The Beefeater and the Tower of London in English History: 10th May 2016
About 28 members and guests of the District Local History Society were "sent to the Tower" on 10th May when Kevin Kitcher - Yeoman Warder of the Tower of London (and Borley resident) gave a fascinating talk about the role of the Beefeater and the prominent part the Tower has played in English history. As one of 37 Yeoman Warders, Kevin's job includes the guardianship of the Crown Jewels, the security of the premises (the daily Ceremony of the Keys) and taking part in various state occasions for which different uniforms may be worn. All of these functions are centuries old but nowadays Beefeaters also act significantly as tour guides for which extensive knowledge of the Tower is required - and this was amply demonstrated in Kevin's address.<
The buildings comprising this London landmark occupy an eighteen and a half acre site the main structure being the White tower erected in 1078 by William the Conqueror. As well as being a royal residence this served as a prison from 1100 of which the first occupant was Bishop Ranulf Flambard; he was also the first escapee as he got the guards drunk and made off using ropes which had been secreted in the wine barrels he was able to import. In the Tudor period many notables were imprisoned in the Tower including Elizabeth 1, Ann Boleyn, Guy Fawkes - and, within living memory, Rudolf Hess for a few days in 1941. The building became less of a royal residence and more a place of confinement, torture and death. It was also used for the manufacture and storage of gunpowder. There were three established categories of prisoner: close prisoners were those in close custody (Sir Thomas More and John Fisher, for example, both executed); the second category were liberty prisoners meaning those who had a right of access to the outer boundary of the complex; thirdly there were pledgemen being those who had given a pledge to return (or to provide a substitute!)
King Henry VII formed the Yeomen Warders in 1485 and the Tudor rose forms part of their badge. All Yeomen (there is, at present, one woman!) Warders are senior NCOs retired from the armed forces after at least 22 years experience and with good conduct and long service medals. It is a requirement that they live in one of the 43 tied houses on the site. One of the warders is designated as Ravenmaster to care for the birds which have been associated with the Tower - and its superstitions - or some centuries.
This was an extremely entertaining talk delivered with wit by Kevin and containing a great mass of facts, dates and anecdotes - but can we really believe some of the questions that American tourists are reputed ask of the tour guides! Alan Fitch thanked Kevin for his fine contribution and all present showed their warm appreciation.
Next meeting: 14th June 7.30pm in Pentlow at the kind invitation of Janice and Ghalib Al Nasser who will talk about The history of the Budgerigar