London History Bulletin – January 21

The glamorous “French” highwayman Claude Duval was hanged on January 21st, 1670. This London History Bulletin tells the tale.


London calling.

London Walks connecting.

London Walks here with your daily London fix.

Story time. History time.

January 21st. January 21st, 1670.

The day they hanged the most wanted man in England.

And there, in those words, “the most wanted man”, is our first double entendre.

He was French. Or so it was put about. He was a highwayman. He was gallant and gracious. And obviously a looker. The law caught up with him at the Hole in the Wall tavern in Chandos Street in Covent Garden. He was committed to Newgate. He was tried at the Old Bailey. He was hanged at Tyburn. And buried in St. Paul’s Covent Garden. Or so the legend goes.

His name was Claude Duval, the prince of highwaymen.

Now I’m going to take a shortcut here. I first heard about Claude Duval from Anton Powell. Dr Anton Powell, he of the Cambridge University PhD in Classics. Anton Powell was a London Walks guide. And a friend. It was Anton who got me into London Walks. That was 43 years ago. He’s the author of the classic guidebook London Walks, published 42 years ago. I take considerable pride in the acknowledgement Anton gave me in the book for the bit of help I gave him on Dickens.

Anyway, Anton’s got a lovely entry in the book about Claude Duval. It’s written so well, I’m going to let Anton tell the story rather than clumsily retell it in the interests of making it my own. It’s not my own, it’s Anton’s. So I’m going to give you the genuine article rather than an imitation. And accompany same with a recommendation that you buy the book. It’s on Kindle. And indeed it’s also an Audiobook, narrated jointly – and delightfully – by Jean Marsh and Anton himself.

And now I’m going to narrate Anton’s three paragraphs about Claude Duval.

Today, January 21st, after all, is, in a sense, Claud Duval Day in London. 

You’ve been listening to the London History Bulletin. 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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