Report on visit to St Peter Ad Vincula in Tower of London on 21/6/2010 - by David Sutton

St Peter Ad VinculaCLESO seems normally to have to no particular power over the weather but somehow we did on this evening. A lovely warm summer’s evening materialized for a jaunt to one of London’s most cherished treasures.

26 of us gathered at the main entrance down by the Thames to be met at 7.30pm by our ebullient and genial host Christian Wilson. We were ushered past the friendly security guard and in via the Traitor’s Gate and the White Tower and on to the chapel of St Peter Ad Vincula – an historic place which has been host to many personages (living and otherwise) both famous and infamous, royal and not so royal. A look at the plaques and other memorials revealed names which figure prominently in our history books.

Surrounded by so many reminders of our heritage, we were introduced to the organ – a two manual Letourneau of Quebec. It sports a very English specification and the tonal result is a sound which, to the writer’s ears, is also very resonant of our typical English organ of the present day. Christian demonstrated the instrument with great aplomb after giving us a bit of history and background and then he relinquished the stool to all who wanted to have a go themselves. Most of us found it was easy to manage as it had ‘all mod-cons’ as one usually expects. The only gripes the writer had were - why the flat square stop jambs when they could have been set at 45 degrees and the pedal-board which was not of the radiating and concave variety. The mechanical key action is both light and responsive with the standard white naturals and black sharps.

The organ, although new, has been put in a case which was originally made for the Banqueting House Whitehall, and is said to have had the hand of Grinling Gibbons in the carving. It certainly has the scale to fit the grand surroundings of its Whitehall origins but perhaps a shade too large for the more modest early English space of the chapel of St Peter’s. Anyway it is a magnificent example of the carver’s art of the mid 17th century.

Christian Wilson, standing in for Colm Carey who sadly had to be in Belfast, was thanked for his warm and informative welcome and he then shepherded us back to the Traitor’s Gate so we could witness the Ceremony of the Keys. A crowd of about 120 - CLESO plus two groups of folk attending what seemed to be a corporate ‘bash’ and an ad hoc group of tourists - gathered to hear a ‘warm-up’ by a jovial Beafeater who told us what to expect and explained the nature of the ceremony and what was due to happen and when. He told us how the ceremony had continued to be held for centuries without a break and the Keys are a very important symbol of the Sovereign’s authority. As the sun set a small troop of soldiers – currently serving in Her Majesty’s army and serving their time at the Tower - arrived and were challenged by the sentry. As they bore the Queen’s Keys they were allowed through and then at various stages gates were locked and at the stroke of ten the Last Post was sounded. Needless to say we were not locked in for the night but were ‘allowed to escape’ through a tiny door set into the main door at the entrance!

We then all trooped back to the underground after having a fascinating evening on Midsummer’s Day. Stonehenge had nothing on this!

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