Built between 1365 and 1366, the Jewel Tower is one one of only two surviving parts of the royal Palace of Westminster.
The building’s purpose was to house the personal treasure of Edward III, and it was known as the ‘King’s Privy Wardrobe’.
Built under the direction of William of Sleaford and Henry de Yevele, the tower is a three-storey, crenellated stone building that was originally protected by a moat linked to the River Thames.
The Jewel Tower is a good example of a medieval treasury, which could serve colleges, guilds, civic corporations, parish churches and cathedral chapters, and powerful individuals.
Personal jewels were used by monarchs as a substitute for cash, and could be used to fund wars or as political gifts. Edward III had a particularly large collection of personal treasure, which reached its greatest value in the 1360s.
After a fire destroyed the residential part of the palace in 1512, Henry VIII decided to relocate his court to Whitehall, and the Jewel Tower ceased to be used to store the monarch’s treasure and personal possessions.
At the end of the 16th century, the building began to be used by the House of Lords to store its parliamentary records, with a house constructed alongside it for the use of the parliamentary clerk.
The tower was one of only four buildings to survive a major fire in Westminster in 1834, following which the records were moved to a new, purpose-built archive.
In 1869, the building was occupied by the Standard Weights and Measures Department and used to store and test official weights and measures.
The tower was damaged during World War II and restored by the Ministry of Works, which took it over in 1948, clearing the surrounding area and making it more accessible to tourists.
It is now managed by English Heritage and receives around 30,000 visitors each year.
Some of the tower’s features were defaced or removed in the centuries following its construction. However, the tierceron vault and sculpted bosses over the main room on the ground floor attest to the high standard of the building’s original design.
The eighteenth-century Portland windows, under three-centred arches, and particularly the small windows in the stair turret, make a strong contribution to the Jewel Tower’s appearance.
The many uses of the tower throughout the centuries follow the transition of British society from a monarchy to a parliamentary democracy and an imperial power in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The Jewel Tower is open seven days a week from 10.00 until 18.00, with last admission 30 minutes before closing time. After the end of September, it will close at 17.00.
Things to do nearby
As it is located in the centre of London, there are plenty of attractions near to the Jewel Tower that are well worth a visit. Here are just a few of them:
Westminster Abbey – one minute’s walk away.
Houses of Parliament – two minutes’ walk away.
St Margaret’s Church – two minutes away.
Churchill War Rooms – five minutes away.
Garden Museum – seven minutes away.
Westminster Bridge – four minutes away.
There is no parking available at the Jewel Tower. The nearest off site parking is the Abingdon Street underground car park (managed by NCP), located around 400 metres away.
The Jewel Tower can be easily reached from Westminster tube station. Exit the station on to Bridge Street and turn right. Continue until you reach a crossroads and turn left, then walk along St Margaret Street until you see the tower on your right, opposite the Houses of Parliament. The walk will take about five minutes.