Ceremony of the Keys at Tower of London
“Halt! Who goes there?!” You, if you are fortunate enough to obtain tickets to a ceremony that takes place every night at the Tower of London. Ticketed patrons are allowed to witness the “securing/locking up” of the Tower by the Chief Yeoman Warder and the Tower Guards in a ceremony that dates back over 700 years. The Tower opens the gates to ticket patrons at 9:30pm (latecomers NOT admitted). The tourists are long gone. The spotlights slowly click on and bathe the Tower in an eerie light. The group (appx 40 people) is escorted through the ancient gate and greeted by a Yeoman Warder, who explains the tradition and pageantry of the Ceremony as you wait by Traitor’s Gate. He also reminds you not to take pictures OR use a cell phone. They mean it.
At exactly 21:52, the Chief Yeoman Warder leaves the Byward Tower carrying a candle-lit lantern and the Queen’s Keys. He walks to Traitor’s gate to meet a company of waiting soldiers who protect him throughout as he locks the gates of the Tower. The Warder locks the outer gate and retraces his steps to lock the Middle and Byward Towers. As the Warder approaches Traitor’s Gate, a sentry calls out “HALT! Who comes there?” He answers “The keys!” and the call and response continues in the same way it has for over seven centuries. The Warder and the soldiers walk to the Bloody Tower to meet the waiting regiment of guards. The ceremony concludes with the Chief Yeoman Warder raising his hat in the air and calling “God preserve Queen Elizabeth!” The clock chimes and the bugler plays as the keys are returned to the Queen’s House. Visitors are escorted to the gates.
The Ceremony of the Keys is a magical way to experience the Tower AND witness an extraordinary part of London history. Highly recommend.
Tickets are free, but you must apply IN WRITING to: Ceremony of the Keys Office Tower of London LONDON, EC3N 4AB Great Britain Tel: +44 (0)20 3166 6278
You must list, as part of your request, the names of all attendees, two dates you are able to attend (they recommend you make your request 2 to 3 months in advance) and a self-addressed envelope with full British postage or something called a “coupon-response international.” I contacted the USPS to request a “coupon” and was told such a thing hadn’t existed in years. In the end, I went to the Royal Mail website and printed off a self-addressed envelope at home. Much easier.
For detailed booking information, check here.
UPDATED information for Residents of the US : Please check the link for information specific to US Residents.
Things to know/Interesting facts:
The Ceremony of the Keys continued on a daily basis throughout the plague, the Great Fire and the Blitz.
On December 29th, 1940 a bomb fell during the ceremony and literally knocked the Warders off their feet and caused the ceremony to end 3 minutes late. They wrote a letter of apology to the King.
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