London History Bulletin – January 17

The first Prime Minister, Sir. Robert Walpole, was locked up in the Tower of London on January 17th, 1712. This London History Bulletin tells the tale.


London calling.

London Walks connecting.

London Walks here with your daily London fix.

Story time. History time.

We live in fallen times. They did things differently before the fall. Many’s the time – especially in recent years – a lot of us have thought, “if only…we sure could do with some of that today.”

I’m talking about what happened on this day, January 17th, 1712. They locked the blighter up. Put him in the Tower of London, where he languished for six months. Some prisoner. We’re talking Britain’s first prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole. Indeed, Britain’s longest-serving prime minister. And how did it all come to that? The mighty Sir Robert Walpole was accused of corruption. Of accepting bribes. The House of Commons debated the case earlier in the day on that fateful January 17th. Debated it. And voted on it. A majority of more than 50 MPs found Walpole guilty of “a high breach of trust and notorious corruption.” He was expelled from the House and committed to the Tower. A guest of his Majesty for six months. It happened once. Surely, that set a precedent. If it happened once, it could happen again. Be no bad thing if prime ministers, on taking office, and during their tenure, were occasionally reminded – had it whispered in their ear – “Remember what happened to Sir Robert Walpole.” A major problem with our elected leaders is impunity. They’re supremely confident that nothing they do will come back to bite them.  If they genuinely thought, “this little caper could put me behind bars” chances are they’d think again about said malfeasance.

Anything else? Yes, January 17th was just the day to lock up a Prime Minister. Just the day because January 17th is St Antony’s Day. St. Antony did a rather longer stretch – 20 years of solitude in the desert. Which is why he’s the patron saint of monasticism. Well, from 10 Downing Street and the House of Commons to being locked up, for six months, in the Tower of London,  that’d give anybody a good whiff of monasticism. And a chance to rue the day – or days – they succumbed to temptation, went off the straight and narrow. Plumped – for example – for Partygate. 

Everybody else – all the stains – locked down – but of course, what do you expect. But me and my chums, well, we’re the exception that proves the rule. I mean, get real, the law doesn’t apply to us. Said example purely hypothetical of course. And incidentally, that word “stain” – that’s the word the toffs use for us. 

You’ve been listening to the London History Bulletin for January 17th. 

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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