London History Bulletin – January 9

Admiral Nelson’s funeral was held on January 9, 1806. This London History Bulletin tells the tale.


London calling.

London Walks connecting.

London Walks here with your daily London fix.

Story time. History time.

It was the most impressive funeral of the 19th century. It took place on this day, January 9th, 1806. It was of course the funeral of Admiral Nelson. In the ringing, closing remarks of its coverage, The Times described the event as  “The funeral of a Hero who has achieved, in the service of his country, the greatest naval exploits that were ever performed by any Conqueror that has yet existed, was attended by the seven sons of his Sovereign, by the chief Nobility, Gentry and Merchants of the empire, and by many thousands of subjects of all classes, with a universal, an unmixed, and a heartfelt sense of grief for his loss; but at the same time with a glorious exultation in the deeds by which his life has been adorned, and his death consecrated to immortal honours. We trust that this great Defender of Britain, this “dear Son of Memory,” and “Great Heir of Fame,” has lived for posterity, and that while the name of Nelson is remembered, we shall never want those who are animated by his zeal, and are ardently desirous of imitating his brilliant example.” The burial of course took place in St Paul’s Cathedral.

An hour before daylight the drums of the different Volunteer Corps in every part of the metropolis beat to arms. The summons was quickly obeyed, and soon troops lined the streets, in two ranks, from St Paul’s Churchyard to the Admiralty. By 10 o’clock some 160 carriages were assembled in a line from Hyde Park Corner to Cumberland Gate. In St James’s Park were drawn up all the regiments of Cavalry and Infantry, quartered within a hundred miles of London. At half past ten, the Procession commenced from the Admiralty.

The funeral car was modelled, at the ends, in imitation of the hull of the Victory. The coffin was on the quarter-deck, with its head toward the stern, with an English Jack pendant over the poop, and lowered half staff. The corners and sides were decorated with black ostrich feathers and festooned with black velvet, richly fringed. On one side, inscribed in gold, the word Nile, on the other side, the word Trafalgar. In the procession, the private chariot of the deceased Lord. Empty. The blinds drawn up. The coachman and footman in deep mourning, with bouquets of cypress. Notable among the thousands of mourners awaiting the Funeral Car’s arrival at St. Paul’s, 48 Greenwich Pensioners, with 48 Seamen and 12 marines from the Victory. The Funeral Car was drawn up outside the Western gate of St. Paul’s. The body was taken from the Car, covered with the Pall, and borne by twelve seamen from the Victory.

Then came the solemn service. Evening drew on. The procession, the funeral was an all-day affair. In the final chapter, the interior of St Paul’s was lit by torches and lamps.

After the service was over, Garter proclaimed the style, as usual, and the Comptroller, Steward and Treasurer of the deceased Lord broke their staves, and gave the pieces to Garter, who threw them into the grave, in which also the flags of the Victory, being furled up by the sailors were deposited. And then something happened that was spontaneous, wasn’t scripted. In the words of the Times, the honest tars who bore into the church the ensigns of the Victory, desirous of retaining some mementoes of their great and favourite Commander, tore off a considerable part of the largest flag, of which most, perhaps all of them, acquired a small portion. 

You’ve been listening to the London History Bulletin for January 9th. 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. And that’s by way of saying, Good Londoning one and all. Nothing to add except… Welcome back! You were sorely missed. See ya tomorrow.

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