London History Bulletin – January 27

The first of 20 or so gallimaufries. For reasons that will soon be obvious. The London History Bulletin for today, January 27th, is Lady Caroline Campbell displaying in Hyde Park a feather four feet higher than her bonnet. That was January 27th, 1796.


London calling.

London Walks connecting.

London Walks here with your daily London fix.

Story time. History time.

This one was always going to be a gallimaufry. I am, after all, nearly 6,000 miles from London. And – this’ll be more information than you want – running around in shorts and a tee-shirt.

Anyway, it’s January 27th. And in the circumstances let’s put up a London history firework that’s completely quirky, completely zany. And of course very much London for being so.

It’s January 27th, 1796 and we learn from the Gentleman’s Magazine – I’m quoting now – “On this day it was reported that Lady Caroline Campbell displayed in Hyde Park a feather four feet higher than her bonnet.” A bit of late Georgian strutting her stuff, look-at-me.”

And now to make this a proper gallimaufry. I learn today that the full name for Bangkok is the longest name for any city in the world: 168 letters. Translation coming up. But I want you to imagine somebody asking you, where are you from? And having to answer – here it comes – Where am I from? I’m from The city of angels, the great city, the eternal jewel city, the impregnable city of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarma.

A pretty good addition to our gallimaufry, wouldn’t you say. 

While we’re at it, let’s stir in a bit more. Turns out the reason for Bangkok’s overhead telephone and other wires being a complete and total rat’s nest is that when a wire breaks they don’t remove it. They just put up a new one. The old one gets cropped a bit but most of it stays there. If you’re a telephone line, it’s like having all of your ancestors right there, with you forever and anon.

And finally – and, yes, let’s hear it for the mysteries and wonders of language – a lot of words in Thai are combinations of other words. So, for example, the Thai word for wolf is forest dog. Combine the Thai word for forest and the Thai word for dog and you’ve got forest dog. Wolf, in other words. Though it’s not a pooch you’d want to meet up with in the woods.

And anything to do with London? Sure, in the London Walks pipeline – either here for this podcast or a blog post – there’s a forthcoming piece on the different names of London down through the centuries.

The bigger, general point being that language is of course a key to history and culture. Language can light up the past like a firework going off. And those wires, well, cultural difference. Ours are underground. The Thai way of doing it is pretty unsightly. But it’s also a lot cheaper. Digging up a street to replace a cable, that costs a pretty penny.

And just generally, impressions, observations, comparisons, it’s why we travel isn’t it. Why we go on walking tours.

You’ve been listening to the Today in London History podcast for January 27th. 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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