Wednesday Wander – A Wet Day in New York

It’s Wednesday, and time for another wander. I’ve had my head down these past two weeks working on an edit, so have not had time to do much else at all! However, I like to keep going with my Wanders, especially with my most recent trip still fresh in my mind. So, let’s head back to New York…Our second day in New York dawned a little warmer than the day before, but that just meant rain instead of snow, Manhattan Island still blanketed in cloud. However, it wasn’t going to stop us – we only had a few days in New York and didn’t want to waste any of them!

The gorgeous girl, who, like most kids at the moment, is caught up in the squishy craze, wanted to visit Chinatown. We decided, despite the rain, to walk from Soho through Greenwich Village, taking in Little Italy before reaching Chinatown. Soho was filled with lovely boutiques and restaurants, (and I may have stopped in a few of them en route), while Greenwich had lovely old homes and interesting shops, including one which sold only puppies (!) with a puppy play area where you could play with them *squee*

We planned a route via Washington Square Park, with its famous white marble archway built to commemorate the anniversary of the inauguration of George Washington. Constructed in 1892, the arch replaced an earlier wooden one. The park itself was once marshland, but was acquired by the city in 1797, as a place to hold public executions. Later it became a military parade ground, then a park for the wealthy inhabitants of the nineteenth century mansions still lining one side of the park. In the twentieth century it became a haven for protestors and performers, including the beatniks of the 40s and 50s, and the folk musicians of the sixties. Nowadays it’s a community park which holds regular events – they were setting up for one while we were there, as you can see from my photo.

Not far from Washington Square is the Electric Lady studios, which my husband was keen to see. In 1968, Jimi Hendrix and his manager bought the premises, which had been a nightclub, and turned it into a professional recording studio. It has hosted many famous musicians including Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Wonder and David Bowie, and, in more recent years, Adele, Lana Del Rey, The Kills and Daft Punk. It’s now the oldest operating recording studio in New York City.

As you can see, the weather hadn’t improved much, but we pressed on. I was fascinated by the zig-zagging fire escapes on the old apartment buildingsas we wound our way through Manhattan to Little Italy. The streets smelled of garlic and cooking and sweets, and were still decorated for Easter.

The interesting thing about Little Italy and Chinatown is that they exist right next to each other, so you can walk down one street lined with Italian cafes and market stalls, yet when you turn the corner you’re surrounded by the spicy smells of Chinese food, bright neon on the buildings. I really enjoyed it, and wished the weather had been better. As it was, we were keen to get inside, eating lunch at a Chinese restaurant and then spending a little bit of time searching for squishies, which was a success! The gorgeous girl got quite a haul, so was very pleased with her day out.

As we headed back up to midtown, the rain finally started to ease, giving us hope the next day might be a bit brighter. I snapped this last image of a wonderful Art Deco building (of which there are so many in New York). I loved the shapes it made, the lines and shadows like an ancient ziggurat.

And then it was back to our hotel for dinner and a rest. We had another big day planned for tomorrow…

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me! See you next time.


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Wednesday Wander – Ground Zero

We had to go there. It didn’t seem right to be in New York and not visit the site of an event which has shaped the modern city, and much of the world, since it happened. And so this week my Wednesday Wander is to Ground Zero, the site of the World Trade Centre attacks in New York.

I don’t think there are many of us who were alive at the time who don’t remember where they were on September 11, 2001, when those first terrible images of planes crashing into the World Trade Centre appeared on the television. It was an unprecedented moment, and one where the world changed forever. It was also an event where over 3000 people lost their lives, so it seemed appropriate that we go and pay our respects.

The gorgeous girl knew what had happened that day, though her exposure to images of the event has been very limited. So, after our trip to the Statue of Liberty, and a stop to see the Mighty Girl facing down the Charging Bull on Wall Street, we made our way to the memorial, on the site of the twin towers.

It is an extraordinary place to visit, and you can’t help but imagine how it must have been that day, the horrors that took place there. Yet, for all that, it is a place of overwhelming sorrow and peace, rather than anger and pain.

The footprint of both towers has been retained, marked by spectacular water features, the endlessly falling water marking the outlines of where the towers stood. Around the edges are the names of every single person who died there. We took a moment to read a few, to remember them as people who were just at work, or taking a routine flight cross-country, when disaster struck.

The gorgeous girl and I sat together for a little while, watching people walk around in the pale sunshine. ‘This is a sad place,’ she said, and I hugged her and agreed. It felt as though it was time to go. But, on our way out, we stopped to take a closer look at an extraordinary structure in one corner of the square.

This is the Oculus, the most expensive train station in the world, built to replace the World Trade Centre station which was destroyed in the attack. It is a building that has apparently divided New Yorkers, with some loving it and others hating it. To me, it felt triumphant, like some sort of fantastic bird rising from the ashes of sorrow. Inside it was spectacular, like a bright vision of the future. Quite appropriate, in such a place.

Thank you for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Wednesday Wander – Casa Batllo, Barcelona

I know, I know. You thought I was going to continue with my epic trip from last month. And, I am, definitely. There’s still so much to see in New York, from Rockefeller Plaza to the Chrysler building, Central Park to the Art Deco architecture of Fifth Avenue. Plus all the other places we visited…

But this week my mind has wandered to Barcelona, and an architectural masterpiece by one of my favourite architects, Antoni Gaudi.

I was last in Barcelona a couple of years ago. The weather was lovely while we were there, not too hot and perfect for walking around the city, which we did every day. I made sure to go and see as much of Gaudi’s work as I could, as I’d missed some on my previous visit, so we took the train up to Parc Guell, marvelled at the twisted spires of Sagrada Familia, and pondered the construction complexities of Casa Mila.

Not far from Casa Mila, on the Passeig de Gracia, is Casa Batllo or, as the locals call it, Casa Del Ossos, the house of bones. Looking at the extraordinarily intricate facade, one can see why – vaguely skeletal pillars hold curving window frames, while balconies look like the skulls of some strange sea creature, dried out in the sun.

Gaudi worked with colour and fantastical form, and I think this house is probably one of the best examples of his particular genius. The humped roof with scaled tiles was designed to evoke the idea of a dragon, with scaled tiles and a knobbly spine. There is a theory that the turret signifies the lance of St George, the patron saint of Catalonia, plunged into the back of the dragon.

The house was created in 1904 for the Batllo family, who commissioned Gaudi to design and build a new home for them. However, Gaudi convinced them that the existing building on the site, built in 1877, could simply be renovated instead. The Batllo family lived there until the 1950s, when the house was purchased by an insurance company and used as offices. It has since been renovated and restored, and is now open to the public (through ticket purchase) for tours and private event hire.

It was a thrill for me to see the house – what a joy it must have been to live there, in this wonderful ornate city where even the pavements are etched with flowers. Barcelona is one of my favourite places, and the art and architecture are a big part of the reason why.

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next week, when we head back to America again…


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Wednesday Wander – Statue of Liberty, USA

I recently returned from the most wonderful trip. I summed it up on Instagram as follows: seven cities + six hotels + five states + four flights + three suitcases + two countries = one amazing trip! But it was so much more than that. Our whirlwind two weeks travelling from New York to Toronto to Boston and beyond took in some amazing sights – some expected, others less so. As you can imagine, I have loads of Wednesday Wanders to write. However, I thought I’d start at the beginning…

We arrived in New York to a sunny sixteen-degree day, warm enough to make the interminable queuing at JFK Customs an even less pleasant experience, heat radiating through the long glass windows. It was a pleasure to finally reach our midtown hotel and kick off boots and jumpers, putting long coats aside as we went out for a walk, eyes wide despite the jetlag kicking in.

However, we woke to quite a different city. Overnight the temperature had plunged to minus two degrees, thick snow falling. But we weren’t going to let the weather stop us – we had somewhere we needed to be. I’d purposely booked a Statue of Liberty tour for our first morning, both to get us all out of bed and to make the most of the short time we had in New York. It was high on our list as somewhere we wanted to see, so we were all excited.

We wrapped up warm and, after getting directions from the hotel staff, headed for the subway. That in itself was kind of exciting – the New York subway system is famous, so it was kind of cool that we were riding it. (and yes, I can appreciate that, if you have to do it regularly, it’s not quite the same thrill). We emerged at Battery Park to a winter wonderland, snow still falling.

Battery Park, at the southernmost tip of Manhattan, is named for the artillery batteries that have lined the shore since the eighteenth century. Four of the five original battery buildings still remain, including one in the park itself, and we were to meet our guide there. She was a wonderfully warm Puerto Rican lady, who immediately made our small group feel at ease before herding us all onto the ferry which would take us out to the statue.

We were still starry-eyed about being in New York, and, despite the weather, stayed outside to watch one of the most famous skylines in the world as we pulled away from the dock. I can’t think of another city (Paris, maybe?) that has so permeated human consciousness, featuring in books and films and music, on television and across popular culture; there is something quite magical about being there and seeing it for yourself.

As we neared the Statue of Liberty, we crossed the state line from New York into New Jersey. The statue loomed closer, holding her torch high, her oxidised copper robes green against the pale sky. The statue is so familiar as a symbol of liberty and freedom, that once again it’s quite something to see it in person. Gifted to the US by the French as a monument to US independence, the statue was dedicated in 1886, after years of fundraising by both countries to bring her to what was then called Bedloe’s Island. Made of copper and supported by an iron frame, the statue was designed by French sculptor Frederic August Bartholdi, and constructed by Gustave Eiffel. The figure of Liberty represents Libertas, a Roman goddess, with a broken chain at her feet. She holds the torch above her head with her right hand, and in her left hand she holds a tabula ansata inscribed with Roman numerals, JULY IV MDCCLXXVI, the date of the US Declaration of Independence.

When the statue was first constructed she gleamed, her copper bright. However, it only took a few years for it to oxidise to the familiar green we know today. The cost to restore the copper finish would be astronomical and, due to the statue’s exposed position, would only last a few years, so it has been left as is. Over the years the elements have played havoc with the fabric of the statue and, in 1984, it was closed to visitors for major repair and restoration works, opening again in 1986. The original torch was also replaced, due to corrosion, and is now displayed inside the museum entrance, giving visitors an idea of the extraordinary scale of the statue. The new torch, rather than containing a light, has been gilded with 24 carat gold and is lit by floodlights at night.

The Statue of Liberty museum, housed beneath the statue pedestal, is interesting and well-presented. It houses exhibits including a lifesize replica of the statue’s face and foot, shaped metal pieces from the original Eiffel frame, and a plaque commemorating Emma Lazarus’s famous sonnet, The New Colossus, which contains the oft-quoted line ‘Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free .‘

The pedestal itself was closed to visitors after the September 11 attacks, and only re-opened in 2004. It was once possible to ascend to the crown but, since 2001, this access has also been limited or closed off, due to safety concerns. On the day we visited the pedestal had been closed early on, due to the weather, but it re-opened in time for us to go inside. There are a LOT of stairs and catching the single lift, as you can imagine, involves a bit of waiting. However, it’s worth it to take in the fantastic 360-degree views. You can also view the statue interior through the glass ceiling, which was fascinating and kind of terrifying. To be honest, even if it was still possible to go up in the crown, I don’t think I could have done it!

I realise I’ve only scratched the surface of the history of this fascinating place, rightly designated a Unesco World Heritage site in 1984. However, this is a blog, not a novel, and so I’ll end this Wednesday Wander here. Next stop, Ellis Island…


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Wednesday Wander – Cleopatra’s Needle, London

I had an impromptu trip into London yesterday. I’m currently trying to sort out a new passport for a trip I’m taking in a few weeks time, which has necessitated two trips to the Canadian embassy in Trafalgar Square. Yesterday’s visit was to replace my passport photos with another, equally dire set of images, as the ones I’d originally provided were ‘too glare-y.’

However, I didn’t have to wait too long to be seen by the very helpful staff, so  was soon back out in the sunshine with some time to spare before lunch. I thought I’d take a walk along the Embankment, which is where I encountered my Wander for this week.

This is Cleopatra’s Needle in Westminster, London. One of three similar obelisks in London, New York and Paris, it is actually a pair with the one in New York, and doesn’t really have anything to do with the legendary Egyptian queen (other than being from Egypt).

The Needle is an ancient Egyptian obelisk, and originally stood in the city of Heliopolis, where it was erected around 1450 BC by the Pharoah Thutmose III. Originally it had a single column of heiroglyphics on each face, but two more were added around 200 years later, to commemorate the military victories of Ramses II. Around 12BC, the obelisks were moved by the Romans to a temple in Alexandria, where they remained, buried under sand, until 1819, when the ruler of Egypt and Sudan presented one of them to the UK in commemoration of Lord Nelson’s victories in the Battle of the Nile.

The British government were pleased with their gift (one would imagine), but not pleased enough to pay to have the obelisk shipped to the UK. That didn’t happen until 1877, when Sir William James Erasmus Wilson, a noted anatomist, paid the enormous (at the time) sum of £10,000 out of his own pocket to have the obelisk brought to England. The trip almost ended in disaster when the ship was caught in a storm, but eventually the obelisk arrived, towed up the Thames to its eventual resting place .

When the obelisk was installed in its current position, in 1878, a time capsule was placed in the pedestal base. It contained a set of 12 photographs of the best-looking English women of the day (!), a box of hairpins, a box of cigars, several tobacco pipes, a set of imperial weights, a baby’s bottle, some children’s toys, a shilling razor, a hydraulic jack and some samples of the cable used in the erection, a 3′ bronze model of the monument, a complete set of contemporary British coins, a rupee, a portrait of Queen Victoria, a written history of the transport of the monument, plans on vellum, a translation of the inscriptions, copies of the Bible in several languages, a copy of John 3:16 in 215 languages,[6] a copy of Whitaker’s Almanack, a Bradshaw Railway Guide, a map of London and copies of 10 daily newspapers. Phew!

The obelisk pedestal has several Egyptian embellishments, and is flanked by two cast-bronze Sphinxes. Placed incorrectly, they are looking at the obelisk, rather than outwards, guarding it. Benches in the area were also designed to reflect the Egyptian theme, with more Sphinxes holding up the seats.

Nowadays the obelisk looks out at the London Eye and The Shard, the waters running past it the cold grey-brown of the Thames, rather than the glistening Nile. It is an oddity, out of place and time, almost lost among the trees and buildings, traffic roaring past. I wonder whether it dreams of palms and blue sky, of desert heat, and a time when it stood, whole and proud, with its twin.

I guess we’ll never know.

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me. See you next time!


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

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Wednesday Wandering…

It’s Wednesday again.

This is usually the time of the week when I go on a Wander. However, this week I’ve not had the chance to do my usual hunt for photos and research, despite (or perhaps because of) being out for a wander yesterday.

My Wednesday Wander posts take a bit of work. I enjoy doing them, and haven’t yet run out of places to feature. However, I’ve had a couple of books take me by the throat and demand I write them, so this year my focus will have to shift slightly when it comes to writing.

I do have more travel booked, a holiday planned for April to somewhere I’ve not been before, so I will definitely be writing more Wanders. However, they may not be every week – I hope you don’t mind.

I thought I’d take a look back and see how many Wanders I’ve written since the first post in November 2015, and was surprised to see there are 92! So, if you’re feeling that you might need a bit of a travel fix, there are 92 destinations right here on this blog, from Paris to Morocco, California to Wales. I even went to Dragonstone last year (though the Targaryens weren’t in, sadly). Just search Wednesday Wander, and you’ll see them all.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering (wandering?), my most popular post, based upon the amount of comments and likes, was to a place not far from where I live. Highgate Cemetery, London, is the most popular Wander I’ve written to date – hop on over and check it out, if you haven’t already.

Thanks for coming on so many Wednesday Wanders with me – see you next time!


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

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Wednesday Wander – Royal Albert Hall, London

This week I’m taking a wander to somewhere I visited fairly recently. In fact, it was only yesterday.

It’s half term, so my daughter and I have been spending time together, and yesterday we went to London. We planned to do some shopping in Covent Garden, then head to Embankment to meet hubby. After that, dinner in Kensington beckoned, and a visit to somewhere we’d never been before: The Royal Albert Hall.

Opened by Queen Victoria in 1871, the Hall was built as a memorial to her beloved husband, Albert, who died in 1861. Prior to his death, he had envisioned a series of public buildings in London, and the Hall, with its large monument opposite, was seen as a fitting tribute to his vision. Constructed of red brick and terracotta, the circular Hall is crowned with a huge steel dome, which was constructed off-site and brought in pieces to be placed in situ.

However, the massive dome, while seen as a miracle of engineering, also created acoustic issues – not ideal in a venue designed for performances. Various methods were tried to reduce the echo, but it wasn’t until 1969 that the issue was finally resolved, with the installation of fibreglass acoustic disks. The effect is quite beautiful, like an abstract artwork.

The Hall has seen many famous names grace its stage, from Wagner to Adele, as well as hosting events such as the Eurovision Song Contest and the yearly Proms. Last night it was Cirque Du Soleil, with their latest offering, Ovo. It was a beautiful, mesmerising performance – we were spellbound for the entire two hours.

When it ended, we went out into the cold night, walking past the dark mass of Hyde Park as we looked for a taxi. We sped towards the station and caught the next train home, our minds full of gilt and smoke and tumbling lithe figures.

Thanks for coming on a Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

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Wednesday Wander – Rocher De La Vierge, Biarritz

Last summer, I was fortunate enough to spend some time in Biarritz, located on the French coast. I absolutely loved it – the light, the water, the people, the food – it was just wonderful. I’ve written about it here and here, but for today’s Wander I’m going to go back to the town’s origins as a fishing village, before Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie made it such a fashionable place to be.

For centuries, the principal industry in Biarritz was whaling. It wasn’t until the 18th century that it became known as a town for bathing, and the 19th century when it became fashionable due to the patronage of the Empress.

Nowadays, there are splendid hotels and a casino along the water’s edge but, if you wander a little further along the beach, you come to the old fishing village and harbour, the water clear turquoise against curving ochre rocks.

The old harbour walls remain and are used today – we spent a few minutes there watching a group of men launching a boat into the water. In the mid 1800s, Napoleon III decided he would like to build a large anchor point and sea-wall, connecting a nearby rock to the coastline. A wooden walkway was built between the two, and a statue of the Virgin Mary was placed on top of the rock to watch over the whalers as they returned to harbour.

The sea can get ferocious in these parts, however, and in the 1880s the wooden walkway was replaced by a metal bridge attributed to Gustav Eiffel (known for a rather more famous metal structure bearing his name). Today you can walk out to the rock and take in the glorious views, past archways of stone over dark blue water, sea birds wheeling overhead.

The day we went was warm and hazy, the water calm, though we had heard that the waves can splash as high as the footbridge on more stormy days.  Also, I think I may have found my dream house…

The Rocher De La Vierge is easily accessed via the coastal walk that runs along the main beach at Biarritz, past the Casino and town centre and leading to the excellent Aquarium. The views looking back are beautiful, as are those beyond, and the walk itself is quite gentle – I highly recommend it.

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

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Wednesday Wander – Caernarfon Castle, Wales

I’ve been to Caernarfon, located on the picturesque North Wales coast, a few times. But my most memorable visit took place quite a few years ago, when a friend and I were travelling through Wales together. We managed to find, on our meagre budget, a guesthouse with a view of the famous castle, a genial host named Norm, and a very generous breakfast (we may even have taken some extra packets of cereal with us for later in the day – very small travelling budget, as mentioned).

I don’t know whether Norm’s Place, as we affectionately dubbed our guesthouse, is still there, but the castle undoubtedly is. Designated a World Heritage Site in 1986, Caernarfon Castle was built in 1283 by Edward I, on the site of an earlier Norman fortress. It was one of a series of castles built by Edward after his defeat of the Welsh, to impose English rule on the land. Edward and his queen visited the castle in 1294 when, it is said, Edward II was born, and was designated the first Prince of Wales. Since that time, the title has traditionally been held by the eldest son of the British monarch, with Prince Charles, the current Prince of Wales, receiving his investiture at Caernarfon Castle in 1969.

The castle, despite its auspicious beginnings, has had a turbulent history. Sacked and set aflame by Madog ap Llewellyn during the Welsh uprising in 1295, the castle was recaptured and rebuilt by the English a year later. In the early 1400s it was besieged by Owain Glydwr, with support from the French – later that century, the Welsh Tudors took over the British throne and tensions eased, but the castle, which had been damaged over the years, fell into disrepair.

Despite being a Royalist base during the Civil War, the castle escaped destruction, but it wasn’t until the 19th century that repairs began. In 1911, the first modern Prince of Wales was named there, when Prince Edward (later Edward VIII) was invested by his father, George V.

Image: Manfred Heyde, Wikimedia Commons

Nowadays the castle, dreaming by the water, looks like something from a fairytale, a fortress from a vanished time. It is a popular tourist attraction, with almost 200,000 visitors in 2015, and is also home to the Royal Welsh Fusilliers Museum. It’s well worth a visit due to its wonderful state of preservation and its huge scale – you can see, looking at the size of the people in the photographs, how large it is. It must have been quite imposing in its day. In fact, it still is.

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


Oak and Mist, the first book in The Ambeth Chronicles, is on sale for 99c/99p until January 31st! Get your copy here

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Wednesday Wander – Graffiti in the Beauchamp Tower

Wednesday Wander is back! I had a little bit of a break due to work and health turmoil, but it’s a new year, all is well, and it’s time to wander again. This week I’m taking a closer look at a part of the Tower Of London. I’ve written about the Tower before, and looked at some of the many doors, but it is a place so rich in history and significant buildings that I could probably write another half dozen posts and not cover it.

This week I’m wandering into the Beauchamp Tower. It looks and sounds rather a romantic place, but its history, as with many of the Tower buildings, is a sad one. From the 1300s it was used to hold high-ranking prisoners, including the Earl of Warwick (after whom the tower is named), the Dudley brothers, and Lady Jane Grey. Many of the prisoners, being wealthy and well-educated, left their mark upon the walls – this graffiti has been preserved and is now a popular attraction at the Tower.

The Beauchamp Tower overlooks the green where high-ranking prisoners, including Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, were executed. Lady Jane Grey watched from this window as her husband, Guildford Dudley, was beheaded, then was taken out and executed herself a short while later. The four Dudley brothers are commemorated within the tower in a piece of ornate carved graffiti, with roses for Ambrose, carnations for Guildford, oak leaves for Robert and honeysuckle for Henry.

Not all prisoners held in the tower were executed, but they must have seen their fair share of horrors through the leaded glass windows, and wondered whether they might be next. Despite the sunshine and the views, it was a cold place, not somewhere you would want to spend a lengthy amount of time. There are said to be ghosts in the Tower of London, and I wouldn’t be surprised if several of them were in the Beauchamp tower…

Thank you for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


Oak and Mist, the first book in The Ambeth Chronicles, is on sale for 99c/99p until January 31st! Get your copy here

And don’t forget to get your Bloggers Bash tickets – follow this link to join the fun 🙂