Ceremony of the keys

On the 12th of August 50 whole force personnel from Station and Air Command had the privilege of visiting the Tower of London to witness the Ceremony of the Keys, the traditional locking up of the Tower of London that has taken place on each and every night, without fail, for at least 700 years.

After observing some expert driving from the Serco bus driver (most would have struggled to get their car through the traffic), the tour began with Yeoman Warder Shaun Huggins providing an informative and entertaining tour, including the mock-beheading of Plt Off Cameron Vear!

Walking along Water Lane, named for formerly being the natural course of the River Thames before being pushed back, the tour stopped at Traitors’ Gate. Put in place to provide a water entrance to the Tower, prisoners would have floated past pikes displaying the heads of executed prisoners before entering through the Gate. Famously Queen Anne Boleyn and Sir Thomas More entered the Tower this way.

As daylight dwindled the tour moved to the Inner Ward, with Yeoman Warder Huggins telling stories of the White Tower and Waterloo Block, followed by a visit to the simple but beautiful Chapel Royal. When the group came back outside it was dark, and time to observe the Ceremony of the Keys. To finish the evening the group were very privileged to be invited into the Yeoman Warders Club which provided facility for lubrication as well as an excellent buffet.

There was no shortage of appreciation from the group: Ms Maria Stone said “Thank you very much for organising the visit to the Tower of London and the Ceremony of the Keys event. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening; it was a privilege to observe this historic ceremony, in such an atmospheric location.” The event was organised by the Professional Development Flight and if you would like to receive information on organising events like this contact FS Shaun Turner on ext 6723.

Ceremony of the Keys
The importance of securing this fortress for the night is still very relevant because, although the Monarch no longer resides at this royal palace, the Crown Jewels and many other valuables still do! In this ceremony the gates of the Tower of London are secured each night by the Chief Yeoman Warder escorted by an armed guard of four men.

Considering the ceremony takes place in the centre of London the lead up to the ceremony was very peaceful, only broken by marching steps and formal orders. After locking the gates, the Chief Yeoman Warder is challenged by a sentry bringing his rifle into the on-guard position. He allows him to pass after recognising the Chief Warder as the bearer of Queen Elizabeth’s keys by saying ‘Pass, Queen Elizabeth’s keys, and all’s well’.

The Chief Yeoman Warder and his escort are then met by a ceremonial guard on the Broad Steps near the White Tower, who presents arms. The Chief Warder concludes the ceremony by raising his Tudor bonnet and proclaiming ‘God preserve Queen Elizabeth’, to which all present replied ‘Amen’.

Yeoman Warders
The Tower of London is one of the most visited destinations in the entire world, and no visit to the Tower would be complete without seeing a Yeoman Warder of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, Member of the Sovereign’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary… or as they are more commonly known; Beefeaters!

The Beefeaters are often confused with ‘Yeomen of the Guard’, a distinctly different corps of Royal Bodyguards. Beefeaters at the Tower of London are the ceremonial guardians, and historically they would have been responsible for the safeguarding of the Crown Jewels as well as looking after prisoners kept at the Tower.

Becoming a Yeoman Warder is not easy; at present there are 37 Yeomen Warders at the Tower of London. A candidate must have at least 22 years of service in the Armed Forces. In addition to length of service, all Yeomen Warders must also have been awarded the ‘Long Service and Good Conduct’ medal during their time in the armed forces.