The Yeoman Warders (more commonly known as the “Beefeaters”) are the ceremonial guards of the Tower of London.
In bygone times they were the actual guardians of the Tower and their responsibilities included maintaining the security of the fortress, keeping an eye on prisoners and protecting the Crown Jewels.
These days their role is more symbolic – in the morning, they open up the complex to the tourists who flock here in their thousands, they give their entertaining and informative tours around the site every half hour every during the day.
But one of the most unique traditions they take part in is that of the Ceremony of the Keys, a nighttime ritual that has taken place for over seven hundred years, whatever the weather, in peace or wartime.
Best of all, this is a daily event that the general public is welcome to attend free of charge (although you do need to apply in writing well in advance click here for details).
Having applied for your ticket to the ceremony, you must arrive at the Tower of London at 9.30pm precisely. Timing is everything on this one as the Tower (if you’ll pardon the pun) takes no prisoners as far as latecomers goes. You simply will not be admitted.
The ceremony itself begins at 9.53 every evening, when the Chief Yeoman Warder appears from the Byward Tower, down by the river, and makes his way along Water Lane carrying a candle lantern in one hand and the Queen’s Keys in the other.
There, he is joined by an armed guard of four men and, together, they take a tour of the precincts, locking each of the gates that lead from the Tower.
As they pass through the Bloody Tower, they are challenged by the sentry there on duty who shouts “Halt. Who comes there?” “The keys.”, comes the reply. “Whose keys?” “Queen Elizabeth’s keys” “Pass, Queen Elizabeth’s keys. All’s well”. The Escort to the Keys then proceeds through the Bloody Tower, whereupon the Chief Warder raises his hat and calls out “God Save Queen Elizabeth”, to which the guard and the assembled Yeoman Warders all respond “Amen”.
As the first note of ten o’clock strikes, the last post is sounded and the Chief Warder marches off to lodge the keys in the Queen’s House for the night.
This is one of the unique traditions of this country and it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end – it truly is fabulous!
For full details on how to attend this fantastic ceremony visit the Tower of London’s Website.