An ancient ceremony takes place every evening inside the Tower of London, hidden from prying eyes.

This is the Ceremony of the Keys where the Tower is formally locked up for the night, and although it happens inside the tower long after the tourists have left, they do allow a small number of the public in to watch from the side.

If you book in advance, far far in advance.

The story goes that a former Monarch turned up one night and appalled at how easy it was to get into his fortress, demanded that they hold a formal lockup up each evening.

For over 700 years that has continued, every single night. More ceremonial than practical now, it is still carried out to formally declare the fortress closed.

Of course, with a small group of bystanders inside the fortress, there’s still a way out of the supposedly secure and locked up fortress, otherwise you’d have to spend the night there as well.

Which wouldn’t be a bad thing.

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A simple way of describing it would be so say it is a smaller version of the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace – but unlike that event which is a huge attraction, the Ceremony at the Tower is carried out in private, with only a few guests invited to watch.

The Ceremony starts shortly before 10pm, where the Chief Yeoman Warder goes to the main gate and formally locks it. As he then returns down the road inside the grounds of the Castle, a sentry soldier standing guard stops him approaching with the cry of “Who Comes Here?” (no, not who goes there, as the Yeoman is coming here – not going there!)

“The Keys!” he replies. “Who’s Keys?” challenges the soldier. “Queen Elizabeth’s Keys!” comes the reply and the soldier shouts “Pass – Queen Elizabeth’s Keys!” and steps back.

The Yeoman then turns the corner and heads up a flight of steps which lead up to the main grounds of the Castle and joins a group of Yeoman there. At the top of the Stairs, under the command of their Officer, the Tower guard present arms and the Chief Warder raises his hat, proclaiming “God Save the Queen”, and everyone responds with “Amen”.

With that, the Tower is deemed to be locked for the night and everyone goes to bed – apart from some soldiers who remain on guard all the time.

Sometimes you need to plan things a long way in advance, and this is such a time. Nearly a year in fact, as the groups allowed in are small, and with demand exceeding supply, the next batch of tickets isn’t until July 2017.

Tickets to attend the Ceremony are free (£1 nominal admin fee) and can be requested from here

Visitors will be admitted to the Tower under escort at 9.30pm, and the Ceremony concludes just after 10pm.

Photography is not permitted during any part of the ceremony.

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2 comments
  1. Angel says:

    i’m on my way there tonight. Can’t wait to witness this long standing tradition

  2. Ms Fitz says:

    Booked this a couple of weeks ago for Halloween – 2017! Figured it would be a good night to do it.

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