While traveling in London this past summer one of the highlights was visiting the Tower of London. So much history stored up in that place. I particularly wanted to see the infamous "Traitors Gate". It was eerie! One could truly imagine the boat pulling in through the gate with the prisoner being let out at the bottom of the stairs, then climbing up the stairs to be imprisoned waiting for execution.
Originally Traitors Gate was called the Water Gate which was commissioned King Edward I to have a water entrance into the Tower of London which was used at the time for Royal family accommodation. Over the years the Tower became a prison for traitors to the crown. To be imprisoned in the tower you had to be of some notoriety, otherwise you were sent to Newgate prison in London.
Most people will associate The Tower with Tudor history and rightly so. More imprisonments and executions were carried out in the Tower in this era than any other time period.
The journey for the condemned would start on the river Thames in a prison barge. The barge would sail down the river under the London Bridge which usually had the heads of recently executed prisoners on spikes for all to see. After passing under the bridge the barge would sail through the river entrance to the Traitors Gate coming to rest at the bottom of the stairs that lead up to St. Thomas Tower, one of 23 towers in the Tower of London
complex. This grisly practice would continue until 1648.
Some of the most famous people to make this journey were Anne Boelyn, Sir Thomas Moore, Catherine Howard, and the Lady Jane Gray. While Catherine Howard passed under the London Bridge she would look up and see her former lover Thomas Culpepper's head on a spike, thus she arrived at Traitor's Gate hysterical. Queen Anne upon arriving at the top of the stairs asked the Tower Constable if she were to be thrown into the dungeon. He told her she would have the same accommodations as she did on the eve of her coronation. Queen Anne began to alternately weep and laugh hysterically at this news.
Lady Jane Gray at Traitors Gate, Tower of London
Traitors Gate is closed now only to serve as a reminder of a grisly and sad past.
Suggested reading below. Please feel free to add to the list or mention other notable Tower prisoners. Some I have purposely left out to draw in some comments :-).