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Page 8
Continued from page 7

photo LEFT: Conclusion of the nightly ceremony. INSET BELOW: Chief Yeoman Warder in ceremonial uniform with Tudor-style hat.

Ceremony of the Keys

photoFor more 700 years, the Gentleman Porter or (in more recent times) the Chief Yeoman Warder has has locked the Tower's heavy wooden gates each night with a set of heavy keys. Originally the Tower was locked from dusk till dawn; in 1826, when the Duke of Wellington became Constable of the Tower, he ordered the start time changed to 9:53 p.m. so the garrison could enjoy some time on the town. That time still stands, with the seven-minute ceremony being complete (and the wooden gates locked for the night) at 10:00 p.m.

The Yeoman Warders take great pride in the fact that the Ceremony of the Keys continued without interruption even when several German bombs fell on the Tower in World War II. (After a direct hit in September, 1941, the ceremony was delayed by half an hour but went ahead after the dust and smoke had settled.)

It's worth noting that the Ceremony of the Key isn't just for show: As the Tower's press office points out, "The importance of securing this fortress for the night is still very relevant, because although the monarch no longer resides at this royal Palace, her crown jewels do!"

How to observe the ceremony:

Anyone can witness the Ceremony of the Keys, which normally is open to the public every night of the year. However, tickets (which are free) must be obtained in advance by sending a written request, a return envelope, and British postage stamps or two International Reply Coupons to:

Ceremony of the Keys Office
HM Tower of London
London EC3N 4AB
United Kingdom

Ticket requests are limited to 6 persons from April 1 through November 1; from November 2 through March 31, you can request up to 15 tickets. Be sure to list all attendees' names.

It's a good idea to apply several months in advance, and you should give at least three different dates in case your preferred night is fully booked.

What you'll see:

On the night of the ceremony, you'll be admitted to the Tower at 9:30 p.m. precisely and escorted to a spot near the Bloody Tower.

A Yeoman Warder will tell you how to behave (no talking, no photos), and at 9:53 p.m. the Chief Yeoman Warder will approach with the Keys of the Tower in one hand and a brass lantern in the other. He'll collect his escort from the military guards and proceed to the entrance to secure the main gates.

During the ceremony, the Yeoman Warder will reply to a guard's challenge, and the Ceremony of the Keys will later conclude with a bugle call (see photo at top of page). At 10:05 p.m, you and your fellow visitors will be escorted to the after-hours gate used by the Tower's Yeoman Warders and military guards.

  • Tip: If you're visiting the Tower on the same day that you attend the Ceremony of the Keys, you'll have several hours to kill between the Tower's closing time and the ceremony. You can easily head to another part of London for dinner from the Underground station at Tower Hill, but another option is to cross Tower Bridge and explore Butler's Wharf, which once was London's biggest warehouse complex and is now a trendy area of restaurants, art galleries, and shops.
    Terence Conran, the design and lifestyle guru, owns several restaurants here. I had a pleasant meal in the Cantina del Ponte, which offers pizzas from a woodburning oven and other Italian dishes. (In warm weather, you can dine outdoors by the river's edge.)

Next page: Events and reenactments

Top photo copyright © HRP. Used by permission.

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