Tower of London: A sign of the Times

Yeoman Warders enjoying a drink in the Club c.1947 ©Historic Royal Palaces
Yeoman Warders enjoying a drink in the Club c.1947 ©Historic Royal Palaces

Visitors to the Tower of London who go on a tour with one of the Yeoman Warders learn that there is still a pub on site where residents and their families can go for a drink in the evenings. This establishment, the Yeoman Warders’ Club, has existed as a social club for residents since the 1930s. The Club is located in a former armourers’ workshop in the south-east corner of the Tower’s outer ward and is currently in the middle of a refurbishment programme to help modernise the facilities.

The Yeoman Warder Club before renovations began ©Historic Royal Palaces
The Yeoman Warder Club before renovations began ©Historic Royal Palaces

As the curator supporting this project, I’ve been helping the Yeoman Warders and HRP’s maintenance department prepare for this work over the past few months, researching the history of their club and its building, as well as advising on the new designs. The Warders have decided upon a modern look to their club, influenced by the many Victorian pub interiors which still survive across London.

One of the most exciting parts of the refurbishment is that a new pub sign hung will be hung outside the club which will be the first such sign at the Tower of London for nearly 170 years. This may sound surprising, but for many years the Tower was an easy place to get a drink. The large number of soldiers garrisoned at the Tower, as well as Ordnance workers meant that demand for food and drink was high. The pubs were a perk for the Tower Major who was one of the senior officials in charge of the site and he received an annual rent from the licensees for the buildings on top of his official salary.

Indeed, so popular were they that by the 1840s, there were actually a total of three public houses within the Tower’s walls; the Stone Kitchen which was next to the Bell Tower, the King’s Head on the north side of the outer ward and the Golden Chain which was next to the Salt Tower (and opposite the site of the modern-day club). The Yeoman Warder Francis Dobson, who served at the Tower between 1794 and his death in 1810, was fond enough of the Stone Kitchen to have two personalised pewter tankards kept at the pub for him. They were found during archaeological excavations in the Tower’s moat in the 1990s – perhaps they ended up there after a particularly good night’s drinking in the pub!

One of Francis Dobson's pewter tankards which he used at the Stone Kitchen Tavern at the Tower of London ©Historic Royal Palaces
One of Francis Dobson’s pewter tankards which he used at the Stone Kitchen Tavern at the Tower of London ©Historic Royal Palaces

The pubs were all closed down between 1847 and 1848. The Duke of Wellington, who was serving as Constable at this time, wanted to make the Tower more suitable as a garrison. Therefore he ordered the construction of a canteen to feed the soldiers and ordered that the pubs be closed and pulled down. Due to his loss of revenue, the Tower Major was paid a total of £500 in compensation for the buildings. As the old pub buildings were demolished, the Tower lost the signs that advertised their presence to the Tower’s community.

So when you come and visit the Tower over the next few months see f you can spot the new pub sign which will be proudly hanging from outside the Yeoman Warders’ Club. It’s a reminder that the Tower’s history is not just royalty and prisoners, but also the story of the community which has lived and drank here and continues to do so today.

P.S. The Yeoman Warders’ haven’t quite agreed on the final design for their new pub sign yet, but check back to see the new design once they have.

George Roberts, Tower Future Projects Curator

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *