diamond geezer

 Sunday, January 06, 2019

Location: Westminster, SW1P 3JX [map]
Open: from 10am (weekends only Nov-Mar)
Admission: £6.00
Website: english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/jewel-tower
Four word summary: fragment of historic palace
Time to allow: 20 minutes

When Edward III needed somewhere to stash his personal treasure he had a three-storey tower built in the corner of the grounds of the Palace of Westminster. The House of Lords eventually took it over, using the upper rooms to store parchments, journals and Acts of Parliament, and so it was that when the rest of the palace burned to the ground in 1834, the Jewel Tower and its historic contents fortuitously survived. It still stands, tucked back from the roadway between Westminster Abbey and the gazebo lawns of College Green. And thousands of foreign tourists still pay up to pop inside, keen to view an actual genuine English medieval building, but likely departing with a major sense of underwhelm.

The clues are there. The medieval palace moat has been filled in with gravel. The tower's not attached to any other building so can't be huge. Nobody's cleared away the bird droppings round the back path for weeks. The entire downstairs has been taken up with a gift shop and what passes as a cafe, which is a quartet of tiny tables serviced by a small pushbutton drinks dispenser behind the counter. Most tellingly, the Jewel Tower's website declares that the second most exciting thing to see is "The history of Weights and Measures". Best not get your hopes up.

Top floor first, is the ticket seller's recommendation. This requires climbing a stone spiral staircase, which for some visitors will bring a genuine heritage frisson, although the bottom half is actually a 1950s reconstruction. The upper room contains some of the original wooden foundations replaced when the Ministry of Works concreted underneath, and a few cases of chucked-away artefacts excavated from the moat. Perched on the wall are chunks of fine 14th century stonework from Westminster Hall. In the centre of the room is a blocky model of the former palace. An information panel explains that the Crown Jewels were never kept here. The view is not good because the windows are tiny.

Downstairs are the weights and measures they warned you about, including a brass cubic inch, a malfunctioning balance and a box of apothecary's pipettes. Between 1869 and 1938 the tiny Jewel Tower was a nationally important Weights and Measures office, until vibrations from passing traffic started to affect experimental results. Through a Jacobean iron doorway is the turret room where some facsimile Acts of Parliament are displayed, and nothing much else. I observed one German couple tick off the entire first floor in ninety seconds flat, so goodness knows how little time they stayed in the building altogether.

Don't get me wrong, this is a properly historic building with a succession of intriguing uses, and they've done what they can to make it interesting. But of all the places I've been with my English Heritage membership over the last year, it's perhaps the one where I was most pleased to be getting in for free.

Now that my year of English Heritage membership is up, I thought I'd see how much value I'd got out of the £56 it cost.

Here's where I've been in London over the last twelve months, along with the usual admission price for non-members.

» Eltham Palace £14.40
» Down House £12.00
» Apsley House/Wellington Arch £11.20
» Ranger's House £9.00
» Chiswick House £7.50
» Marble Hill House £7.40
» Jewel Tower £6.00
» TOTAL £71.10

So that's good already, a saving of £15 based on London properties alone. But I've travelled more widely than that.

» Stonehenge £19.50
» Dover Castle £19.40
» Audley End £18.10
» Osborne House £17.20
» Battle Abbey £11.80
» Wrest Park £10.90
» Kenilworth Castle £10.70
» Carisbrooke Castle £10.00
» Pevensey Castle £6.50
» Richborough Roman Fort £6.50
» Tilbury Fort £6.20
» TOTAL £136.80

» GRAND TOTAL £207.90
   (saving £151.90)

And that's an absolute bargain - the equivalent of four years of value from one year of membership.

Just the top three most expensive properties took me over the annual threshold all by themselves, and then I managed to visit another sixteen on top of that. There are some utterly fantastic places in that list too, making my 2018 schedule a properly excellent heritage experience. I've even managed a free visit in 2019, a year and a day after my card was first validated, because it remains usable until the end of the month.

An annual English Heritage membership, if properly curated, is an absolute bargain. So will I be remaining a member this year? Hell no.

Having blitzed English Heritage properties in London and the southeast this year, there are now hardly any left I haven't been to. Some I'd been to before 2018, so didn't do again, and a lot of EH properties are ruins in fields I can visit for free any time. A jaunt to, say, West Yorkshire, Gloucestershire or Devon would allow me to tick off several more, but I'm not planning on going all that way just for that. So I'm ignoring all the plaintive membership renewal emails, sadly, because my one-year splurge was just too good.

But you might want to give annual membership a try, for the historical thrill of it, so long as you plan ahead and use it well. Meanwhile I've signed up for an entirely different scheme which I intend to squeeze all the value out of during 2019, so bring it on.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream