I meet a Beefeater at the Tower of London

25 May 2013

“Today we’re going to visit the Tower of London, where you will see the famous Beefeaters,” Paula told me, as we made our way into central London.

“Who are they?” I asked. “And why are they called Beefeaters?”

“They’re the soldiers in charge of the Tower of London. I believe their name refers to the fact that they were allowed to each as much beef as they wished from the King’s table. It’s a very old tradition.”

Behind me is Tower Bridge, which spans the River Thames near the Tower of London
Behind me is Tower Bridge, which spans the River Thames near the Tower of London

I nodded, and Paula continued, “The Tower is a historic castle on the North Bank of the Thames. It was built by William the Conqueror in 1066, when the Normans conquered England, so, like many places in England, it has a very long and complex history. It served mainly as a royal residence, but also as an armoury, a treasury, the home of the Royal Mint, a public records office… and even as a menagerie – there was a polar bear living here around 1251!”

“A polar bear?!” I exclaimed.

“Yes – they also had lions, elephants, leopards… During the early 1800s, there were over 280 animals living here, but they had all been relocated to Regents’ Park by the mid-1800s. So you won’t be able to see any wild animals there now, Flat Kathy.”

“That’s alright,” I said, “I prefer seeing animals in the wild, rather than in cages.”

We arrived at the main entrance to the castle, and bought tickets to go inside with lots of other tourists.

Paula and I at the famous Tower of London
Paula and I at the famous Tower of London

We approached a handsome soldier wearing a most unusual dark-blue uniform with red trimmings. As you know, my friends, I get quite weak at the knees when I am near a man in uniform. (Remember my visit to the Castle in Cape Town?)

I beamed brightly at him, and said, “Hello Sir. I am Flat Kathy from Nova Scotia in Canada. I am pleased to meet you. May I ask what uniform it is that you are wearing?”

He looked a bit taken aback, and glanced at Paula, who was holding onto me firmly, as there was a light breeze blowing. “Pardon me, but who did she say she was?”

“Her name is Flat Kathy, and she is from Nova Scotia in Canada,” repeated Paula patiently. “My husband and I are from Cape Town, South Africa, where she was staying with our next-door neighbours for a couple of months. When she heard that we were planning a trip to England, she was very eager to come along; we’ve been showing her the sights in and around London and in various other touristy destinations. We’ve been taking photos of her at all these places.”

The friendly soldier had been listening closely to her tale with a look of increasing puzzlement.

“I have my own blog,” I added, trying to clarify matters. “It’s called ‘The Fantastical Voyages of Flat Kathy – Aspiring World Traveller’. That’s where I post all the pictures and write the story of my travels around the world. One day, I want to write a book about all my adventures!”

“Aah… right,” he said, nodding sagely.

I get to meet a smart-looking Beefeater - or Yeoman Warder
I meet a smart-looking Beefeater – or Yeoman Warder

“May I ask what uniform you are wearing?” I repeated my earlier question. “It is very unusual and I rather like it.”

“I am a Yeoman Warder, and this is our everyday undress uniform,” he replied. “We are the ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London. We are responsible for looking after prisoners in the Tower, and safeguarding the British Crown Jewels.

“Oh! Are there dangerous prisoners here?” I asked timidly.

“No, no,” he reassured me. “We haven’t had prisoners here for quite some time. But we do still guard the Crown Jewels, and we have many ceremonial functions. We also act as tour guides to inform visitors about the Tower – and there is a Ravenmaster among us.”

The Traitor's Gate
The Traitor’s Gate – this is where the prisoners were brought into the Tower

“What is that?”

The Ravenmaster is responsible for looking after the Ravens of the Tower,” he explained. “Ravens have been living in the Tower of London since the reign of King Charles II in the 17th century. According to legend, if these ravens should ever leave, the Tower and the monarchy will crumble. Of course, the ones living here now are not the original Ravens. We stop them from flying away by keeping their flight feathers trimmed. Every morning, the Ravenmaster feeds and looks after the birds; he lets them roam around the tower grounds throughout the day, until he puts them back in their cages in the evening.”

A group of actors dressed in period costume
A group of actors dressed in period costume

“That sounds fascinating,” I said. “I wonder if I could be a Ravenmaster too…”

“Um…,” he looked me up and down, rather doubtfully. “They’re rather temperamental birds, with very large and powerful beaks and claws.”

“Oh…. Well… in that case…”

Paula asked him, “Would you mind very much posing for a photograph with us? You might become famous one day just for standing next to Flat Kathy.”

“Certainly,” he replied, graciously. I could tell he was tickled pink, so I gave him my most charming smile, and thanked him for his friendliness.

I wonder what they're talking about? I wish I could get nearer to listen to their conversation
I wonder what they’re talking about? I wish I could get nearer to listen to their conversation

Inside the grounds, I looked around curiously. “This looks like quite a forbidding place, Paula… Are you sure there aren’t any prisoners here anymore? You won’t leave me here, will you?”

“No, no, we wouldn’t do that,” she patted me reassuringly. “This place was used as a prison for about 850 years, but not anymore. The prisoners were high-ranking or famous people who were accused of being traitors to the current rulers. I don’t want to frighten you, but some of the prisoners were in fact tortured and executed there, and they say it is haunted by ghosts.”

“Oh..!” I gasped, feeling suddenly all shivery and cold. I confess that I was relieved when we were standing outside the Tower again. It had certainly been an unforgettable experience. And what a thrill to have met such a friendly Yeoman Warder!

You can see Tower Bridge
You can see Tower Bridge from inside the Tower

2 thoughts on “I meet a Beefeater at the Tower of London

    1. Paula was very particular about me keeping on my raincoat most of the time; she did not want me to get wet. Even when it wasn’t drizzling, it was quite cold and damp, though we did have lovely weather inbetween, just right for warming up again.

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