When you visit London, a must-visit place, especially if you are from India, is the Tower of London. That is the place where the crown jewels are exhibited, and that is where you will get to see the Koh-i-noor, perhaps the best-known piece of loot the Empire took from India.
The best way to enjoy a visit to the Tower is to join a tour by one of the Yeomen Warders. These are the fantastically attired folks who once used to guard the Tower and the crown jewels, but today play host to visitors and share the stories about the thousand-year-old Tower (the White Tower was built in 1078 CE). The Yeomen Warders themselves are a hoary service, having been founded in 1485 CE by Henry VII, who used the Tower as his royal residence. Since then, even though the royal residence has moved to other palaces, the Yeomen Warders have always guarded the Tower.
The Yeomen Warders recount tales of the various personages who called the Tower home, both willingly and unwillingly. It has been used both as a residence and a prison through history, and many defining moments of British history have happened there.
The Yeomen Warders are commonly known as the Beefeaters. There are many theories about how they got this name. But if you ask the Warders themselves, they will tell you that they got the name because when they were formed, part of their wages was paid in beef!
Another interesting fact about the Beefeaters is that a famous gin is named after them. Founded in 1820, the gin is a relative youngster compared to the age of the service. However, since they take the name of the service, they provide a bottle of gin to every Yeomen Warder on his or her birthday!
Which reminds me of a story about barrels of wine, rum or or brandy. All ships that came to the city had to first moor at the wharf of the Tower, and give a portion of its cargo for the Constable of the Tower. Even today, whenever a Royal Naval vessel moors at the wharf, its Captain presents the Constable of the Tower with a barrel of wine, rum or brandy!
An important duty of the Yeomen Warders is to ensure that there are always ravens at the Tower of London. This is because of a superstition dating back to Charles II, that if the ravens leave the Tower, the kingdom will fall. One of the Yeomen Warders is the Ravenmaster and is in charge of keeping the ravens well-fed and looked after. In fact, when Jon Flamsteed, the Royal Astronomer who had his observatory at the Tower, told Charles II that he wanted the ravens removed as they disturbed his work, the King sent the Astronomer packing all the way to Greenwich. That’s the reason the Prime Meridian (the longitudinal equivalent of the Equator) runs through Greenwich, and the reason we have Greenwich Mean Time. If it were not for the ravens, we would have London Mean Time!
All Yeomen Warders are decorated heroes with a minimum of 22 years of military service. They all are quartered within the Tower premises, and take great pride in what they do.
In the picture is YW Shaun Huggins, who was our guide and storyteller when we visited.