The Opening Ceremony at the Tower of London

You’ve probably heard of the Tower of London’s ‘Ceremony of the Keys’ that takes place just before 10pm every day. This is when the Tower is officially locked up for the night, and the Ceremony has taken place every day since the 1300s (or 1500s – as with so much to do with the Tower, the stories differ). The Chief Yeoman Warder (“Beefeater”) is escorted by four guards from the Tower detachment and locks the outer, Middle and Byward gates.

As this group returns they are challenged by a sentry: “Halt! Who comes there?” he shouts.

“The keys” replies the Chief. “Whose keys?”. “Queen Elizabeth’s keys!” “Pass Queen Elizabeth’s keys and all’s well.”

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An Elizabethan Prisoner’s Graffiti

The Tower of London, famous though it is for prisoners, had no dungeons as such: the incarcerated would be held in rooms in different buildings throughout the Tower’s 12 acres (5 hectares), and one’s treatment depended a great deal on how wealthy or how well-connected one was.

So Hew Draper, a Bristol innkeeper, is unlikely to have had a luxurious time when he was sent to the Tower in March 1560, at the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth I. The Tower was not a prison for ‘common criminals’, but for those who beliefs, actions or existence were a threat to the state, and so it is with Draper, accused of ‘practising sorcery’. (Draper claimed that although he had been interested in magic, he had destroyed all of his magical books.)

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The Chapel of St John the Evangelist

One of the loveliest and most peaceful spaces in London is literally in the centre of one of the busiest. The Tower of London gets some two million visitors a year, and in high season one can wait several hours to shuffle past the Crown Jewels, and the space in the White Tower around the armour of Henry VIII and Charles I is as jammed as Selfridges on the first day of the sale.

But walk up to the next level of the Tower and you go through an absolute architectural gem – the Chapel of St John the Evangelist – which manages to be utterly tranquil despite the hordes.

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The Ravens of the Tower of London

Just about everyone knows the legend of the Tower of London ravens; that should they leave the fortress then it and, by extension, the entire kingdom, will fall.

It’s meant to be recorded that when the astronomer John Flamsteed (who had set up his telescope in the White Tower) complained to Charles II that the birds were impeding his work and had to go, that the king insisted the ravens stay and that Flamsteed must relocate. This is why the Royal Observatory ended up in Greenwich. (Another version of the story has it that it was Charles himself who wanted the ravens removed and it was Flamsteed who intervened on their behalf.)

Even earlier, the ravens were said to be present at the execution of Anne Boleyn, falling silent on the battlements of the Tower as if knowing the momentousness of a queen’s execution.

The only small problem is – well, all the legends are nonsense, at best late Victorian inventions, at worst cooked up by some imaginative Yeoman Warders some time after WW2.

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