First person: 'I'm the Ravenmaster at the Tower'
Ray Stone, 49
Saturday 18 July 2009
In the 1600s, Charles II issued a royal decree that there should always be six ravens in the Tower of London. Centuries later, I'm responsible for ensuring that this is still obeyed.
Legend has is that if the birds leave the Tower, the White Tower will crumble and the Kingdom of England and the monarchy will fall. I'm superstitious – as well as being a real believer in traditions and the monarchy – so this is very important to me. The legend was put to the test in the Second World War, when German bombing took us down to just one raven and Hitler very nearly invaded our shores. So who knows what would have happened if it hadn't been for that last raven?
I was an ordinary Yeoman Warder at the Tower for nine years before becoming the Yeoman Warder Ravenmaster this month. Like all Warders, I had to have completed 22 years' service in the British Army, Royal Air Force or Royal Marine Commandos. I served nearly 25 years in the Scots Guards, as a Colour Sergeant and bandsman, and I was also deployed as a combat medic in a field hospital during the first Gulf War, treating everything from serious burns to landmine blast injuries.
I'd visited the Tower a few times while I was on ceremonial duties with the Scots Guards and when I retired I applied to work at the Tower. I was lucky enough to be taken on in 2000.
Soon after that, while I was walking across the courtyard one day, I noticed that a group of visitors were in hysterics, laughing at me. I had my arms behind my back and was strutting along, and it turned out that one of the ravens was following six feet away, strutting in exactly the same way with his wings behind him. I volunteered my services to the previous Ravenmaster Derrick Coyle, after that.
He was kind enough to take me under his wing, so to speak, and teach me everything he knows. I wouldn't go so far as to say I've got a natural affinity with the ravens, but I look a little like Derrick, who is now retired, and work with them every day so I have a great relationship with them. I think that they can sense something in me that puts them at ease; ravens have a bit of a sixth sense like that.
It's a real honour to look after them, but they are very hard work and it's a long old day for me – not that I'm complaining. My day starts before dawn when I prepare their food and let them out, and it doesn't end – especially in summer with the long days – until past 9pm when I whistle them back into their cages.
Ravens are very territorial birds and still 90 per cent wild so you'll have to excuse the pun when I say they have a pecking order (and still occasionally take a peck at me). So I have to be careful to put them back into the right cages in the correct order or they'll just squawk, laugh and run away. It's a little like flight control at times.
Thor and Baldrick are just two of the nine ravens we have at the Tower. The legend says the minimum we should have is six so like any good football team we have a few substitutes to hand. Thor is the senior bird at the moment but Baldrick is coming up through the ranks. He's a five-year-old male at the peak of his performance while Thor is getting on towards 20, so he is a bit of an old man now.
It's a real privilege to be trusted as the Ravenmaster and I don't think there is a better job out there for me. I go to bed satisfied, knowing I've achieved something and loved every minute of every day.
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