Prisoners might be held in almost any part of the fortress, depending partly on their rank and the nature of the charge. Most prisoners seem to have been reasonably well lodged and fed, but there were two infamous places of solitary confinement.
The first was the ‘dungeon amongst the ratts’ – described as a sort of cave, 20 feet deep, with no light and which at high tide became infested with rats seeking shelter.
The other cell was known as ‘Little Ease’, a prison so small that a man could neither move nor stand upright.
Inmates of the Tower were either ‘close’ prisoners confined to their cells and not allowed visitors, letters, books or other possessions, or were allowed the ’Liberty of the Tower’. This meant that although they had to return to their cells at given times, they could receive visitors and associate with other prisoners.
Each prisoner had his or her own warder and more important often had their servants, and even their wives living with them. Servants and family members had to submit to prison regulations and were not allowed to leave the Tower at will.
In this fun interactive game you can discover about some of the Tower of London’s most famous prisoners and about its history and about some of its other famous inhabitants.
Play our Flash interactive game › [opens in new window]
This expression originates with the misfire of a flintlock or similar gun. The powder in the pan was supposed to ignite the main charge in the barrel. Sometimes only the powder in the pan flashed without firing the main charge.