A Visit to the Tower of London, Ceremony of the Keys with SRO's London Correspondent Jen Dawson

The Tower of London, officially known as Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London, is a historic castle located on the north bank of the River Thames in London. Founded in 1066, the castle was used primarily as a prison until 1952, but was also a grand palace early in its history and used as the royal residence.

Article by Jen Dawson

Every night for the last 700 years or so, the Yeoman Warders (AKA the "Beefeaters") have performed the gate-closing ritual known as The Ceremony of the Keys, at the Tower of London. The Chief Yoeman Warder, dressed in red, comes out of the Byward Tower carrying a candle lantern in one hand and the Queen's Keys in the other.

Standing Room Only's London correspondent, Jen Dawson, recently visited the legendary Tower – on of all things – a date! We wonder (probably, along with you) where this might go...

LONDON, ENGLAND - Knowing one of the Yeoman wardens at the tower makes me feel pretty cool, because I get to see the things that other people don't. So, I thought it would be fun to take a date to the Tower for a day... and also tell you all about it!

We got to the Tower at lunch time and had a little wander around for a while, before doing the regular tour. After a bit of lunch, we met up with my Yeoman warden friend for a “special tour” of the Tower. He took us into the Queens house and there is a specific room where the Queen goes whenever she visits the tower. In the room there is an ordinary wooden table where her Majesty likes to sit and have her favorite drink, a double-gin and Dubonnet.

The house also holds the entrance to the cell where Sir Thomas More, the councillor to Henry VIII, who was beheaded in 1535 for not signing the Oath of supremacy. Apparently, there's a waiting list to view the cell and after, my friend took us to see Sir More's final resting place under the Church of St. Peter ad Vincula. The church also holds a few other Tudor celebrity bones.

After leaving for a while in the afternoon as to get ready for some night time fun, we went back in the evening after being invited to the Yeoman warders bar... I had been dying to go there, for only special guests get invited! After having a drink, I wanted a gin and Dubonnet but alas, they had run out of Dubonnet, so I settled for a regular gin and tonic instead.

It was at this point in the night when we witnessed the Ceremony of the Keys, which is the closing of the Tower for the night... and its been happening every night for some 700 years! At exactly 9:53 p.m. the Chief Yeoman warder, dressed in Tudor Watchcoat, meets the military escort, made up of members of the Tower of London Guard. Together, the Chief Yeoman Warder and the Yeoman Warder 'Watchman' secure the main gates of the Tower. Upon their return down Water Lane, the party is halted by the Sentry and challenged to identify themselves:

Sentry: "Halt! Who comes there?"
Chief Warder: "The keys."

Sentry: "Whose keys?"
Chief Warder: "Queen Elizabeth's keys." (identifying the keys as being those of Queen Elizabeth II, the current monarch)

Sentry: "Pass Queen Elizabeth's Keys. All is well."

Following the exchange, the party makes its way through the Bloody Tower Archway into the fortress, where they halt at the bottom of the Broadwalk Steps. On the top of the stairs and under the command of their officer, the Tower Guard present arms and the Chief Warder raises his hat, proclaiming:

Chief Warder: "God preserve Queen Elizabeth."
Sentry: "Amen!"

He then takes the keys to the Queen's House for safekeeping, while the last post is sounded. I'm a sucker for things such as this and I got a real tear in my eye, until... I felt someone grab my bottom... and it wasn't my date! Then he tells me he also felt someone grab his bottom! So, there was either a naughty bottom-grabber or an amorous ghost... who knows!

We then had a mini-evening tour with one of the warders, before going back to the bar until closing time. We were the last people to leave the Tower and frankly, it was quite an eerie feeling, walking past Traitors Gate in the dark, our footsteps echoing off the high walls and cobblestones. The moment was ultimately spoiled, however, by my slightly inebriated date, who jokingly suggested we sneak down a dark alley and “fool around”... so I pointed him in the direction of a taxi and told him to sod off! But apart from that it was a really fun night! Until next time...

Jen x

All Jen, All Night!!