Christopher Skaife is a Yeoman Warder and Ravenmaster at the Tower of London. For 12 years, his job has been to take care of the ravens that live inside the Tower.
According to English folklore, there must be at least six ravens living in the tower at all times. Otherwise, both the tower and the monarchy will fall.
You may have seen Yeoman Warders in the movies wearing eccentric uniforms at the Royal Palace in London. These men and women are popularly known as “Beefeaters,” because for centuries of tradition, they’ve been paid—at least partially—in beef. They’re the ceremonial guards of the Tower of London, and they’ve been conducting guided tours of the Tower since the Victorian era. Skaife is one of 37 Warders, all military veterans with at least 22 years of service.
As Ravenmaster, Skaife has some remarkable anecdotes about his time spent living and working at the Tower with his ravens.
What do you do on a day-to-day basis as Ravenmaster?
If you’ve ever been to the Tower of London, chances are you’ve heard me or one of my colleagues giving a guided tour. I am a Yeoman Warder and the current appointed Ravenmaster at Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress, the Tower of London. We Yeoman Warders live and work right here at the Tower. They say every man’s home is his castle. Well, in my case, that is absolutely right.
How did you get into this job?
All of us Yeoman Warders are former servicemen and women with at least twenty-two years of unblemished service and an exemplary military record. After leaving the military, I had a real love for history and applied to become one of the Tower’s famous Beefeaters.
My primary role at the Tower is security, but as a Yeoman Warder I am also a storyteller and keeper of the Tower’s long and ancient history.
See also: The Birding Effect
As the Ravenmaster, I have the added responsibility of looking after our six (actually seven these days—we have a spare) ravens. Legend reminds us that if the ravens should ever leave the Tower it will crumble into dust and the Kingdom will fall.
I’ll tell you a little secret: the truth is that the raven myth probably isn’t that old. But we Yeoman Warders at the Tower take good care of the ravens nevertheless, protecting them like they were our own.
I am only the sixth Ravenmaster to have served at the Tower, and with my team of raven assistants, it’s my job to take care of the ravens: Merlina, Erin, Rocky, Gripp, Jubilee, Harris and our newest edition, Poppy.
I get up before dawn each day and check the ravens are all present and in good health. I then go about my daily duties of preparing the ravens’ food, feeding them such delights as mice, rats, day old chicks, quail—and as a treat—biscuits soaked in blood. Some of the meat, I get from Spitalfields Market, but much of it is specialist meat from recognized providers.
Once my morning duties of cleaning, feeding and checking for any health issues are done, I then release the ravens from their enclosure for the day.
See also: How Birding Benefits Your Health
The ravens are free to roam the Tower grounds during the day and spend there time doing raven things: posing for selfies, stealing sandwiches, plundering your bag on the endless hunt for pringles, or in the peculiar case of Merlina, playing dead on Tower Green—much to the shock and horror of our visitors.
As I’m a Yeoman Warder, I also have other responsibilities and duties to do throughout the day, but my eye is always on the ravens and what they are getting up too.
What’s the strangest thing that’s happened on the job?
Over the many years that I have been the Ravenmaster, I have found myself in some pretty awkward situations, all for the preservation of the ravens and the safety of the Kingdom.
Like the time I found myself stuck in a stagnant water-filled hole full of rubbish and floating pigeon carcasses while on the hunt for a miscreant raven. Or the time I climbed to the very top of the White Tower on the hunt for a raven that had decided to fly up and sit on the golden crown. But that doesn’t happen every day, thank goodness!
What are some of the more interesting questions you’ve been asked?
Generally my job is pretty straightforward, meeting the visitors and ensuring there time at the Tower is a wonderful experience. But I must say I have been asked some pretty strange questions by the visitors over the years, like… “Have you ever seen a raven ghost,” “can you talk to the ravens,” and “are the ravens real?” Really!
Is there anything that only someone with your job would know about?
So, if I let the ravens out in the morning, I must need to put them back into their enclosure at last light. I am often asked how I manage to get seven ravens back into bed at night? Well, don’t tell anyone, but I have a secret whistle!
Want to hear more from Christopher Skaife? In his book, The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London, Skaife takes us back to his childhood, his military years, and his apprenticeship to become Ravenmaster.