Thursday, 9 March 2017

The Ceremony of the Keys at The Tower of London.

There is, as they say; "No fool like an old fool".

But I didn't really have a choice. On Wednesday night, Robyn had tickets for 'The Ceremony of the Keys' at The Tower of London and she didn't want to miss it.

The background to this is that every night for the last 700 years, a short ceremony has taken place escorting 'The Queens keys', as the gates are locked for the night.

Tickets are free (£1-00 admin fee) but there is an 11 month waiting list at the moment.

Robyn had tickets when she was a student but missed it because a lecture ran over time. Back in the summer, when it looked like I was improving, she booked again.

The problem is I got worse and my car is off the road. So now she had tickets for the ceremony but it's at 9-30 pm after all our busses have stopped.

The only option is to walk to Wraysbury railway station, take the overground to Richmond and change for the District line to take the Tube to Tower Hill.

Easy, I don't know why we didn't go to Charing Cross Hospital that way on Monday.

Oh yes, there's just the problem of a one mile walk each way along a badly lit and uneven pavement with a big flight of stairs at the station - that's why we didn't do it.

I really didn't want to go but I knew how scared Robyn was of making the journey alone at night when the area fills up with weirdoes and it gets a know.......spooky.

Robyn has done so much for me I couldn't refuse but I was dreading it all the same.

And it's not really my thing - Robyn being American is a real royalist. I am a hard line republican and a revolutionary too - it really wasn't my thing.

We set off at 6-50pm and struggled through the dark village - in the distance we could see a train going the wrong way, which was in fact our train but it had to go to the end of the line and then come back. We made it in time although my back was screaming at me.

I settled down in the train and then at Richmond we changed for the tube, making good time. We got there early, which was just as well as the Tower was well locked up already and the riverside walk was closed off for the night too. We had to walk all the way round as we couldn't find the way in.

All around us were the brightly lit offices of The City of London and over the river The Shard where we were a month ago.

Luckily we found a sign;

And waited on a stone bench, my bones protesting all the time. It got cold too.

Eventually we got in - and were given a brief history lesson by 'Billy the Beefeater', who combined a fine army tradition of combining sarcasm and insolence with some real wit.

It was a laugh.

He was 'The Yeoman Warder' for the night; in charge of the castle and The Crown Jewels.

As I said, I'm no royalist but the 700 year history was fascinating - the ceremony dates back to 1380 when Richard the Second got off his boat at The Tower only to find it unguarded and unlocked. Ever since, there has been a ceremony to lock the gates which has to be recorded and witnessed (which is why we were there).

It's never been missed although it was delayed by 7 minutes during the war when a bomb blew out a barracks building and knocked all the guards off their feet.

It was fascinating (and eerie) to be inside the castle after dark - standing by 'Traitors Gate', where prisoners were brought in from the river.

Under 'The Bloody Tower', and in the shade of the Norman Castle Keep, built towards the end of the first millennium by William the Conquerer, then known by his original title of 'William the Bastard', denoting both his legal status and how he was viewed by the peoples he conquered.

When the ceremony started we were in the realms of fancy dress;

This is a picture from The Tower's website as they are very strict on refusing to allow photography.

In it's time the Tower has been (and still is, technically) a royal palace, a prison, the home of The National Archive and The Royal Mint. In my time The Mint had moved outside The Tower and was in a huge factory next and to the east of it - it's now in Wales.

There were lamps lit by candles, guards shouting "Halt, who goes there", a lot of loud marching and ending with the playing of 'The last Post' by a bugler.

All told it was charming - a glimpse of another time and place.

A brief time spent with the ghosts of The Tower of London. I'm not surprised it's booked up for the next 11 months.

Before we were let out (we were locked in, after all) we had a long Q and A session with billy the Beefeater which was fascinating but also held us up and meant that by the time I'd struggled back to the tube, we were a bit late.

We made it back to Richmond but had to catch the last train home, which I could have done without.

At Wraysbury, I took forever walking the mile back home - feeling terrible all the way, as I did all night.

But we made it.

And if I seem to be making the most of my troubles, it doesn't begin to cover what Robyn has done for me.

Which made it all worthwhile.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
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1 comment:

  1. Glad you were able to make it, I know Robyn really wanted to go.