Commonly known as Beefeaters (more on that in a moment), the Yeoman Warders have long been a presence at the Tower of London.

The Yeomen Warders, more properly known as the ‘Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Members of the Queen’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary’, are a distinct detachment of the Yeomen of the Guard.

With a history stretching back to at least the reign of King Edward IV (1461-83), they have formed the Royal Bodyguard since at least 1509.

The Warders are nicknamed ‘Beefeaters’, it is thought, due to the fact their privileged position meant they could eat as much beef as they liked from the King’s table.

These days, Yeoman Warders, most of whom live in the Tower with their families (part of their job has always been to guard the Tower at night), must have served in the armed forces for at least 22 years, have reached the rank of warrant officer, and been awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal (the current warders have served in Northern Ireland, during the Falklands War, in Bosnia, in the first and second Gulf conflicts and in Afghanistan).

There are usually around 40 Yeoman Warders at any one time under the command of four Yeoman Serjeants and a Chief Yeoman Warder (currently Alan Kingshott). They wear age dark blue and red undress uniform for everyday duties but also have a state dress uniform featuring the familiar heavy red coat (pictured above).

The first female to be appointed to the role of Yeoman Warder was Moira Cameron in 2007. The most recent person to join the Yeoman Warders is Gary Burridge who did so in August following 32 years in the Royal Navy.

One of the Yeoman Warders – currently Chris Skaife – serves in the role of Ravenmaster of the Tower of London and has the responsibility of caring for the tower’s famous ravens (important because, so they story goes, should the ravens ever leave the tower, the White Tower will fall and disaster will befall the kingdom). Other specialist roles include that of Yeoman Clerk.

Upon joining the Yeoman Warders, the new warders take an oath of allegiance (believed to date back to 1337) after which they drink a toast of port served in an 18th century pewter bowl.

Tradition holds that the Chief Yeoman Warder toasts all new recruits with the words “May you never die a Yeoman Warder”. The origins of this apparently lie in the fact that the positions of Yeoman Warder were in the past purchased from the Constable of the Tower for 250 guineas with most of the money returned to the warder when they retired and the Constable keeping the rest. But if the Yeoman Warder died in office, the Constable would keep all the money – hence the toast. The practice was apparently abolished by the Duke of Wellington in 1826.

Yeoman Warders, as well as participating in ceremonial duties like the daily Ceremony of the Keys and the annual Ceremony of the Constable’s Dues, they also take tours of the Tower of London.

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube is Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 4.30pm Tuesday to Saturday/10am to 4.30pm Sunday to Monday; COST: £21.50 adult/£9.70 child (Historic Royal Palaces members free); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/

PICTURE: Yeoman Warders at the Ceremony of the Constable’s Dues, 2014 (Peter Rowley/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

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Victorian-Christmas The Tower of London is going Victorian this Christmas with visitors able to experience some of what the Yuletide celebrations in the foreboding, much storied buildings were like in the mid-to-late 1800s. Visitors will be shown how many of the Christmas customs we now participate in each year – like writing cards, pulling crackers and the setting up of family Christmas trees – owe their origins to the Victorian era. The Yeoman Warders will be receiving a Victorian makeover and writer of the age – Charles Dickens – will be reciting some of his works before joining in a “raucous” lunch party with some of his fellow writers, artists and benefactors. It’s even rumoured that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert themselves may make an appearance (take that as a given). Bah! Humbug! A Very Merry Victorian Christmas runs from 27th until 31st December. The festivities will all be included in the usual admission price. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk. PICTURE: Nick Wilkinson/NewsTeam.

Kew Gardens are celebrating Christmas with a host of events including a “Twelve trees of Christmas” family trail. The trail, a map of which can be picked up as you enter, includes facts about trees along the route. Volunteer guides are also leading free tours of seasonal highlights and the Kew Christmas tree can be seen at Victoria Gate. Other festive treats at Kew include the chance to see Father Christmas in his grotto (until Sunday only) and a vintage carousel on the Kew Palace Lawn. Many of the Christmas-related events end on 6th January. See www.kew.org for more.

A display focusing on the history of Henry Moore’s sculpture, Draped Seated Woman (better known as Old Flo), has opened at the Museum of London Docklands. Henry Moore and the East End provides a glimpse into 1950s East London and looks at why public art was considered important at the time. It features some of the maquettes (scale models) Moore used in creating the piece. The exhibition was opened following a decision by the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, to sell Old Flo (now at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park) rather than display the artwork in a public space. The move is being contested by the Museum of London Docklands who have offered to put the work on public display. An online exhibition can be seen at www.museumoflondon.org.uk/oldflo and a ‘pop-up exhibition’ on Old Flo will be launched in January. The museum is also encouraging people to tweet their views about the selling of the sculpture under the hashtag #saveoldflo.

On Now: Take Another Look. Still at the Museum of London Docklands, this exhibition focuses on the visual representation of people from the African Diaspora who were living and working in Britain in the late 18th and early 19th century. The display of 17 exhibits in the London, Sugar and Slavery gallery features prints by artists including Thomas Rowlandson and George Cruikshank as well as newspaper cuttings, mostly dating from 1780-1833, which show black Britons in perhaps what were unexpected roles – soldiers, musicians and sportsmen – during what was the period in which the abolition of slavery occurred. There are a series of events planned around the exhibition which runs until 4th August. Entry is free. For more see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/Docklands/.

On Now: Mariko Mori: Rebirth. The first major museum exhibition of the New York-based Japanese artist Mariko Mori in London since 1998 has opened at the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly. The exhibition features some of the artist’s most acclaimed works from the last 11 years, many of which have never before been seen in the UK, as well as works created just for the exhibition. Highlights include Tom Na H-iu, a five metre high glass monolith lit by hundreds of LED lights and connected back to the Institute for Cosmic Ray Research at the University of Tokyo; Transcircle, described as a “modern day Stonehenge”; and, Flatstone, an installation of “22 ceramic stones assembled to recreate an ancient shrine”. Runs until 17th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

Thursday is Ascension Day and, at All Hallows by the Tower in the City, that means conducting the ancient ceremony of Beating the Bounds.

The origins of the custom go back to medieval times when parishes annually reaffirmed their boundaries by undertaking a procession during which each parish boundary marker was beaten with wands while praying for protection and blessings.

At All Hallows, the beating party consists of students from Dunstan College in Catford (these students have an association with the church of St Dunstan-in-the-East which is now part of the parish of All Hallows) along with parish clergy and the masters of livery companies associated with the parish and Thames waterboatmen. (Pictured right is last year’s procession).

Highlights of the procession at All Hallows include the beating of the parish’s southern marker – this is located in the middle of the Thames and must be reached by boat – and the mock ‘confrontation’ which occurs between the beating party and the Governor and Yeoman Warders of the Tower of London.

The ‘confrontation’ relates to the fact that the parish and the tower share a boundary – this was apparently a common cause of dispute in the Middle Ages and led, in 1698, to a ‘battle’ between the people of the parish and those of the tower. The ceremony is followed by attendance at a festal evensong at the church.

For more, see www.ahbtt.org.uk/history/beating-the-bounds/

PICTURE: Courtesy of All Hallows by the Tower.