The Tower of London Key Ceremony
Inspired Writing1 got me thinking about this little known attraction. As a kid and some extent an adult, it was always somewhere you had to visit. After all, that is where the crown jewels are kept, along with nearly a thousand years worth of history. I didn't know about the 'ceremony of the keys' until a friend of mine, who's father in law is a Beefeater/Yeoman (I can never tell which is which, there is a difference) invited me to the Tower before a night out on the town.
You have to be there by 21:30hr, about twenty minutes before the start. Personally I would go in winter when it is cold, dark and wet, you get a better sense of what it is was like all those years ago. I was lucky enough to go round the dungeons and traitors gate late at night on my own. I was waiting for a tap on the shoulder or to hear the loud screams of past prisoners, maybe the bang of the gallows opening and a neck breaking, I didn't though. Just thinking about those things was enough to set the tone and scare me half to death. Anyway, here's what happens during this remarkably short but popular event. (There is a 2-3 month waiting list).
The ceremony of the keys at the Tower of London has been held every night without interruption (even when several German bombs fell on the Tower in World War II) for the last 700 years. Every night the Tower is locked up by the Chief Yeoman Warder. Dressed in a scarlet coat, tudor bonnet, carrying a lantern and with foot guard escort, he makes his way to the gates from the Byward Tower at exactly 21:53.
He locks up the several gates, however, it is on approach to the archway of the Bloody Tower that the famous words are uttered:
A sentry challenges: ‘Halt! Who comes there?' ‘The keys’, comes the reply ‘Whose keys?’ ‘Queen Elizabeth’s keys.’ ‘Advance, Queen Elizabeth’s keys. All’s well’
Once the feet stamping and rifle throwing has finished, all the Tower gates are locked, the last post is sounded by a trumpeter and the ceremony is concluded.
Ceremony of the Key isn't just for show. The importance of securing this fortress for the night is still very relevant, because although the monarch no longer resides at this royal Palace, her crown jewels do.
So the next time you think of going to visit the tower try this too. It is an all year round ceremony and permits are absolutely free. DO NOT buy tickets to this event. Send a SAE to:
Ceremony of the Keys Office, HM Tower of London, London, EC3N 4AB, United Kingdom.