Final Whistle Coming on His Rugby Tour – Rick Scores a Try

London calling.

London Walks connecting.

This… is London.

This is London Walks.

Streets ahead.

Story time. History time.


It’s February 28th, 2024. The last day of the shortest month. Except it’s not the last day. This is a leap year. So February has 29 days. And sure enough, London Walks has a leap-year walk. Created and guided by the man for all seasons, the marvelous Kevin, the distinguished former Museum of London archaeologist. And you want a trailer for the walk, try this for size. February 29th. A strange amazing day – and walk – that comes only once every four years. For the rest of the time it does not “exist.”

Now as for today’s pin – the news story that gets the show on the road – my, David’s, head is abuzz with the London Walks Newsletter. Which goes out tomorrow. Goes out to its nearly 13,000 subscribers. And for the first time ever, we’re running an item in the Newsletter about Paris Walks. They’re the class act in Paris – the oldest walking tour company in the City of Light and the gold standard of Paris Walking Tour companies. We’ve got a great deal in common with them – and they’re good friends.

Anyway, because of that newsletter item about Paris Walks, our pin today – the news story – is a Parisian number. A Parisian number gleaned from The Times. And surely it’s a sign of the Times. The story goes, Forget the Croque Monsieur – France is embracing the humble cheese toastie. Turns out, the first international grilled cheese competition was held in Paris yesterday.

The Times opines it’s being taken as a sign that France is opening up to other cheese-making cultures after considering for decades that it “knew everything there was to know about the subject”. The competition was won by a Belgian cheesemonger.

Now as for our Random, the first Rugby balls were made from pigs’ bladders. There were no air pumps. They had to be blown up by human lung power. You could get ill from blowing up a diseased bladder. Which is what happened to the wife of Richard Lindon. Alas, Mrs Lindon didn’t just get ill; she got fatally ill. Her husband, Richard, was a shoemaker on Rugby’s High Street. He employed five men. So his was a thriving little business. And then he got that bit of extra custom, making rugby balls for the famous local school where the game was invented. But it seems that poor Mrs Lindon was the last person on the assembly line. It fell to her to inflate the balls. Blow them up. Mrs Lindon died after breathing in the air from too many bad bladders.

And that Random does double duty. Because it’s a kind of spin pass – I’m amazing myself here, I’m actually wielding – admittedly with some trepidation – I’m actually wielding some Rugby terminology. Who would have thought it. Anyway, today’s Random is a spin pass – yes, that’s a Rugby term – a spin pass to today’s Ongoing. The Ongoing being the main event in the London Calling podcast.

Which is a Rick Jones-authored piece, a backgrounder to Rick’s limited series Friday afternoon Rugby Tour. Limited series because the Tour only takes place on those Fridays during which the Six Nations Tournament is happening. To spell it out, that’s three more bites at the cherry. That’s cherry, not bladder. Friday, March 1st; Friday, March 8th; and Friday, March 15th. For the record, Rick’s Rugby Tour also features in the about-to-go-to-press London Walks Newsletter.

Anyway, very London, this Ongoing. It’s authored by Rick, a Londoner of Welsh extraction who played Rugby. His rucking in was a side dish to a distinguished career as an arts critic. Written by Rick and read, by me, David, a Londoner who’s a transplanted American, a literary historian by academic background, and retired television journalist by profession. And the possessor of what Rick calls a rich Midwestern brogue.

Rick’s the ball carrier who got the pig’s bladder into position. Rick got into a ruck. The outcome of the ensuing ruck sees me get to score the try.

Here we go. A crowd of sixty-thousand counts down to start a match of rugby football in the Six Nations Tournament. For as long as it continues (until 16 March 2024), the Rugby Tour is a jinking walk through London from Temple tube to the Rugby Estate every Friday afternoon. Rick Jones, a former player, leads the charge through the history and traditions of that version of football which a pupil at Rugby School invented two centuries ago when ‘with a fine disregard for the rules, he picked up the ball and ran with it’.

Despite his sin, the boy became a Church of England priest and Rector of St Clement Danes church in London where the tour packs down to see his name, William Webb Ellis, inscribed in gold on the wall. When the World Cup of Rugby was established in the 1980s, the trophy was named the William Webb Ellis Cup in his honour.

The tour follows the trajectory of the oval ball past the law courts. At one time each school in England played its own variation of football, but Rugby School was the first to write down its rules. Rick as referee explains them – his decision is final. Not all of them have lasted. The head of school no longer announces the match at dinner, for instance, and there is no need for a ruling when a tree interferes with play, but otherwise, the niceties of offside and tackling have changed little.

At half time, the passage of play passes the venue where Rugby Football and Association Football parted company. The latter thought handling the ball absurd. The former said, ‘what about the aerial ball?’ The latter agreed to let the players hit the ball with their head. The former thought heading the ball ridiculous.

At certain marker posts, the tour pauses to consider the career of great players of the game: the RAF church for the flying wing three-quarter and jet pilot Rory Underwood; street art for the captain of France and sculptor Jean-Pierre ‘in sport you sculpt in space’ Rives; and the Royal College of Surgeons for the late immortal Welsh full-back and orthopedic surgeon JPR Williams.   

Rugby School is famous not just for the invention of a brutal pastime but also as the setting of an influential novel, Tom Brown’s Schooldays which contains an account of the game as played in the 1850s which Rick as TMO (Tour Master quotes from. The popularity of the book around the world accounted for the adoption of rugby as an ideal sport for the development of courage, moral Christian values and supposed manly Victorian character. The founder of the modern Olympic Games Baron de Coubertin made a pilgrimage to Rugby School in search of just this sacred sporting ethos.   

Tom Brown’s alma mater is many miles from London but owns land in the city known as the Rugby Estate. It was once a muddy field with a stream running through it but today it is the site of a famous hospital and a pub, the Rugby Tavern where the tour ends. Drinking was once considered an essential part of rugby culture but since a member of the England team drank a bottle of aftershave lotion for a jape after a game in Paris, the international players are now so sober that they refuse to play just to attend the birth of their children.   

You’ve been listening to This… is London, the London Walks podcast. Emanating from –

home of London Walks,

London’s signature

walking tour company.m

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.

Leave a Reply

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