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Ceremony of the Keys

A kestrel swoops down, glides just above the uplighters, the shadow of crenelations behind them. The lights show off its creamy feathers, flecked in brown, its precise beak, and then it has flown beyond sight again. There was a fundamental quiet to the moment, only the murmur of voices in our crowd of fifty, but no other people beyond them.

Our birthday party of six people were in the hush of the Tower of London at night for the Ceremony of the Keys. Swarmed in the daytime, the Tower is tranquil at night, a small village of fortified residences in the heart of a sprawling metropolis. The Yeoman Warders live there with their families, children, and grandchildren. Soldiers stationed there live in residence too. The numbers are not large, given the scale of the place, and so it is an island of peace when the crowds have gone.

Our guide had about fifteen minutes to give us touristic commentary on the Tower and the towers around Water Lane before the ceremony began with the appearance of four soldiers on ceremonial duty, armed for the security of the Tower. The Senior Warder, hat marked with ribbon, collected his guard for the locking of the Tower's main gate. They returned to the scripted call-and-response, another soldier on duty letting pass the Queen's keys. Then we flooded up the slope for the final interchange with yet another yet of soldiers, and, while the bells struck 10 pm, the trumpeting of Last Post. Night had fallen, but the last light not yet gone from the sky. The ceremony was complete.

The Ceremony happens nightly at the Tower of London, and has done for around 700 years, apparently. Tickets are free (donation requested, but it was a mystery as to how to give one). Ticket requests are limited to groups of six, and the overall group limited to 50. Requests must be made 2-3 months in advance.



( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 7th, 2009 02:21 pm (UTC)
How wonderful! Thanks for posting about this. I work right next to the Tower and I had no idea.
Jul. 7th, 2009 02:43 pm (UTC)
The only caveats are that no photography is allowed inside the Tower when there for the ceremony; and no latecomers admitted. Otherwise, it was all very straightforward.
Jul. 7th, 2009 02:34 pm (UTC)
Also, just to say that I have most unwisely let the battery run down on my mobile phone. Hope to see you on the bus around 7pm though.
Jul. 7th, 2009 02:43 pm (UTC)
I will be there!
Jul. 7th, 2009 02:43 pm (UTC)
Neat! I've never heard of this before.
Jul. 7th, 2009 02:43 pm (UTC)
Neither had I!
Jul. 7th, 2009 03:23 pm (UTC)
Oh, how cool is that? Thank you for that vivid, lovely word picture.
Jul. 7th, 2009 06:44 pm (UTC)
How...otherworldly, I guess that's the word I want? I saw this on TV once, on a "cheap/free things to do in London" show, and thought it sounded like something I need to do at some point in my life.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )