Guide Isobel guides “a smart Georgian suburb” (plus ‘Manhattan on Thames’ and Phwoar! Rupert Murdoch and his 29-year-old Chinese squeeze)

London calling.

London Walks connecting.

This… is London.

This is London Walks.

Streets ahead.

Story time. History time.


Good morning, London. It’s May 11th, 2024. Today’s pin – as usual but not always a bit of London news – is the headline, “London to become ‘Manhattan-on-Thames’ with 600 more skyscrapers in pipeline.” And we have that on pretty good authority. Namely the 10th annual tall buildings report from the NLA, the New London Architecture forum.

Made me personally feel a bit wistful. For many years I’ve described London architecture as “‘human scale’ – this is not Manhattan – buildings here don’t make you feel this high” –  the which point I’d illustrate by holding my thumb and index finger about an inch apart. Nowadays that line’s sort of like Rupert Murdoch’s singlet, belongs to another time.

And what do you know, that brings us to today’s Random.

As guides we forage. Pick up a scent and follow it. Best illustrated perhaps by our reading. I think it’s fair to say that most of us go through fazes. I’m now on my third one this year. Beginning of the year I read a bucket-load of books about the monarchy. And then I went on Lisa’s East India Company Walk. Was bowled over by it. Right into the deep end I went. Read voraciously. As part and parcel of the scent that I picked up and followed I read Piers Brendon’s The Decline and Fall of the British Empire. He writes so well I was then off on a Piers Brendon kick. Read everything he’s written. And now it’s a Michael Wolff kick. Read yesterday his first book about Rupert Murdoch, The Man Who Owns the News. I’ve moved on today to the inevitably sequel, The Fall, subtitled The End of the Murdoch Empire. And, like Piers Brendon, Michael Wolff writes like a dream, so it’s a lock that I’ll read everything he’s written. In the words of the New York Times, Michael Wolff is amusingly vicious and very well timed. The which enconium is by way of introducing today’s Random. In The Man Who Owns the News Wolff of course gets to Murdoch’s third marriage, the one to Wendi Deng, the steely, very attractive, extremely ambitious young Chinese woman who was 38 years younger than the Australian-born media mogul. Talking about the 68-year-old tycoon being able to pull the fetching 29-year-old Chinese lass, Wolff says, “It’s all so immensely exhilarating to a stuffy old singlet-wearing man. (Let us pause for a moment to consider the first moment when Wendi sees the singlet come off.)”

Miaow! Amusingly vicious indeed.

Moving on, today’s Ongoing. Let’s meet another London Walks guide. See her – so to speak – in action. This is Isobel, whom we’re fond of describing as the London Walks aristocrat and south London expert. A while back Isobel was commissioned by the Walworth Community Gardening Network to do a walk and a podcast for them around the history of East Walworth and its horticultural heritage. Here’s Isobel, here’s that podcast.

[The podcast of Isobel’s East Walworth Horticultural Heritage walk follows]


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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