Scattered across the 18 acre site which forms Her Majesty's Palace and Fortress, more usually known as the Tower of London, which was begun by William the Conqueror in 1066 on the site of an old Roman fort, there are many notable buildings and features. One of the most famous, or should I say infamous, is the Traitor’s Gate. This is located at the base of St. Thomas’s Tower – one of the constituent parts of the world famous fortress – and is a watergate, giving direct access to the murky waters of the River Thames. St. Thomas’s Tower was built between 1275-1279 at the behest of King Edward I; he was the monarch responsible for commissioning the large stone arch and double gates which form Traitor’s Gate.
The gate was used to convey State prisoners of high importance directly to the Tower from the River Thames in the highest security, preventing any attempts at rescue – or, indeed, assassination, in order to prevent them revealling more details of their crimes when under the almost inevitable torture in the dungeons of the Tower. I have seen those dungeons - and some of the racks, Iron Maidens and other instruments of torture lodged there, and I cannot conceive of anyone holding out against them!
The role of the Tower as a facilty for holding high status prisoners extended into the modern era. The Irish patriot, Sir Roger Casement, was imprisoned here for a time during the First World War, prior to his execution. He had been convicted of spying for Germany, on what were rather tenuous legal grounds, at best. In the Second World War, the German Deputy Führer, Rudolf Hess, flew to Scotland in a Messerschmitt Bf110, in a vain attempt to get the Duke of Hamilton to broker a peace deal between Great Britain and Germany. This madcap scheme was of Hess's own divising. Needless to say, it failed, and Hess was held in the Tower for a short while before being moved on.
Strangely enough, Traitor’s Gate has also featured in at least one notable cartoon; the famous British cartoonist, Carl Giles, depicted his employer, the ‘press baron’ Lord Beaverbrook, (a former Minister of Aircraft Production in Churchill's wartime Cabinet, and hardly known for suffering fools gladly) being sent through Traitor’s Gate for some slight against the Government of the day.