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Bowyer Tower at the Tower of London

Plan of the Tower of London.

The Bowyer Tower is one of the 21 towers which together form the Tower of London complex which was built by Henry III who employed Henry de Riques and John of Gloucester as chief architects.

The earliest connection with bowyers is a reference to Nicholas Conrand's tower at the time when he was the Master and Provider of the King's Bows. It is not possible to identify with any certainty which tower this refers to

The name dates back to the Middle Ages but, like many of the tower names, it has not been always applied to the same building or site. The earliest reference to a Bowerstoure seems to date from the reign of Henry IV (1399 - 1413). Early in the 16th century, what is today's Bowyer Tower was called the Burbedge Tower whilst, at the same time, the present-day Flint Tower was called the Bowyer Tower. In 1532, both the Burbedge and Bowyer Towers were repaired. In 1597 the name Bowyar was applied to the present Bowyer Tower.

The Bowyer Tower (situated to the far left of the picture) at the Tower of London.

It is thought that the Bowyer Tower was the residence of The Master and Provider of the King's Bows or his place of business. As an explanation of the name changes, it is possible that, as he was moved to a different residence or office, the name of the tower moved with him. Also, Bowmen, as members of the garrison, may have been housed there.

There is a tradition that in 1478, in a room of the Bowyer Tower, George Duke of Clarence, brother of Edward IV, was secretly put to death, after a show trial, by drowning in a barrel of malmsey wine. This story, however, is not supported by any historical evidence and there is no evidence of the Bowyer Tower being used as a prison lodging.

On the night of 30th October 1841, the Tower of London experienced the worst fire in its long history. It commenced in one of the workshops of the Small Gun Office, located on the upper floor of Bowyer Tower, where a flue had overheated. The fire, which was first noticed at around half past ten, spread to the roof of the Grand Storehouse. The Tower fire engines attended but a sufficient supply of water for them all could not be found. Engines from the City could not gain admittance past the guards at the Tower Gates, the blaze spread quickly and began to engulf the Bowyer Tower.

The fire of 1841

The fire was not brought under control until 3 o'clock in the morning. By then it had destroyed the Bowyer and Brick Towers. The Flint Tower, the White Tower and the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula were also damaged.

References:

Sally Dixon-Smith's letter dated 30th October 2008

H Colvin et al: History of the King's Works, Vol1 (HMSO) - The Middle Ages

Geoffrey Parnell: English Heritage Book of the Tower of London (Batsford, 1993)

Anna Keay: The Elizabethan Tower of London; The Haiward & Gascoyne Plan of 1597, London Topographical Society with Historic Royal Palaces (2001)

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