Woodlice have probably been living in the Wardrobe Tower for as long as it has been standing. Standing is rather an optimistic term given what remains; a weathered shard of wall, like a solitary wisdom tooth. But to the woodlice it is still home. Strange creatures, they live in the boundaries that mark our rooms whilst the spaces we occupy are the edge of their realm. They crawl out from cracks when it rains, as if marching to the drumbeat of the drops. When the sun shines they once again seek cover deep beneath the mortar. Aliens share our architecture.
The Wardrobe Tower was built in the late 12th century. Part of the first expansion of the Tower of London, it was an annex to the imposing White Tower. Perhaps the first woodlouse wandered across from the White Tower after heavy rainfall; along the outside walls and in through a window. Or was the first woodlouse already there, ready to greet this intruder? After all, the Wardrobe Tower was built around remnants of the ancient Roman city walls. Even today Roman bricks can be found amongst the medieval masonry. These walls were as old then as those of the White Tower are today. Any woodlice living here would have witnessed passageways opening up in to new worlds. After a thousand generations of stasis their environment suddenly multiplied around them, as if they had levelled up in a Japanese computer game.
Further extensions in the 16th century connected the cluster of central towers to the outer walls. A maze of solid mass formed; a negative imprint along which woodlice from across late medieval London scuttled and rolled in to the Wardrobe Tower. The last (and first) photo of this woodlouse hive, this insectoid umbilical, shows it heavily restored. Maybe replacement stones from distant corners of the country, piled high on the damp decks of narrowboats, gave passage to woodlice from even further afield.
Then in the 1880s the Wardrobe Tower was demolished to its present state. The crustacean cosmos came crashing down. For the past 130 years the survivors have been isolated, saved only by last minute realisation of the historical significance of their home. It’s hard to know how many woodlice are in the Wardrobe Tower today. I counted at least a dozen after heavy rainfall this May, but there must be many more within the depths of the ruin. They are a little clue to the invisible worlds that human hands have shaped.