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Ceremony of the keys

Locking the Tower of London – for the last time

 

On 26th April 2017 27 Freemen of the Guild and their guests were treated to an exclusive tour of the Tower of London followed by a private reception held in the Yeoman Warders’ very own club house. The evening was topped off with the sombre Ceremony of The Keys – the official 700 hundred year ritual when the Tower of London is secured for the night. This was made even more special as Yeoman Warder, Colin Smith, MBE hosted his final evening welcoming private groups to his entertaining tours, before retiring.

Master Kate Jolly said: “This was a fascinating insight into a tradition that has taken place every night, all bar one during the second world war, for the past 700 years. We were truly honoured to be welcomed as the final party by Colin, his uniquely British humour will be sorely missed”.

The evening got off to an early evening start as Ex-RAF Officer Colin had the tour timed to the last minute. Our hosted meeting point, The Byward Café at All Hallows by the Tower laid on a pre-drinks reception followed by a two course ‘supper of sustenance’ to ward off the chilly April breeze as we undertook the open-air tour on the cobbled streets of the Tower. At precisely 19:20 Colin swung into action and rallied his troops in true services-style as we filed out of the café towards the main entrance of the Tower. The tour kicked off with graphic tales of be-headings, hangings and a medieval favourite – hung, drawn and quartered – all on the hill at Trinity Square which is adjacent to the Tower, which stands on just twelve acres of ground. Then after a short, but worthy private visit to The Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula – a Chapel Royal and a ‘Royal Peculiar’ directly under the jurisdiction of The Queen. It is the parish church to HM Tower of London, the most visited heritage site in the country. It is the final resting place of famous characters such as, Sir Thomas More, Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey. The tour of the Tower streets and its landmarks lasted an hour after which a well-earned drink or two at the Yeoman Warders’ club was in order.

 

At 21:40 our group assembled alongside the Bloody Tower- in silence. Then at precisely 21:53 the Chief Yeoman Warder and the Yeoman Warder ‘Watchman’ secure the main gates of the Tower. On their return up Watery Lane a sentry halts the party:

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 the current monarch)

Sentry: “Pass Queen Elizabeth’s Keys. All is well.”

We then followed Chief Yeoman Warder and the keys as they are marched through the Bloody Tower Archway into the fortress, where they halt at the bottom of the Broadwalk Steps. On the top of the Stairs, 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 during the moving final moments of the ceremony. Our party then retired back to the Yeoman Warders’ Club.