Making good use of the English Heritage ‘Pensioners’ Membership that my 2 daughters very kindly got me & my missus for a Christmas prezzie – I stepped out into the grey, rainy and cold London air yesterday, to create a sort of ‘mini blog’ for my London Shoes website – in search of a couple of little known landmarks that are tucked away between the Houses of Parliament & Westminster Abbey – that, although often overlooked, are in fact a precious part of London and English history.
The historic buildings in question are the “Jewel Tower” and “Chapter House”
The ‘Jewel Tower’ was built in 1365 for the sole purpose of storing King Edward III’s treasures and personal possessions – and it used to be known as the ‘King’s Privy Wardrobe’.
The tower itself is a three-storey, stone building, which was once protected by a moat linked to the River Thames.
From the end of the 16th century right up to the early 1800’s, the House of Lords used the tower to store its parliamentary records.
In 1869 the Jewel Tower was taken over by the newly formed ‘Standard Weights and Measures Department’, who used it for storing and testing official ‘imperial’ weights and measures, right up until 1938 when the increasing London traffic made the place unsuitable for the type of ‘precision’ work required. However, the original weights and measures equipment and instruments remain on display for public viewing.
The Jewel Tower is now maintained by the English Heritage and receives about 30,000 visitors per year.
Chapter House & the Pyx Chamber:
The original Chapter House was built around 1050, as a sort of annex building of Westminster Abbey.
It is an octagonal shaped building within the grounds of Westminster Abbey, that is noted for its magnificent windows, sculptures, old paintings, an architectural ceiling, medieval tiles and very old ‘doors’.
It was rebuilt by royal masons in 1253 and used as a meeting place for monks working out of the Abbey, and other dignitaries.
An oak door within the cloisters of the Chapter House has been identified as the oldest in Britain. The door was reused from the original building and is said to be covered with a cow’s hide.
Chapter House was also used for the earliest meetings of Parliament, from the 1270s through to 1395.
Within the Chapter House cloisters is ‘Pyx Chamber’ – a room whose origins also date back to the 11th Century – when it was used as a secure storage room for the monastery and the Royals, for their jewels and precious possessions.
Within Pyx Chamber there are large circular shaped wooden chests from the 15th Century that were made specifically to store the capes and cloaks that were worn by the monks at that time.
Within Chapter House and Pyx Chamber are the cloisters, where monks would exercise and meditate.
The walls of the cloister are filled with historic memorials, including many to military regiments and civil servants.
Chapter House, Pyx Chamber and its Cloisters are Grade I listed structures – and hopefully will be there for many centuries to come.
On the way back home, I popped into The Lord Moon on the Mall pub, nearby in Whitehall – to dry out and warm myself up, and have a quick ‘cheeky’ beer and a plate of chips.
All in all, both the Jewel Tower and Chapter House are an interesting aspect of London’s history and well worth a visit.