“If you can look into the seeds of time”

London calling.

London Walks connecting.

This… is London.

This is London Walks.

Streets ahead.

Story time. History time.


Good morning, London. It’s April 2nd, 2024. Today’s “pin” is

the scoop that the Conservative party has been using AI technology – yes, that’s Artificial Intelligence technology – to identify the ideal type of leader to win back disenchanted voters ahead of the upcoming general election. One newspaper read: Boris Thatchill? Tories turn to AI to find their perfect leader. Boris is Boris Johnson of course. And Thatchill is an alloy of Thatcher and Churchill. The secret project has been masterminded by a Swedish AI pioneer, Dr Ripa Lofol. The Swedish expert, perhaps indiscreetly, admitted that it had been a tall order because – and I’m quoting – “asking AI to make sense of a character like Boris Johnsons remains beyond the realms of current technology.” She said the first time fed in everything they knew about Johnson and asked the algorithms to synthesis the material to make sense of it, the screen went blank.”

And here’s the thing, it didn’t happen. None of the above is true. Dr Ripa Lofol is the Director at the Centre for Artificial Intelligence at Sweden’s Pool Ingyurleg University. Hadn’t heard of that acclaimed Swedish university? No, I hadn’t either. And then the penny dropped. No way there’s a Swedish university named Pooling Yur Leg. Suspiciously close as it is to the phrase Pulling Your Leg. In that same vein, rearrange the letters of the name of the Swedish AI expert – Ripa Lofol – and what do you know, her name’s an anagram of the phrase April Fool. Well, the story ran yesterday. April 1st. April fool’s day. Made for a bit of fun.

Moving on, today’s Random. As we’re fond of saying, it all comes down to seeing. That’s seeing with the eye and seeing with the mind’s eye. What the guide points out and the story she tells about it.  So here we are pointing out the shoulder number of British police officers. It’s an identification number. And it goes back to the get-go. The first policeman ever was given the number 1. He was sacked four hours later for being drunk on duty.

And that brings us to our Ongoing. What’s going on in London. What was going on. London today and London in days gone by. So Easter Sunday was just a couple of days ago. We’re still maybe in an Easter frame of mind. So, in the way of these things, I naturally wanted to know what Londoners were getting up to – what was on their mind – come Easter weekend, 1889. In particular, the Easter vigil that weekend. Black Saturday. AKA Holy Saturday. The day God was dead – Christ was dead – his body lying in that tomb. Black Saturday in 1889 was April 20th. What Londoners were doing – what would have been the talk during the tea break if it had been a working day – what Londoners were doing was thinking about Queen Victoria going to that royal funeral. Not just thinking about it. Taking a good look at it when they were at the breakfast, picking up their copy of the Illustrated London News. There was no missing it. The whole front page was a giant illustration of the Queen, head to toe in black, black veil, place a wreath on the coffin.

Inside the coffin was the Duchess of Cambridge. Princess Augusta of Hesse-Kassel. She’d been born in the previous century. Just a couple of months after George Washington’s tenure as the first American president ended with the inauguration of his successor, John Adams.

The Duchess of Cambridge was George III’s longest-lived daughter-in-law.

Queen Victoria said, “Very sad, though not for her. But she is the last of her generation, & I have no longer anyone above me.” That’s looking back over that very long life. You can also look forward. The Duchess of Cambridge was the grandmother of Mary of Teck, who became Queen Mary, the wife of George V and the mother of Edward VIII and George VI. And thus the great grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II. And there’s another connection, she was the grandmother of George Duke of Cambridge, whose equestrian statue is in Whitehall, directly in front of the Old War Office, just down from – here it is again – Trafalgar Square.

Now while we’re at it, let’s correct Wikipedia. It informs us, incorrectly, that the 91-year-old Duchess of Cambridge died at her home, Cambridge Cottage, on Kew Green. Died on April 6th, 1889. Wikipedia’s got the date right but the place wrong. The Duchess of Cambridge died at St James’s Palace. The funeral was at St Anne’s church in Kew. She was buried in the mausoleum there. 41 years later her remains were transferred to Windsor Castle.  For the record, the funeral took place on the previous Saturday, April 13th.

Now, let the connections begin. The Duchess of Cambridge was the great great great aunt of the future Edward VIII. The future Edward VIII was five years old in 1894. His relatives – including that great great great aunt were all German. The only language he spoke flawlessly was German. The Duchess of Cambridge’s son was the aforementioned Prince George, Duke of Cambridge. He of equestrian statue in front of the Old War Office  He’s there – well the statue is there – because he was the Commander in Chief of the Forces – the military head of the British army – for most of Queen Victoria’s reign. He was deeply conservative. Did everything in his power to ward off every reform proposal, including a general staff. Under his command, the British Army became a moribund and stagnant institution. There were no new ideas. He rebuked one of his more intelligent subordinates with the words: “Brains? I don’t believe in brains! You haven’t any, I know, Sir!” He said, “There is a time for everything, and the time for change is when you can no longer help it.” He was dyed in the wool. In consequence more British soldiers died in the wars. He married an actress. The daughter of a Westminster servant. Marrying without the Queen’s consent meant the wedding was in contravention of the 1772 Royal Marriages Act. His children were thus illegitimate, born out of wedlock. And that takes us across the Atlantic – to Baltimore, Maryland – on June 19th, 1896. A baby girl is born out of wedlock. Her name is Wallis Simpson. She’ll marry a king and become a Duchess. The Duchess of Windsor. The wife of Edward VIII, the king who gave up his throne to wed his twice-divorced, born out of wedlock American socialite.

The King whose command of German was flawless, better than his command of English.

The King who, together with his Duchess, would tour Nazi Germany in 1937. The king who made no secret of his Nazi sympathies.

And now the clincher, the final connection. Adolf Hitler, the son of an illegitimate – yes, that phrase again, born out of wedlock – the son of an illegitimate minor Austrian customs official was born on April 20th, 1889. Black Saturday. The day God was dead and lying in his tomb. The anniversary of the Black Saturday London was gaping at that front page illustration of their Queen, all in black, placing a wreath on the coffin of Her Serene Highness German Princess Augusta Wilhelmina Louisa of Hesse.

As usual with me coincidences like this hit the trip line of poetry. I’m thinking Banquo’s line in Macbeth, “If you can look into the seeds of time…”

I mean – learning that Hitler was born on the day God was dead – how do you not, given the benefit of hindsight, how do you not look into the seeds of time…

Line after line from Yeats’ great poem The Second Coming, also spring to mind:

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Linz to be born?

Ok, I’ve substituted Linz for Bethlehem. And Hitler was actually born in Braun am Inn. But he always considered Linz to be his home town.

And that’s the thing about London. This place is such an astonishingly mix. The place lights up like a scoreboard, like a fireworks extravaganza. Connections to be made every which way you look. Frisson after frisson after frisson.

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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