|• 1801||9,515 acres (38.51 km2)|
|• Created||17th century|
|• Succeeded by||
Bethnal Green MB|
|Status||division of hundred, liberty|
The Tower Division was a Liberty in the ancient county of Middlesex, England. It was also known as the Tower Hamlets, and took its name from the military obligations owed to the Constable of the Tower of London.
In contemporary terms, the Liberty covered inner East London, the area now administered by the eponymous modern London Borough of Tower Hamlets together with most of the modern London Borough of Hackney (Shoreditch and Hackney proper). The Liberty was seen as synonymous with East London until East London extended further, east of the Lea and into Essex.
The Tower Division was formed sometime in the 17th century but the much older administrative units comprising the area were united in shared military obligations long before this time. The Liberty had judicial and some local government responsibilities, and its military function was unique.
Formation and abolition
The growth of population around the City of London led to the Ossulstone Hundred being divided into four Divisions, with each division taking on the role of the Hundred, though the Tower Division also took on the military responsibilities held at county level, making the Tower Hamlets a "county within a county". The other three divisions of the Hundred were named Finsbury, Holborn and Kensington.
Unlike the other divisions, the Tower Division was outside the jurisdiction of the Lord Lieutenant of Middlesex, with the Constable of the Tower exercising lieutenancy powers, usually with the ex-officio title of Lord Lieutenant of the Tower Hamlets. This began when the right of the Constable to exact guard duty was extended in 1605 to the raising of a militia, the Tower Hamlets Militia. Counties were the principle way in which military forces were raised and the creation of the liberty and exemption from county based obligations saw East London made a distinct military unit.
The area's special status ceased in 1889 with the creation of the County of London, and the creation of a Lord Lieutenant for the new county.
The Tower was normally garrisoned by a small force of Yeoman Warders, but these were supplemented by sometimes large numbers of local Hamlets men, Hamleteers, at times of increased tension. There was also the Tower Hamlets Militia which could be deployed in the field in the event of invasion or rebellion.
There was no peacetime standing army in England until the interregnum , and when regular units were formed they were typically raised from wider geographical districts than the Tower Hamlets, however the area has provided some examples of regular forces.
The earliest surviving reference to the inhabitants of the Tower Hamlets having a duty to provide a guard for the Tower of London dates from 1554, during the reign of Mary I. Sir Richard Southwell and Sir Arthur Darcye were ordered by the Privy Council in that year to muster the men of the Hamlets "whiche owe their service to the Towre, and to give commaundement that they may be in aredynes for the defence of the same. This was long before the creation of the Liberty, and as the Hamlets are described as "owing" service there must have been a customary duty long before that date. It can be speculated that that duty had its origin in the rights and obligations of the Manor of Stepney which once covered most or all of the Hamlets area.
English Civil War
In the early years of the English Civil War both Parliament and the King relied on local Militias such as that of the Tower Hamlets. Generally speaking these forces were county based and very reluctant to leave their home areas. A notable few organised "Trained Bands" of more highly motivated and reliable men willing to spend more time training – Tower Hamlets had a large Trained Band ready to serve outside the Liberty and this would later be organised into large regiment. The Tower Hamlets Trained Bands saw action at Basing House, Cropredy Bridge and Newbridge.
Regimental Flag designs varied but some versions featured the White Tower with the Traitors Gate watergate in the foreground. The troops wore buff sleeveless jackets to mark them out as a Trained Band, soldiers with higher status and value than ordinary Militia.
In 1685, during the Monmouth Rebellion, King James II raised a force of infantry from the Tower of London garrison; the Tower Hamlets Militia. The Regiment was formed of two companies of Militia and one of miners and was known as the Ordnance Regiment and was soon renamed the Royal Fusiliers, after the fusil, the type of musket they were equipped with. The Tower Hamlets Militia helped form the Fusiliers and subsequent Tower Hamlets reserve units would come under the organisational wing of the regiment.
The regiment later became known as the 7th Regiment of Foot (Royal Fusiliers) and The Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) before merging with other Fusilier regiments to form the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers in 1968. The modern regiment is headquartered at the Tower of London and maintains a museum there.
Militia and Volunteers
While most UK militia fell into disuse in the early 19th century, the Tower Hamlets Militia endured, becoming known in the late 19th century as the Tower Hamlets Militia (Queen's Own Light Infantry) and using the White Tower as its cap badge.
An invasion scare of 1857 saw the creation of the Volunteer Force which included both Engineer and Rifle Volunteer Corps and which in the case of the Tower Hamlets supplemented the existing militia.
These Volunteer units were raised by members of the community with the permission of their county's Lord Lieutenant, but as Tower Hamlets was effectively a 'county within a county', having its own Lord Lieutenant (the Constable of the Tower), it raised units in its own right (though in the Tower Hamlets, as elsewhere, not all units raised bore the name of their Lord Lieutenancy area).
A significant number of units were raised, a noteworthy example being the East Metropolitan RVC (11th Tower Hamlets) which was entirely made up of Jewish Volunteers. The profusion of units, some very short lived before being amalgamated or discontinued, makes the lineage of Tower Hamlets units sometimes unclear.
The Cardwell Reforms of 1871 saw the volunteer element of the armed forces re-organised and given more supervision and support from central government. The local engineer unit became known at this time as the 2nd Tower Hamlets (East London) Engineer Volunteers.
The infantry units retained their local identity but became reserve forces attached to a regular regiment, The Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort's Own). The Militia appear to have became the 7th Bn, the 2nd Tower Hamlets Rifle Volunteer Corps became the 9th Bn and the 1st Tower Hamlets Rifle Volunteer Brigade (THVRB) also joined the regiment but retained its own name. In 1881 these latter two unit became part of the East London Brigade for training and mobilisation purposes but remained part of The Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort's Own) regiment.
The 1st Tower Hamlets Rifle Volunteer Brigade (THVRB) used the White Tower as its cap badge at this time and used the Tower of London moat for training and drilling. Machine Gun elements of this unit were sent to the 2nd Boer War and earned a battle honour at Colenso.
In 1904 the 1st Tower Hamlets Rifle Volunteer Brigade (THVRB) was transferred from The Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort's Own) regiment to the Royal Fusiliers a historic regiment originally formed in 1685 primarily from Tower Hamlets men.
First World War
In 1908 London’s reserve infantry forces were re-organised to form a new London Regiment, though the Tower Hamlets units retained their local identities and traditions and affinities gained while attached to regular regiments. The 4th Bn Royal Fusiliers (previously the 1st Tower Hamlets Rifle Volunteer Brigade) became the 4th Bn while the 9th Bn The Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort's Own) (previously the 2nd Tower Hamlets) became the 17th (County of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (Poplar and Stepney Rifles).
Both these units saw extensive combat in the First World War. The army's need for expansion saw the 4th (City of London) Battalion, London Regiment "duplicated" to form four battalions (1/4th, 2/4th, 3/4th and 4/4th); while the Poplar and Stepney Rifles were "duplicated" to form the 1/17th, 2/17th and 3/17th. The Tower Hamlets Engineers, by now a part of the wider Royal Engineers and retaining their local identity but not their name, was also heavily involved in the conflict.
In 1926 the Poplar and Stepney Rifles was renamed the 17th London Regiment (Tower Hamlets Rifles).
Second World War
In 1937 the London Regiment was abolished and the Tower Hamlets Rifles were transferred back to The Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort's Own) regiment, seeing action in North Africa and Italy.
The increasing importance of aerial warfare saw the former 4th (City of London) Battalion, London Regiment being transferred to the Royal Artillery (RA) as an Anti-aircraft artillery unit, the 60th (City of London) AA Brigade, RA (TA). The unit retained its Tower Hamlets identity, if not its name, and saw action on the home front and in continental Europe.
Descendent units of the Tower Hamlets Engineers were also extensively involved in the conflict.
After the war the Tower Hamlets units lost their identities through a series of amalgamations.
The longest to bear the local name were the Tower Hamlets Rifles who went through the Second World War as infantry. Both these Tower Hamlets Battalions (9th and 10th) of the Rifle Brigade were amalgamated to form 656th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery (Tower Hamlets) TA in 1947 and from 1961-1967 were known as the 300th (Tower Hamlets) Light Air Defence Regiment RA (TA).
In 1967 a further amalgamation saw the loss of local identity in this last Tower Hamlets unit and the last of the Tower Hamlets name in the British Army. Some current British Army units, recruited on a much broader geographical basis, count Tower Hamlets units as part of their historic lineage.
In 1829 the Tower Division contained the following "parishes, townships, precincts and places":
- The parish of St Mary, Whitechapel
- The parish of Christchurch, Spitalfields
- The parish of St Leonard, Shoreditch
- The liberty of Norton Folgate
- The parish of St John, Hackney
- The parish of St Matthew, Bethnal Green
- The hamlet of Mile End Old Town
- The hamlet of Mile End New Town
- The parish of St Mary, Stratford Bow
- The parish of Bromley St Leonard
- The parish of All Saints, Poplar
- The parish of St Anne, Limehouse
- The hamlet of Ratcliff
- The parish of St Paul, Shadwell
- The parish of St John, Wapping
- The liberty of East Smithfield
- The precinct of St Catherine
- The liberty of His Majesty's Tower of London consisting of:
From 1832 to 1885 there was a Parliamentary Borough named Tower Hamlets, after the Tower Division. From 1832-1868 it occupied the same boundaries as the Tower Division and from 1868-1885 just the southern part as population growth meant the area needed to be split into two parts. The southern part of the area kept the name Tower Hamlets while Hackney, Shoreditch and Bethnal Green became part of a new Hackney constituency.
Modern Borough of Tower Hamlets
The name "Tower Hamlets" was subsequently used for the modern London Borough of Tower Hamlets created in 1965 from southern areas of the Tower Division.
The Shoreditch and Hackney proper areas of the Tower Division together make up most of the area of the modern London Borough of Hackney.
- The London Encyclopaedia, 4th Edition, 1983, Weinreb and Hibbert
- website focussing on the Trained Bands in the War of the Three Kingdoms (English Civil War) http://traynedbandes.co.uk/before-the-war/
- Jewish Community Records Website https://www.jewishgen.org/JCR-UK/susser/twrhamlets.htm initially published in The Bulletin of the Military Historical Society, Vol. 48, No 191, February 1998
- the metadata on this page strongly suggests the lineage http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C4429126
- The Tower Hamlets Rifle Volunteer Brigade (1st Tower Hamlets Rifle Volunteers) A Short History by ET Rodney Wilde
- Map of the three divisions: Finsbury, Tower and Holborn Divisions of Ossulstone Hundred (together with the City and Liberty of Westminster later joined with the Holborn division) - note the main administrative divisions were the many parishes (not shown)