Guardians of the Tower

BRITAIN talks to Chief Yeoman Warder, Pete McGowran, about resident ravens, age-old traditions and that iconic uniform

Yeoman Warders – nicknamed Beefeaters – are the ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London and still swear allegiance to the Queen. In addition to manning the Tower and all things within it, they have been historically responsible for the supervision of State Prisoners. In modern times, Beefeaters lead tours of the Tower, present lectures and are on hand to answer visitors’ questions.

Chief Yeoman Warder, Pete McGowran, gives us a glimpse of what life is like as a resident and guardian of the Tower of London.

How did you become a Yeoman Warder?

You have to have to have spent over 22 years in her Majesty’s Armed Forces. I spent over 25 years in the Royal Air Force. You must have reached the rank of Sergeant or equivalent and you must have been awarded a Long Service and Good Conduct medal. I had all three so I decided to apply.

I was working overseas and was on holiday in London when I decided to go for the job as my wife said I’d be good at it, stood up there shouting and acting. I went for it and surprised myself when I got it.

Why are Yeoman Warders called Beefeaters?

We don’t know. In days of old we were paid in rations of food. It’s probably come from those days. A decent bodyguard of the monarchy would also make sure he ate like a bodyguard. He would have been eating the meat of our kings and queens.

What’s it like being a Beefeater?

It’s an absolute honour. You’re grounded when you come here because you go back to the bottom of the ladder. I started as a Yeoman Warder and then decided to join the raven team. Legend says we have to keep six ravens here and we keep seven just in case. The legend says if you don’t have the ravens here the tower crumbles and we’ll have no monarchy. I enjoyed that role. I then became the Chapel Clerk looking after the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula and the Chapel of St John the Evangelist. I took part in ceremonies, baptisms and weddings. I became a Yeoman Sergeant in 2013. Then I became a Gaoler last year and this year I became a Chief Yeoman Warder in charge of the 36 other Yeoman Warders.

To read the full interview, see Vol 87 Issue 2 of BRITAIN magazine on sale here