London History Bulletin – February 12

I call today (together with February 11th) London’s Children’s Days. For reasons that this London History Bulletin makes clear.


London calling.

London Walks connecting.

London Walks here with your daily London fix.

Story time. History time.

I was tempted to call this one London’s Children’s Day. Though it’d be very much a mixed bag in that regard.

Because 450 years ago – well, February 12th, 1554 to be exact – they didn’t just take a youngster’s childhood away from her. They took her life away. Sixteen-year-old Lady Jane Grey – Queen for nine days – was beheaded at the Tower of London. The way history resonates in London. It’s a source of never-ending wonder and fascination for me.

We hear the word grooming a lot these days. Gangs of grown men – or sometimes loners – monsters all of them – capturing and grooming young girls for sexual purposes. Well, that poor child 469 years ago was groomed by ambitious, powerful, men – including her father and father-in-law. She was a pawn, used for their purposes. 

She once said, “when I am in the presence either of father or mother, whether I speak, keep silence, sit, stand or go, eat, drink, be merry or sad, be sewing, playing, dancing, or doing anything else, I must do it as it were in such weight, measure and number, even so perfectly as God made the world; or else I am so sharply taunted, so cruelly threatened, yea presently sometimes with pinches, nips and bobs and other ways (which I will not name for the honour I bear them) … that I think myself in hell.”

And if I may make a recommendation, when you go to the National Gallery, whatever you do, don’t miss Paul Delaroche’s painting, The Execution of Lady Jane Grey. There’s no sight move moving under that roof in Trafalgar Square. And an aside: Molly and Matt and Simon, our National Gallery guides, regularly work a painting of the day into their tour. So, for example, if they’re guiding on February 12th the Delaroche painting usually gets the nod. For obvious reasons. I’m in awe that they do that. I once asked Simon about it and he said, “it’s important that I keep it fresh for my clients and the best way of doing that is to mix it up, ring the changes, keep it fresh for myself.” You go, Simon. And Molly. And Matt. That’s what guiding should be. That’s great guiding. 

And for our other London’s Children’s Day entry…well, ready, steady, it’s quick intake of breath time – best-laid plans and all of that.

I have a confession to make. In my pre-planning for this one, I misread a date. I took a February 11th item to be February 12th. So what do I do? Do I forget the second item and just go with the Lady Jane Grey tale and leave it at that? Could do but there goes that lovely title London’s Children’s Day.

Or do I own up, say look, l got a date wrong by 24 hours, but, hey, life’s not perfect. And in any case, it’s my podcast, I can bend the rules if I want. Yup, you got it in one. We’re going to Salvador Dali this one. You know, timepieces that are like lava flows, melting clocks, that sort of thing. And for any purists out there, well, our title could be: February 11th to February 12th – London’s Pair of Run the Gamut Children’s Days.

And for this one I’m indebted to an entry in Richard Happer’s fine little book, 365 Reasons to be Proud to be a Londoner. In it we learn that on February 11th, 1760 William Hamley opened his Noah’s Ark Toy Shop at 231 High Holborn. Yes, Hamleys, the oldest, largest and most awesome toy shop in the world. Today of course it’s on Regent Street. Seven floors of kiddiewink wonders and delights.

Anything else? Yes, it was bombed five times in the Blitz. Richard Happer, bless his heart, says the Nazis targetted it because they didn’t want London’s youth fighting back with catapults.

You’ve been listening to the London History Bulletin for February 12th. With an extra helping of February 11th. 

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: barristers, doctors, geologists, museum curators, archaeologists, historians, criminal defence lawyers, Royal Shakespeare Company actors, a bevy of MVPs, Oscar winners (people who’ve won 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. See ya tomorrow.

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