London Lights the Fuse that Leads to the Spanish Civil War – July 11th, 1936

London calling.

London Walks connecting.

London Walks here with today’s London fix.

Story time. History time.

He was like a carny barker. I couldn’t resist him.

“Step this way, step this way. C’mon young man, give it a go. You won’t be sorry. Here’s your scraper. Here’s the Wall of Centuries. Pick a spot, any spot – scrape the pebble dash off the wall of centuries and see where you land, see what you got.”

So I gave it a scrape. Off came the pebble dash and there we were – In 1936. And what have we got? Well, to start with, we’ve got three kings. It’s farewell King George V – he dies on January 20th. Farewell George V and hello Edward VIII. The proclamation and accession of the new king – “the king is dead, long live the king” – happens in a matter of hours.

And then, before the year is out, it’s farewell Edward VIII and hello King George VI. This time it’s not the King is dead, It’s “Whereas, by an instrument of abdication, dated the 10th day of December instant, his former Majesty King Edward VIII, did declare his irrevocable Determination to renounce the Throne for Himself and His Descendants, and the said Instrument of Abdication has now taken effect, whereby the Imperial Crown of Great Britain, Ireland and all other of His former Majesty’s dominions is now solely and rightfully come to the High and Mighty Prince Albert Frederick Arthur George: We, therefore, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of this Realm, being here assisted with these of His former Majesty’s Privy Council, with Numbers of other Principal Gentlemen of Quality, with the Lord Mayor, Aldermen and Citizens of London, do now hereby with one Voice and Consent of Tongue and Heart, publish and proclaim, That the High and Mighty Prince Albert Frederick Arthur George is now become our only lawful and rightful Liege Lord George the Sixth by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India: To whom we do acknowledge all Faith and constant Obedience, with all hearty and humble Affection, beseeching God, by whom Kings and Queens do reign, to bless the Royal Prince George the Sixth with long and happy Years to reign over us. Given at St James’s Palace, this Twelfth day of December in the year of our Lord One thousand nine hundred and thirty-six.”

Some of that diction – some of that phrasing – has me rubbing my hands in glee. Especially that “Numbers of other Principal Gentlemen of Quality.” I’d love to have subbed that script. The mischief maker in me would have tried to sneak in the phrase: “And one stowaway who’s most definitely not a gentleman, let alone a gentleman of quality.” And you can’t help but notice that London’s the only city in the realm that gets a mention, that’s above the salt, as it were.   

Anyway, three kings in one year, as royal rides go, that’s bumpy. There were of course straws in the wind. In late October, Stanley Baldwin, the Prime Minister, had warned Edward VIII that gossip about himself and Mrs Wallis Simpson was undermining respect for the throne. And less than a month later, the prime minister gave the thumb screw another turn – he warns Edward VIII that if he marries Mrs Simpson he would offend public opinion and damage prestige of the throne. Three and a half weeks Edward packs it in.

And what else is under the pebble dash on that section of the Wall of Centuries? Well, more American news – Wallis Simpson, Edward’s femme fatale, was of course an American – yes, more American news, FDR is elected to his second term as American president. And then for the rest, well, it’s not happy days, 1936.

Troublous times. Plenty of storm clouds. Chapter and verse: Germany violates the Treaty of Versailles, moves into the Rhineland. Britain jacks its defence spending way up, from £122 million to £158 million. 99 per cent of the electorate vote for official Nazi candidates in German elections. Britain opens its first civil-defence anti-gas school. Austria reintroduces conscription. Fascists win 21 seats in Belgian elections. In Spain, the army revolts – this was on July 18th – and General Franco fires the starting pistol on the Spanish Civil War.

A law is passed that makes Hitler Youth the only legally permitted youth organisation in Germany and makes membership mandatory for all Aryans.

Germany and Italy recognise Franco’s government in Spain. Oswald Mosley leads an anti-Jewish march along Mile End Road in London. Germany and Japan get into bed together – they sign the anti-Comintern pact. It’s like watching, in slow-motion, an impending disaster. A terrible train crash, say, that is about to happen and cannot be prevented. You can just see it coming.

But let’s zoom right in. What about today, July 11th? And what about right here, London? What happened in London on July 11th, 1936? What’s underneath the pebbledash we scraped away?

London is sort of snoozing away. Balham is tuning up for a by-election. And there’s much wailing and gnashing of teeth about how poorly British entrants are faring at Henley. And there’s been an epidemic of gastro-enteritis in several Surrey towns, thanks to an infected well in North Cheam. And St Martin in the Fields is about to play host to a memorial service for Sir Oswyn Murray.

What else? We learn that the Lord Mayor of London has received over £150,000 towards the King George V National Memorial. And a Society has been formed for the study of early Welsh Music. And some interesting Naval Exhibits have gone on display in central London. The entrance hall of Charing Cross Underground Station is displaying exhibits that illustrate the life and work of the lower deck. Two actual seamen’s messes, with kits, hammocks, mess traps, etc. laid out as for the Captain’s weekly inspection. And heavy rain all but spoiled the Kingston Amateur Regatta. Many of the boats were waterlogged by the time they reached the winning post. The rain also spoiled the Eton v. Harrow cricket match at Lords.

On the bright side, a London man who last year was sentenced to 18 months in prison in Germany for ‘insulting the leader’ has been released and is on his way back to London. And the International Trades Union Congress, meeting in London, has made some progress towards establishing a united international trade union movement.

Conferences aplenty. A thousand delegates to the third international conference on social work are in London this week. In Parliament the Labour Party is campaigning to have the means test scrapped.

And the London County Council is getting its teeth into a big slum clearance proposal – if passed, it’ll clear the way for 5,000 new flats.

Lots of music – Irish Guards playing in Green Park and Welsh Guards in Hyde Park.

My favourite, though, a lot of excitement about the new arrival at the London Zoo. The egg-eating snake of South Africa. The little fellow may have a head scarcely larger than a man’s little finger but he’s a good trencherman, has jaws to be reckoned with. His mouth is highly extensile and almost toothless. The better for engulfing a hen’s egg. About a third of the way down the snake’s interior, the egg, still whole, comes into contact with a number of sharp, enamel-coated spines on the inner surface of the vertebrae. The spines break the egg and the snake, after tilting the contents into its interior, ejects the crushed shell. You could say the snake carries teeth on its vertebral column.

I’d go and see that.

And that’s it. Except it’s not it. There’s one more little story. A De Havilland Rapide takes off from Croydon Airport on this day, July 11th, 1936. The Captain, Cecil Bebb, flies the plane to Las Palmas. In Las Palmas Captain Bebb picks up a Spanish military nobody. A face in the crowd General. Captain Bebb flies the Senor to the mainland. The General’s name is Franco. When he gets to the mainland he starts the Spanish civil war. Basically that flight from London lights the fuse that leads to the Spanish Civil War.

Or putting that another way, all roads lead to London.

You’ve been listening to the Today in London History podcast. 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. See ya next time.

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