The oldest surviving tower apart form the White Tower, it was probably built by William Longchamp, Chancellor during the reign of Richard I (the Lionheart), as part of the expansion of the Tower beyond the Norman keep and bailey area. The curtain wall to the east of the Bell Tower was probably built at the same time and both would have been right on the river.
The Bell tower is unusual in having a polygonal base and circular upper storey which indicates that it was probably built in two stages. The arrow slits are extremely well designed to deflect an enemy's arrows. A short while ago an expert bowman made several unsuccessful attempts to shoot an arrow in through one of the slits.
The Tower has been known by its present name since 1532, but its present bell and housing date from 1651. Originally the bell was rung as an alarm and as a curfew to tell the prisoners given the liberty of the Tower that it was time to return to their quarters. Today it is used simply to warn the public that the Tower is about to close.
During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Bell Tower was used as a prison to Sir Thomas More, John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, Princess Elizabeth, Arabella Stuart and the Duke of Monmouth to name but a few. Maximum security could be maintained because the only access was through the Queen's House. Thomas More and John Fisher were here concurrently with Fisher in the upper chamber and More in the tower.