London History Bulletin – January 7

And London gives the world – well, births the idea of – the typewriter. On January 7, 1714. This London History Bulletin tells the tale.


London calling.

London Walks connecting.

London Walks here with your daily London fix.

Story time. History time.

The word was a Johnny Come Lately. It was a century and a half before it finally pitched up. 1868 to be exact. 

The word was typewriter. 

The thing itself – well, a patent for the thing – made its entrance on this day, January 7th, 1714. It was patent number 395. 

It was a patent for a “machine for transcribing letters.” And, yes, the patent makes it clear that it was a forerunner – a precursor – to the modern typewriter. The Model T of which finally came on the scene in the 1860s. 

The January 7th, 1714 patent was applied for – in London of course – by the felicitously named Henry Mill. Felicitously named because Henry Mill was a waterworks engineer who worked for the New River Company. The New River Company was in the business of channelling water to London. Our team of canal walks guides do a New River Walk. Which they pleasingly introduce by saying it’s not new and it’s not a river. It’s a canal of course and it’s been on the London scene for 400 years.

But, anyway, the takeaway is, it looks like London was the birthplace of the typewriter. At the very least the idea for a typewriter.

Which got me thinking, what else, inventions-wise, has London midwived? What other inventions were born here.

Here’s a partial list.

In no particular order, the mini-skirt, the Tube, television, the hole-in-the-wall – aka the ATM – table tennis (ping pong in American parlance), the machine gun, the magazine (as in reading material as opposed to what a machine gun ingests and then murderously spits out), the Scotch Egg, the coin-operated public loo, and not forgetting the No Trousers Tube Ride. Which is tomorrow, incidentally. January 8th. First one since before Covid. 

And I defy anyone to tell me that list isn’t just so London: Scotch egg, television, ping pong, machine gun, typewriter, mini-skirt, etc. So London in its richness and variety and inventiveness and, yes, in places, daftness. 

Well, we might do some more poking around in this part of the London rainforest at a future date. Even from this vantage point I can see a mousetrap and a merry-go-round and a water sprinkler, to say nothing of an automatic rifle that could fire either a ball or a square bullet (it, the square bullet, was reserved for the bogeyman enemy of the early 18th century. But consider that last little list as a downpayment, a trailer. Cometh the hour they’ll have their day in the sun here on the London History Bulletin.

Which is what you’ve been listening to. Yes, 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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