London History Bulletin – February 13

Happy Birthday, Financial Times. The birthday tees up this London History Bulletin.


London calling.

London Walks connecting.

London Walks here with your daily London fix.

Story time. History time.

Short one today. February 13th. Another birthday. The Financial Times was first published on this day, February 13th, 1888. Read by half a million brokers, dealers, business leaders, it is of course the world’s most influential business publication.

And now let’s London Walks it.

Let’s go to the FT building in the City of London. You’ll find it on the corner of 1 Friday Street and 10 Cannon Street. Just over the way from the southeast corner of St Paul’s. The building was erected in the 1950s on a cleared bomb site. It was the headquarters of the FT until the 1980s and then once again since 2019.

A couple of things to notice – if you want to see it with a guide’s eyes, I mean. First, its colour. It’s salmon pink sandstone. The same colour as the paper itself. 

And the reason for that colour? It was to distinguish the paper from its main rival, the Financial News.

Best of all, though, the Financial Times building boasts, over its main entrance, London’s most weird and wonderful clock. It’s an astronomical clock, featuring the face of Winston Churchill as a kind of Thomas the Tank Engine amid the symbols of the zodiac. 

Anything else? Yes, the building’s called Bracken House. After Brendan Bracken, the founder of the modern version of the Financial Times. He was an ally, a confidante, a lieutenant a great supporter of Winston Churchill. Indeed, he was a stalwart of Churchill’s Cabinet, the Minister of Information. Literary types haven’t been behindhand in pointing out that Brendan Bracken’s initials are the same as Big Brother’s in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. And that it’s no coincidence the main protagonist of the novel was called Winston.

And finally, it’s nice to know that the architect of Bracken House, Sir Albert Richardson, was a world class English eccentric. He refused to install electricity in his house. This was the 1950s. He worked by candlelight. He was fond of dressing in Georgian attire (including a powdered wig) to entertain guests. And he’d have himself transported to dinner parties in a sedan chair carried by his students or draughtsman dressed in full Georgian livery. 

In one building a riotous profusion of history, biography, architecture, literature, design, astronomy and astrology and horology.

See London. See it better with a London Walks guide. 

You’ve been listening to the London History Bulletin for February 13th. 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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