Hidden in Plain Sight in St Paul’s – Some Great Outtakes

London calling.

London Walks connecting.

This… is London.

This is London Walks.

Streets ahead.

Story time. History time.


Good morning, London. It’s June 25th, 2024.

Today’s pin – today’s London news – Summer has arrived. It was hot yesterday. It’s going to be hot today. 27 degrees. That’s low 80s Farhenheit. Feels, well, Mediterranean. And more of the same the next few days.

That’s one pin. Here’s another one. London’s dazzling. A-glitter. Sparkling. And it’s not some sort of visual heat stroke. It’s legions of Swifties. Youngsters. Droves of teenagers. Lots of them teenagers in their late 20s or early 30s. Most of them girls. But plenty of boys too. Capital’s awash with them. A couple of days ago, a Sunday no less, Mary had to wait for a third Jubilee Line train before she could sardine herself into a carriage. They were that packed with Taylor Swift fans on their way to Wembley. Those of us old enough get it instanta, we’re witnessing a 21st century version of Beatlemania.

Ok, moving on, today’s Random. Beatlemania. Now there’s a trigger word for you. I’ve long said about London Walks guides that they’re people who will read a whole book to glean one fact. One gold nugget of a story. Or as that Canadian woman in Sevilla who does those wonderful Tapas tours puts it: “I’ve been to 1200 Tapas restaurants in Sevilla so you don’t have to.”

So I’m thinking about our Beatles experts Richard and Adam, and the reading they do. And the riches it yields. I wanted to go on a test drive with them. Asked them for a Selected Reading List. Ended up plumping for a wonderful book by John Higgs.

It was like opening a treasure chest. I’m not saying all those riches make it into their walks. The point is it gets added to the armoury of their amazingly well-stocked minds. Those gems are there for them to draw on as and when.

By way of example – this came as a complete revelation to me, as I suspect it will to most of you – turns out that Yoko Ono was from an extremely wealthy family. She was educated at the most elite and prestigious private school in Japan. The Crown Prince Akihito was a classmate. When she was a child the family’s servants had to approach her on their knees and then shuffle backwards, still on their knees, when they left, forbidden to turn their backs on her. And suddenly Yoko Ono snaps into focus. And it’s all about making connections. I’m telling that one today because the Japanese Emperor is in town today.

Anyway, Richard and Adam knowing that when Yoko Ono was a little girl the family servants shuffled to and from her on their knees – that’s the thing about London Walks guides. They know things other people don’t know. As walker Jeremy from New York put it in a review that just came in yesterday, “I enjoy strolling around the streets of London, but from here on out, I will be calling a professional at London Walks to make sure the job is done right.”

And it’s not just knowing things other people don’t know, it’s knowing bits of London other people don’t know.

Which brings me to today’s Ongoing. Today, I’m introducing a new strand to the weave. Famously, London Walks takes you places you wouldn’t otherwise get to, shows you things you wouldn’t otherwise see.

And I thought, you know I’m going to do that from time to time on this podcast. I thought we’d start with St Paul’s Cathedral. Now when Mary and Isobel guide it, it’s a mixture of the hard to find but also the big, must-not-be-missed pieces. And I thought it would be fun – and instructive – and enriching – to take a must-not-be-missed piece and get around behind it, so to speak. Show what else is there. What gets left on the cuttings floor. Some of the offcuts.

And why not? Let’s start big. Start with the grandest tomb of all. Admiral Nelson’s. Any tour of St Paul’s worth its salt is going to take you into the crypt and show you Admiral Nelson’s tomb. And what a magnificent tomb it is. Once seen, never forgotten. All severe black marble. Great back story. Originally intended for Cardinal Wolsey. “I’ll have that” said Henry VIIII when Wolsey fell from favour. But best-laid plans. Henry VIII died before the sarcophagus was completed. For the record, the sculptor was the great Florentine master, Benedetto. It remained unoccupied for 250 years. Until 1805, when Nelson’s long journey from Trafalgar ended here. All of that’s pro forma. Every guide’s going to tell you that much. London Walks drills down deeper, though. What’s really neat to know is Nelson’s coffin was made out of the mainmast of the French flagship L’Orient. It was a present to Nelson from his friend Captain Hallowell. After the Battle of the Nile – knowing this changes the way you see the Battle of the Nile bronze relief panel at the base of Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square – after the Battle of the Nile, Hallowell who’d captained the 74-gun HMS Swiftsure which did for the French flagship, Hallowell said to Nelson, he was sending it along “so that when you are tired of this life you may be buried in one of your own trophies.” And what a scene that burial moment was. The guides always make sure you see this. Nelson’s flag was to be enclosed with his coffin but just as it was about to be lowered, the sailors who had borne him to the tomb, moved, as if by one impulse, rent the flag in pieces, so that each of them might keep a fragment, have a memento of their beloved Admiral. I often wonder if one of those pieces of cloth lies a-mouldering in the back of a drawer of an ancient desk somewhere in deepest England. Preferably a naval town. Plymouth or Portsmouth or Southampton or Bristol. Well, maybe one day. “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” You just have to find it.

But as long as we’re right there, looking at Nelson’s tomb, there’s two more things I think we should do. By way of enriching the experience, I mean.

To start with, it’s nice to know that Nelson’s got company down there. Basically, the whole of the high command of the Battle of Trafalgar is with him. The third in command was William Carnegie, the seventh Earl of Northesk. He commanded the Britannia. Which was in the so-called Weather Line, led by Nelson. Translation: the Britannia was either fourth or sixth in line. And was in the thick of it from the very first. The Britannia sustained a loss of 52 killed and wounded. That was about six percent of her crew. Also known as Old Ironsides, HMS Britannia was no spring chicken. Come 1805 and the Battle of Trafalgar she was 43 years old.

And nearby, as he requested, is Nelson’s second in command, Lord Collingwood. As long as we’re down there, let’s see what nobody sees. Let’s remember Cuthbert Collingwood. He was from Newcastle. His father was from an old but impoverished Northumberland family. He went to sea when he was twelve years old. It was a long apprenticeship. He was at sea for thirteen years, rising through the ranks: able seaman, midshipman, master’s mate, lieutenant. Served his country far and wide. At the Battle of Bunker Hill of American War of Independence fame, he landed with what he described as ‘a party of seamen, supplying the army with what was necessary for them’.

Fast forward 30 years, Collingwood is a Vice Admiral of the Blue. On the 21st of May 1805 he sails for Cadiz with 11 ships of the line. He’ll never see England again. Won’t come back to England until his body is brought back to be buried next to his friend and commander. You can think of their tombs there in the crypt of St Paul’s as ships of the line, looking out for each other, forever voyaging through eternity.

Collingwood died in 1810. He was desperately ill with stomach cancer. He died – fittingly – on the HMS Ville de Paris that was bringing him back to England. He had spent only one year ashore in 17 years of war. He was worn out in the service of his country. There are five other things worth knowing about Admiral Collingwood. 1. He was very good to the men in his command. He looked after them. Brutal he wasn’t. He also looked after prisoners of war.  2. His pastime, when he was ashore, was planting acorns to provide timber for ships of the line of the future. 3. He had a little dog named Bounce who went to sea with him and whom he adored. He wrote to his sister Mary, “My dog is a good dog, delights in the ship and swims after me when I go in the boat.” And then some years later,  “You will be sorry to hear my poor dog Bounce is dead. I am afraid he fell overboard in the night. He is a great loss to me. I have few comforts, but he was one, for he loved me. Everybody sorrows for him. He was wiser than [many] who hold their heads higher and was grateful [to those] who were kind to him.”

4. There’s a statue of Admiral Collingwood at Tynemouth. It’s defended by four guns from his flagship at Trafalgar. And three Royal Navy battleships have been named after him. 5. This is my favourite. His official dispatch – his account of the Battle of Trafalgar – written in his cramped and heaving quarters, is regarded as a masterpiece of the English language. Here’s just a taste. Collingwood wrote:

“A Circumstance occurred during the Action, which so strongly marks the invincible Spirit of British Seamen, when engaging the Enemies of their Country, that I cannot resist the Pleasure I have in making it known to their Lordships; the Temeraire was boarded by Accident, or Design, by a French Ship on one Side, and a Spaniard on the other; the Contest was vigorous, but in the End, the combined Ensigns were torn from the Poop, and the British hoisted in their Places.

Such a Battle could not be fought without sustaining a great Loss of Men. I have not only to lament, in common with the British Navy, and the British Nation, in the Fall of the Commander in Chief, the Loss of a Hero, whose Name will be immortal, and his Memory ever dear to his Country; but my Heart is rent with the most poignant Grief for the Death of a Friend, to whom, by many Years’ Intimacy, and a perfect Knowledge of the Virtues of his Mind, which inspired Ideas superior to the common Race of Men, I was bound by the strongest Ties of Affection; a Grief to which even the glorious Occasion in which he fell, does not bring the Consolation which perhaps it ought; his Lordship received a Musket Ball in his Left Breast, about the Middle of the Action, and sent an Officer to me immediately with his last Farewell; and soon after expired.”

More succinctly but no less eloquently, this extract from a letter he wrote to his sister

“My Dear Sister – We fought a battle on the 21st and obtained a victory such as perhaps there is no instance of. We were 27 ships, the combined fleet 33. My dear friend Nelson fell in [the] middle of the battle. I followed up what he had begun…”

Perhaps best of all, though, what he said to his Officers before the Battle of Trafalgar,

“Now, gentlemen, let us do something today which the world may talk of hereafter.”

This is hereafter. And that’s what we’re doing.

So, yes, we go into the Crypt of St Paul’s to see Nelson’s final resting place. But let us also spare a thought for his comrades in arms who were there with him at Trafalgar. Two of whom who have his back – are at his side – voyaging through eternity.


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.

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