The Disappearing Cannon At The Tower of London

Walking around London it is easy to see many of the major changes to the city. The constant building, new towers adding to the skyline, however sometimes small changes can go unnoticed although they still have a profound impact on the character of an area and memories of the past.

One such change is the disappearance of the cannon that once lined the walkway running along the River Thames in front of the Tower of London.

I had not really noticed how much had changed until I was looking through some of my father’s photos and found the three photos from 1947 that I feature this week.

In the first, a range of cannon lined the river. I remember these from childhood walks and school visits, and for years before they had been a feature that no visit could ever have been complete without climbing one of these cannon.

Tower of London Cannons 3

I walked down to the Tower one recent Sunday to see how much had changed. The weather was dull and rain was expected, so the lighting was not that good. The following photo is my 2015 photo from roughly the same position. The majority of the cannon have been removed, although a couple remain, looking rather sad up against the approach to Tower Bridge at the far end of the photo.

Tower of London Cannons 5

I do not know when they were removed or why, I can only guess. Perhaps health and safety considerations, although falling was an accepted risk of climbing anything as a boy. An understandable reason could have been damage to the cannon. Making more space in this area is possible as it really does get crowded at the peak of the tourist season. Or perhaps the fact that they all seemed to be pointing directly at City Hall on the south bank of the river may have made certain occupants rather nervous.

What ever the reason it is a loss of some of the character of the place.

Standing at this point, it is fascinating to consider the incredible amount of change that the Tower of London has seen during the centuries. Just in the last 70 years the changes have been remarkable.

Whilst here, my father also took the following photo. I do not think this was to capture the south bank of the river as the warehouses must have seemed a rather fixed feature of day to day London activity, rather it was probably to photo the ship that was about to pass under Tower Bridge.

What the photo does show is the amount of change along this part of the river, which in 1947 still consisted of rows of cranes and their associated warehouses along with a steady stream of cargo ships mooring alongside. The warehouses on the left of the photo are the ones that lined Pickle Herring Street which I featured here.

Tower of London Cannons 2

The following photo shows the same scene today. I was able to position the photo accurately using Southwark Cathedral. If you look to the far right of both photos, you can just see the four spires on the top of the tower of Southwark Cathedral.

I doubt that anyone looking across at this view in 1947 would have expected this scene to host Europe’s tallest building in the decades to come.

Tower of London Cannons 4

The next photo my father took followed the ship as it passed under Tower Bridge.

Tower of London Cannons 1

It was just about to pour with rain when I took the following photo so the lighting is very poor. Apart from the missing cannon, the scene is much the same today. The top of the old Anchor Brewery building behind the southern approach to Tower Bridge provides a convenient reference point to get the right position for the 2015 photo.

Tower of London Cannons 6

The walk between the Tower of London and the River Thames is still a great place to watch activity on the river and the view along the south bank, however with the removal of the cannon it has lost some of its character and childhood memories.

12 thoughts on “The Disappearing Cannon At The Tower of London

  1. Jo W

    I agree with you,Admin, that health and safety probably came into the cannons’ disappearance. With so many bronze statues and sculptures being stolen over the last years,perhaps the cannons have been moved to a more secure spot. This also frees up a lot more room for visitors and don’t forget the swarms of runners in the London marathon who pass along the cobbles every year. Happy New Year!

    1. admin Post author

      That is true, forgot that the London Marathon passes through, so the extra space is probably much needed. Happy New Year Jo.

  2. Susan Furness

    This is our London!
    Why don’t the do gooders remove the statues cross London remove all the attractions this great city brings to the tourists.. when will it stop! Remove Trafalgar Square marble arch.. it’s London as as a Londoner who’s family came from London for centuries every bit of our heritage will be gone! WHY? Is the question????

  3. James

    I think Their may of Been clockwork cannons in or around the London town that went of after the bells but were removed when the building got to old or fragile what I want to know is why did it only have ten an not twelve?

  4. steven barnes

    no mention of the fact that in the late fifties early sixties there was a beach along in front of the tower i rememeber it being one of our Sunday afternoon outings
    god only knows what the water quality was at that time

  5. Bridget Clifford

    Rather late to the party, but for anyone interested the “disappeared” cannon were part of the Tower Armouries collection and were placed there in 1915-6. There has been a long tradition of Wharf cannon resulting from the Office of Ordnance’s tenancy within the Tower; these later historic pieces had lain in the gun park to the west of the White Tower made homeless by the Grand Storehouse fire of 1841. The Curator of the Tower Armouries, Charles ffoulkes, moved selected pieces into the White Tower basement in 1915-6 as part of the museum displays, and the rest onto the Wharf alongside the defensive battery (latter mainly up towards Tower Bridge). Contemporary postcards show a much sparser display before this date.
    In 1996 the Royal Armouries (formerly the Tower Armouries) moved most of its collections to its new museum in Leeds. The majority of the cannon were re-displayed at Fort Nelson, the museum’s artillery outstation in Portsmouth, while others went to Leeds. However, some moved back into the Tower – for example the Waterloo Battery, and the basement of the White Tower still has cannon in it.

    1. Terence

      Such vivid memories of playing on those canon as a boy in the late 50s early 60s during school holidays. They fuelled my young imagination and I will never forget the fun of clamouring over them or paddling on the “beach” in front of wall. I promised my mum I wouldn’t go in the water, not because of the pollution but because she had a cousin caught in the strong current and drown there!


    I remember sitting on the cannon’s as a little girl, this is an area that I and my brother’s and sister’s, on a Sunday afternoon would go and run around. We would walk from Bermondsey to Tower Bridge, quite a way for young children. Such lovely memories.

  7. Sian Warwick

    I remember walking through that area in mid 90s, eating an oyster ice-cream (two rounded wafers like half-shells, filled with a small brick of ice cream, definitely from a local vendor. My friend took z very good photo of the walkway along the Thames in 1976, showing a row of cannon and benches, I think. This was during the summer if the heatwave.
    I will try to get him to scan it and will send it to you, either here of on your Twitter feed


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