Meet the Woman From Yorkshire Who Is the Sixth Ever Female Beefeater
A mum from Halifax has become just the sixth woman to take on the job of Yeoman Warder in the role's 500-year history
Lisa was born and raised in Halifax. She left school at 16 and worked for Yorkshire Bank in Halifax before working in Corfu for the summer of 1990. ‘When I came back, because I’d seen a bit more of the world, I decided that although I loved Halifax I wanted to see more,’ she tells us. She had been a special constable based out of Halifax and enjoyed that. ‘It gave me a great sense of purpose and service,’ she explains. ‘I liked, not necessarily wearing the uniform, but feeling like I was giving back. It’s from that that I think my interest turned to the military.'
Lisa joined the Royal Air Force as an assistant air traffic controller before being promoted and moving up the ranks. She was initially posted down to RAF Abingdon then moved to RAF Lyneham, RAF Shawbury and RAF Waddington, then got promoted and worked in London. ‘My final posting was at former RAF Church Fenton,’ says Lisa. ‘Within that 22 years I did operational tours in Kosovo during the Balkans conflict and I went to Cyprus in 2004 as part of the Iraq war, then I was sent to Afghanistan in 2011 on an operational deployment. I’ve definitely had a varied career in the military.’ Lisa reached the rank of Flight Sergeant and moved back to Yorkshire in 2013, to the same village where she was brought up.
When the opportunity came up to apply for the role of Yeoman Warder, Lisa says it was ‘a bit of a sliding doors moment’. 'I thought I’ll apply for that, not thinking anything could happen,’ she laughs. ‘But here I am.’ Lisa became one of the newest Yeoman Warders at the Tower of London this year, joining the 34 others who live and work at the Tower, alongside their families. The role of Yeoman Warder was created in 1485 by Henry VII. Originally they were the monarch’s personal bodyguards before Henry VIII decided they should protect the Tower itself.
They’re often nicknamed Beefeaters but no one really knows why. Some say the name derives from buffetier (an Old French term meaning a waiter or servant at a sideboard). The most likely explanation is that the Yeoman Warders were given a daily ration of meat, reflected by records which show that even in 1813 the daily ration for the 30 men on duty was 24lbs of beef, 18lbs of mutton and 16lbs of veal. To take on the role of Yeoman Warder of His Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London – to give it its full title – you must have served at least 22 years in the armed forces, hold the Long Service and Good Conduct medal, and have reached a certain rank in service before being selected for an interview.
As she settles into her new role, Lisa has to learn ‘the Story’ – the script of the famous Yeoman Warder Tour – word for word before being allowed to lead her own tours of the Tower of London. She’ll also learn the 21 separate duties conducted by the Yeoman Warders each day, including the Ceremony of the Keys; the ancient closing ceremony that has taken place every single night for at least 700 years.
'On a day-to-day basis we look after the Tower of London, share its history and protect the building and the people and everything that’s held within it,’ Lisa adds. ‘It’s a very customer-facing role. We’re speaking to members of the public on a day-to-day basis and we give guided tours around the Tower of London. My daily routine now consists of working on post, if you like, around the Tower but doing at least an hour’s training to learn the Story with my mentor. Initially it’s quite daunting when you look at what you’ve got to learn, but actually it’s just a process of repetitiveness. It’s all about practice. Not coming from a performance background I’ve found it quite challenging because you’ve got to perform the Story too. But I am really enjoying it. Everything’s going well and I’m on track to finish within the six months. It’s like being back at school!
‘On a day-to-day basis we look after the Tower of London,
share its history and protect the building and the people
and everything that’s held within it’
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‘Once fully qualified as a Yeoman, there are other events we’re asked to attend or are invited to, for example the Lord Mayor's Show is next year, or if there’s any state or ceremonial occasion. We’re quite often asked to go and promote London and the UK so if there are any trade conferences we are asked to attend. On a day-to-day basis we’re doing our duties within the Tower but I’m also hoping to become a Chapel Sexton. There’s a chapel within the grounds of the Tower and I could help in the chapel for weddings, baptisms and at Christmas.
‘Everybody says the first six months is all- consuming, but having said that, being in the centre of London, nothing is too far away and I have managed to get out and explore a little bit of the city. Although I was based here for a time whilst in the military, my daughter was quite young, so I didn’t get chance to do much exploring then. There’s a great community here too. There are 35 Yeoman Warders within the tower and their families, so a lot of children live here with dogs and cats – it’s a really nice atmosphere.’
Lisa is donning the iconic Yeoman Warder uniform, which features a large royal crown depicted in red, below which is the insignia of the reigning monarch – CIIIR. ‘The day-to-day uniform is the Blue Undress,’ says Lisa. ‘We get a summer weight and winter weight uniform and on mine I’ve got my name-badge and my medal ribbons (the colours on my left shoulder), which are the medals I was awarded while I was in service. The hat we wear has got a representation of the Tudor Rose on the front.’ The Yeomans’ State Dress, which is worn on ceremonial and state occasions, is scarlet and gold with red stockings and white ruff.
Lisa is just the sixth woman to take on the role of Yeoman Warder in their 500-year history. ‘It’s quite incredible really and I do still pinch myself,’ she admits. ‘I’ve been here nearly four months now and I’ve started to settle into the role, and although I’m female, I am just another Yeoman Warder. We don’t distinguish ourselves as male or female. it’s not that women were never allowed to do it, it’s just that the eligibility criteria meant that women in the forces were never able to complete their 22 years. Obviously things have changed nowadays. When I joined the military in 1991, it was still the case that if you got married, and certainly if you had a family, then you had to leave service but things have moved on from then, thankfully. The opportunity is certainly there for this role and there’s more visibility. There’s a TV show on Channel 5 [Inside the Tower of London] that gives a bit of an insight into the Tower and what goes on here, so it’s certainly becoming more accessible for people. It’s just about being the best person for the job on the day. But I do feel very honoured and very privileged to be working here and representing females at the Tower.’
Lisa could certainly inspire more women to take on the role of Yeoman Warder, or any other role they’re aspiring to take on, and her advice to them is to simply work hard. ‘I think it’s a case of having confidence in yourself and your own abilities,’ she says. ‘Nobody in this world gets anything for nothing, so you have to be prepared to work hard. If you have an aspiration to do something then find out what it is that’s going to get you to reach that goal. Don’t just assume because you’re a female that you might get preferential treatment, because that shouldn’t be the case. Just believe in yourself. I’ve got a 17-year-old daughter and I hope she’s a confident young woman. She certainly seems to be and she’s excelling in her sport.’
Lisa continues to settle into her new role and once she’s finished her training, she is looking forward to welcoming her husband and her daughter to join her in London.