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What Is Jewel Tower?

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  • Written By: Angie Pollock
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2016
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Jewel Tower is a 14th-century building located in the heart of Westminster, England. The structure was originally built for safekeeping of King Edward III’s riches, giving the building the alternate name of the King’s Privy Wardrobe. Jewel Tower is one of the buildings that remained standing following the fire of 1834 that engulfed the medieval Palace of Westminster. The three-story tower now serves as a British museum providing visitors with various exhibits and historic lore.

Constructed near the edge of the royal gardens known as Privy Garden, Jewel Tower was drafted by Henry Yevele. The tower’s design included elevated walls, a moat, and an adjoining platform known as a quay. The tower itself was constructed primarily of Kentish rag stone. Its construction along with its location away from the main palace structures aided in the tower’s survival during the fire. Inside Jewel Tower is a ribbed vault which has remained preserved in its original 14th-century condition.

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The fire of 1834 was preceded by another fire which would alter the course of the tower’s purpose. The Palace of Westminster was the primary residence for England’s kings up until the fire of 1512. King Edward III was reigning king during 1512 and he was the last king to use the Palace of Westminster as a royal home. King Edward III, along with most of his treasures kept in Jewel Tower, moved after the first fire. After the removal of the king’s jewels, the tower was utilized for safekeeping of the king’s wardrobe and later to store the documents of the House of Lords.

The fire of 1834 engulfed the House of Lords and later spread to other sections of the palace. The 1834 fire was caused from unsafe burning in two lower-floor stoves located in the basement of the House of Lords. Most of the structures that were part of the Palace of Westminster were destroyed including both Houses of Parliament. During the fire, Jewel Tower was primarily used to store historic records. These records and documents were later moved to Victoria Tower.

During the late 1860s through late 1930s, Jewel Tower was used to house the official weights and measures for the Board of Trade Standards Department. Following World War II, it came under management of English Heritage and was later opened to the public. Each floor of the tower features special exhibits highlighting the tower’s history, including the protection of the king’s treasures and the history of the weights and measures secured in the tower prior to World War II.

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