When The Tower Of London Was Rocked By A Deadly Bomb In 1974

Last Updated 22 April 2024

When The Tower Of London Was Rocked By A Deadly Bomb In 1974

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The Tower of London
The tourist attraction was bombed in July 1974. Image: Neil Howard via creative commons

50 years ago, the Tower of London was rocked by a deadly bomb.

At 2.30pm on 17 July 1974, the Tower's Mortar Room — a basement in the White Tower crammed with displays of historical weaponry — was ripped through by a modern explosive. With chilling irony, the bomb had been hidden under a cannon. The room was full of tourists from England, America and across Europe, and 41 were injured — 10 seriously. One visitor, a librarian from Lewisham called Dorothy Household, was killed in the blast.

It was an echo of when the Tower's Banqueting Room was bombed by Fenians in 1885 — and the first time the Tower had been attacked by explosives since a large section of the Mint and the Old Hospital Block was destroyed during the Blitz of 1940. But 1974's attack had not been fully unexpected. A few days before the bombing, the Constable of the Tower Major General WDM Raeburn had received a message: "the Tower is going up". This had prompted a thorough search of the Tower complex, but nothing had been found. When Raeburn heard the blast though, he immediately knew what it was. "I thought it was obviously a bomb," he told the press, "I saw people stumbling out and crying..."

The Tower reopened two days later, although visitors were subjected to bag searches, a practise that continues today.

No one ever took responsibility for the blast, although the IRA was suspected. This was a period in London's history when it was being targeted regularly by terrorist attacks. In 1974 alone, there were also attacks on Madame Tussauds, Heathrow Airport, the Houses of Parliament, Brooks's Club, Harrow School, Selfridges and Harrods — to name but a few.

Researched with help from the British Newspaper Archive.