Most prisoners tried to bribe their way out, but we tried to bribe our way in… Friday night was the “Great Tower Lock-In”, an event associated with the worldwide “Big Draw” that is happening this month. A local art group had arranged with Her Majesty to allow 40 – 50 artists to come in to the Tower after it was closed to the public and spend the evening drawing. We registered online while in Germany, thinking we could pick up tickets at “will call”… long story short, that didn’t work as planned but we got in via the irresistible combination of guile and old age. And it was SO worth it!
The Tower is actually a vast fortress, some of the walls and arches built more than 1000 years ago. Talk about a cool place to play Robin Hood! Of course, there is a tower – well, no, there are a bunch of towers – but there are also vistas along the river, against the castles, down into the moat – all of which were illuminated first by a gorgeous soft golden sunset then a clear cold moon. The cold was the reason why you will see no sketches of any of that – brr – until I get a chance to hopefully work from a few photos.
Griff the Navigator came along just to experience the Tower environment, and we were so glad he did. We were able to go into the chapel, sit next to the crypt where Ann Boleyn and her Beheaded Companions were laid to rest, listen to eerie monastic medieval chants, and sketch a man dressed a la King Henry. Or to climb to the King’s Bedchamber (oh, my aching knees) and sketch him in his nightshirt (the actor looked very much like Winston Churchill). All in all there were five different rooms available to us. The combination of being in The Real Tower of London, with the costumed actors and actresses, in the eerie quiet, and in the “true castle light” (i.e. not much of it) was so overwhelming that my sketches are really in need of further work. Some of the artists did amazing ‘drawrings’ though, in spite of it all. I told the organizers that now we just need to go back tonight and do it all again, since we are now mentally prepared for the impact of being there… they gave me one of those eye-brow-up British looks and smiled wanly. Oh, well, I tried.
When the sketching was over, the Captain of the Yeoman Guard allowed us to watch the Ceremony of the Keys. Locking up the crown jewels at night has been done exactly this way for centuries, although without the automatic rifles I imagine. It involved a good deal of clicking heels and manly shouts of “Who comes there?!” by young soldiers in bearskin headdresses and red uniforms, and a trumpet solo at the end, all illuminated by a single candle in a single lantern… but even anti-military anti-Imperialism me couldn’t help being slightly awed. Then as he led us to the “wicket gate” to let us out of the now-locked tower, the Captain told us ghost stories and love stories about the Tower. .. sigh.
We stepped outside of the tiny gate, and the bubble burst. Suddenly we were up against finding a bus home in the windy reality of being near the Thames late at night. But wow, what a night.