waite developed a highly successful oil business in the early 20th century. He and his wife, Genevieve, are remembered for their generous and lasting contributions to Tulsa, including the Philtower, Philcade, and the Philbrook Museum of Art.
Waite moved from Iowa to Indian Territory in 1906 and soon started the Waite Phillips Petroleum Company, quickly becoming a famous oilman. In 1925, he sold the business and began constructing some of Tulsa’s most treasured buildings.
Standing as a beacon of the Tulsa skyline when it was completed in 1928 by architect Edward Buehler Delk, the Philtower still stands out amid other buildings with regal beauty. The distinctness of its English Gothic Revival and Art Deco designs make it an architectural jewel. Its crowning feature is the colorful Imperial English shingle-tiled sloping roof that illuminates the night sky.
A Bit About Britain
Regular watchers of TV news will be familiar with the scene outside the Houses of Parliament, where journalists interview politicians on a patch of grass opposite Old Palace Yard, against a backdrop of Gothic architecture and the appropriately barbarian howls of protestors. While you’re hanging on every sage sound-bite tripping off the tongues of our bright, objective, Members of Parliament, and simultaneously wishing that the boring berk shouting out his repetitive, inane, message behind-stage would just fade away, you might spot a small, stone, tower over Laura Kuenssberg’s right shoulder. This is the Jewel Tower, a little gem of a building at the heart of Britain’s story and one of the very few surviving parts of the medieval Palace of Westminster.
The patch of grass is called College Green, and at one time most of it would have been in the River Thames. Now, it covers an underground car park and, as well as being convenient and atmospheric for broadcasters and MPs, offers great photo opportunities for visitors able to negotiate their way through the media encampment that materialises there at times of national stress. How many people, though, realise the Jewel Tower is even there? Ask where London’s Jewel Tower is and, understandably, most folk will direct you to the Tower of London. Not a bit of it the Jewel Tower in Westminster is nothing to do with the Crown Jewels it is where Edward III kept his personal treasures, and was known as ‘the king’s privy wardrobe’.
Built on the north bank of the Thames, the Palace of Westminster was a principal home for English monarchs during much of the Middle Ages. The Jewel Tower was erected in the 1360s as a secure store within the discrete Privy Palace, the royal residential complex which was separate from the more public administrative and legal areas. The tower was surrounded by a protective moat and stood at the end of a garden. The moat could be a lethal place William Usshebourne, one of King Edward’s keepers of the Privy Palace, choked to death on the bones of a pike caught in it.
I love seeing what places once looked like and this reconstruction drawing of the Palace of Westminster in the late 15 th century (illustration by Terry Ball and Richard Lea © Historic England) is really excellent.
Westminster’s time as a premier royal residence came to an end in 1512, when a fire destroyed sections of the Privy Palace. In any case, in 1529, Henry VIII got his hands on Cardinal Wolsey’s nearby York Place and developed that as a new royal residence, Whitehall Palace, which would have had its own privy wardrobe. So the Jewel Tower seems to have become a repository for sundry royal bric-a-brac, including dolls once played with by the princesses Mary and Elizabeth. By the late Tudor period, though, it was given into the custody of the Clerk of the Parliaments, the official who recorded sittings and committee meetings for the House of Lords. A dwelling was built for the clerk against the tower, and the first floor was used to store Acts of Parliament. In 1621, the store was upgraded with brick vaulting and an iron door to one room, providing better protection against fire. The date was emphatically added to the door – and the cipher of James I to the lock plate.
In the early 18 th century, improvements were made to the building, including the windows you see today and shortage of space meant that records storage had to extend to the second floor. In 1834, a devastating fire swept through the main Palace of Westminster. Fortunately, the tower’s disconnected location saved it, and its records, from destruction – though almost all of the records of the House of Commons were consumed. The Jewel Tower is one of just four medieval buildings that survived that fire, and the subsequent reconstruction of the Palace of Westminster: the other three are Westminster Hall, the chapel of St Mary Undercroft and St Stephen’s Cloister all are still in use, though there is no general public access to the chapel and the cloisters. In 1864, the records in the Jewel House were moved to a purpose-built repository inside the massive Victoria Tower, opposite. The records held in the Jewel Tower included such historically important documents as King Charles I’s death warrant (1649), the Bill of Rights (1688), the Act of Union between England and Scotland (1707) and the Slavery Abolition Act (1833). Parliamentary records were – and I think still are – rolled for storage and written on vellum (though I believe that might be changing).
From 1869 to 1938, the Jewel Tower was a testing facility for the Board of Trade Standards Department (aka ‘Weights and Measures’) and historic standards of weight, volume and dimension were held on the second floor. These were the people who could tell you what a ton of bricks really meant, whether you had actually gone that extra mile – or, indeed, what’s afoot.
Despite being damaged by incendiary bombs in May 1941, the next major event in the Jewel Tower’s long history was the radical demolition of surrounding buildings – including some 18 th century houses and the house and garage of the Prime Minister’s chauffeur – which allowed the excavation of the medieval moat and, presumably, revealed the building to the general public.
A visit to the Jewel Tower is to take a short, but oh-so intriguing, trip (in an exciting part of the Capital) through aspects of history you don’t often think about, but which have been at the epicentre of a developing state – first England, then the United Kingdom – for hundreds of years. There are displays on each floor which nicely illustrate the different phases in the building’s past, and some fascinating artefacts found nearby – not least a high-end Anglo-Saxon sword dated to around 800 AD, which was found during excavations of Victoria Tower Gardens. On the ground floor is the inevitable shop, where you can also buy a welcome (but awful) cup of coffee. Look up there’s a wonderful medieval vaulted ceiling, with sculpted bosses of human and mythical heads, some of them grotesque.
When you’ve finished, think about wandering through the streets to the south, around the back of Westminster School. It’s a little bit of what you might call ‘Disney London’ spot the blue plaques. Or you could take your chance with the journalists and politicians on College Green – there’s an interesting – and slightly worrying – article about this on the BBC’s website.
The Jewel Tower in London is the only remaining part of the original medieval Palace of Westminster , along with Westminster Hall . It was built around 1365 to house the Edward III jewels . record, unofficially it was also referred to as "King's Privy Wardrobe" (German "the king's private wardrobe "). It is a narrow three-story building made of stone and is now across the street from what is now the Parliament of the Palace of Westminster. Originally, it was integrated into the defensive walls of the palace, but separated from the main building, so that it withstood the great fire of 1834 that destroyed most of the parliament building.
It is now managed by English Heritage and contains an exhibition Parliament Past and Present . Opposite the tower are the remains of a moat. The historical records of the House of Lords were kept in the Jewel Tower until 1834, but these are now in the administration of the Parliamentary Archives in the Victoria Tower of the main building of the Palace of Westminster.
Visit The Jewel Of Westminster
Westminster's Jewel Tower is a hidden gem by name and nature. The 14th century tower stands directly opposite the Houses of Parliament, but gets nowhere near the footfall it deserves.
Plan showing the location of the Jewel Tower and its moat relative to the Thames and Westminster Abbey, in Medieval times.
The Jewel Tower is one of the few surviving parts of the ancient Palace of Westminster, much of which has been destroyed in fires. It's a sturdy little thing, made of Kentish ragstone and still surrounded by a medieval moat. This once ran into the Thames, as shown below, and was used as a source of fish.
The tower's remarkable story is told over three floors, accessed by a spiral staircase. The top floor reveals the tower's connections to royalty. It was built as a storehouse for Edward III's treasures — mostly jewels and silver plate — in 1366, and continued as a royal blingery until 1512. Thereafter, it was mainly used for regal bric-a-brac, but nothing too lustrous.
Original wooden foundations of the Jewel Tower.
The middle floor reveals how the Jewel Tower was later converted to store the records of the House of Lords (including the execution order of Charles I). The Great Fire of Westminster in 1834 destroyed many of the Palace's records, but the comings-and-goings of the Lords were preserved thanks to their safekeeping in this tower.
A fireproof chamber, whose door carries the date 1621 and the mark of James I.
In 1869, the tower passed to the Standard Weights and Measures Department. Its thick medieval walls made it ideal for making precise measurements. Displays show some of the standard weights and capacity measurements that were devised in this building.
Two towers used to store official documents — the Jewel Tower (foreground) and Victoria Tower, still home to the Parliamentary Archive.
The ground floor is mostly given over to a cafe and English Heritage gift shop, but be sure to take in the vaulted ceiling and the cabinet of standard volumes.
The Jewel Tower really is a hidden gem, hiding in plain sight from the millions of tourists who pour into Westminster annually. Give it a look-see next time you're in the area.
The Jewel Tower is open every day. See the English Heritage website for times and prices.
Jewel Tower - History
THE TOWER OF JEWELS AND ITS SHIMMERING NOVAGEMS
(Page updated extensively March '07.)
The Tower of Jewels was the 435 foot tall centerpiece building of the PPIE. It was taller than the other fair buildings by a couple hundred feet, and was positioned at the main Scott Street entrance to the fair.
Besides for its height, which could be seen as taller than the various SF hills as one took the East Bay ferry towards the city, the primary outstanding feature of the building was how it was liberally decorated with 102,000 Novagems -- faceted cut glass "jewels" that hung over the building's surface. Made in Bohemia, the Novagems came in several colors of glass and were mounted on brass hangers with a small mirror behind them to further increase their reflecting. As these jewels freely hung from the sides of the building, the breezes would make them independently sway, causing the building to shimmer in a way that people say was impossible to describe unless one saw it in person. This effect was further increased at nighttime when an assortment of 54 searchlights hidden around the tower were pointed towards it, creating a spectacular sparkling impression.
On a few special occasions, they put on an event known as "Burning the Tower" where (according to Todd's, The Story of the Exposition), "Concealed ruby lights, and pans of red fire behind the colonnades on the different galleries, seemed to turn the whole gigantic structure into a pyramid of incandescent metal, glowing toward white heat and about to melt. From the great vaulted base to the top of the sphere, it had the unstable effulgence of a charge in a furnace, and yet it did not melt, however much you expected it to, but stood and burned like some sentient thing doomed to eternal torment."
During the fair, new jewels were sold as souvenirs, and these ones often have a small PPIE emblem on the back. After the close of the fair, the actual jewels that hung on the tower were sold for $1 each. These jewels often have little chips in them, as they had been blown around against the building for the better part of a year. Some of these have a little dangling brass tag with the tower on one side and 'certified' by Walter Ryan, creator of the Novagems on the other. There were also many jewel-related souvenirs, including pins, cufflinks, and spoons.