In London, Tower Castle, there is every night a special kind of key ritual, the Ceremony of the Keys. It has been carried out over 700 years. The Ceremony starts exactly at 21:53. The closed event enchants and captivates the onlookers at their places for seven minutes.

The Chief Yeoman Warder holds in his hands the Keys of The Tower and a brass lantern.

The ceremony takes through the centuries
The centuries-old heritage to lock The Tower has practical backgrounds. They want to preserve during the night the Queen’s crown jewels and other crown valuables. Earlier the main entrance was locked from dusk till dawn, but in 1826 the Duke of Wellington changed the time to 9:53 pm. Through the centuries ritual locking has been uninterrupted. Only once during World War II, when the air was full of explosions and smoke because of an air raid, The Ceremony was partly interrupted for half an hour.
   The event itself is strictly timed. Exactly half past nine pm. a Yeoman Warder comes to fetch the onlookers. He shows their places near the Bloody Tower. While they are at their spot a Yeoman Warder will tell how to behave, making sure that any kind on talking and taking photos, including mobile phones, is not allowed. At that time the place, The Tower, is incredibly dark and quiet and the restricted amount of onlookers makes the situation quite captivating and unforgettable.

Halt, who comes there? – The Keys!
Precisely at 9:53 pm., the Chief Yeoman Warder, wearing his long coast and Tudor bonnet, steps forward. He carries in one hand lantern and in the other a set of heavy keys. He is escorted by one of the duty I regiments of Foot Guards and the Chief Yeoman locks the main entrance. When returning towards Traitor’s Gate he is challenged by a sentry. The sentry barks his everlasting question “Halt, who comes there?” and the Chief Yeoman Warder answers “The Keys!”. After a little and proper response the escort continues and goes to the central area and at the foot of the broadwalk steps where the main guard is drawn up. Then the guard and the escort presents their arms and the Chief Yeoman Warder moves two paces forward. He raises his Tudor bonnet high in the air and calls his salute. When the clock chimes ten The Duty Drummer sounds The Last Post on his bugle.

At the end the Chief Yeoman Warder raises his Tudor bonnet and calls “God preserve Queen Elizabeth” and the guard answers “Amen”

Text: Heikki Remes
Photos: HRP/Heikki Remes

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