“If this were a golf tournament every name on the Leader Board would be a London Walks guide”
Legal London guided by a barrister.
Medical London guided by a doctor.
Spies of Hampstead guided by the Editor* of Independent Television News.
Urban Geology guided by a University College London geologist.
Jack the Ripper guided by the distinguished crime historian** who is “internationally recognised as the leading authority on Jack the Ripper”
Brunel’s London guided by the Curator of the Brunel Museum.
Shakespeare’s London guided by Royal Shakespeare Company actors.
Thames Archaeology guided by an eminent Intertidal Archaeologist.
Magna Carta Tours guided by a criminal defence lawyer.
Rock ‘n’ Roll London guided by a musician who does a live 20 minute set on the stage of a historic Rock ‘n’ Roll venue.
Charles Dickens guided by a literary historian invited to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen in recognition of his work on Dickens.
Theatreland guided by a famous Tony-nominated actor.
Secret London guided by “the world’s greatest guide” (Travel and Leisure).
Jewish London guided by the author of Jewish London.
The British Museum guided by an OBE.
Target London guided by a Scotland Yard Anti-Terrorism Squad Det.
Royal London guided by the author of Royal London.
Fleet Street guided by a national journalist.
Photograph London guided by a professional photographer and magazine editor.
One could go on. London Walks guided by London’s most decorated guide.*** London Walks guided by seven different London Walks guides who’ve been invited to meet the Queen**** in recognition of outstanding achievements in their chosen field. London Walks guided by two MBEs. London Walks guided by a Museum of London Archaeologist. London Walks guided by five winners of the London Tourist Board’s Guide of the Year Award. London Walks guided by the legendary BBC producer and writer whom the Telegraph described as “the one true genius the BBC ever produced.” London Walks guided by historians who have authored standard works on London’s history. London Walks guided by “Britain’s favourite Guide” (Breakaway, the legendary BBC Radio 4 Travel Programme).
*and the CEO of ITN and the author of Guy Burgess The Spy Who Knew Everybody
**the author of the definitive book on Jack the Ripper
***That’s Fiona. As someone once said, “I could listen to that beautiful woman all day.” Ok, why not – let’s listen to her. This is the utterly charming podcast – titled Where They Watch the Clouds – Fiona did in April 2020 about the small change of a walking tour – the delightful, unsung, happenstance occurrences that are part of the joy of being a guide.
****on separate occasions
“London Walks puts you into the hands of an expert on the particular area and topic of a tour” The New York Times
1. London Walks is the oldest urban walking tour company on the planet. 2. London Walks is “the premier urban walking tour company in the entire world.” It’s the gold standard of this profession, this craft.
London Walks was founded half a century ago by Keith Baverstock, an Australian. In Graham’s lapidary phrase, “Keith started London Walks because he was fed up with the banality of typical London tourist fare.”
Which, if you think about it, means that one of the keynotes of London Walks was sounded ab origo.
And there’s no need to be coy about this: there are huge advantages that go with “owning the category” as they say in business-speak. 1) You blaze the trail you learn a great deal. 2) Your foundations go deep and they’re very solid. 3) You’ve got a very long “corporate memory” to draw on. 4) Practice makes perfect. 5) Your very ethos – let alone ways and means – is aged in the cask. And that’s no bad thing.
Its long history and way of doing things are part and parcel of London Walks’ distinctive identity. (I’m tempted to say footprint.) And that’s not something that can be successfully imitated. It has to be earned. Over many years. In Mrs Thatcher’s trenchant words (different context of course), “imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but an imitation is still a fake”.
And as long as we’re surveying this territory, it’s, well, reality-based to say that London Walks is also the best-loved urban walking tour company on the planet. And you know something, I wouldn’t bet against us either in the little matter of how the company is run. Indeed, it’s the world’s foremost walking tour company not least because it’s family-owned and loved and run. It’s small enough to be hands-on, big enough to benefit from a few critically important economies of scale – and to have secured for our people – our walkers – all kinds of wonderful “added value”, to open doors that wouldn’t normally be open, etc.
In short, no one else can provide what London Walks provides – whether you’re talking quality, range, calibre of guiding, level of service, sheer value, etc. etc. etc.
Now some more background. All of it germane. When Keith returned to Australia in the early 1970s the torch was passed to one of the guides, Ian, a City of London banker. Ian and his wife Pat ran London Walks until 1990 when Mary and I (David) inherited it. (I’d been a London Walks guide since 1980.)
So far so “normal”. But here’s what sets London Walks apart. Mary and I own it – just as Ian owned it before us and Keith before Ian – but it’s essentially run as a guides’ cooperative. I.E., on a share the proceeds basis: a larger slice to the guide, a smaller one to London Walks. What’s more, it’s all done on a “trust and honour” basis.
What’s not to like and admire about that? And yes, we’re achingly proud of London Walks. Proud of it. And passionate about it.
It doesn’t come much better than this way of doing things. The work itself is both a joy and very satisfying. (Let alone fun!) Nobody’s getting ripped off, nobody’s being exploited. The walks are great value for our customers. And for that matter “great value” as well for the Londoners whose neighbourhoods we explore – because walking tours are “ecologically sensitive” tourism. And they’re just generally good for you – whether you’re a walker or a guide or a bemused neighbour who steps outside to kibbitz – the fresh air, the exercise, the “social component”, etc. etc. And as long as we’re reasonably successful – well, no need to be coy about this either: for both the guides and London Walks GHQ it goes some way toward keeping the wolf from the door. And into the bargain it’s a very enjoyable way of earning part of your living.
It works as well as it does because of the way we’re structured. We’re all pulling together. That’s something quite extraordinary – something very special – in this day and age. And the bottom line – and I’m using the term with full resonance intended – is that the way we’re structured is the reason we’re able to attract and keep the best guides in London.
And to complete the circle – well, imagine a pebble dropped into a pool. The ripples extend out to you guys, our walkers. You’re the third leg of the stool (to mix my cliches). The point being that there’s a wonderful little eco-system here which works brilliantly for one and all. London Walks is like a big, bouncing, friendly, happy, welcoming, extended family. Take a resonance imaging “snapshot” of this little enterprise and you’d see that it’s mercifully free of a lot of the poisons – the tensions and unpleasantries and resentments – that seem to go with the territory in a lot of rigidly hierarchical “concerns”.
So if it “feels good” to a lot of you – and clearly it does – well, now you’ve got a rather better idea about what it was you’d sensed about us and what we do and how we do it. And why, for that matter, the company is good to be a part of – is, well, good company (it’s such a marvellous word, that – the Latin roots are with and bread – to share bread with) – why, in short, it’s worth your support and affection and loyalty.