Episode 4: The Crown Jewels

Over 30 million people have seen the Crown Jewels in their present setting at the Tower of London and are possibly the most visited objects in Britain.

Listen to London tour guide Hazel Baker discuss with London junkie Zoe Merritt some of the unknown details of the Crown Jewels.

Can you tell your diadems from your tiaras? What's the oldest piece in the collection? What's the most recent addition to the collection?

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Show notes:

Hazel: Hello and welcome to London Guided Walks podcast. In the coming episodes, we will be sharing our love and passion for London, its people, places and history in an espresso shot with a splash of personality. For those of you who don't know me, I am Hazel Baker, founder of londonguidedwalks.co.uk, providing guided walks, private tours and treasure hunts to Londoners and visitors alike. And now bringing you a jam-packed podcast during the time of the Coronavirus. 

My first memory of London was when I was a brownie at six years old. We came down and we went to the Tower of London, and it wasn't the bloody tower and the torture chamber, or indeed the armour that impressed me. Oh no, it was the bling, it was the crown, jewels and that is today's subject. The Crown Jewels reside under armed guard in the jewel house at the Tower of London. It's such a unique working collection of royal regalia with some still being used by the Queen for important and national ceremonies such as the State Opening of Parliament, and others are only used at a Monarch's coronation. Joining me today is Zoe Merritt, a certified London junkie, having worked at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, the Tower of London, and also St. Paul's Cathedral. I cannot imagine working in such a historically fabulous place, such as the Tower of London, with such a unique collection of sacred and ceremonial objects, including all those super shiny jewels. 

Things we discussed:

  • The fibre optic units with accent lighting is spectacular, isn't it?
  • Did you have a particular favourite display case or item that you absolutely loved?
  • I can't get over how the Queen mother's council crown was set with 2800 diamonds. And of course, that includes the infamous Kooh-i-Noor diamond, one of the largest cut diamonds in the world weighing 105.6 carats, practical too, because it's also on a detachable Platinum mount. You said you were torn. So, what was your other favourite?
  • The Imperial State ground that you mentioned with all the Black Prince Ruby in that, and that's the one that the Queen wears, isn't it for state opening of Parliament?
  • Visitors to the Crown Jewels single this world famous, priceless collection, do they believe it's real?
  • What other sort of questions were you asked?
  • Now, that spoon, I do remember seeing it, it is rather beautiful and quite delicate, and that's used for the oil at the coronation, and then that's next to, I can't remember what kind of bird it is, for holding the oil.
  • What about Charles II's involvement in remaking all of this regalia? Was he involved or did he just, I mean, he was a man of style, wasn't he? Surely, he would have wanted to get into designing a bling.
  • Was it more of a stickler for tradition?
  • I suppose it helps him reaching into the past to show that he actually belongs there.
  • And what about the sceptres? I remember seeing two, one with a huge diamond on top, what was that? I mean, it's huge, isn't it? It's hard to get your head around though, isn't it?
  • What are these crown jewels for? Are they only for coronations?
  • There's a lot of bling there, do many people think its solid gold?
  • There have been a few accidents, haven't there?
    I think it was James II coronation banquet in 1685, and the sovereign sceptre with the cross was badly damaged. I think, they think it possibly rolled off the table during the celebrations, and then two jewelled pieces were later found on the floor of Westminster Hall. Now, Queen Victoria's Imperial State crown was carried by the elderly Duke of Argyll for the state Opening of Parliament and he had it on a cushion and he dropped it and it hit the ground and it got crushed and squashed. And Queen Victoria writes how where it looks like a pudding that had sat down. Shows you how difficult it is when you know you've got that amount of money on a pillow in front of your hands.
  • Oh, well, gems are on the right way around, how can you tell?
  • The crown must be really difficult to work, because it's not something that you're used to wearing every day, and they must be vastly heavy with all of those jewels and silver and gold gilt and all the rest of it. And then of course, they're really tall as well, aren't. I suppose you got to have a few practices with it before going out in public.
  • The Imperial State crown, there's so many diamonds on there, aren't there? I mean, it's just absolutely covered in sparkle.
  • I'll tell you one of my favourite ones of all time, though, and you're seeing all these big impressive ones, that small diamond crown that Queen Victoria had made?

    I just thought it was, it made me feel really sad thinking about how she is a mother to nine children, she is a new widow, she is the Queen of England. And so, she's got all of these different roles that she needs to do all at the same time. And so, a crown is just not going to allow her to wear her widows’ weaves. So, to have this designed so she can do her duty and be the widow as well, I thought that was rather clever.

    That's lovely because, she used the Queen Charlotte's nuptial crown, didn't she? It's bit of a basis for creation of this one, and that went back to Queen Charlotte's family. So, it's nice to have something that's so delicate because, of course we think of Queen Victoria is like this rather round, a woman in black looking rather severe. But of course, you know, she was made a widow at the age of 42, that's no age. And of course, it shows her a feminine side, which we don't often see, and when she becomes widow.

    Yes, it does look the odd one out in there. And for those who haven't been to see the crown jewels at all, or haven't been for a while, it's more of an exhibition now. It's not just glass containers with all the crown jewels, there's a conveyor belt, there's a journey explaining the importance of the jewels and the history and the heritage there, and about coronations themselves. So, you can learn really quite a lot in that time.

    Yeah, that certainly helps. But saying that, you know, if you saw these out in the world, I doubt that you'd get to see the real colours like you do, how they're set up in there with the lights and the, you know, the backdrop; it's really quite beautiful

    Yes, I thought that about my engagement as well. Wasn't there a Colonel Blood who tried to steal some of the crown jewels? Do you remember that?

    I wonder what he said to Charles.
  • One of the new things for 2020 is that His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, investiture coronet is on display in the jewel house for the first time. Now, the coronet is part of the Royal Collection and has joined the other coronets of the other two Prince of Wales. For the investiture, as Prince of Wales at Caernarfon castle in 1969, Prince Charles wore the contemporary coronet designed by an architect in Goldsmith Louie Osman, and I do think it's rather stylish. It's made of gold and platinum and set with diamonds and emeralds with the purple velvet and ermine cap of estate. Now, don't forget those who are residents of Tower Hamlets, you're able to get entrance into the Tower of London for a smear pound. So, you need to bring your idea store card, also with a proof of identity and also make sure when you go, it's not in lock down. 

So, that's all we have time for today. I hope you enjoyed it and learned few new things. Big thanks to Zoe for taking the time to share her love of London with us.
If you'd like a subject covering on an episode or indeed you want to come and join me for an episode yourself, then please go to londonguidedwalks.co.uk/podcast

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