A few weeks back, a mate messaged to see if I was free on an upcoming Wednesday evening as he had a spare ticket for something that evening due to his partner being out of town for work.
Well as luck would have it I was totally free! What a shocker! 😉 So I agreed to meet him and another couple they’re friends with (who’d arranged the tickets), though I was still a bit baffled as to what we were doing.
It turned out it was for something called the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London. I’d previously visited there a few years back with a friend from Canada (click HERE to read previous post), so was a bit surprised I hadn’t heard of this ceremony. We’d definitely explored the entire place as far as I was aware.
Well it turns out this ceremony is actually only ‘performed’ at night (between 9:30pm and 10:05pm to be exact) and has nothing to do with the regular daytime tours.
About the Ceremony of the Keys
The Ceremony of the Keys is the traditional locking up of the Tower of London and has taken place on each and every night, without fail, for at least 700 years. 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!
This meant we got to be in the Tower of London well after it normally closed to witness something that most people didn’t even know existed. I know I didn’t.
The ceremony itself was quite interesting, as we were lead from the main entrance down the main avenue inside the tower by one of the traditional yeomen warders – also known as ‘beefeaters‘ – who gave us bits of history as we went.
All warders are retired from the Armed Forces of Commonwealth realms and must be former senior non-commissioned officers or petty officers with at least 22 years of service. They must also hold the Long Service and Good Conduct medal. (Source: Wikipedia)
Once we reached the gates leading to the inner courtyard where the Crown Jewels are kept, we were given more instructions and explanations on the ceremony itself. As well as very strict instructions that absolutely no photos were allowed.. something one of the women in the group got sternly reminded of when she tried to snap a pic of a marching guard.
Basically, a guard contingent will escort the keeper of the keys from the main gate after he’s locked it up for the night into the inner court yard. En route he is challenged first by the aforementioned marching guard before entering the court yard, and then once again by a second guard contingent inside the court yard. Once he’s confirmed both his identity and that the outer tower has been locked tight, he’s given leave to complete his circuit of the inner town and finish locking up.
To some it may seem ridiculous to continue such an ancient and perhaps unnecessary ceremony every night for 700 years (one person joked, “Doesn’t the Queen have insurance?” lol), but I disagree. I found it absolutely fascinating and enjoyed every moment of it. It’s a hidden gem of a tour that most don’t know about.
Plus it reminded me of how much of this city’s history most of us take for granted or just outright ignore. We’re living in one of the most historic cities in the world, and most of it’s residents have no clue about any of it.
Here’s hoping I’ll get some more opportunities to see more of these hidden gems.
To read more about the ceremony or to arrange tickets (minimum 6 months in advance.. they only allow a small group each evening), please go to the Tower of London – Ceremony of the Keys website.