London History Bulletin – January 10

On January 10th, 1863 the Metropolitan Line (the section from Paddington to Farringdon) debuts. It’s the first underground railway system in the world. This London History Bulletin tells the tale.


London calling.

London Walks connecting.

London Walks here with your daily London fix.

Story time. History time.

Ok, this is the London History Bulletin for January 10th. The January 10th we’re going to mesh our gears with is January 10th, 1863. 

But by way of limbering up I want you to imagine that it’s January 8th, 1863. And The Big Smoke – London – is abuzz because in 48 hours – on January 10th, 1863 – not just London but the world is going to get its first Underground Railway System. It’s the first bit of the Metropolitan Line. It runs from Paddington to Farringdon.

That was 159 years ago. Now I want you to fast forward 159 years from today – and try to imagine what the London Underground will be like then. Put your imagination into overdrive. Let it range freely. What in your wildest imaginings might be the most far-fetched feature of the Underground 159 years from now? Answers on a card, please.

I ask that because I’m thinking about those Victorian Londoners all abuzz about this new wonder – an underground railway – and what they would have said if an Ancient Mariner – who could see into the future – came amongst them, held them with his glittering eye, and told them what the Underground would be like, how big it would be, how many stations, how many passengers, in 159 years. In 2023. And then added, for good measure, “on January 8th, 2023 hundreds of people will be going on the London Underground in their pants for no reason at all.”

“Nurse, nurse, Keith Pumpernickel’s walking around the ward ranting again.”

Nice surname, Pumpernickel. It means “fart goblin.” I kid you not, oh ye of little faith. Look it up.  

And before we go any further, it’s time out on the field – a 30-second stoppage – to do a bit of Trans-Atlantic cultural translation. Are you listening, my fellow Americans? To the English, the word pants means undies, underwear. It does not mean trousers. So whatever you do, especially if you’re male, do not say to a complete English stranger, especially a female English stranger, “I like your pants.” Thinking – in your friendly, American innocence – you’re saying “I like your trousers” or “I like your “slacks” or “jeans.” You’re not saying that, you’re saying “I like your underwear, I like your panties.” And our female English stranger is likely to find that just a tad too forward. Coming from a stranger in a public place. 

Anyway, so, yes, today, January 10th, we mark the beginning of the London Underground. The arrival, on the scene, of its grandpappy. The Metropolitan Line. Well, the first part of the Metropolitan Line – from Paddington to Farringdon.

London Walks guides are brilliant at making fascinating connections. One of my all-time favourites comes from Fiona, one of my all-time favourite guide. Indeed, Fiona is London’s most decorated guide. Most decorated in that, uniquely, Fiona has won three Guide of the Year awards. She’s the best of the best. And – joy of joys – Fiona’s The Lure of the Underground tour is back and running. Having been put up a siding for nearly three years, thanks to the war with the Evil One, Covid. But, yes, it’s back. Runs every Tuesday morning.  

It’s a treat of a walk, nothing else like it in the London Walks repertory. How does Fiona introduce it: “160 years of engineering and artistry from the inside.” What’s not to like.

Anyway, a fascinating point she makes – one of innumerable dazzling, fascinating points – is that 

we think of the Underground as being an integral part of our London, of modern London. And conversely, public executions in London were a part of the benighted, barbaric, distant past. Raucous, coarse, carnival atmosphere. Crowds of 100,000 turning out to leer at wretches being turned off, swinging from the gallows. That was in the dark backward and abysm of London time. Old, old, long bygone London.  But the fact of the matter is, it wasn’t. The last public execution in London took place in 1868. So there will have been spectators who rode the Underground to go and see public executions. The same Underground that we ride to get to Fiona’s Walk. Or indeed to ride on with hundreds of other people in their pants for no reason at all. 

You’ve been listening to the London History bulletin for January 10th. 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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