The history of London’s castles

White Tower, Tower of London, history of London’s castles
The White Tower is the oldest part of the Tower of London. Credit: Historic Royal Palaces

The capital is home to many palaces that have been impeccably preserved but London’s castles are a little more elusive. Here are four of the castles in London to have withstood the test of time

Many a London visitor has gone in search of the former sites of the medieval fortifications of Baynard’s Castle and Monfichet’s Castle. But while some of London’s castles are no more, there are some that you can still visit today.

The Tower of London

London’s most famous castle – and the only one still remaining in the city centre – the Tower of London is best known for its role as a notorious prison where everyone from Anne Boleyn to Guy Fawkes to the tragic Princes in the Tower were once held.

Of course, the Norman fortress, founded by William the Conqueror in 1078, is also home to the priceless Crown Jewels and the famous Tower ravens. Legend has it that should the six ravens ever leave, the Tower and the Kingdom will fall.

Severndroog Castle

A genuine hidden treasure, this tower in Oxleas Woods looms over one of the highest points in London: Shooters’s Hill.

The fact that the folly, near Greenwich, is still here at all is testament to the vigour of the locals. A campaign group was formed to save the heritage building from the clutches of developers in 2002. That campaign group has evolved into a charity whose main aim is to preserve the heritage of the castle.

Visitors to the 18th-century folly– built to commemorate Commodore Sir William James and his widow Lady James of Eltham – can ascend to the viewing platform for spectacular views of London. Alternatively, you can take tea in the newly renovated ground floor Terrace Tearoom from Tues-Sun, 9.30am to 5pm.

Windsor Castle

Though strictly speaking not located in London, HM The Queen’s weekend home is so accessible to the capital that it would be odd not to include it (it’s just 40 mins by train from London Paddington).

Highlights of a visit include the magnificent State Apartments (try to book onto a ’behind-the-ropes‘ tour if available), Queen Mary’s Doll House and St George’s Chapel where King Henry VIII himself is buried.

Bruce Castle

This 16th-century manor house in north London’s Tottenham, is a castle only in name: it’s one of the oldest surviving brick houses. The house is named after the family of Robert the Bruce, who owned the land on which it was built. After Robert the Bruce became King of Scotland in 1306, though, he forfeited his English land.

The house also has links to Henry VIII. It‘s believed one of Henry’s closest courtiers – indeed his ’groom of the bed chamber’ – William Compton started work on the house that stands on the site today (though it has been remodelled several times since). Henry is even believed to have borrowed the house in 1516 to meet with his sister, Margaret, Queen of Scotland. Today Bruce Castle is home to a local history museum.

Plan your visit to Britain’s castles and palaces