Billionaires’ Row, John Lennon’s Killer, St Paul’s, Wellington’s Tomb

London calling.

London Walks connecting.

This… is London.

This is London Walks.

Streets ahead.

Story time. History time.


Good morning, London. It’s June 28th, 2024.

Today’s pin – the bit of London news pinned to the front end of the London Walks podcast – it looks like the Crown Estate has climbed down. Done a U-turn. About the closure of Billionaires Row to the public. They’d declared it off-limits to the public a few weeks ago. The spurious reason they gave was speeding cyclists were causing safety issues. Some bright spark thought the way to solve that was to keep the public out, force people to walk on busy, car-congested streets that were much more hazardous. Well, talk about shoving a stick into a hornets’ nest.

Predictably there was a tremendous public outcry. A real backlash. It looks as though the Crown Estate didn’t like the heat. And got out of the kitchen. Because what do you know, Billionaire’s Row was open yesterday. It was resumption of normal service on our Kensington Walk. We went there. Tree-lined, car-free, mansion-spangled, the UK’s most expensive road back onto the hit parade of that great walking tour.

Ok, moving on, today’s Random. Let’s go with another Beatles item. John Higgs’ dazzlingly entertaining book Love and Let Die is doing it over and over for me. Just finished his chapter on what happened outside the Dakota Apartments on December 8th, 1980. Pleasingly – and profoundly – Higgs refuses to name the individual who fired those five bullets that killed John Lennon. Higgs says in Liverpudlian slang, a ‘no-mark’ is a nobody; someone inconsequential who has achieved nothing, who gained no marks in school exams, and who makes no mark on the wider world. In 1980, an American no-mark made the decision to murder a celebrity.” And then the kicker. Higgs quotes the no-mark. Higgs says, “the no-mark later gloated that ‘all of my nobodyness and all of his somebodyness collided’ when Lennon was killed.”

I’m going to repeat those ten words: “all of my nobodyness and all of his somebodyness collided.”

Wow! Just like that – one of those simultaneity wraps. I read those ten words and I’m here now, here in this moment on June 28th, 2024. But it’s also December 8th, 1980 – and here is also there, outside the Dakota Apartments. And I’m not only there but simultaneously I’m also in West Hampstead, waking up the next morning to the Radio 4 announcement that John Lennon has been shot and killed. And it’s a few months later – but time does one of those Einstein curves, so it’s a few months later but it’s also simultaneous – I’m in New York and I ask my friend, Marcia, “this is morbid of me, or maybe it’s a pilgrimage, but will you take me to the Dakota Apartments.” We all get it about how songs can take us back to whenever. And so can smells. Well, in this case, so can words: “all of my nobodyness and all of his somebodyness collided.”

Ok, today’s Ongoing. Back we go to St Paul’s. Take another must-see and give it the London Walks treatment. Enrich what the eye sees with what the mind’s eye sees.

Just a few brushstrokes. But what a difference they make.

Brushstroke One: a useful distinction between Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s. Westminster Abbey for the most commemorates civil eminence. Whereas St Paul’s is a Pantheon for our heroes.

Brushstroke Two (make of this what you will): Nelson’s Tomb is in the middle of the crypt.

Brushstroke Three: Wellington’s Tomb is in the East Crypt.

Brushstroke Four: Until 1981 Wellington’s massive 12-ton funeral chariot – it was like a moving temple – was stabled at the west end of the cathedral. Would it were still there. Ditto Nelson’s funeral car. It was designed to imitate his flagship, the Victory’s bow and stern. Never let it be said that Nelson rode simply to St Paul’s by horse and hearse; instead, he sailed, proud and vibrant, through the capital’s streets in the flagship where he took his last breath.

Brushstroke Five: Nelson is kept company by his second and third in command, Admirals Collingwood and Carnegie.

Well, Wellington’s got a comrade in arms as well, keeping him company. Near him sleeps Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Picton, the most senior British officer to have been killed at the Battle of Waterloo. General Picton has the distinction of being the only Welshman to be buried in St Paul’s. Make sure you see his memorial. Because your children might not be seeing it. Why is that you ask? Well, if you peer into the seeds of time you might well see General Picton getting his historical comeuppance one of these days. The National Museum of Wales describes him as “a controversial figure.” He was known as the Tyrant of Trinidad. And indeed as the Blood-stained Governor. His treatment of slaves – he himself made a fortune from the slave trade – marks him out, says the Museum, as “a particularly cruel leader.” A cruel leader convicted of ordering the torture of a 14-year-old girl.

So there’s some food for thought for you. Wellington’s welcome to him. For my part, no way he’d be getting an invitation to Chez David.

Ok, one more brushstroke. Brushstroke six.

Let’s hear it from the Poet Laureate. Alfred Lord Tennyson. A brief exchange from his Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington. I’ve singled out the lines respecting the burial of Wellington and Nelson in the crypt of St Paul’s. The first voice is Nelson’s. He’s asking, ‘what’s all this about?’ ‘Who’s this coming down here to join me?’

Here’s the poem.

“Who is he that cometh, like an honour’d guest,

With banner and with music, with soldier and with priest,

With a nation weeping, and breaking on my rest?”

“Mighty Seaman, this is he

Was great by land as thou by sea.

Thine island loves thee well, thou famous man,

The greatest sailor since the world began.

Now, to the roll of muffled drums,

To thee the greatest soldier comes;

For this is he

Was great by land as thou by sea.”


You’ve been listening to This… is London, the London Walks podcast. 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 accomplished, in many cases

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 a 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.

Or take our Ripper Walk. It’s the creation of  the world’s leading expert on Jack the Ripper, Donald Rumbelow, the author of the definitive book on the subject.  Britain’s most distinguished crime historian, Donald is, in the words of The Jack the Ripper A to Z,“internationally recognised as the leading authority on Jack the Ripper.” Donald’s emeritus now but he’s still the guiding light on our Ripper Walk. He curates the walk. He trains up and mentors our Ripper Walk guides. Fields any and all questions they throw at him.

The London Walks Aristocracy of Talent – its All-Star team of guides – includes a former London Mayor. It includes the former Chief Music Critic for the Evening Standard. It includes the Chair of the Association of Professional Tour Guides. And the former chair of the Guild of Guides.

It includes barristers, doctors, geologists, museum curators, a former Museum of London archaeologist, historians,

university professors (one of them a distinguished Cambridge University paleontologist); it includes

criminal defence lawyers,

Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre 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 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 walking and Good Londoning

one and all. See ya next time.

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