“Halt! Who comes there?!”
“Queen Elizabeth’s Keys!”
“Pass Queen Elizabeth’s Keys. And all is well.”
Every night, for the past 700 years, those words have been called by the Sentries and Warders at exactly the same time and place in our nation’s capital and is the oldest military ceremony in the world. On Wednesday night, clockworkTalent and a host of friends including iProspect, Essence, Halpern, and BuiltVisible ; attended the very dignified and traditional Ceremony of the Keys; the locking of Tower of London.
An ancient ritual carried out by the Yeoman Warders, also referred to as ‘Beefeaters’, this was a particularly special night for the longest serving Chief Warder, Crawford Butler (family friend to clockworkTalent Founder, Natasha Woodford) as it was his last ceremony before retirement!
After 23 years in the army (a minimum of 22 must be served to be eligible for Yeoman Warder position) as Squadron Sergeant Major 10th Hussars, 11th Hussars, Royal Hussars, Crawford joined the Yeoman Warders in 1989 and served as Chief Warder for 25 years.
As well as carrying out the standard duties of a ‘Beefeater’, Crawford planted the first ceramic poppy as part of an art installation in the dry moat of the tower in London which was then followed by the installation of 888,246 ceramic poppies, designed by artist Paul Cummins entitled “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” unveiled to mark the centenary of World War I. Each poppy representing a British military fatality from World War I. He’s met Royalty, Olympians, TV presenters, Film Stars, Politicians and now us!
Being part of the last tour by this fabulous gentleman was a rare honour and his superb storytelling and sense of humour made him a truly spellbinding tour guide.
We started our journey at the Middle Tower eventually moving our way throughout the grounds to Bywards Tower, Traitors Gate and Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula. Every destination was accompanied by its history to include many a gory tale of the executions, not to mention the beheadings of Henry VIII’s second and fifth wives Anne Boleyn and Kathryn Howard.
After the tour we made our way to the original ‘Beefeater’ pub for a fish and chip dinner and a pint of Beefeater Bitter (yum!) and Beefeater Gin (even yummier!).
At 21:30 we were then quickly ushered out the pub to find our prime position to watch the official ‘Locking of the Tower’, the ‘Ceremony of the Keys’.
At exactly 21.52 the Chief Yeoman Warder leaves Byward Tower, dressed in red, carrying a candle lantern in one hand and the Queen’s Keys in the other hand. All guards and sentries on duty salute the Queen’s Keys as they pass.
They walk along Water Lane towards the Wakefield Tower, where a sentry waits in the shadows of the Bloody Tower and watches. As the Chief Warder and escort approach, the sentry’s challenge rings out.
Once the Chief Yeoman Warder has raised his Tudor bonnet high in the air and called “God preserve Queen Elizabeth,” the guard then answers “Amen” exactly as the clock chimes 10pm and ‘The Duty Drummer’ sounds The Last Post on his bugle.
The Chief Yeoman Warder takes the keys back to the Queen’s House and the Guard is dismissed.
Although a very dignified and silent procedure, the excitement and anticipation from the crowd was palpable and once all the formalities were over we were then escorted back to the Beefeater pub for one last pint of bitter before home – a wonderful time had by all.
Once again a big thank you to both Crawford and all who attended for a wonderful evening!