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After working opposite the Tower of London for several years, I finally made the trip across the river to one of London’s most iconic venues for an evening tour.
Before visiting, I hadn’t realised just how important the Tower was to London. It once housed the Royal Mint (where Isaac Newton was warden), the Royal Observatory (which later moved to Greenwich) and the Royal Menagerie (later to become London Zoo).
With 1,000 years of history within the Tower walls, it would be easy to spend a whole day exploring. We only had an hour but that was still enough time to see a few points of interest including the spot where Anne Boleyn was beheaded (and her grave), the beautiful White Tower and the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula.
One of the most exciting aspects of the tour was getting to meet a Yeoman of the Guard (better known as a beefeater) who showed us around. Beefeaters have always played an important role at the Tower – once upon a time they transported the severed heads of executed prisoners from Tower Hill to London Bridge; here the heads were displayed as a warning of the fate awaiting any would-be traitors!
Happily, beefeaters have a less grisly job today, with tasks including taking care of the Tower’s resident ravens, leading tours and locking up the Tower at night. There are also a few perks involved in being a Yeoman of the Guard. Once upon a time, they were paid in rations including meat (one of the origins of the name beefeater) and now, the Yeomen of the Guard and their families are allowed to live on site, at the Tower of London.
As it was an evening tour, we were lucky enough to witness the locking of the Tower, known as the Ceremony of the Keys. During the ceremony, the Chief Yeoman Warder secures the Tower accompanied by a military guard, ending with the Last Post.
The ceremony takes place at 9.53pm exactly, finishing at 10pm. There’s only one time in history when there was a delay in closing the Tower – during an air raid in the Second World War, when it ran six minutes late.
Despite gate after gate being securely locked, we weren’t stuck inside for the night. After the ceremony, small doors in the gates were opened for visitors to exit. We wondered if there’s a ceremony for the locking of these doors once everyone had left?
Jenny was a guest of Global Hotel Alliance (GHA) bringing together 12 independent hotel brands. The Tower of London private evening tour is available as part of the GHA Discovery Programme, a loyalty programme offering amazing local experiences to members.
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