London Walks connecting.
London Walks here with today’s London fix.
Story time. History time.
Oh dear. I wish I’d known this a week ago.
Never mind. I know it now. It’ll come into that walk the next time I do it.
The walk in question is the – well, my – Belgravia Pub Walk.
Ran it last Tuesday. That was the first outing for that walk in nearly four years. And I did put something into it I hadn’t known before. Something pretty sensational, all things considered. And one of the things considered was an amazing personal connection. But anyway, the “pretty sensational matter” that last Tuesday had pride of the place on the walk – and it will have pride of place going forward – the sensational matter was “the most luridly famous” – indeed, internationally famous – mews house in London.
But that’s not what’s to hand in this podcast.
Let’s go there.
Later on in the walk we go to Eaton Place. Yes, Eaton Place, the location for today’s find. I’ve always done a fair old bit about Eaton Place on that walk. We go to the house where that sensational murder took place. And it goes without saying that in Eaton Place I talk about Joan Collins’ humongous sexual appetite. The payoff there – the takeaway – is the nickname the Americans bestowed on her. And then there’s that fun point, that extraordinary point, that revealing point about who Joan Collins hires. The make-up of her staff.
And yes, that moment in the walk also pivots to get in some stuff about the master builder, Thomas Cubitt, who we have to thank for Eaton Place. And indeed for much of Belgravia.
But what I didn’t know was the story behind 29 Eaton Place. That it was the house where John Lubbock was born. Who’s John Lubbock, you might well ask. Well, what’s today? It’s Monday, August 28th. Better known as Bank Holiday Monday. And it was John Lubbock who was the driving force behind the first bank holiday. It was the first secular holiday in British history. In was in 1871 that John Lubbock – he was 37 years old at the time – drafted the Bank Holiday Bill. Hugely popular, it was known as St Lubbock’s day.
He was a remarkable man, John Lubbock. He was a prominent banker. Indeed, he was the son of a banker. He was a politician. And he was a scientific writer. He was probably to the manner born. His banker father was a successful amateur mathematician and astronomer who numbered Charles Darwin as a good friend. Indeed, Charles Darwin tutored young John Lubbock in natural history. Imagine being able to say, “I was taught by Charles Darwin.”
Indeed, it’s fair to say that our Bank Holiday man, John Lubbock, when he grew up, was a member of Charles Darwin’s inner circle.
School-wise, Lubbock went to Eton. But that was the end of his formal education. Shortly thereafter he joined his father in the family bank. And indeed took it over when his father died. He was the first president of the Institute of Bankers.
But he was anything but a one-trick pony. He was a member of the Royal Institute and the Geological Society and the Royal Society and the Ethnological Society and the X Club. Ah, yes, the X Club. That one I daresay you won’t have heard of. It was a private dining club made up of nine eminent London men of science. Lubbock was the youngest of the nine. In short, our banker was moving in the best scientific circle in London.
What a lot on John Lubbock’s plate, eh. But there was more. Lubbock also did important anthropological and archaeological work. Indeed, it was John Lubbock who coined the distinction between palaeolithic and neolithic man. Then there was his work on the social behaviour of insects. He kept an ants’ nest in his room, which he and his daughter kept under constant observation for nearly a decade.
And no, we’re not there yet. Nearly, though. One more corner to go round and the finish line will be up ahead. John Lubbock became an MP. His first seat was Maidstone. His second was London University. He was the vice Chancellor of London University for 20 years. It almost goes without saying that he was a reforming MP. For example, he championed early closing hours. And he pushed through a bill to preserve ancient monuments. When he was named to the peerage he chose the title Avebury after an ancient druidical site which he’d battled to save from being, in his words, “destroyed for the profit of a few pounds.” Finally, he was president of the London Chamber of Commerce and Chairman of the London County Council.
Well, not quite finally. John Lubbock also made a serious attempt to teach his pet poodle how to read.
Some litany isn’t it. How can you be anything but in awe of those eminent Victorians, their boundless energy, their passions, their determination, the sweep of their interests, their attainments and accomplishments.
No way, going forward on that Belgravia Walk, we’re not going to stop by 29 Eaton Place and make the acquaintance of John Lubbock. In fact, I think next year I’ll run the walk on this Bank Holiday Monday.
And now here’s a change-up, a screeching handbrake turn. A little something extra for you to get your Bank Holiday off to a delightful start. This one makes it into the winner’s circle as the Quote of the Day.
An Italian chef spelt it out on Radio 4 this morning. He said, “If you go to Naples and ask for pizza with pineapple they shoot you.”
You’ve been listening to the London Calling podcast. Emanating from www.walks.com – 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 peanuts – for McDonald’s wages. 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
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
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, university professors,
Royal Shakespeare Company actors,
a bevy of MVPs,
Oscar winners (people who’ve won
the big one, 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
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 next time.