Thursday, 12 June 2008
CELL OF SIR THOMAS MORE, TOWER OF LONDON
Not on the tourist circuit, and not in the Bell Tower. The room to the left is where Sir Thomas More lived out his last year or so, and it is a cold place. Even yesterday, a warm, sunny day, with laughter and shouts from parties of schoolchildren on visits to the Tower of London echoing across the grass outside, it felt dank.
The cell has not been touched by the renovations that over centuries have made The Tower of London largely pastiche (the words of the governor, General Sir Roger Wheeler).
The floor is uneven now, the lower walls deeply pitted and weathered by the passage of time. When he was first here, there would have been rugs, hangings, furniture, candles, quills, ink, paper, books, more books, his servant in attendance. Frequent family visits, good food, wine. After all the idea was for him to change his mind and allow Henry VIII to divorce and remarry. How better to do this than treat him well.
But over time, the privileges were removed. Until at the end he had very little save the clothes on his back. And a man who had once been the most influential man in England was publicly executed. Not for him the privacy of a 'within the walls' beheading such as those reserved for royalty and a few others.
The ceiling is extraordinary. Ribbed, the stone sharp-cornered and fresh, it has never been touched. "Those stones looked down on Sir Thomas More for fifteen months," said the Governor of the Tower, looking up.
And for a moment the military bearing the detachment the 'position' all fell away, and there was just a man, wondering.
(Visit to The Tower of London organised by an association of Sappers and Surveyors, accompanying my father, aged 93. The Governor is an ex-Sapper, hence the special visit.)