It is night, five minutes before the hour of 10 o'clock.
At the Tower of London the Chief Yeoman Warder and his escort close and lock the three main gates.
When the keys are returned a voice challenges the Chief Yeoman Warder.
"Halt, who comes there?"
"Queen Elizabeth's Key's."
"Pass Queen Elizabeth's Keys - and all's well."
The Guard presents arms and the Chief Yeoman Warder doffs his Tudor bonnet and calls :
"God preserve Queen Elizabeth."
The Guard reply as one man :
Then the Last Post echoes around Tower Green.
The keys are then carried by the Chief Yeoman Warder to the Queen's House, where they are kept until the morning. This is the ancient and traditional Ceremony of the Keys, and has been taking place at the Tower for centuries.
I particularly wanted to witness this ancient rite of pageantry because my father had performed the ceremony whilst stationed at the Tower, as a Corporal of the guard in the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards. On our 1997 visit to the Tower he approached a Yeoman Warder who gave him the name of another warder who was a Grenadier. These Warders live with their families within the Tower walls and must have been Warrant officers with at least 22 years distinguished service. We met this man and he invited us to be his guests at the Yeoman Warders Club in the Tower one evening from whence we could join the small number of guests to view the ceremony.
We set out early in the evening, catching the Tube to Tower Hill station. The Tower was locked up already to the public but we were invited guests, to give our name at the gate and to mention that our friend, the Yeoman Warder was expecting us.
The Picture above shows the Tower at night from Tower Hill where we alighted the train, ascended to street level, took more stairs under the road and emerged to this view. The Square towers in the middle distance are the Waterloo Barracks where the Crown Jewels are held.