July 20, 2020 / 1:14 PM / 14 days ago

Unscathed by centuries of turbulence, London's Beefeaters face COVID threat

LONDON (Reuters) - After more than half a millennium guarding the Tower of London from rebellions and invaders, Beefeaters are facing redundancies for the first time because visitor numbers have plummeted due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

FILE PHOTO: Beefeaters walk through the Royal Gallery before Queen Elizabeth II delivers the Queen's Speech during the State Opening of Parliament at the Palace of Westminster in London, Britain December 19, 2019. Leon Neal/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

Officially called Yeoman Warders and instantly recognisable with their distinctive red and blue hats and uniforms, the Beefeaters live with their families inside the fortress which houses the Crown Jewels, glittering symbol of the British monarchy.

Historic Royal Palaces, which manages the Tower along with Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace and other sites said the coronavirus had knocked a 98-million-pound ($124-million) hole in its finances.

“The closure of our six sites for almost four months has dealt a devastating blow to our finances, which we expect to continue for the rest of the financial year and to be compounded by the slow recovery of international tourism,” said John Barnes, chief executive of Historic Royal Palaces.

“We simply have no choice but to reduce our payroll costs,” said Barnes. “We urgently need the public to support us by visiting our sites now they have re-opened.”

The Tower of London, founded by William the Conqueror, has been a symbol of English royal power, wealth and terror for nearly a thousand years, acting variously as a fortress, a magnificent lodging and a prison to torture and execute enemies of the state.

But the coronavirus has ravaged its finances. Historic Royal Palaces said its income had fallen by 87% and that it did not expect tourism to fully recover until 2023-2024.

There are currently 37 Yeoman Warders, a unit created by the founder of the Tudor dynasty Henry VII in 1485 as personal guard. Henry’s son, Henry VIII, decreed that some of them would stay and guard the Tower permanently.

The Beefeaters have been included in a voluntary redundancy scheme which was launched in June and closed last week, though Historic Royal Palaces said a compulsory redundancy process will follow.

“We think this is the first time the Yeoman Warders have faced redundancy,” said Historic Royal Palaces.

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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