London History Bulletin – January 30

In this London History Bulletin David makes the case for January 30th being Clio’s Day of Days.


London calling.

London Walks connecting.

London Walks here with your daily London fix.

Story time. History time.

If I had to pick a special day for Clio – her Day of Days – January 30th would certainly be on the shortlist.

In Greek mythology Clio – spelled C L I O – is the Muse of History. Her name derives from the word kleo – spelled K L E O – which means to tell or make famous or celebrate. 

No question about it, Clio has a lot to tell on January 30th. Beginning with January 30th, 1649. The day they executed King Charles I. If you’re down that way, it’s a London event that’s made to order for a guide. He’d spent his last night at St James’s Palace. It was a cold day. He asked for two shirts because he knew his execution was going to be public and he was worried he might shiver from the cold and he didn’t want the spectators to think he was trembling from fear. His guards took him on his last walk – from St James’ Palace across St James Park to the execution block on the scaffolding outside Banqueting House. His dog Rogue gambolling at his heels as they walked across the park. For the dog it was just another walk.

Guiding it you point out the clock at Horse Guards. Make the point that before Big Ben came along it was the main public clock for London. And get your walks to see what’s unique about it. It’s the only clock in the country that has both Roman numerals and Arabic numbers. And you get them to notice the black background to the number 2. It’s black because 2 pm was the time, the hour when the king’s head was chopped off. A black moment in this country’s history. Though perhaps not for those who’d like to see the back of royalty once and for all. 

And we jump forward 12 years – to January 30th 1649. We’ll let the diarist John Evelyn tell the tale.

“This day [and we know full well why they picked January 30th] this day were the carcasses of those arch-rebels Cromwell, Bradshaw and General Ireton dragged out of their superb tombs in Westminster…to Tyburn and hanged on the gallows, and then buried in a deep pit.” Evelyn leaves off there – but if you’re a guide, it’s an open goal to make the point that their heads were displayed on spikes on the roof of Westminster Hall. Displayed on spikes on the roof of the building where Charles I had been tried, found guilty and sentenced to death. And of course there’s the further visual aid there of the statue of Cromwell outside the Hall and directly over the way, in a niche over a little door in the east wall of St Margaret’s Westminster, a bust of Charles I. It’s a nice British political compromise. The two of them are looking at one another. Royalists say if you look closely at the statue of Cromwell clearly he’s hanging his head in shame at his act of regicide.

And finally, one more pretty good claim to January 30th being Clio’s Special Day. January 30th 1965 was the day of Winston Churchill’s funeral. His coffin had lain in state at – wait for it – Westminster Hall. From there it was taken to St Paul’s for the funeral. Then to Tower Pier. Then upstream to Waterloo – famously the riverside cranes bowing in that tableau of mechanical mourning. And then from Waterloo by train to Bladon churchyard and the great man’s final resting place. 

And those are riches enough for today. We’re not done with the gallimaufry. I suspect it’ll be back tomorrow. 

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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