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Six things we learned from going up the Canonbury Tower

James FitzGerald

At 20 metres high and around 500 years old, the Canonbury Tower may no longer be one of the most skyscraping buildings in inner London, but it’s certainly among the oldest. The Clerkenwell & Islington Guides Association (CIGA) has got access to the place, and let us tag along for one of its new tours. Here's what we learned.

London was so tiny

A resilient Tudor building with metre-thick walls, the tower is all that remains of an old monastery complex which stood in the countryside. Mind-bogglingly, this area was once considered very separate from London. Now it’s just a handful of Victoria line stops away from the city centre. 

It had a real-life Rapunzel

The tower witnessed an improbable escape in Elizabethan times, when Eliza Spencer – locked in here by a father who disapproved of her choice of fiancé – was somehow smuggled out in a bread basket, the fiancé in question pretending to be a baker’s boy. Now that’s using your loaf, etc. 


It's got an unsolved mystery 

There are three mysterious bullet holes in a gorgeous wood-panelled room. Nobody knows how they got there. One theory says they resulted from a blazing row between the philosopher Francis Bacon – who lived here at one stage – and Walter Raleigh. Or they were the work of a trigger-happy highwayman passing by. Not much of that in Canonbury nowadays. 

It's got a royal conspiracy theory

An upstairs mural, painted in the Stuart era, lists the British monarchs. There’s a scrubbing out after Elizabeth I. Some reckon Bacon was Liz’s illegitimate son. Apparently, Queen Victoria once found out the answer but never revealed it. 

It's had some impressive residents

Alongside Bacon, notable past residents include Henry VIII’s one-time crony Thomas Cromwell, and the writer Oliver Goldsmith. Nowadays it belongs to the Marquis of Northampton, and it sort of looks like a private dwelling (hence a no-photos rule). We spotted a couple of new mousetraps in the cupboards. 

It's got great views

The tower might not be tall by the standards of London’s increasingly vertiginous architecture, but the views from the top are breathtaking nevertheless. What stands out is the beautiful consistency of the Islington architecture – and an almost unbroken view of the City skyline.  

Find out more about the Canonbury Tower Tours.

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