The Tower of London (Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress) was founded by William the Conqueror in 1066 and the iconic White Tower completed in 1078. It has been a Royal Palace, armoury, prison, mint, place of execution (up to WW2), treasury, menagerie and, though still a military establishment, one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions and indeed a World Heritage Site. So it is to be expected that some customs (and legends) should have emerged over the centuries. Here are a few of them.
The Yeoman Warders, popularly known as ‘Beefeaters’, wear Tudor uniforms, blue with red trimmings for every day (undress) and red with gold trimmings for ceremonial occasions (Tudor State Dress). They have been complaining for centuries that the latter is extremely uncomfortable. The ravens have been there almost as long as the Yeoman Warders. Legend says that the Tower and the whole kingdom will fall if the ravens disappear so there is an official Ravenmaster to look after the seven currently on strength. Visitors are advised to give them a wide berth. The Bounds of the Tower Liberty are beaten every third year on the evening of Ascension Day. The Honourable Artillery Company fire Royal Gun Salutes at 1pm on Tower Wharf, 62 blank rounds on royal occasions and 41 to celebrate state visits from overseas heads of state. The Ceremony of the Lilies and Roses commemorates the murder of King Henry VI in 1471, though the custom only began in the 1920s. Constable’s Dues had to be paid by all ships entering the Port of London, until the last war one of the busiest in the world. Now little cargo comes further upstream than Greenwich and Silvertown and the ceremonial payment of Dues is confined the occasional Royal Navy ship which visits the Pool of London. The ceremony has become symbolic but the rum in the barrel is real. Every night of the year the Tower is locked up at 9.30 pm with the Ceremony of the Keys, which can be witnessed by anybody absolutely free of charge (on application in advance). This is an eerie and theatrical event – but we can’t show it to you as it is forbidden to take photographs! As for the druids, they have nothing whatever to do with the Tower of London but they turn up on Tower Hill every Spring Equinox.