Ceremony of the Keys

On Monday 13th September, a large group of club members and friends/relatives gathered outside the clubhouse for the coach that was booked to take us up to London for the Tower of London/Jack the Ripper evening.

The coach left promptly at 5.30pm, and Chris Chappell rang at 5.35pm to say he was on his way… Len told Chris to carry on up to London and meet us at Tower Hill in his Jag!. A few other members who either work in London or could not make the coach, met us in London as well.

We were dropped outside the Tower, where the driver would meet us at the end of the evening. We met up with the trip organiser, Colin Williams (who works at the tower) and Colin led us to our first stop – you guessed it – the pub!. We just had time to finish our drinks when Chris’s Jag turned up and we all had to leave to meet our guide outside Tower Hill tube station.

We were given a guided tour around the City and East end of London, around the Brick Lane area, to the sites of all Jacks murders in the early 1800’s (of which their were 5 in all). Some of the streets around Brick Lane are still very atmospheric and you could just imagine what they were like back then in the pea soup fog and gas lamps, with no proper sewage or drainage systems, awful unemployment, cheap gin and plentiful prostitutes…

I found it very hard to concentrate on his talk with the aroma of dozens of curry restaurants in Brick Lane and not having eaten for 5 hours earlier! So, as we passed Tubby Isaacs seafood stand and I had to get a carton of Jellied Eels, which kept me going. I think there were about 50 people in all, and so at every stop the speaker asked the shorter ladies, who were usually the stragglers, to come to the front so they could hear properly, however I think they had been walking around the church – but that’s another story!

The tour was over in around 1 1/2 hours – after which we were led back to the Tower of London, through the gates and into the Tower of London club bar (men had to wear collar and tie), where we could quench our thirst and rest our weary feet. The bar prices were even cheaper than our clubhouse bar! Shortly after our arrival our Fish & Chip supper’s arrived!, most people had cod & chips, others had pie or chicken & chips, and Colin had even laid on a jar of pickled onions – the food went down really well – mine went down really really really well – I had finished before most had started!

At 9.35, we gathered outside the bar and were led down to see the Ceremony of the Keys. Every night at exactly seven minutes to 10 o’clock the Chief Warder emerges from the By- ward Tower wearing his long red coat and Tudor bonnet, carrying in one hand a candle lantern and in the other hand the Queens Keys. With solemn tread he moves along Water Lane, to Traitors Gate where his escort provided by one of the regiments of Foot Guards awaits him. He hands the lantern to an escorting soldier and the party moves to the outer gate. En route all guards and sentries salute the Queens Keys. After locking the outer gate the Chief Warder and escort retrace their steps. The great oak gates of the Middle and Byward Towers are locked in turn. They now return along Water lane towards Traitors Gate where in the shadows of the Bloody Tower archway a sentry waits. When the party approaches the sentry challenges, “Who comes there?” The Chief Warder answers: “The Keys.” “Whose Keys?” the sentry demands. “Queen Elizabeth’s Keys.” “Pass Queen Elizabeth’s Keys. All’s well” is the sentry’s final rejoinder.

The party then proceeds through the Bloody Tower archway and up towards the steps where the main guard is drawn up. The Chief Warder and escort halt at the foot of the steps and the officer in charge gives the command to present arms. The Chief Warder moves two paces forward, raises his Tudor bonnet high in the air and calls “God preserve Queen Elizabeth.” The guard an- swers “Amen” just as the clock chimes ten and the bugler sounds Last Post. The Chief Warder takes the keys to the Queens House and the guard is dismissed. It was very British and very entertaining.

On the way back to the bar Colin showed me the two cells, either side of the clock tower, where the Kray Twins were locked up whilst awaiting trial – they are the last prisoners ever to be held at the Tower. Then an excellent impromptu show of fireworks was on show from nearby, probably from on the Thames somewhere.

Time for a couple more pints and then we made our way back to the coach where we were whisked back to Tolworth in about 25 minutes.

A very enjoyable evening, thanks for organising it Colin.