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March 25, 2015

Here's why we can't actually fill the Tower of London's moat with water again

By Barbara Speed

As we were tootling arond the internet this morning, we came across an interesting London infrastructure suggestion from a reddit user: 


As “Flabby-Nonsense” rightly puts it, castles are cool, but castles with moats are way, way cooler. So why, instead of being surrounded by water, is the Tower of London surrounded by something inelegantly known as Tower Ditch? Surely for tourism reasons alone it would make sense to restore the moat to its medieval glory? Not to mention the security benefits that’d come from better fortification against the any future attempts to, say, steal the crown jewels.

As ever, though, we’re here to ruin dreams and crush imagination through the power of reason. Here are all the reasons we could find why the Tower Ditch shouldn’t be filled with water again.

1. Because disease 

As it turns out, the Tower’s current moat was actually originally dug as a defense ditch, by a Henry III worried about his sketchy relationship with his barons. It was first filled in by his successor Edward I, in the 13th century, and connected to the Thames.

Over the years, the different levels of the Thames and moat meant the moat didn’t drain properly; so it filled up with silt, and became, essentially, an unpleasant bog. In 1830, the Duke of Wellington ordered a large-scale clearing of the moat, but that didn’t stop several members of the garrison dying in the 1840s of what was believed to be water-borne diseases.

The admirable Duke took action, as described on the official website of London’s royal palaces:

Under his invigorating leadership the increasingly smelly and sluggish moat was drained and converted into a dry ditch. 

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So: dry ditches are healthier. 

2. Because money

Draining the ditch took around two years, and it’s pretty safe to say that refilling it wouldn’t be the easiest job. In 2007, the Historic Royal Palaces carried out a feasibility study in the hopes of filling in the moat for the 2012 Olympics (spoiler: this didn’t happen) and found that the plan would cost between £13m and £18m. This is an awful lot, especially considering the refilling wouldn’t fall under the remit of “restoration”.

3. Because safety

Let’s be honest, someone would definitely fall in.

4. Because Game of Thrones and poppies

A new moat would bring in revenue from boat trips and those who’d come to gawp at it, but it turns out the ditch is pretty valuable, too. Last year, it played host to all those ceramic poppies (can’t really see the Queen visiting the moat for a little boat trip, to be honest). Last week it also saw the red carpet rolled out for the Game of Thrones series five UK premiere. 

And that’s without even thinking of all the lucrative corporate balls that happen at the bottom of the ditch every summer.

While the moat proposal seems unlikely ever to come to fruition, Reddit users were happy to chime in with their own ideas for re-purposing the ditch: 

Further suggestions on a postcard, please. 

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