It is unclear when the Tower of London first became a visitor attraction which charged for admission. In practice, it may have been a gradual process, in which the custom of visitors giving gratuities to those who had assisted them during their visit turned into fixed charges – although allowing a visitor to give more if he wished. For example, Patrick Gordon recorded on 9 December 1666 ‘I went to the Tower, and see the crowne, sceptre, jewels, armes and magazine, which cost me in wages one pound thirteen shillings’. It would seem that some visitors of status would deliberately over-pay as a reflection of their social standing and wealth.
From the 1690s there is considerable evidence about charges which shows that, unlike today, each attraction on the site levied its own separate admission charge. This meant that visitors could pick and choose what they wanted to see and what they did not. Although it is notoriously difficult to convert prices in the distant past into present-day equivalents, it is clear that a visit which took in all the Tower’s sights would have been very expensive. These charges would have prevented many working people from seeing the Tower’s attractions in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries. Throughout this period it appears that those with connections at the Tower could arrange for free admission, but this would not have benefitted the poor.
In 1693 prospective overseas visitors to the Tower were advised to expect to have to pay the following if they wished to see the sights:
Train of Artillery: two sous
Horse Armoury: two sous
Spanish Armoury: two sous
Menagerie: three sous
Crown Jewels: eighteen sous
Menagerie: 3 sous
Mint: 3 sous
Jewel House: 30 sous
Horse Armoury: 3 sous
Small Armoury inc Spanish: 3 sous
Grand Storehouse/Train of Artillery: 3 sous)
‘Lions: each person six-pence
Regalia, in company: each person, one shilling
Regalia, single: one shilling and sixpence
10 pence per person to be paid at the Spanish armoury for visiting in a group
Foot Armory: three-pence
Train of Artillery: two-pence
Line of Kings: three-pence
Spanish Armory: two-pence
NB. But if a single Person is shown the Foot-Armoury, Train of Artillery, Horse-Armoury and Spanish Armoury he pays for each double the Price above mentioned (ie one shilling and eight pence).
By the early 19th century some of the admission prices had increased still further:
The Armoury: 3s. per person
The Regalia: 1s. each. One person alone 1s. 6d
Wild Beasts: 1s. each
An optional gratuity for the attendants
The Tower Armouries (Spanish Armoury, Horse Armoury, Volunteer Armoury etc in the White Tower, and the Spanish Armoury): two shillings per person and one shilling for each person to the attendant warder.
Jewel Office: two shillings per person and one shilling to the attendant warder, for each company.
Royal Menagerie one shilling per visitor. The above are the only parts of the Tower which are permitted to be shown, without special permission’
The reductions in the admission charges for the Armouries quickly had a marked effect on the numbers of visitors and the amount raised from tickets:
1837-8: 2 shillings + fee (11,104; £1665)
1838-9: 1 shilling (42,212; £2110)
1839-40: 6 pence (84,872; £2121)
1840-1: 6 pence (95,231; £2380)