Skeletons of a working-class woman and 7-year-old girl are discovered in the Tower of London

A prison, a palace and a place of safety, the Tower has long loomed large over London, playing a crucial role in nearly every major upheaval to afflict the capital since it was begun by William the Conqueror in 1066.

The donjon castle he built, the White Tower, was designed for defence but also functioned as a royal palace, with every subsequent Norman king processing from the Tower to their coronation at Westminster Abbey.

That tradition persisted well into the 17th century, with Henry VIII, Edward I and Elizabeth I among the monarchs to spend a night there ahead of their coronations.

But it is as a place of execution and imprisonment that the Tower is most famous, with the very name of its chapel – St Peter in Chains – offering a clue to its use.

Although used as a prison from 1100 onwards, the first notable execution to take place at the Tower was that of William Wallace, a Scottish rebel whose death warrant was signed by Edward I ‘The Hammer of the Scots’ in 1305.

But Wallace was by no means the only one. He was followed into death at the Tower by England’s ‘nine day queen’ Lady Jane Grey, Henry VIII’s wives Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard and Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite, Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex, as well as many others.

The Bloody Tower was also the scene of one of the most enduring mysteries in British history: the disappearance of Edward V of England and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, who are better known as the Princes in the Tower.

Precisely what happened to the two boys, who were aged 12 and nine years old at the time, has never been established, although many suspect that the children were murdered – either by their uncle Richard III or the incoming Tudor king, Henry VII.

But while the deaths that took place during the Tudor and mediaeval periods are the most famous, the tradition of executing criminals at the Tower continued into the 20th century with a group of suspected spies despatched by firing squad on Tower Green during World War One.

Unsurprisingly, later prisoners, among them a group of German prisoners of war held at the Tower during World War Two and the Kray twins, are said to have found the experience of being held at the Tower terrifying.

As a result of the executions, the Tower is also thought to be haunted with the tragic ghost of Anne Boleyn said to appear each year, wandering around the White Tower and carrying her head under her arm, on the anniversary of her execution on the 19th May 1536.

The Tower is also the subject of several legends, including one about a prophecy that says ‘if the ravens leave the Tower, then England will fall’.

A nervous Charles II, clearly mindful of the fate of his father, insisted that the ravens be encouraged to remain. The current six have special quarters in the Tower and have one wing clipped to ensure they can’t fly off.

Nevertheless, some do still go missing while others have had to be sacked. Raven George was dismissed for eating television aerials, while another, Raven Grog, was last seen outside an East End pub.