Byward Tower Hand - Atlas Obscura

Byward Tower Hand

A mysterious suspended hand greets unsuspecting visitors at the Tower of London. 


Since its inception in 1066 by William the Conqueror, the Tower of London has become an iconic landmark. Though initially constructed to be a defensive fortress in Norman times, the tower opened its gates to the public in the 1800s. Since then it has become a major tourist attraction with an average of 3 million visitors per year.

After passing through security and before picking up headphones, the first building visitors encounter is known as the Byward Tower. King Henry III had this protective structure built in the 1200s. The name is derived from the quote: ‘By the Warders who use this building as their Head Quarters.’ One of the tower’s most interesting and mysterious features is hidden in plain view. Behind a foggy piece of glass brick rests the form of a single hand. No one is sure how or why it’s there. Even the Yeomen Warders, who are tasked with guarding the stronghold, aren’t even sure of its origin or purpose.

There are a few theories as to why there would be such an object residing in this historic building. Ideas range from a Victorian practical joke to ones that resonate with the Tower’s gruesome reputation. Some have suggested that hand represents a clandestine custom used to enter the fortification. As this tower was used as the main entry, a visitor would place their hand in what was then an open hole and proceed to give the password. If the watchword were incorrect, the interloper would have their appendage chopped off.

Know Before You Go

The Tower of London is open to the public everyday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and costs £34.80 for adults. The Byward Tower is the fist building upon entry, after passing through ticket collection and security. The hand can be seen on the left before passing through the gateway.

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