Traitor’s Gate

Nuggets – bite size chunks of London

Traitor’s Gate

Traitor’s (or Trai­tors’) Gate was a water­gate – orig­i­nal­ly sim­ply called the Water Gate – beneath St Thomas’s Tow­er at the Tow­er of Lon­don.

The gate was built in the late 1270s on the orders of Edward I to pro­vide a con­ve­nient means by which he could arrive by barge. It acquired its present name as the Tow­er evolved into a place of impris­on­ment – and some­times tor­ture – for those accused of trea­son, notably in the 16th cen­tu­ry dur­ing the reigns of Hen­ry VIII and Eliz­a­beth I.

The prover­bial say­ing ‘a loy­al heart may be land­ed at Traitor’s Gate’ was first quot­ed (as ‘a loy­al heart may be land­ed under Traytor’s Bridge’) in Thomas Fuller’s His­to­ry of the Wor­thies of Eng­land (1662). The fact that Fuller could put this in print indi­cates that the gate’s use for this pur­pose could by then be safe­ly regard­ed as a thing of the past, though impris­on­ment and exe­cu­tion at the Tow­er con­tin­ued inter­mit­tent­ly until the Ger­man spy Josef Jakobs was shot by fir­ing squad in 1941.

The arch­way was bricked up in the mid-19th cen­tu­ry because the embank­ment works caused the riv­er to run deep­er, mak­ing the gate of lit­tle prac­ti­cal use for would-be vis­i­tors – trai­tor­ous or not – at most phas­es of the tide.

On through that gate mis­named, through which
Went Sid­ney, Rus­sell, Raleigh, Cran­mer, More,
On into twi­light with­in walls of stone,
Then to the place of tri­al; and alone …

Samuel Rogers: Human Life (1819)
Hidden London: Traitors' Gate