Ian McDowell spots a sinister and mysterious feature at the Tower of London.
If you don’t know something at the Tower, ask a Yeoman Warder. They’re the ones with hats like cakes. They live, breathe and sleep the Tower. They actually live there. They know everything there is to know. Or do they?
Not when it comes to a certain object within the Tower’s entrance. Most visitors don’t notice it. Those who do jump out of their skins. Look for the missing stone on your left as you pass through the Byward Tower.
It’s a skeletal hand, just visible behind cloudy glass in the wall of the gate. It seems poised to crawl, as if it might clutch at your throat at any second. Its fingers, like those of a heavy smoker, have acquired the colour of lightly grilled toast.
The hand may or may not be attached to a body: the frosted glass gives nothing away. It’s an absolute triumph — just what the Tower of London has always been — a Royal, fortified cross between Bodyworlds and Psycho.
So what the hell is it?
The Byward Tower has always been the Warders’ own domain. It gets its name because it’s 'by the Warders’ HQ'. So why don’t any of them know where the hand came from? I spoke to three separate Yeoman Warders, and the official Tower Press Office. None of them could provide an answer.
The Press people told me it is “not one of our official exhibits”. Strange. The hand looks very old: certainly Victorian, maybe earlier. It reminds me of the hands on the 17th century funeral effigies in Westminster Abbey.
But was it put there in the distant past, maybe during the Victorian romanticisation of the Tower; or is it more recent?
I have a theory. I think the creepy hand was sneaked in there as a joke, unofficially, by someone who might have got in trouble if their identity had become known. Perhaps the fact that it is clearly a valuable antique has something to do with it.
I suspect a naughty Warder, someone who was probably cheeky in other ways too. The Warders have their very own pub on site — called The Keys — which only they and their guests can use. It doesn’t take much of a leap of imagination to picture a tipsy scarlet figure on the lookout for mischief after several warm pints of British.
What a great joke. Such a great joke, in fact, that no one wanted to have a hand [excuse the pun, please] in its removal.
Does anyone know more? Comments, please.
Author Ian McDowell leads the World’s Oldest Guided Walk.