A Perfect Day at the Tower of London and Shakespeare’s Globe

by Jessica on March 5, 2009

Occasionally, the stars align for a perfect day of family travel, and our last day in London was just such a day. After the flops of the two previous days, we needed a little something to end our travels of London on a high note. The Tower of London was the perfect start to this perfect day.

Before leaving home, we had studied the history of the Tower of London at length and discussed all the things we would encounter during our visit. Again, I happily took full advantage of the resources available for families on the web.

At the boys’ request our first stop was the Crown Jewels. We had printed a family trail to guide us through the exhibit, which began with a movie showing the coronation of Elizabeth II. Then we passed through a room housing all the heraldic banners of each of the monarchs of England from William the Conqueror to the present. I was impressed that the boys remembered some of the heraldry we had studied before leaving home, and excited that they seemed to at least pretend to be interested in learning.

The White Tower

Our next stop was a tour of the White Tower, the centerpiece of the Tower complex. Our first stop was the mechanism that allowed the portcullis to be raised and lowered. My little scientists were fascinated by that, and it was obvious that they would have loved to give it a spin.

The Portcullis

Inside, we saw Henry VIII armor, and were impressed to note that he was indeed a very large man. A variety of weaponry was on display, as well. I indulged the boys in a few moments of silly behavior as they pretended to get various parts of their body stuck in the cannons.

The armor of Henry VIII

In the subsequent rooms, hands on exhibits of all kinds were available to try out all manners of medieval weapons.

Ryan tries out his archery skills

Aidan takes a turn at the joust.

After this, it was lunch time. We settled in a courtyard under the White Tower to eat our picnic lunch. I was armed with various pieces of paper to use as an impromptu history discussion while we ate. There is a great education quote by Katrina Gutleben that says “Learning can only happen when a child is interested. If he’s not interested, it’s like throwing marshmallows at his head and calling it eating.” If I am brutally honest, a good portion of the information that I throw out is much like this. I just hope that one or two bits land in the proper place and stick. Something about being in the Tower, and experiencing the history with all our senses made the boys interested in learning. So, I offered them a feast.

Reading about the Tower history as we enjoy our lunch.

We discussed all the history of the tower, sometimes talking over one another to share information. Gary and I knowingly exchanged a glance that reminded us each why we travel and the benefits that we reap as a family.

After lunch, we explored the Prisoners exhibition, the tower containing the graffiti of the prisoners, and the Tower Green, where you can see a memorial to those who had lost their lives in the Tower. All of these were slightly grisly, and thrilling to a group of little boys.

The tower complex is quite large and requires much walking up and down hill, so a rest and a snack were in order. Our snacks brought about a huge collection of pigeons that swarmed around us, hoping we would share. Evan, AKA the Pigeon Slayer, began a hilarious attack on the pigeons. Holding out his arms he would run wildly from one side of the path to the other to detour the pigeons from landing in our area. This display was enjoyed by all, except perhaps the pigeons who eventually gave up and found an easier target.

The Pigeon Slayer

At the exit of the Tower complex, several men dressed in medieval garb were standing in the moat demonstrating a collection of medieval weapons. They were practically begging passersby to come down into the moat and try out the weapons. We definitely did not need to be asked twice. The weapons operators were hesitant to allow the boys to operate the weapons, so at first we just stood and watched. They were helping a group of giggly young women to fire a ballista loaded with a water balloon. When the ballista fired, the ladies missed the enemy targets set up in the field and the balloon fired backwards and back onto them.

“Now how are you going to fight,” Evan quipped, “you just killed all your own men.” The weapons operators found that to be so humorous, that they instantly relaxed their concerns and invited the boys to try out the weapons. The boys launched rubber balls from several different types of weapons, and I am happy to say all of their missiles fired in the right direction. Aidan was a bit too small for weapon launching, so he served as the videographer.

Continuing our day of good fortune, we took the tube to St Paul’s Cathedral and had quick tour of the outside, but chose not to pay the ticket price to enter.

St. Paul’s Cathedral across the Thames

Just a short walk across the Millennium Bridge, which sways substantially as you walk across, was Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Once again we had prepared for the visit by learning as much as we could about the Bard and his famous theatre, but we were not prepared for what awaited us. Normally, guests are invited on a guided tour of the facility. On this day, there was a practice in progress for an upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet. So, instead of the regular tour, we were allowed to sit in the upper boxes and watch the rehearsal.

Because of my background in theatre, just to tour the Globe is an excitement, but to see a show would be pure bliss. However, the two times that I have been in London, I have never been able to see a production at the Globe because young children generally don’t sit quietly for a Shakespearean play. The opportunity to watch the rehearsal was thrilling, but still the problem of whether the boys would sit quietly remained.

The stage of the Globe Theatre

 Not only did they sit quietly, they sat enraptured. The costumes, the language, the pageantry, it was all as thrilling to them as it was to me. Delightfully, we were not just tourists at the Globe; we were participants in an Elizabethan theatre experience.

{ 1 comment }

Mara from Motherofalltrips April 18, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Oh, I love this kind of serendipity! Our tour of the Globe wasn't nearly that great.

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