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ABOVE: Yeoman Warders with John Keohane (who was Yeoman Gaoler when this photo was taken) and Tom Sharp, Mr. Keohane's predecessor as Chief Yeoman Warder. INSET BELOW: A Yeoman Warder gives directions to young visitors.

Yeoman Warders ("Beefeaters")

photoThirty-six Yeoman Warders guard the Tower of London with the help of a British Army unit. They report to the Yeoman Gaoler and the Chief Yeoman Warder (the two gentlemen on the right side of the group photo above). In addition to keeping an eye on the Tower, the Yeoman Warders lead free tours and answer questions for visitors. Sample Q&A:

Tourist: "Where was Ann Boleyn beheaded?"
Yeoman Warder (touching finger to neck): "Right about here."

The Yeoman Warders also have ceremonial duties, including the nightly Ceremony of the Keys and attending such events as royal coronations and the Lord Mayor's Show in the City of London.

Natasha Woollard of the Tower's press office and John Keohane, the Yeoman Gaoler during my visit, were kind enough to supply a number of facts about the Yeoman Warders:

  • A so-called Beefeater's official title is: "Yeoman Warder of Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London and Member of the Sovereign's Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary."

  • The erroneous nickname "Beefeater" probably dates back to the time when Yeoman Warders were given a daily ration of meat. (Records show, that in 1813, the daily ration for the 30 men on duty was a remarkable 24 pounds of beef, 18 pounds of mutton, and 16 pounds of veal.)

  • To apply for a position as a Yeoman Warder, you must have 19 years' of service with good conduct as a senior non-commissioned officer from the Army, Royal Air Force, Royal Marines, or Royal Navy. (Only a small number of applicants are accepted.)

  • New Yeoman Warders are sworn in on Tower Green, where they take an oath of allegiance that dates back to 1337. After the ceremony, the new recruits' health is toasted by the Chief Yeoman Warder from a ceremonial punchbowl. (The punchbowl was a gift from Yeoman Warder Wilkins, who was found to be earning a living as an innkeeper in Southwark when he should have been on duty.)

  • The Yeoman Warders and their families are required to live at the Tower. (You'll see their neatly tended rowhouses facing Tower Green.) In addition, they must own homes elsewhere in England so they'll have a place to go when they retire.

The Yeoman Warders have two uniforms:

  • The ceremonial uniform is worn for state occasions; e.g., when the monarch visits the Tower or for any state occasion that the Body attends. This uniform is predominantly red and goldwith red stockings, a white ruff, and black patent shoes.

  • For everyday wear, the Yeoman Warders wear a blue undress uniform that comes in summer and winter weights. (See photos above.)

photoFinally, the first woman Yeoman Warder (a former Army accountant named Moira Cameron) began working in uniform at the Tower of London on September 3, 2007.


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Photos copyright © HRP. Used by permission.

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