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A Year in the Life of a New Yeoman Warder

Date: 27 October 2023

Author: Yeoman Warder Simon Towe

By tradition, only 422 people have ever held the role of Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London. This world-famous job of 'royal bodyguard' is unique – famously introduced to the Tower by Henry VIII in the 16th century, today's Yeoman Warders must combine ancient traditions such as the Ceremony of the Keys with their modern duties as the public face of a World Heritage Attraction.

Here, Yeoman Warder Simon Towe, who joined the ranks of the Yeoman Body in November 2022, a few months before the coronation of His Majesty King Charles III, describes an eventful first year in his new life.

Image: Yeoman Warder Simon Towe. © Historic Royal Palaces

Portrait of Yeoman Warder Simon Towe wearing their new uniform featuring HM King Charles III's royal cypher.

Becoming Yeoman Warder #417

21 November 2022 will be inscribed, much like the day I joined the Army, in my mind forever as I became the 417th Yeoman Warder at the Tower (officially His Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London).

I had aspired to be a Yeoman Warder since my first visit to the Tower with my wife in 2002. As I packed my car and drove down to London for my first day on the job, I was filled with immense pride, and nervousness. The Yeoman Body is such an iconic part of British history, and I had very big boots to fill. It was incredibly surreal to be realising my dream and beginning my new life here at the Tower.

After a week of getting to know my way around, my first task was to learn the brief for the Ceremony of the Keys – the traditional ceremony performed during the locking up of the Tower.

An Iconic Uniform

The time had come to put on my blue undress uniform – our day-to-day uniform, designed to be more durable than the red state dress one worn for ceremonial occasions. Working out all the buttons and clips was a challenge, but I was smiling from ear to ear as I added my military ribbons, hat and highly polished shoes!

Having worked at the Tower in a suit for three weeks, walking around in uniform was a completely different experience. Suddenly, I was a magnet for camera lenses. By lunchtime, my cheeks where aching from smiling for the sheer number of photos, but I loved every moment.

After almost a year in uniform, I can say that it's very comfortable. The massive hidden pockets are perfect for hiding visitor maps, my water bottle and a selection of mints.

Delivering The Ceremony of the Keys

After completing my Ceremony of the Keys test with the Tower Gaoler in November, I delivered my first Ceremony of the Keys brief in front of 50 members of the public on 27 December.

It was an exciting evening starting with nervousness, but the nerves soon subsided. As I got into the flow, the realisation that my audience and I were now part of history was amazing! It’s such an honour to be part of a ceremony enacted for centuries.

Guarding the Tower at Night

After completing the Ceremony of the Keys, the Night Watchman spends the night in the Byward Tower, the oldest manned guardroom in history. And tonight, it was my turn.

The inside of the Byward Tower is a real spectacle to see: the lighting, beautiful high ceiling, the boards listing all the past Yeoman Warders and the cabinets for the King’s Keys and lantern. The feeling of being watched by the huge hanging portrait of the Duke of Wellington makes the atmosphere alive with history. Sat at that desk, thinking of everything that’s happened within those walls, and becoming a small part of the Tower's history is very humbling.

When our visitors and staff leave, the Tower feels peaceful. As the night draws in, the shadows cast by the towers, and the chimes of the clock bells makes it feel so different. You can hear the muted noises from the busy city but the Tower air is calm and still. And, of course, you wonder if someone or something is watching you...

The White Tower at night looking north-east, November 2009.

The White Tower was begun in the reign of William the Conqueror (1066-87) and completed by 1100. The fortress was originally faced with huge blocks of pale marble-like Caen stone imported from Normandy. In 1636-8 the external appearance of the White Tower was significantly altered with the replacement of much of its cut-stone work and window surrounds with Portland stone. 

The primary role of the White Tower was as a fortress and stronghold but it also served as a royal residence and as the setting for major governmental and ceremonial functions.

‘May ye never die a Yeoman Warder’

On a dark, clear night in January, I was sworn into the Yeoman Body on Tower Green, by the Constable of the Tower.

During the ancient ceremony, that every Yeoman Warder before me has taken part in, I pledged my allegiance to His Majesty King Charles III.

Afterwards, we went to the Keys, our pub within the Tower walls, and I was officially welcomed into the Yeoman Body. Proudly I toasted with my colleagues from our own tankards and repeated back to the Chief Yeoman Warder our motto, ‘May ye never die a Yeoman Warder’.

Announcing ‘Yeoman Warder #417’ to the World

20 January was press day, and the day I finally told the world I was Yeoman Warder #417. Up until this point no one knew about my new role other than my immediate family. I even hid all my tracked fitness sessions so I didn’t give the game away!

Learning a Thousand Years of History

As soon as I passed my Ceremony of the Keys test, I started six months of ‘Story Training’– learning the Yeoman Warder Tour for our visitors.

I’d have to recite over 8,500 words verbatim in six months, covering a thousand years of Tower history. This task literally took over my life – I was reciting it at every opportunity, lying awake at night and then dreaming about it. My script was never far from hand.

Finally on 31 May, I was to perform a tour in front of the Chief Yeoman Warder and the Governor as my final test. And I passed!

However, there was no time for celebration; I was straight into action taking a morning tour that same day. Performing to the public – the culmination of six months of learning and reciting – was just amazing.

The following day I was living the dream, completing three tours in front of hundreds of people. It was a little scary at first, making sure I remembered my words and escorting the group to each location in time, but the great interactions from the public made it so much fun.

Group shot of Yeoman Warders wearing their new uniform featuring HM King Charles III's royal cypher.

A New Royal Cypher

27 April 2023 saw myself and the Yeoman Body in a newly-redesigned uniform, to mark the coronation of HM King Charles III – the first time in over 70 years that the royal cypher has changed on our prestigious uniforms.

For many of us this was a dramatic, emotional, and exciting change. I had triple the number of photos taken that day; it was amazing again to be part of history.

Image: Yeoman Warders at the Tower on 27 April 2023, in their new uniforms bearing the royal cypher of HM King Charles III. © Historic Royal Palaces

An Historic Moment

Coronation Day, 6 May 2023! To be part of the coronation for Their Majesties King Charles III and Queen Camilla was truly an honour.

The whole Yeoman body had a part to play, some in Westminster Abbey, some in the procession. I was involved in the Gun Salute here at the Tower. Not only was this my first Gun Salute, but it was extra special because it was such a momentous occasion. It was a real privilege to be able to share this moment in history with family too.

Moving into the Tower

Finally, in July 2023, my wife and three children moved into our new home within the walls of the Tower of London.

Having spent eight months living apart, it was amazing to finally be back together, and my evenings learning my story were replaced with building flatpack!

We are all getting used to our new family surroundings and the quirks that come with living in a historic palace and fortress. Opening my curtains to see the moat and inner tower walls is a 'pinch myself' moment every morning. My children love their morning commute to school through the closed gates, and making sure they time it right to get in before the Ceremony of the Keys is a skill in itself!

Yeoman Warder Simon Towe
HM Tower of London

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