The iconic British Beefeaters, the guards at the Tower of London are facing layoffs for the first time in 50 years.
John Barnes is the head of the Historic Royal Palace (HRP). He said that, though it is heartbreaking, they had no choice but to reduce payroll costs.
The Tower had recently reopened after closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Reduced tourism due to the pandemic shutdowns is the reason it was necessary to make the historic move.
There are 37 Yeoman Warders who guard the Crown Jewels. They are military veterans with at least 22 years of service. They live in the Tower with their families.
And you have to watch this clip – this guy is a legend (he doesn’t like Mel Gibson or Braveheart!).
At least two of the guards are said to have volunteered to be part of the staff reductions. The HRP has stated that non-voluntary reductions will be necessary.
The situation is being referred to as “unprecedented.” An insider at the HRP stated that the decision was not one made out of choice but was forced upon them by the situation.
The insider further stated that any of the guards who are laid off will be given adequate notice and their transition from the Tower will be smooth.
Though the Tower is once again open to the public, there are some adjustments due to health concerns. Hand sanitizer stations are in place and there are one-direction routes through the popular tourist attraction. Anyone seeking a photo with a Beefeater will need to stay two meters from the guard.
Three million people visited the Tower last year. Only one thousand guests per day are now able to visit the iconic attraction because of the social distancing rules in place.
Chief Yeoman Warder Pete McGowran said before the reopening how excited the guards were to welcome visitors back to the Tower. He said that having the place to themselves was “novel” at first but soon they were anxious to have the crowds back.
Officially, Yeoman Warders guard prisoners in the Tower and protect the Crown Jewels. In reality, the guards are mainly tour guides and serve as a major tourist attraction themselves.
Some believe that the “Beefeater” nickname is believed to have derived from the French word buffetier. French kings had buffetiers who guarded their food. Others believe it is more likely that the nickname came from the practice of providing the guards with chunks of beef as part of their pay. This practice was in place until some time in the 1800s.
The Yeoman Warders were formed by King Henry VIII in 1509. He placed twelve of his old and sick bodyguards in the Tower to guard it. Those twelve guards were the original Yeoman Warders who continue to guard the Tower to the present day.
The iconic dress uniforms worn by the Beefeaters were first worn in 1552. These consist of a knee-length tunic, knee-length breeches and stockings all in scarlet and a black hat.
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For their everyday duties, the yeomen wear an undress uniform in dark blue with red accents which Queen Victoria allowed them to wear beginning in 1858. Both uniforms bear the initials “ER” which stands for the current queen or “Elizabeth Regina.” Regina is the Latin word for queen.