The Yeoman Warder Oral History Project, based at the Arms and Armour Research Group and the Centre for Oral History Research at the University of Huddersfield, aimed to investigate the lives of Yeoman Warders at the Tower of London. The project began in May 2010 in collaboration between the University of Huddersfield and the Historic Royal Palaces and completed in summer 2011.
The records were transferred to Heritage Quay in Sept 2018. We aim to complete the catalogue by summer 2019. Please contact us for further details.
The project website described the project as follows:
The Yeoman Warders (colloquially, but mistakenly, known as ‘beefeaters’) are a quintessential part of British history. The Yeoman Warders have their origins with the monarch’s own personal body guards, the Yeoman of the Guard, a military corps whose roots can be traced back to 1485. Yeoman Warders and Yeoman of the Guard are often confused, probably because both bodies share virtually the same red and gilt ceremonial costume (Gilbert and Sullivan also perpetuated this common mistake in their operetta, The Yeoman of the Guard, which is set in the Tower of London). The Yeoman Warders, however, are a distinct cadre whose historic duties rested entirely with guarding the Tower of London. The Tower was used as a Royal Palace until sixteenth century, and also as a prison, where state prisoners were held. The Tower has long ceased to be used as a royal palace or a prison and the duties of the Yeoman Warder are now largely confined to guiding parties of tourists.
The Yeoman Warders have become a tourist attraction in their own right and one of the ‘must see’ sights of London. Unlike the ‘reinvented’ late nineteenth-century traditions of royal pageantry described by the historian, David Cannadine, many of the ceremonies connected to the Tower of London and performed by Yeoman Warders are of significantly greater antiquity. The Ceremony of the Keys is said to have been performed nightly for the last 700 years, unbroken except by incendiary bombs dropped during the Second World War. Similarly the ceremony welcoming new Yeoman Warders and the ritual ‘Beating of the Bounds,’ which takes place every three years, are claimed to be of part of a centuries old tradition. It is this sense of timeless tradition (reinforced by their anachronistic costume) which gives the Yeoman Warders of the Tower of London their popular appeal. Their distinctive Tudor costumes and their highly visible role at the historic Tower of London have made them iconic symbols of ‘Britishness’. Yet we have very little knowledge of the Yeoman Warders as individuals. This oral history project will give a unique insight into the life of the Yeoman Warder and shed light on popular ideas of British identity.