Locking up the Proof House at the end of a day’s work is an important part of the routine. But whilst we have been doing it for a few hundred years, that cannot break the impressive record set by the Yeoman Warders at the Tower of London where the Ceremony of the Keys has been conducted by them and their predecessors since the 14th century.
At 9.53 pm precisely, the Chief Yeoman Warder, dressed in Tudor watchcoat and bonnet, and carrying a lantern, leaves the Byward Tower and falls in with the Escort to the Keys, a military escort made up of armed members of the Tower of London Guard. The Warder passes his lantern to a soldier, and marches with his escort to the outer gate. The sentries on duty salute the King’s Keys as they pass. The Warder first locks the outer gate and then the gates of the Middle and Byward Towers. The Warder and escort march down Water Lane, until they reach the Bloody Tower archway where a sentry challenges: ‘halt, who comes there?’ The Yeoman Warder replies, ‘The keys.’ ‘Whose keys?’ ‘King Charles’s keys.’ ‘Pass then, all’s well.’ The Warder and escort then march down to the foot of Broadwalk Steps where the main Tower Guard is drawn up to meet them. The party halts, and the officer in charge gives the command to present arms. The Chief Warder steps forward, doffs his bonnet, and proclaims: “God preserve King Charles”. The Guard answer: “Amen!”, at which point the clock on Waterloo Barracks strikes 10pm and the Last Post is sounded. On this occasion, the Constable of the Tower, General Sir Gordon Messenger, took the salute and addressed the assembled onlookers.
Following the ceremonial, Gunmakers (a strong party of sixty plus) retired to ‘The Keys’, the Yeoman Warders’ own bar, for refreshments and a raffle. It was agreat privilege to be included and thanks to Jimmy, our Yeoman Warder, for his detailed and somewhat gruesome run through the history of the Tower, and Steward Bill Blacker for arranging an excellent evening.