This historic event is related to the Crown’s authority over the City of London. During the middle ages, successive Kings believed it was their right to extract tolls from vessels on the Thames.
On the King’s behalf, the Constable of the Tower of London was empowered to demand these tolls as a perquisite of his office. Past offerings have included barrels of rum, or oysters, mussels and cockles. This year the Tower’s Constable, General the Lord Richard Dannatt, GCB CBE MC DL was presented with a barrel of red wine.
The ceremony is one of HMS Ocean’s extra duties whilst she is berthed on the Thames at Greenwich. Throughout the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games her primary role will be to act as a base for Royal Navy and Army helicopters in support of the Police, as well as accommodating some 400 miltary personnel working at Greenwich Park.
In order to deliver the barrel of wine (representing the ‘Dues’) to the Constable of the Tower of London, Captain Betton marched a platoon of officers and sailors, led by the band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines HMS Collingwood, to the Tower’s West Gate. There they were challenged by the Yeoman Gaoler, weilding his infamous axe, to gain entry into the Tower before proceeding through to Tower Green. The naval contingent was escorted by Yeoman Warders (commonly known as ‘Beefeaters’) in red and gold State Dress.
Captain Betton said:
“The Ceremony of the Constables Dues is a long standing tradition and I was honoured and delighted that HMS Ocean was able to maintain this longstanding piece of maritime history.
“The ship is designed to perform a wide range of different tasks, and whilst the Thames presents an unusual operating environment, the facilities and capabilities that HMS Ocean provides are ideally suited for our current role in support of the Police during this tremedous Olympic festival.”
HMS Ocean is designed to deploy and sustain a landing force of Royal Marine Commandos ashore by helicopter and landing craft. The ship was commissoned in September 1998 at her home port of Devonport, Plymouth. She has deployed all over the world and seen active service off the shores of Sierra Leone, Iraq and, most recently, Libya in 2011.
Naval Today Staff, July 25, 2012; Image: Royal Navy