Under the cover of darkness there is a 700-year-old ritual, it is semi- secret ceremony and it has been performed un-interrupted and impeccably for all that time. The origins of the ceremony are unclear but it may have begun in the middle ages, I am of course talking about the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London. It is thought that a ceremony of some form has been performed since the 14th century. There are written instructions first given back in the 16th century, saying the keys should be placed in a safe place by the Tower Officer after securing the gates, the current ceremony is possibly from the 19th century when the Yeoman Warders were re-instated under the Duke of Wellington the then Constable of the Tower. The ceremony has never been cancelled and only been delayed once due to second world war enemy action.
In the First World War the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) provided the garrison for the Tower. In 1919 the Foot Guards were handed the role of Tower Guard and the HAC 3rd Battalion gifted, as a sign of friendship during their time on duty to the Yeoman Warders, a lantern on the 12th May which continues to be used to this day. Every night the ceremony of the keys takes place at the Tower of London, lucky members of the public wait in silence until they are treated to observing the huge wooden doors slammed closed, shuttered and locked.
Visitors in attendance are admitted at precisely 9:25pm entering via the Middle Tower, a Yeoman Guard or as they are most commonly called a Beefeater, will then escort you through to the Byward Tower on a mini tour, walking through the portcullis with its uneasy feel below the ‘Murder Hole’.
Carefully you walk along the cobblestones and past the striking Traitors Gate and Wakefield Tower, the site ofHenry VI's murder. While you are waiting for the ceremony to begin at exactly 9:53pm, if needed you will be told in a loud and commanding voice to remain silent, then four soldiers escort the Chief Warden, who carries a lantern, will come slowly into view.
After the traditional pomp and ceremony, at 10:00pm a loud shout of “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Tower is secured for the evening, that’s the ceremony complete.
Visitors are allowed access to the ceremony each night under escort, tickets must be booked in advance from Historic Royal Palaces.