Beefeaters, ravens and a gruesome history – no wonder the Tower of London is one of the capital’s most iconic buildings, attracting more than two million visitors a year. But its role as a tourist attraction dates only from the Victorian era. Before that, it served as a fortress, a royal residence, a home for the Royal Mint and the Crown Jewels, a storehouse for military paraphernalia and weapons and, of course, a notorious prison.
From the outset, the Tower was designed to invoke fear and awe. Over 27m tall and built from luminous Caen stone, William the Conqueror’s White Tower must have looked alien and forbidding to the newly-defeated English – who were forced to build it in the 1070s. William’s successors – most notably Henry III and his son Edward I - extended and strengthened the fortress throughout the Medieval period. By 1350 the Tower had taken on the impressive form we know today, complete with daunting defences, royal accommodation, a major branch of the Royal Mint and even an exotic menagerie with lions.