All Changed, Changed Utterly – What Happened in London on July 7th, 1898

London calling.

London Walks connecting.

London Walks here with your London fix for July 7th.

Story time. History time.

Yesterday we were in 1885. Today we’ve fast-forwarded to 1898.

July 7th, 1898.

London’s burning. Or so it must have seemed.

There was a disastrous fire at 67 Fann Street, the Barbican. The flames could be seen from as far away as London Bridge. The building – the premises of a firm of artificial flower makers – burned to the ground. And there was damage to neighbouring premises.

And a color manufacturers in Morning Lane in Hackney also went up in flames.

But there was a much much bigger fire – you could liken it to a vast forest fire – that was taking hold and was out of control. A fire that when it finally burned itself out – if it has burned itself out – would signal all changed, changed utterly for London and its world.

Where the flames of that fire are burning brightest on July 7th, 1898 – that’s where we’ll put the needle pin of the leg of our compass. Ok, unveiling time: on July 7th, 1898 the United States of America annexed Hawaii. The imperial, extracontinental American adventure was well underway.  The future superpower was like a young lion stretching its muscles – its day was coming. The shadows were lengthening on the old lion’s time – Britain’s day as the alpha male.

And in consequence, all the more profound the irony of the big story of the day as the London newspapers saw it, Lord Roseberry’s speech at the Imperial Institute. The Daily News headlined that story: Our Kinsmen Across the Sea – the English Speaking Brotherhood. That title was tosh. It was wishful thinking. A late Victorian version of Winston Churchill’s wishful thinking, the which was summed up in the phrase he coined, “the special relationship.” A nineteenth-century British politician with a much harder head knew better. Lord Palmerston said, “we have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual. Churchill’s great bete noire, Charles de Gaulle, put it even more succinctly: “countries don’t have friends, they have interests.”  Our Kinsmen Across the Sea were that young lion – and they were licking their chops, had their eye on the British Empire’s dinner.

The self-congratulatory note of so many of the stories in the press that day was a rich pudding, you could cut it with a knife. But in the event, that note wasn’t ringing true, it was hollow. The splendid imperial carriage was running out of road – but nobody in London in 1898 could see that. Or perhaps they didn’t want to see it.

With the benefit of hindsight, Kipling’s Recessional – all our pomp of yesterday – is all over the pages of those July 7th 1898 newspapers.

For example, the coverage of the Four-in-Hand Club strutting its stuff on Horse Guards Parade on July 7th, 1898. The press was beside itself in singing the praise of that scene. The four-in-hand Club was gentleman coaching. Four magnificent horses drawing one magnificent coach, with a magnificent gentleman holding the reins. The meet was to show off. But it’s 1898. How much more time does that world have? Recessional indeed. All their pomp. Yesterday.

You cannot read the newspapers of the day – catch the background music, the tone of those stories – without thinking of A.S.J. Tessimond’s great poem, London. Especially that one line, “the world’s wind scarcely stirs the leaves of The Times.” Or for that matter, Arnold’s Dover Beach, that melancholy, long, withdrawing note.

Here’s the Tessimond poem. It was published in 1938. That date is of course highly significant.

Here’s the poem.


I am the city of two divided cities

Where the eyes of rich and poor collide and wonder;

Where the beggar’s voice is low and unexpectant,

And in the clubs the feet of the servants are soft on the carpet

And the world’s wind scarcly stirs the leaves of the Times.

I am the reticent, the private city,

The city of lovers wrapped in shadows

The city of people sitting and talking quietly

Beyond shut doors and walls thick as a century,

People who laugh too little and too loudly,

Whose tears fall inward, flowing back to the heart.

I am the city whose fog will fall like a finger gently

Erasing the anger of angles, the strident indecorous gesture,

Whose dusk will come like tact, like a change in the conversation,

Violet and indigo, with strings of lemon streetlamps

Casting their pools into the pools of rain

As the notes of the piano are cast from the top-floor window

Into the square that is always Sunday afternoon.

Poetic perfection, that.

But let’s get back to today, July 7th, 1898. And perhaps be thankful that if we keep to the straight and narrow of that London frame of mind the news, for the most part,

was of little note.

Just an ordinary summer day in the Big Smoke in the summer of 1898. Well, it wasn’t an ordinary summer day for the lady named Adams who, crossing St George’s Road, was knocked down by a tramcar and killed. I love that old insight that we die three times. We die when we die. That’s the first time we die. We die when we’re buried. That’s the second time. And our third and final death is the last time our name is spoken. Well, that London lady named Adams – run down by a tram and killed on July 7th, 1898 – is still alive because we’ve just given her the breath of life, we’ve spoken her name. That said, my guess is the last time this podcast is listened to will be her third and final death.

And what else happened in London on July 7th, 1898?

We learn that the novelist E. F. Benson – best known for his Mapp and Lucia series of novels – has returned to London from Volo. Where’s Volo? Yeah, I didn’t know either. It’s in Greece. E.F. Benson was there as the honorary commissioner for the Duke of Westminster Fund in Thessaly. And thanks to this podcast project – this little enterprise is like being a general and putting pins in a map – pins representing regiments – anyway, thanks to this podcast project I now know that E. F. Benson lived at 395 Oxford Street (just west of Bond Street Station). And at 102 Oakley Street in Chelsea. And 25 Brompton Square in Knightsbridge. Anyway, that’s a small game changer for me – Oxford Street, henceforth, will never look the same. And good to know as well that Benson, who was gay but intensely discreet, was a good athlete and represented England at figure skating.

And from the novelist to a novel idea. The British Admiral and Member of Parliament Lord Charles Beresford announced today that his autograph can now only be had by payment of half a crown to the Royal Naval Benevolent Society.

But we can’t leave it at that. As long as we’ve got this close, let’s zoom in on Charlie B., as he was known. His career trajectory arced from the Marlborough, one of the last built and finest of the old wooden line of battleships, to 20th-century steel vessels. The best-known sailor of his day, he was a national hero and celebrity. He shared a mistress with the Prince of Wales. He was one of the most remarkable personalities of his generation: colourful, idiosyncratic, maverick, brave, high-spirited, an enthusiastic sportsman, of noble birth and with ample private means. Predictably, he was opposed to the abolition of flogging. It was said that in Parliament he spoke vehemently but sometimes incoherently. In short, I don’t think you wanted to get in the line of fire of one of his rages. And he certainly wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea. One critic described him as “the great dirigible…the biggest of all recorded gas-bags.” All in all though, I’d make that contribution to the Royal Naval Benevolent Fund. I’d be an autograph seeker.

And we have a funeral that would have been a colourful event. In Putney Vale Cemetery, Mr Edwin Fownes, well known in coaching circles as Poor Old Daddy, is laid to rest. Poor Old Daddy drove many distinguished men in his day and was identified with the best coaches that have run out of London. So, one for the books in coaching circles: the Four in Hand meet in Horse Guards Parade and bidding farewell to Poor Old Daddy in Putney Vale.

And when we do get wind of the annexation of Hawaii, well, that’s best forgotten. Nothing to worry about. We still hold dominion over palm and pine.

You’ve been listening to the Today in London History podcast for July 7th. Emanating from – home of London Walks, London’s signature walking tour company. London’s local, time-honoured, fiercely independent, family-owned, just-the-right-size walking tour company. And as long as we’re at it, London’s multi-award-winning walking tour company. Indeed, London’s only award-winning walking tour company.

And here’s the secret: London Walks is essentially run as a guides’ cooperative.

That’s the key to everything. It’s the reason we’re able to attract and keep the best guides in London. You can get schlubbers to do this for £20 a walk. But you cannot get world-class guides – let alone accomplished professionals.

It’s not rocket science: you get what you pay for. And just as surely, you also get what you don’t pay for.

Back in 1968 when we got started we quickly came to a fork in the road. We had to answer a searching question: Do we want to make the most money? Or do we want to be the best walking tour company in the world? You want to make the most money you go the schlubbers route. You want to be the best walking tour company in the world you do whatever you have to do to attract and keep the best guides in London – you want them guiding for you, not for somebody else. Bears repeating: the way we’re structured – a guides’ cooperative – is the key to the whole thing. It’s the reason for all those awards, it’s the reason people who know go with London Walks, it’s the reason we’ve got a big following, a lively, loyal, discerning following – quality attracts quality.

It’s the reason we’re able – uniquely –

to front our walks with distinguished

professionals. By way of example,

Stewart Purvis, the former Editor (and

subsequently CEO) of Independent

Television News. And Lisa Honan

who had a distinguished career as

diplomat (Lisa was the Governor of

St Helena, the island where Napoleon

breathed his last and, some say, had

his penis amputated – Napoleon

didn’t feel a thing – if thing’s the mot

juste – he was dead.)

Stewart and Lisa – both of them

CBEs – are just a couple of our

headline acts.

The London Walks All-Star team of

guides includes a former London

Mayor, it includes barristers (one of

them an MBE); it includes doctors,

geologists, museum curators,

archaeologists, historians, criminal

defence lawyers, Royal Shakespeare

Company actors, a bevy of MVPs,

Oscar winners (people who’ve won

the Guide of the Year Award)… well,

you get the idea. As that travel writer

famously put it, “if this were a golf

tournament, every name on the

Leader Board would be a London

Walks guide.”

And as we put it: London Walks Guides make the new familiar and the familiar new.

And on that agreeable note…come then, let us go forward together on some great London Walks. And that’s by way of saying, Good Londoning one and all. See ya soon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *