London History Bulletin – January 31

On January 31st, 1747 London opened the world’s first specialist venereal and tropical disease clinic. This London History Bulletin tells the tale.


London calling.

London Walks connecting.

London Walks here with your daily London fix.

Story time. History time.

Ok, other irons in the fire today so I’m going down the beginner’s slope with this one. And that’s no bad thing because into the bargain it avoids the obvious January 31st candidate. Instead, shows you something you wouldn’t have had a clue about. So, novelty with a capital N.

This one’s a slalom down the beginner’s slope because I’ve got a shelf-load of On This Date in History Reference Books and today I’m just going to do a straight lift from one of them. As a rule I’ve eschewed that path of least resistance. Have for the most part done some of my own digging – unearthed contemporary newspaper accounts, etc. I’ve done so out of my own interest and because it’s not fair purloining somebody else’s work.

But today I’m going to purloin away.

One of those On This Date in History reference books is a fun little treatise titled 365 Reasons to be Proud to be a Londoner. It’s subtitled Magical Moments in London’s History. It’s authored by Richard Happer. And I think this is the first time I’ve had recourse to it in other than a reference capacity.

Anywhere, here’s the entry for January 31st. And it really is a dark horse. The achingly obvious candidate for today is the execution, on January 31st 1606 of Guy Fawkes and his fellow Gunpowder Plot conspirators. But no, we’ll follow that sound advice, “always drink upstream from the herd.” We’ll give Guy Fawkes and co. a miss. We’ll back the dark horse.

Richard Happer titles his January 31st entry, A Big Clap for the New Hospital. As you’ll shortly see, Happer has a happy way with this rich tongue of ours. He likes wordplay.

Here’s his entry:

The fact that London opened the world’s first specialist venereal and tropical disease clinic is a medical advance to be proud of. That it was to deal with the problem of London being the syphilis capital of the world in the 16th and 17th centuries – not so much. Thanks to all those adventurers in their fancy ships sailing to parts unknown and bringing back God-knows-what in their breeches, the London Lock Hospital was opened in Grosvenor Place on this day in 1747. Its name came from the ‘locks’, or rags that lepers used to wear. Nice.”

And in the interest of not letting the embers under the gallimaufry burn out, here’s a puff of Thai language oxygen. The Thai word for river literally translates as “mother water.” The language spelling out, as it were, that waterways are of the essence to Thai civilisation.

And as long as we’re there, how about this for an object lesson. The last time we were in Bangkok – we were newbies, it was our first visit – we tried on two consecutive nights to find Chinatown. On the map it looked like it was close to our hotel. We thought, “let’s see if we can find our way there.” Two swings and two misses. Failed miserably, failed abjectly. Both times.

This time we were in the same hotel and determined not to make that mistake again. So we booked a China Town Food Tour. A triumph. 15 stops. 19 courses. Fascinating route. Loved every second of it. Our guide was Ing. Twenty minutes after we started he put us in at the street food restaurant his mother Earg has cooked for for 35 years. And its neighbour next door, chef’d by Zuhua, Ing’s auntie.

It always stands up, it never gets old that sage advice: local knowledge, latch on to it, it’ll always stand you in good stead.

You’ve been listening to the London History Bulletin for January 31st. 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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