The Keys: Inside the Tower of London’s Secret Pub

Despite the fact I’m usually there once a week guiding, the Tower of London seems to constantly surprise me.

The 1,000 year old castle is not only stuffed with history, but it’s a living building with its very own residential community.

Last week I was given a special chance to feel a part of that gang for the evening, visiting the Tower after hours.

Tower of London Secret Pub

Waterloo Block, where the Crown Jewels queue would usually be, surrounded by eerie silence.

Who Lives At The Tower?

Since 1485, Yeoman Warders (full title ‘Yeomen Warder of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Member of the Sovereign’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary’ – but no one can fit that on a business card) have lived in the Tower.

All ex-military, they must have served at least 22 years, gained the good conduct and long service medal and be between 40-55 when applying.

Tower of London Secret Pub

Today 37  Yeoman Warders live – with their families – as full time residents of HM Tower of London.

The Beefeaters

You may know them better by their nickname; The Beefeaters. It’s a curious name, one that might suggest either eating scraps from the King’s table or that they earned extra rations as favourites. Either way, most prefer to be referred to by their proper title.

Get the latest London secrets to your email
See the city from a new angle, discovering little things you miss everyday and get the latest news about upcoming tours.
Once a week. No spam, just inspiration.
Your details will never be shared with any 3rd parties

A London Village

Surrounding a little green lawn is everything a typical English village needs; houses, a church and a doctor’s surgery.

Tower of London Secret Pub

But there’s one building that no self-respecting English town, hamlet or village can do without.

A pub, of course.

Welcome to The Keys, the Tower of London’s secret pub!

The Keys

Tower of London Secret Pub

Inside is what you’d expect from a local boozer, carpet on the floor and paraphernalia on the walls.

Tower of London Secret Pub
Tower of London Secret Pub

John, our host for the evening. Each Yeoman Warder takes their turn as barman for a two week period.

Tower of London Secret Pub

But there were little quirks too. Like the Yeomen Warder dress uniforms;

Tower of London Secret Pub

The regal carpet is worth a closer look, entwined with symbols of the United Kingdom.

Tower of London Secret Pub

There’s also bespoke draught beer,

Tower of London Secret Pub

And a load of Beefeater Gin. Naturally.

Though there’s probably been some form of pub inside the Tower walls for longer, It’s been on this site for 150 years. Formerly known as the Yeoman Warders Club, it’s new name relates to an ancient duty.

Tower of London Secret Pub

It was this important responsibility that paused our gin and tonic quaffing, and we were led into the darkening Tower grounds.

The Ceremony of the Keys

The ceremony has happened every evening for over 700 years.

Let me repeat that. Every evening. For over 700 years. Without fail*.

Tower of London Secret Pub

The Ceremony of the Keys at exactly 9.52pm when the Tower of London main gates are locked for the night.

They never allow photography of the event, but here’s what happens…

A sentry calls out, “halt who goes there?” the yeoman warder whose turn it is, replies “The Keys” – “Whose Keys”? is asked. “Queen Elizabeth’s Keys”, and once that’s ok the sentry says “Pass then, all’s well”.

The key is passed to the Resident Governor and the Chief Yeoman Warder says “God Praise Queen Elizabeth”. Everyone answers with “Amen” and it’s the special job of the Yeoman Clerk to turn the massive key and Phil Wilson, currently in the role say it make a most satisfying heavy clunk.

*One night during The Blitz a bomb fell close to the Tower, knocking the guardsmen off his feet during the ceremony. After dusting themselves off though, the Yelman Warders continued. They sent a letter to the King, advising him that with deepest regret the ceremony had been delayed by 7 minutes. His response?

‘Never let it happen again.’

So there you have it, an inside look at one of London’s most exclusive pubs.

Visiting

Unfortunately, as a private club, you can only visit if you know a Yeoman Warder. However you can book a place to watch the historic Ceremony of the Keys (just a head’s up, there’a about a year’s wait. The next available tickets are July 2019). You can book your free tickets here.

You can however explore the rest of the Tower, along with all its stories and secrets, on a guided private tour with me! Find out more here.

More London Inspiration

  • M&S Oxford Street | Pantheon History Look Up London

    M&S Oxford Street | The Former Pantheon

    Oxford Street has a bad rep from Londoners, but there’s a surprising among of fabulous history if you know where to look. From a hidden little oasis to the more gruesome reminders at Tottenham Court Road and Marble Arch, often you have to look up......

  • bull and mouth coaching inn

    The Bull and Mouth: A Lost London Coaching Inn

    By the Museum of London you can see an amazing little clue to uncover the history of the Bull and Mouth Coaching Inn...

  • Inside Crosby Moran Hall | Look Up London

    Inside Crosby Moran Hall

    I’m constantly surprised by the wonderful doors that have opened since starting this blog back in 2015. A case in point was that a few weeks ago I wrote about the extraordinary history of Crosby Hall; the Medieval Mansion that was moved 5 miles across......

  • Putney Bridge WWII Pillbox | Look Up London

    A WWII Relic at Putney Bridge Station

    If you look up along Ranelagh Gardens, atop the railway viaduct for Putney Bridge Tube Station, you can spy a curious WWII Relic; a Pillbox. This concrete pillbox was erected in 1940 across Britain, a final line of defence should Germany invade during WWII. They......

  • Lavers and Barraud Stained Glass Works | Look Up London

    Lavers and Barraud Stained Glass Works

    Look up at 22 Endell Street in Covent Garden, and you’ll see the striking facade of a former stained glass studio. Built in 1859 and designed by Robert Jewell Withers, between the multi-coloured decorative brickwork you can make out the proclamation in stone; Lavers and......

  • Museum of London Smithfield Site

    Behind The Scenes at the new Museum of London Smithfield Site

    The London Museum – formerly Museum of London – is scheduled to open for a mini festival in 2025 then fully as a museum in 2026. So you can imagine my excitement when I was invited to get a special look around the building site......

No Comments

Post a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.