Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Yeo-ho-ho, off to the Tower with ye!

Tower of London visit
Originally uploaded by Miss Gab.

Last night I had the very real privilege of observing a ceremony that not too many visitors to London get to see, but one that has been performed in the same way, at the same time, every night for more than 700 years.

The Ceremony of the Keys takes place at the Tower of London at 10pm sharp, and it is a wonderful ritual where all the gates of the Tower are locked up, and the keys are returned to the Tower Governor for safekeeping overnight.

The ceremony is carried out by the Yeoman Warders, or 'Beefeaters' as they are sometimes known (though not to their faces). There are about 35 Yeomen Warders serving at the Tower now, and they live onsite with their families. To be a Yeoman Warder, you have to be a veteran of the UK armed services, having served with distinction for more than 22 years.

I was a guest of the Yeoman Warders last night and having met a number of them before the Ceremony, and afterwards at drinks in their Club, I can assure you that they are dedicated, proud bunch with a deep love of their country and their job.

I did not get the chance to look at the Tower of London itself, however that is definitely a job for another time. Part of my tour last night did explain the history of the Tower; it gave some gruesome details about the public executions held there (including some of the more famous prisoners such as Oliver Cromwell; Thomas More; and Anne Boelyn). We walked through the chapel where many of the bodies were buried - some with their heads, some without! Eerie stuff.

It did not occur to me until much later to ask about ghosts or hauntings at the Tower. I read about those stories online today and figured it would not be the sort of place I'd like to hang out after dark - even WITH the protection of the burly Yeomans.

The Tower of London is still classified an Historic Royal Palace, meaning that if Queen Elizabeth II decided that she wanted to move back in there tomorrow, she could. Chances are that won't happen of course, and it's just as well because it would mean ousting the Yeoman Warders, the Governor, the Doctor, and whichever country's army is visiting at the time.

I really enjoyed my visit to the Tower of London site and particularly the rare opportunity to witness the Ceremony of the Keys. On reflection the pomp and ceremony is all a bit fluffy but when you're watching it, in such imposing scenery on a grey, blustery London evening, it's hard not to be just a little impressed with the show.


Batreg said...

What a fun thing to get to do. The Tower Tour itself with the 'other' tourists is worth the trip. How did you end up with the in crowd?
Imagine living there, I'm impressed!

Gab In The City said...

Oh I was a lucky duck. One of my work colleagues knows the Yeoman Warders well and she asked if I could go along, and of course they said yes (bless 'em). I hope to see them again soon, because they are a lot of fun. They are much better drinkers than I am though, ugh the following morning was VERY rough indeed...