Trapped in the Tower: A Survivors’ Account

Getting locked up in the Tower of London would have been a circumstance of great misfortune for many who were part of the landmark’s 1000-year history, but luckily not for us, as we enjoyed an enlightening insider-view of the Tower on day two of our Winter Festival.

We had been working on the evening concert Orgelbüchlein, a celebration of organ miniatures centered around works by JS Bach in the Tower’s Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula, which had been a wonderful success. We were packed up and ready to go.  But, now, audience long-departed as the clock struck a half-past nine, we found ourselves the wrong side of the Tower gates, separated from colleagues and loved-ones.

We soon learnt that every night at 9.30pm sharp, an age-old locking-up ceremony takes place known as the Ceremony of the Keys, and during this nobody goes in or out and no visitor can move around freely.

Camille-at-the-Tower-of-Lon

Camille with Yeoman Warder Peter

Luckily, a new-found friend, Yeoman Warder Peter spotted us sulking in the Chapel and offered us an insightful and intimate tour of the deserted Tower by night and a rare insider view of the traditions of this ancient space. It was one of the most interesting history lessons either of us had ever had. Guided across the cobbles in the freezing winter air, we watched as a platoon of the Queen’s Household Foot Regiment marched past Tower Green to intercept the gate-keeper who they met with cries of:

-‘Halt, who goes there’
-‘The keys’
-‘Who’s keys?
-‘The Queen’s keys!’

The ceremony has taken place for 700 years with few interruptions, and continued during the blitz when several ravens lost their lives during air raids. We also heard of the reality of family and community life within the walls of the Tower where Beefeater and their kin reside, work and relax in such a way as has seen little change in centuries. Most remarkably, perhaps, was a story of the exclusive members club (only 38 members and one honorary) which is run and staffed by the Yeomen and has seen scores of celebrity guests including presidents, royalty and pop stars (sadly, our invite is yet to arrive, but we are still holding out hope!)

Camille De Groote (Development Manager) & James Calver (Programme Manager: Festivals)

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