He wasn’t just murdered, he was tortured

London calling.

London Walks connecting.

This… is London.

This is London Walks.

Streets ahead.

Story time. History time.


Good morning, London. It’s March 29th, 2024. Good Friday.

The pin for the day – the news story that gets the London Calling show on the road – is a tale, a development that pleases me no end. London’s bridges are getting a poet in residency. Classic London, this. The coming together of the really old and the really new. The really old is the charity that’s shopping around for a poet in residency for London’s bridges. The charity – the City Bridge Foundation – has been around for 900 years. The really new is the job: poet in residency for London’s bridges. He or she will be the first ever London Bridges poet in residency. And what’s their remit, well, it’s pretty much what you’d expect. The London Bridges poet will regularly visit Southwark Bridge, Tower Bridge, London Bridge, Blackfriars Bridge and the Millennium Bridge. They’ll get to know them, seek inspiration and write poems about their history and the role they play in the life of Londoners. How does Tevye put it in The Fiddler on the Roof: Tradition. Word music about London and its most famous bridge is the first poem most of us get to know: London Bridge is falling down. Ok, it’s a nursery rhyme but get thee gone pedantry, there’s no place for you here. That much-loved old old nursery rhyme is word music. And word music is poetry. So the position – London bridges poet in residency – may be new but there’s tradition there that’s almost as old as the hills. And you want another fit, bringing up Fiddler on the Roof and Tevye on Good Friday I’ve drawn to an inside straight and hit it. The Fiddler – Tevye – the guy who’s rightly obsessed with “tradition” – his name, Tevye, is a Hebrew word meaning “the goodness of God.” Nudge nudge, it’s Good Friday, do I need to belabour the obvious.

One other thing, this is part of your London education. London has over 30 bridges. London has five bridges. Completely contradictory statements that are both true. Let’s cross those bridges. The first faltering step one takes toward becoming a Londoner is learning to hear the word “London.” To see London you have to hear it. So sometimes the word London refers to the urban conurbation, the sprawl, which spreads across over 600 square miles of southeast England. At other times the word London refers to the so-called Square Mile – historically oldest – but most aggressively modern part of London. The city founded by the Romans. Aggressively modern because it’s the financial district, the Wall Street of Europe. And yes, it’s that small, approximately a square mile. And when someone says “London” you have to work out, by context, which London is being referred to – the vast 600 square miles urban sprawl or the ancient square mile. Once that becomes second nature to you – once you get it instanta which London is being referred to – you’re on your way toward becoming a Londoner. Anyway, yes, the one London – the big one, the 600 square miles conurbation has over 30 bridges. The other London – the original London, the square mile London – has just the five bridges: Blackfriars Bridge, the Millennium Bridge, Southwark Bridge, London Bridge and Tower Bridge. And it’s the famous five that are going to be fitted up with the wings of poesy thanks to that 900-year-old charity. Which is a poetic thought in its own right. How does the nursery rhyme go, Iron bars will bend and break. The statement that London has five bridges is an iron bar. It bends and breaks. Bends and breaks because in addition to the five road and pedestrian bridges you can add a clutch of railway bridges. Nothing is straightforward in London. The place ducks and dodges. Plays peek-a-boo with you. Now you see it, now you don’t. It’s one reason – an important reason – why it’s endlessly fascinating.

Moving on, today’s Random. Tomorrow – Holy Saturday – on my Kensington Walk, we’ll go into St Mary Abbots, the parish church. It’s a fleeting visit. Ten minutes maximum. Ten minutes in which I’ll point out five or six minute particulars. Minute particulars that are extraordinary. It’s a really efficient use of your time if you’re a visitor. You’d have to search high and low for hours in St Mary Abbots to find what I show you in a matter of minutes. Going in there by yourself and not knowing where to look – and what you’re looking for – it’s like panning for specks of gold. You got all day to find those specks? Anyway, one of my point-outs is a memorial tablet to Jane Singleton King. It’s arresting in a couple of ways. First of all, some of the phrasing. We’re told, “Jane, the dearly beloved wife of Lt Colonel Anthony Singleton King died awfully sudden the 22nd of May 1828 in her 36th year.” It’s the starkness of that prosaic phrase “awfully sudden.” There’s no formal attire to that phrase. You come to it and it stops you awfully sudden. The inscription goes on to tell us that 36-year-old Jane Singleton King died awfully sudden about six weeks after the birth of her tenth child. 36 years old. Ten children. One of them a new-born. It’s nearly 200 years old, that inscription but put that way we’re there, uneasily so, privy to her husband’s and her children’s convulsions of grief.

And we learn a few lines down that eight years later, Jane Singleton King’s 23-year-old son, Major Anthony Wright King, died at Vittoria, in Spain, in the now largely forgotten First Carlist War. And less than two years later, another one of Jane Singleton King’s ten children dies. Fourteen-year-old Isabella Maria King. Fourteen. That’s way too young. As was 36. And 23. One young family’s memorial tablet and we know there was a lodger under the roof of that twelve-strong young family. Making 13 in all. Not so much joining in as just sitting there. Watchful. Patience itself. Biding his time. Waiting until his hour comes round. The Grim Reaper.

Perhaps thinking back. Remembering. Another London house he spent some time at. Another London house. Another family. Another church. Another tablet. This one’s at All Hallows in North Twickenham. Tells us about Thomas Vardon and his six children, five of whom died before they were one year old.

London. It’s strong stuff.

Moving on. Today’s Ongoing. It’s Good Friday.

Let’s start with Nietzche’s phrase, God is dead. On this day of all days those words become fissile. They don’t just mean what Nietzche meant them to mean when he wrote, in 1882, Gott is tot: namely that the belief in the Christian God has become unbelievable, everything that was built upon this faith, propped up by it, grown into it, including all of European morality is bound to collapse.

Nietzche supplied the apothegm but he didn’t get there first. I did a podcast on this a couple of years ago. Pinpointed the date. And the place. I said, “God was mortally wounded at Burlington House on Piccadilly on July 1st, 1858.  On that date, in a dusty, book-lined room in the Linnaean Society in Burlington House two papers were read out. One was by Alfred Russell Wallace. The other was by Charles Darwin. Those two papers were the mortal double wound for God. A few weeks later they were published. That publication, on August 20th, 1858, was the moment breath became air for the mortally wounded Deity. Nothing left but to close the eyelids.

Science – Wallace and Darwin. Then poetry – Matthew Arnold. Then philosphy – Nietzche. Then journalism, common currency – the April 8th, 1966 Time Magazine cover story – Is God dead?

While we’re at it, let’s hear Arnold’s great poem.

Dover Beach


The sea is calm tonight.

The tide is full, the moon lies fair

Upon the straits; on the French coast the light

Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,

Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.

Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!

Only, from the long line of spray

Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,

Listen! you hear the grating roar

Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,

At their return, up the high strand,

Begin, and cease, and then again begin,

With tremulous cadence slow, and bring

The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago

Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought

Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow

Of human misery; we

Find also in the sound a thought,

Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith

Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore

Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.

But now I only hear

Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,

Retreating, to the breath

Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear

And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true

To one another! for the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.

But the point about today – Good Friday – is that, according to the Gospel, God did die today. My Sunday morning Hampstead Walk ends in St John’s, the beautiful parish church. Sometimes of a Sunday morning we’re lucky enough to bump into Graham, the Curate. Lovely guy. We chat with him. He takes questions. Such was the case last Sunday. The church looked a little different. Some of its more important features – the crucifix, a painting I often talk about, etc. – were covered with what I think of as winding sheets. Purple winding sheets. I asked Graham about it. He said, “it’s the last week of our saviour’s life. The shrouds are sombre and respectful and purple’s the colour of royalty but they impart the mystery of what’s to come.”

I took that thought with me to Padova a couple of days later. I was in the Scrovegni Chapel looking at Giotto’s fresco cycle when I suddenly had – for lack of a better word – a revelation. It was borne in upon me very forcefully, “God didn’t die, they murdered God.” Not only murdered him, they tortured him. I was looking at the thieves on their crosses. They weren’t nailed to the cross. They were roped. Jesus was nailed. Bears repeating, he wasn’t just – just – murdered; he was tortured. They tortured God and then they murdered him.

I’m an atheist. But it set my head swirling.

Once again, it’s all in the words, isn’t it. They murdered God is infinitely more powerful than God died. Changes everything. And I cheerfully admit, far more questions than answers in that swirl.

Not least, the fusion of the pagan and the Christian. Even the day itself. Friday. From Freya, the Norse Goddess of love, marriage and fertility. I’m trying to see where this is taking me and it looks like what’s ultimately being worshipped is life. But part and parcel of that – death and life melding, really – is sacrifice. Which of course was also pagan. Jesus was a sacrifice for our wickedness, our sins. So we could be forgiven. Set me wondering, why couldn’t God just forgive? Why was the sacrifice necessary?

And finally, the whole business of the annunciation… if it was made clear that that baby boy was God, then what to make of the three intervening decades. What’s it like to be the mother of God? To raise God? To change his nappy? To get him dressed in the morning. To help him take his first faltering steps. To watch him grow up. To be around him.

Be that as it may, the core, fundamental matter, surely, is the fusion of the divine and the human. That man was God. That baby boy was God. His mother was the daughter of God. And the mother of God.

We are of God. That thought puts everything in a different light. And primus inter pares, the seventh commandment. You kill a fellow human being – screw that right down to the sticking point, which is, you kill a baby you’re killing God.

I’ve not talked myself round. I’m still a lapsed Christian.  But no question about it, thanks in large part to an artist who worked seven centuries ago in Padova I’ve had the most memorable Good Friday of my entire life.

You’ve been listening to This… is London, the London Walks 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 £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 *