The Cradle Tower was built between 1348 and 1355 on the instructions of King Edward III, who wanted it to be used as his private water gate to enter the Tower of London. The exterior of the gate is in the photograph above, with two rooms either side of the entrance, where porters were accommodated. The King used the gate frequently and it was protected by a drawbridge and two portcullises, of which the traces of one are still visible in the stonework.
The gate, from inside the Tower of London.
A fireplace in one of the porter’s rooms, which had a view to the front so they could see if anyone was trying to enter that they either needed to welcome, or repel.
The other porter’s accommodation has been turned into a recreation of what the room may have looked like in the late sixteenth century, when it was used to imprison John Gerard. He was a Catholic priest, at a time when this wasn’t acceptable to the Monarchy, who was tortured in a bid to get him to reveal the names of other Catholics, but he never gave anything away. In association with John Arden, who was imprisoned nearby within the Salt Tower, they managed to escape from the Tower in October 1597, in a quite spectacular fashion via the moat and River Thames. Gerard faced intimidation throughout much of his life, and he did well to survive to the age of 72, dying in July 1637.
Also imprisoned here was Anne Askew, who was punished for being a Protestant, the reverse of what Gerard suffered from just a few decades later. She may have been the only women tortured at the Tower of London for her Protestant beliefs, as well as the only female burned at the stake. The story is enormously gory, she was imprisoned here in June 1546 and was tortured on the rack, with her joints being forced apart, so her shoulders and hips were dislocated. She still didn’t reveal any information and she was burned at the stake at Smithfield, at the age of just 24. She was brave even at that point, screaming only when the flames were nearly at her head, but despite the efforts of others, she refused to recant.
There was a large fire at the Tower in 1841, with the Cradle Tower used to throw vast amounts of explosives from, in a bid to minimise the damage to the site. The media reported at the time that, “it is stated that no less than 9,084lbs of powder and ball cartridges were thrown into the moat by the tower”.
The upstairs of the tower is inaccessible to the public, but is less interesting historically as it was entirely rebuilt in the nineteenth century, although the upper portions had been derelict and damaged for at least a century before that. There was a report in the media in 1961 that the tower had been cleared of the armoury that was being stored there, which was being moved to the new armouries museum.