For around 700 years, a ceremony has taken place inside the Tower of London long after the tourists have left, but a few months ago it changed. The last time this particular change took place was over 120 years ago, and it won’t happen again for over a century.
The Ceremony of the Keys is the formal locking up of the tower, and it takes place every single evening at 10pm, and although it’s a private event inside the Tower, each evening a small group of people are allowed to watch. And you can apply to be in that group.
For the past 70 years, they’ve been the Queen’s Keys that locked the tower. For obvious reasons, they’re now the King’s Keys, and the last time they changed from Queen to King was 22nd January 1901, the day Queen Victoria died.
During the ceremony, an armed escort will accompany the Keys to the gate to lock it, and on their way back into the Tower, a sentry will challenge the accompanying group.
“Who Comes There?”
“The Keys!” they reply
“King Charles’ Keys!” comes the reply and the soldier shouts “Pass King Charles’ Keys, all is well”
So if you’ve ever attended in the past, it’s worth going back, because you attended when they were Queen Elizabeth’s Keys, and now they’re King Charles’ Keys.
They’re the same keys, as they don’t change the locks, but the name has changed.
Tickets in the past used to have a really long waiting list, but now the Tower releases batches monthly, and the next batch of tickets to attend the Ceremony in February will be released on Tuesday 3rd January from here.
You need to arrive at 9:30pm to be let into the Tower, and after a talk by a Yeoman Warder, the ceremony starts at 10pm. Photography is forbidden – except once you’re leaving the Tower. It’s usually all done by 10:15pm.
As an event, it’s something that probably 3,000 people a year get to see, but when you think about the population of London, the UK and wider afield, there’s still a decent chance that hardly anyone you know will have even heard of the ceremony, let alone attended it.
So it’s quite a special experience. And of course, you’ll be amongst the first to attend the King’s Keys.
When in the Tower you’ll stand in a line along the path the soldiers walk past. If you’re at the back of the group as you line up, you’ll be closest to the doors to see the locking ceremony, although it’s still about 20 metres away.
If you manoeuvre yourself to the front of the group, you’ll get a better view of the sentry challenge and some of the pre-ceremony activities through a gate.