London History Bulletin – January 23

January 23rd, 1669 Samuel Pepys discovers that he’s louzy. Lots of head and body lice. This London History Bulletin tells the tale.


London calling.

London Walks connecting.

London Walks here with your daily London fix.

Story time. History time.

Well, there are more important January 23rd London happenings. Notably the death of William Pitt the Younger on January 23rd, 1806. He’d been Britain’s youngest prime minister, taking up that role when he was only 24. For that matter, he was very young when he died. Just 46. He was utterly worn out by the pressures of the job and indeed trying, with no success, to check Napoleon’s advances on the continent. His last words are a matter of dispute. Some say he murmured, “I leave my country”. Others, “I love my country.” Though I prefer, “I could eat one of Bellamy’s pork pies.” He died in his rented villa on Putney Heath. There are a couple of nice symmetries about his breathing his last at Putney Heath on January 23rd, 1806. It was 25 years to the day he’d first entered the House of Commons. And it was on Putney Heath that Pitt had fought his duel, eight years previously, with George Tierney. It was pistols at twelve paces. Neither man was injured.

And for another one, on January 23rd 1571 good Queen Bess, Queen Elizabeth I, opened the Royal Exchange. Well, we’ll see where we are in a year’s time. Both of those events are susceptible to a fuller treatment. Maybe next year. I’m not in the mood today. Instead, we’re going to have a little bit of Restoration domesticity and private life. Samuel Pepys’ diary entry for January 23rd, 1669. As you’ll see – well, as you’ll hear – Pepys was having a bit of botheration. But all’s well that ends well.

Here’s the entry.

And as long as we’re on that delightful subject – head lice – we might as well roll out the other most famous London head lice story. Especially given that this is going to be a coronation year. Let’s go back 624 years – 1399 – and look closely at the coronation of Henry IV. Remember, Henry had usurped the throne from his cousin Richard II. And come the key moment, when the stolen crown was placed upon Henry’s head – well, it didn’t bode well that the new King’s head was crawling with head lice.

And on that cheerful note, it’s time to love you and leave you. You’ve been listening to the London History Bulletin for January 23rd.

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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