The Jewel Tower was built within the Palace of Westminster between 1365 and 1366, on the instructions of King Edward III, to hold his personal treasure. Edward had broadly three types of treasure: his ceremonial regalia, which was usually kept at the Tower of London or held by the Abbot of Westminster; the jewellery and plate belonging to the Crown, which was kept by the Royal Treasurer at Westminster Abbey; and his personal collection of jewels and plate. English monarchs during this period used their personal jewels and plate as a substitute for cash, drawing on them to fund their military campaigns, or giving them as symbolic political gifts. Edward accumulated what historian Jenny Stratford has described as a "vast store of jewels and plate", and his collection of personal treasure was at its greatest during the 1360s. Edward had managed this last category of personal treasure through an organisation called the Privy Wardrobe. The Keeper of the Privy Wardrobe was responsible for guarding and recording the king's belongings, and dispatching particular items around the kingdom, potentially giving them as gifts to the monarch's family and friends. The Privy Wardrobe was initially based in the Tower of London in Edward's reign and became focused on handling the supplies for his campaigns in France. This probably encouraged the King to decide to build a new tower in Westminster to host a separate branch of the Privy Wardrobe specifically to manage his personal jewels and plate. In practice, this branch also managed the clothes, vestments and similar goods belonging to the royal household – effectively, the non-military parts of the King's property.
The Jewel Tower was designed and built by Henry de Yevele, a prominent royal architect, supported by a team of masons he commissioned for both this project and a neighbouring piece of work to build a new clock tower nearby. Hugh Herland was taken on as the chief carpenter for both projects. The payments for the project were recorded on a 8-foot-6-inch (2.59 m) long parchment roll, which is now held in the Public Record Office. Stone was brought in for the two towers: 98 boat-loads of rough stone and 13,782 feet (4,201 m) of dressed stone from Maidstone; 469 cart-loads from Reigate; 26 long tons (26 t) from Devon and 16 long tons (16 t) from Normandy. Timber was brought from Surrey, red floor tiles from Flanders and 97 square feet (9.0 m2) of glass purchased for the Jewel Tower alone. A contractor was employed to fix iron grilles to the windows, and 18 locks were purchased to secure the various doors. A main workforce of 19 stonemasons, up to 10 carpenters and other specialised tradesmen worked on the site, and in July 1366, a team of 23 labourers dug out the new moat over the course of a month. The tower was constructed in the secluded south-west corner of the Palace of Westminster, overlooking the King's garden in the Privy Palace, the most private part of Westminster. The tower was positioned so as not to encroach on the existing palace, but this meant it was built on top of land owned by the neighbouring Westminster Abbey. It took six years for the Abbey to convince the King to agree to compensate for them for this annexation. William Usshborne, one of Edward's officials, was blamed for this and, when he later choked to death while eating a fish from a pond in the palace, the monks argued that this was divine justice for his role in the affair.
A fire swept through Westminster in 1834, destroying most of the old palace, but the Jewel Tower, which was separated from the main fire and was positioned away from the prevailing wind, survived, along with its store of records from the House of Lords. Westminster was rebuilt, and in 1864 substantial changes were made at the tower: the Parliamentary records in the tower were moved to a fire-proof storage facility at the new Victoria Tower; 6–7 Old Palace Yard ceased to be used by the clerk as a house, and the kitchen in the ground floor of the tower was closed. Around this time, the tower began to be called the Jewel Tower once again, partially in the incorrect belief that it had held the Crown Jewels during the medieval period. Today it is all that is left of the Palace of Westminster. There is a bonded gravel slope for wheelchair access at the side gate, and a portable ramp available for the front door due to a small step (although this is rarely required). The coffee shop and gift shop are both fully accessible, however the second floor exhibition can only be reached by climbing a narrow spiral staircase. Due to the lack of facilities it is advised that mobility or visually impaired visitors view the Jewel Tower as an adjunct to a visit to the Houses of Parliament.
Location : Abingdon St, Westminster SW1P 3JX
Opening Times: Saturday, Sunday 10:00 to 18:00.
After March 31st Summer opening to be annouced
Tickets : Adults £4.70 Children £2.80.
Tel: 020 7222 2219