White Elephant

White British History needs to be Everyone’s History at the Tower Of London or does it? Researchers employed by aforementioned landmark held a consultation lunch and tour with ten representatives of community engagement projects based in Tower Hamlets or associated with Tower Hamlets in a bid to open up the Tower to local residents and neighbours. Tourists are well-catered for.

Do you know it’s 50p to go to the public loo by the Tower’s education rooms? 50p and not even a mirror.

At the Tower Hill Station I was perplexed as to how to get to my meeting place, a well-known sandwich bar (ooh such an eighties term) by the Tower itself. Some guy had overheard me asking a hi-viz station guide where the exit was and was suddenly at my side, being very chatty and encouraging me to walk with him and he’d point me in the right direction. Do you know I never knew St Katherine’s Dock was a real dock? I always thought it was just a dry square somewhere, like Rotherhithe. I needed to shake him off before he led me to a rookery and took all my jewels.

Besides everything he walked like an antelope so I couldn’t breathe in the river. It did turn out he was genuine and did take me to EAT and he did look like Huggie in Starsky and Hutch. He got from me  two free tickets into The Tower on Sunday. (Geffrye’s the name if ever you get accosted.)

So much was thrown up at the meeting. To me The Tower management is in the doldrums totally guilty of not magnetizing local residents and luring them onto the cobble stones of ye ancient fortress, palace and prison. Residents get a £1 entry into the Tower of London or London of The Tower as tongue-tied Mr Khan called it. But what’s really there? Lots of walking, a nod to digitalisation and the polyglotinous state of poor London boroughs by way of notices in different languages where boring paragraphs are made exotic. Black History Month by-passed the Tower.

Opportunities are being missed to make the massive unfunded white elephant a hub for locals where all histories and stories about settlement merge. where a welcome is standard, where brochures could be meaningful souvenirs.

Staff were in the room with us and listened to our truthful and candid reactions to our tour. Even at the end we all concluded that the Tower is sadly lacking in lustre and a few jewels cannot compensate for that. We obviously want blood.

I’d taken in a wish list from Up Your Street subscribers and managed to drive home that seniors don’t want to walk around for an hour or more, that seats are needed, that the history and celebration of British if not English history need previous research or the videos and captions at the Tower are meaningless and a drag. There needed to be much more emphasis on the visual recommended Chris the profoundly deaf artist present. We all talked one at a time so that the signer could get as much information to Chris as deserved and so that those not fluent in English could internalise our shared comments and participate. As Up Your Street people had said others repeated that there needed to be much more structured activities for visiting grandparents and their grandchildren.

Things take ages to change. We were astonished at the end that the revamping of the map for visitors was the first priority.


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