Once upon a time the Tower of London was all about locking people in. For nearly 1000 years it has been London’s royal fortress, stronghold, and prison. It was originally built by William the Conqueror in 1080 to scare the Londoners he’d just conquered, and also to hide inside if they revolted against him. Although many kings and queens have stayed within the tower walls over history, it was never built to be a royal palace but rather a fortress, which it was until late in the 19th century.
Over time, royalty have used the palace to lock up people they found inconvenient – Henry VIII locked various wives here before beheading them, including Anne Boleyn, who still haunts the place; Richard III also locked the two young princes Edward and Richard in here before murdering them. Thus the place needed to be a secure prison.
In the past they also used the Tower to secure valuables such as important papers and the Crown Jewels, which are still there, even though the place is now more museum than royal property. These days the Tower is more about keeping people out than keeping them in.
The huge walls, system of ditches, beefeater guards, and a legion of ghosts are probably enough to keep most of us from trying to get inside to steal anything. But to be sure, every night without fail for the last 700 years, there has been The Ceremony of the Keys.
At 9.30pm, the Beefeaters follow a strict procedure to lock the gates and secure the Tower of London for the night. It’s the lesser known version of the Changing of the Guard, but with lurking ravens rather than horses. You can attend for free but need to book tickets well in advance by writing to the Tower of London office.