Christmas Tales from the Tower

Tower of London at Christmas. © Historic Royal Palaces

As it’s very nearly Christmas, we’re taking a look back at Christmases past. Hidden in the treasure trove of the online British Newspaper archive are an abundance of forgotten tales. I’ve found a couple related to the Tower, revealing the stories of Christmases spent at the fortress in times gone by.

For the superstitious…

With the Tower as old as it is, as you can well imagine there are several ghosts and ghouls wandering its corridors.

At midnight on Christmas eve in 1900, an officer was on duty in the constables’ quarters at the Tower of London, when he heard a long wail from the top of the Tower. He froze, and heard it again. Footsteps followed and finally a third time the wail rang out, echoing through the corridors. The guard went and inspected where the noise was coming from, but by the time he got to the top of the Tower, there was nothing to be seen and no one had passed him on the stairs.

The tale of this ghostly appearance took place in late December 1900, a few weeks before the death of Queen Victoria on 22 January 1901. There is a legend that before the death of a King or Queen of England, since the day of Mary Queen of Scots’ execution, her spirit reportedly manifests itself at different sites across the country. Some believe the wails this officer heard at the Tower were that of Queen Mary.

Perhaps it is hard to believe that Mary Queen of Scots, who was executed on 8 February 1587 at Fotheringhay Castle, would haunt the corridors of the Tower of London – around 100 miles away. But what are your thoughts?

The Tomb of Mary Queen of Scots © Dean and Chapter of Westminster

While the cat’s away…

Below is an article written by Lionel Lord Tennyson and found printed in the Star Green ‘Un Newspaper, May 1950:

‘On one occasion a brother subaltern and myself, by a stroke of bad luck had to be on guard and picket at the Tower of London on Christmas night. As several other young officers, living in the barracks were also in London and (or so we thought) all the senior officers were naturally on leave, we resolved to celebrate Christmas in the Tower in a quite new and original fashion.

We invited some half-dozen lovely members of the opposite sex from the Gaiety chorus to brighten our evening. So those grim old walls echoed with the unfamiliar sound of peals of laughter and the rustle of exquisite dresses. The champagne circulated briskly, eyes gleamed more brightly. The fun was going fast and furious when the door of the ante-room opened. There rooted to the spot for the moment, stood one of our senior officers who after all, had not gone on leave!

For a moment or two he gazed at our party and then retired to his room. There he found two members of the party clasped together in an affectionate embrace. The next morning we were all invited to go and see the colonel and we were confined to the barracks for a fortnight.’

There are countless tales of this kind to be found about life at the Tower and it paints such a wonderful picture of the dark and dingy corridors we imagine of years long ago being filled with love and laughter at Christmas!

The Tower of London in the snow. © Historic Royal Palaces

From all of the curators here at Historic Royal Palaces, I hope you have a fun-filled Christmas and a wonderful 2019!

Beatrice Meecham                                                                                                            Curatorial Administrator

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