11 June 2014

The Tower of London's Shed of Death

During World War I and World War 2, a dozen German spies, including Josef Jakobs, were executed by firing squad at the Tower of London. Ten of the executions took place in the miniature rifle range and two took place in the Tower moat.

Constable Tower with a view of the carport which stands upon the location of the former miniature rifle range.
Constable Tower with a view of the carport which
stands upon the location of the former
miniature rifle range.
(Copyright 2012 G.K. Jakobs)
More than one Rifle Range?
When one hears of the miniature rifle range at the Tower of London, one naturally presumes that there was only one. The miniature rifle range to which everyone refers was located along the east side of the outer ward between Constable Tower and Martin Tower. It is a well known fact that this particular rifle range was torn down in 1969 and replaced by a pre-fabricated office building. The office building, in its turn, was eventually removed and replaced by a carport. If one peers over the inner wall of the Tower, and looks into the outer ward, one can just see the top of the carport.

But was there an earlier version of the rifle range? A few lines of evidence suggest that it was quite possible.

Photographic Evidence
The BBC ran a story about the WWI spies shot in the Tower and included two photographs of the rifle range which were very different.

The first photograph showed the traditional view of the rifle range. This picture shows a long, low building situated between the Constable Tower (left) and Martin Tower (right).
Miniature Rifle Range between Constable Tower (left) and Martin Tower (right).
Miniature Rifle Range between Constable Tower (left)
and Martin Tower (right).
 The second photograph showed a long shed with open windows and also claimed to be a photograph of the rifle range, taken in 1910. The difference in years not withstanding, the two sheds were clearly not the same. The shed with the open windows (below) was situated between the Bowyer Tower and the Flint Tower, along the north side of the outer ward. Was this shed the original rifle range?

The shed located between Bowyer Tower (left) and Flint Tower (off screen to the right).
The shed located between Bowyer Tower (left) and
Flint Tower (off screen to the right).
The same shed located between Bowyer Tower (left) and Flint Tower (middle of photo).
The same shed located between Bowyer Tower (left) and
Flint Tower (middle of photo).


Documentary Evidence
While researching this piece, I came across a file at the National Archives which was quite intriguing. Folio WORK 31/813 contains one sheet of paper, a drawing relating to the the Tower of London with "plan, section and elevation of proposed miniature rifle range". The file was dated 19 July 1915.
Screen clip or WORK 31/813 folio from National Archives website.
Screen clip or WORK 31/813 folio from National Archives website.

Could it be that in mid-1915, a new miniature rifle range was constructed at the Tower of London? The document would seem to suggest that something of the sort was being planned that year.

Historical Evidence
Tower of London map showing location of shed from 1910 and Miniature Rifle Range.
Tower of London map showing location of
shed from 1910 and Miniature Rifle Range.
Interestingly enough, during the summer months of 1915, three German spies were not executed in the miniature rifle range.

Robert Rosenthal, having been held at the Tower in June of that year, was transferred to Wandsworth Prison and eventually hanged there on 15 July. He was the only spy during WWI to be hanged rather than shot.

Two other spies, Janssen and Roos, were executed by firing squad on 30 July, but they were shot in the Tower ditch, not in the rifle range.

Thus, there was a period of almost two and a half months, from 23 June (when Muller was executed) to 10 September (when Melin was executed), during which a new miniature rifle range could have been constructed within the outer ward.




Miniature Rifle Range
The miniature rifle range, in which most of the spies were executed, no longer exists. All that remains are photographs and memories.

Several photographs exist of the exterior of the rifle range. The one below shows the larger context of its location in the eastern outer ward, with Tower Bridge visible in the distance.
Miniature Rifle Range (exterior) (dated 1914-1916).
Miniature Rifle Range (exterior) (dated 1914-1916).
From Imperial War Museum - Fair Use policy.
A few photographs of the interior of the sinister building also exist.

Miniature Rifle Range (interior) (dated 1914-1916).
Miniature Rifle Range (interior) (dated 1914-1916).
From Imperial War Museum - Fair Use policy.
Interestingly, along the back of the rifle range, where the targets (numbered 1-4) were located, one can see several wooden planks or boards below the numbers written on the wall.
Miniature Rifle Range (interior) (dated 1914-1916).
Miniature Rifle Range (interior) (dated 1914-1916).
From Imperial War Museum - Fair Use policy.

Those same boards are visible in a picture of the chair used for the execution of the World War I spies. The chair was lost to history, although one rumour stated that it was broken up and sold at a local pub.
Chair used for the execution of World War I spies.
Chair used for the execution of World War I spies.
(From German Spies at Bay - public domain).





Conclusion
While the miniature rifle range has long disappeared from the precincts of the Tower of London, its memory looms large. Whether there was one rifle range, or two, a dozen spies forfeited their lives during the two world wars.

References
German Spies at Bay, Sidney Theodore Felstead, 1920.
Shot in the Tower, Leonard Sellers, 1997.

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