An Amazing Experience at the Tower of London

Recently we had a chance to attend the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London. We had reservations for weeks and to be honest, I completely forgot about it. Thank goodness The Better Half didn’t.

The key ceremony has taken place since the 14th century and it happens every night without fail. Only once, during an air raid in World War II, the Tower doors were locked late. The Officer of the Guard felt so bad about it, he wrote a letter to King George VI apologizing. The King said the officer shouldn’t be punished sine the delay was caused by enemy action.

So what happens during the ceremony? Every night, at 9:53 pm, the Chief Yeoman Warder meets the military escort to secure the main gates of the Tower. The group secures the main gates and when they return down Water Lane, they are halted by the sentry and are ordered to identify themselves:

Sentry: “Halt! Who comes there?”

Chief Warder: “The keys.”

Sentry: “Whose keys?”

Chief Warder: “Queen Elizabeth’s keys.”

Sentry: “Pass Queen Elizabeth’s Keys. All is well.”

After this, the group heads towards the Bloody Tower Archway into the fortress, where they stop at the bottom of the Broadwalk Steps. At the top of the stairs, the Tower Guard present arms and the Chief Warder raises his hat, shouting:

Chief Warder: “God preserve Queen Elizabeth.”

Sentry: “Amen!”

The Chief Warder than takes the keys to the Queen’s house while the Last Post is played by a bugler.

Just in case you are curious, there’s a small side door you have to squeeze through to get out. After all the guests are outside, this door is locked.

Pictures are not allowed during the ceremony unless you want to stay in the Tower permanently. I’m not sure how serious they are about this rule, but I decided to play it safe. I’m sure after the first hour the charm of being a prisoner in such a historic place wears off.

I did snap some photos outside of the Tower while we waited. The Shaun the Sheep statues were part of the promotion for the movie. I think they have been removed, which is a shame since I loved spotting them in London.

I would like to wish a happy Fourth of July to the folks back home. And I hope everyone has a splendid weekend!

About TBM

TB Markinson is an American who's recently returned to the US after a seven-year stint in the UK and Ireland. When she isn't writing, she's traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs in New England, or reading. Not necessarily in that order. Her novels have hit Amazon bestseller lists for lesbian fiction and lesbian romance. She cohosts the Lesbians Who Write Podcast ( with Clare Lydon. TB also runs I Heart Lesfic (, a place for authors and fans of lesfic to come together to celebrate lesbian fiction.
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43 Responses to An Amazing Experience at the Tower of London

  1. Letizia says:

    What a great experience! I visited the Tower during the day (I remember the huge ravens) but didn’t get a chance to attend the Ceremony of the Keys.

  2. Oh god this bought back a really great memory for me – I went as a child with my grandmother. It must have been winter as I remember it being cold and drk but oh so exciting!

  3. I absolutely love your nighttime photos, especially Tower Bridge!! The Tower of London is one of my favourite places to visit in London, but I have only been there in the daytime. We were very fortunate though to be there last year when the cascades of red ceramic poppies were on display outside the Tower. It was one of the most beautiful tributes I have ever seen!

  4. Lucid Gypsy says:

    How wonderful to be able to witness a part of our heritage!

  5. aFrankAngle says:

    Splendid photos indeed … and thanks for sharing a bit of tradition must of us don’t know.

    • TBM says:

      I didn’t know anything about it until I did a bit of research the day of. When I was asked if I wanted to go I said yes without knowing what it was. Probably should look into things a bit more just in case.

  6. aFrankAngle says:

    PS: Because you are a writer, you need to see this … but don’t let the title alarm you … and your readers are welcome to join in.

  7. Fascinating! I saw the Tower of London but don’t remember having heard of this ceremony.

    • TBM says:

      Don’t worry, the cab driver had no clue what we were talking about when we asked him to take us to the Tower at nine at night.

  8. Beth Ann says:

    I would love to see this ceremony! Maybe one of these days that trip to England will happen. 🙂 In the meantime Queenie and I will just enjoy a cup of tea together. She gets a special box for packing up for the move.

    • TBM says:

      If you want to see the ceremony, book your tickets way ahead of time. I can’t remember how far in advance we did it, but it was weeks, if not months. Our buddy made the reservation for us.

      Poor Queenie. She’ll need some chamomile tea when she’s moved.

  9. Do they charge admission for that ceremony?

    Today, at my neighborhood multiplex, I saw the documentary about Amy Winehouse called “Amy”. It was very good. The ticket seller was wearing a Shaun the Sheep tee shirt. Shaun-mania has crossed the pond.

    • TBM says:

      There is a fee, but it’s super cheap. A quid maybe.

      Shaun-mania was fun here, especially with all the sheep. There were about 50 in London. I tracked down over half. Still haven’t posted my pics, but maybe soon.

      Will add the documentary to our rental list. We go to Camden quite a bit. If I remember correctly, she used to live there.

      • She did. Do post your Shaun pix. That film looks “eh” to me, but I loved Wallace and especially, Grommit. I wish that Nick Park would bring them back.

      • TBM says:

        Okay! I’ll try to post them later this week. I have the same feeling about the Shaun movie, but I adore Wallace and Grommit.

  10. That’s one bit of history I didn’t know about. Thanks for sharing. Great pics, as usual.

  11. Will do. I have the feeling I’ve said this before but still, that doesn’t make it less true.

  12. Rorybore says:

    I would love to see and photograph such a historic place! you got some great shots.. and glad you did it the safe way! ha.,

  13. Very cool. I loved visiting the Tower of London, but didn’t get to see the ceremony.

  14. That looks really cool! I visited the Tower on my trip there years ago and loved getting the tour by a Beefeater. 🙂
    In a separate room, the crown jewels were on display. We were moved along by a conveyor belt past emeralds and diamonds. Absolutely stunning!

  15. pattisj says:

    Interesting ceremony. I’m with you, don’t think I’d take a chance with that warning!

  16. Darlene says:

    I love the Tower of London and included it in my book, Amanda in England – the Missing Novel. Glad you had a great experience. The pictures are fabulous.

  17. Novroz says:

    Thank you for sharing the story. England, just like Japan has so many traditions.

    Ah Shaun also showed up there 😉

    By the way, looks like you have finished another book. Congrats 🙂 you’re very productive, so cool.

  18. London at night is such a thrilling time to experience the city and how wonderful that the two of you got to see an ancient tradition carried out.

  19. Sartenada says:

    I love Your night photos – they are gorgeous.

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