Ceremony of the Keys, Tower of London
Ceremony of the Keys, Tower of London, October 7, 2019
At precisely seven minutes to ten o’clock the Yeoman Warder and Gaoler Bob Loughlin emerged from the Byward Tower, wearing his red Watch Coat and Tudor Bonnet with a lantern in one hand lit by a single tallow candle and a bunch of heavy keys in the other. The outer gates having been closed, locked and secured the sound of his boots marching on the cobbles gradually increased and echoed around the ancient fortress as he came nearer to the Bloody Tower and our viewing point. “Halt, who comes there?” greeted members of the Aldersgate Ward Club as we watched the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London on a dark and damp October evening. Fortunately the Yeoman Warder gave the correct responses, all was well and Queen Elizabeth’s Keys were allowed safe passage with their escort guard through the inner gate to the Broadwalk steps. The Yeoman Warder doffed his bonnet. In the shadow of the White Tower, the ghosts of hundreds of years of history all around, he proclaimed, “ God preserve Queen Elizabeth” and all responded “Amen”. The last chimes of the clock struck 10pm and the Last Post sounded, reverberating poignantly around the silent Royal palace.
The ceremony has taken place at the Tower of London each night for over 700 years, and in its current format since the reign of Mary Tudor, though it was the Duke of Wellington who fixed the timing at 10pm each night, supposedly to coincide with the pubs closing and ensure the guards were inside the Tower! Although the monarch may no longer reside at the Tower, the Crown Jewels and many other precious objects and documents still do, therefore the ceremony’s importance is still relevant today. We were privileged indeed to witness the locking and securing of the Tower of London: the oldest such military ceremony in the world. Very few visitors have the chance for such an insight as bookings are very limited for this special ceremony and it was the climax of an excellent Aldersgate Ward Club evening, starting with an extremely convivial and delicious meal at Brasserie Blanc, followed by a night time tour of the Tower organised by the Master and attended by 38 members of the Club and guests.
We were doubly fortunate that our guide for the tour was Yeoman Warder Bob Loughlin MBE; as Yeoman Gaoler he keeps the axe but fortunately did not need to use it for AWC members!! He entertained us with his encyclopaedic knowledge of the Tower’s history, telling stories of treachery and gruesome torture and punishment as we walked around the silent, mysterious cobbled lanes, dim lights flickering and buildings casting shadows within the Tower’s precincts, with the famous Ravens all resting safely in their cages for the night. Modern day London seemed a long way away. As we traced the steps of Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey from Traitors’ Gate to the place of their execution it was easy to imagine the harrowing and frightening prospect of incarceration in the Tower. Although a brightly lit and warm sanctuary during our visit, the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula was the final burial place for over a thousand prisoners in the Tower, including the executed Royal Queens and Sir Thomas More.
The visit was a very memorable and atmospheric evening and a real insight into the importance of the Tower of London in our nation’s history since its construction by William the Conqueror. Many thanks to the Master, Dr Christopher Eyles, for organising.