Liberties of the Tower of London

The Liberties of the Tower, or the Tower Liberty, was a liberty around and including the Tower of London.

Liberties of the Tower of London
Tower Liberty
Tower of London viewed from the River Thames.jpg
 • Coordinates51°30′29″N 0°04′34″W / 51.5080°N 0.0762°W / 51.5080; -0.0762Coordinates: 51°30′29″N 0°04′34″W / 51.5080°N 0.0762°W / 51.5080; -0.0762
 • 18314,190
 • Abolished25 June 1894
GovernmentTower Liberty Quarter Sessions
 • TypeQuarter sessions court
 • HQCourt House, Wellclose Square
 • TypePlaces
 • Units
  1. Tower Within
  2. Old Tower Without
  3. Little Minories (1686–1894)
  4. Old Artillery Ground (1686–1894)
  5. Wellclose (1686–1894)

The area of the liberty expanded in 1686. It became part of the County of London in 1889, and was dissolved in 1894, with the area now forming part of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.


The liberty was founded sometime after 1200, from land that had previously been part of the City of London.[1]

The liberty originally consisted of the area inside the walls of the Tower of London (also known as Tower Within) and immediately outside it (known as Old Tower Without). The boundaries were presented by a Leet Jury in 1525, and again as surveyed by Haiward and Gascoyne in 1597.[2]

From the mid-seventeenth century the liberty was part of a larger liberty, the Tower Division or Tower Hamlets which was independent of the county of Middlesex, carrying out Hundred and County responsibilities locally.

In 1686, letters patent granted by James II added the Old Artillery Ground, Little Minories and the Liberty of Wellclose. These areas had come into the possession of the Crown when the religious houses that formerly administered them were dissolved. They were subsequently used for the storing of ordnance.

The population was 3,995 in 1811 and 4,190 in 1831.[3]


A map showing the Tower ward of Stepney Metropolitan Borough as it appeared in 1916

The liberties had an administration separate from the neighbouring county and city, headed by the Constable of the Tower of London, and appointed their own coroner, and had their own courthouse with general and quarter sessions and gaol. A force of constables was appointed for the area. The inhabitants had certain other privileges such as being able to claim any beast that fell from, and any swans under, London Bridge.

From 1837, the liberty formed part of the Whitechapel Poor Law Union. Extra-parochial places were progressively eliminated and following the Extra-Parochial Places Act 1857, the Tower of London and Old Tower Without became civil parishes in 1858. The Old Artillery Ground became a civil parish in 1866, following the Poor Law Amendment Act 1866.

From 1855, the area became part of the Whitechapel District and was administered by the Whitechapel District Board of Works. The liberty became part of the County of London in 1889.[4]

Myth and LegendEdit

The importance of the Tower has given its locality an important place in the wider national consciousness. The head of Brân the Blessed, a legendary giant, and King of Britain, was said to have been buried on the White Hill, identified with either Tower Hill or the spot where the White Tower now stands, facing France, in order that's it's power would ward of invasion, particularly from that direction. As long as it remained there, Britain would be safe from invasion.

However, a jealous King Arthur dug up the head, declaring the country would be protected only by his great strength,[5] and this mistake led to the success of the Anglo-Saxon invasions.


The liberty had become obsolete by 1889; it was thought that the Local Government Act 1888 had removed the jurisdiction of the justices. However, the charter was found to be still in operation.[6] The liberty was abolished on 25 June 1894, following a petition by the justices of the peace of the County of London under the Liberties Act 1850.[7]

The area of the former liberty was included in the Metropolitan Borough of Stepney in 1900.

The liberty continued as a franchise coroner's district. The Coroners (Amendment) Act 1926 provided that the district could be dissolved when a vacancy arose; when a vacancy occurred on 10 May 1939, an order was made on 30 November 1939 combining it with the east district. This came into effect on 1 January 1940.[8]

The area of the former liberty became part of the new London Borough of Tower Hamlets in 1965; following boundary changes around the Minories in 1994, small parts are now in the City of London.[9]

Modern LegacyEdit

The history of the liberty is still recognised in an annual ceremony of 'Beating the Bounds' organised jointly by The Tower authorities and the local parish of All Hallows by the Tower every Ascension Day.[10][11] The boundary includes the inlet known as Tower Dock. It is also referred to in the name of the large 'The Liberty Bounds' public house founded in an old bank building on Tower Hill and run by the Wetherspoons chain.[12]

Notable PeopleEdit


  1. ^ London 800-1216: The shaping of a city, Brooke and Keir, Chapter 7
  2. ^ "Tower Chambers - Traitors' Bridge - A Dictionary of London (1918)".
  3. ^ Accounts and Papers, Eighteen Volumes, 17, Relating to Assessed Taxes, Poor, &c, Vol. XLIV, (1832)
  4. ^ F. A. Youngs, Guide to Local Administrative Units of England, Volume I, London 1979
  5. ^ Triad 37. Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein, pp. 94–102.
  6. ^ TOWER OF LONDON, Star, Issue 5033, 20 August 1894, Page 3
  7. ^ "No. 26511". The London Gazette. 11 May 1894. pp. 2769–2770.
  8. ^[bare URL]
  9. ^ "The City and London Borough Boundaries Order 1993".
  10. ^[bare URL]
  11. ^[bare URL]
  12. ^[bare URL]
  13. ^ website on Penn and the Liberties

External linksEdit