Today (August 9) in London History – British women, we should be lost in admiration

A bunch of remarkable August 9th London (and London area) women. This Today in London History podcast tells the tale.


London calling.

London Walks connecting.

London Walks here with your daily London fix.

Story time. History time.

Storytime, history time for August 9th.

We need some music to get us started. Let’s head down to 180 Ebury Street. It’s a 1764 Air B n B.

A young Austrian musician named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is staying there. Today, August 9th, is a red letter day for that young man. He’s just completed his first symphony. He’s eight years old. 

So, yes, our overture features that wee lad. The rest of this is about women. London women. And London area women. And London areas. We’re going to push the boat out a little bit. Head to London on the Sea – Brighton. And Tillbury – where London’s river meets the sea.

So, yes, wasser – water – is our medium here. These three sets of August 9th London (and London area) women are like water lilies. We’ll take them chronologically.

Beginning on August 9th, 1588. 

It’s an electrifying time in English history. For about three weeks the Spanish Armada has taken a pummeling from the weather and the superior seamanship of English vessels. But the threat hasn’t been seen off. There’s an invasion force just across the channel in the Netherlands. A force of 4,500 English militia have been assembled in Tilbury – down on the Thames Estuary from London – to try to beat them back should they cross the channel and head up the Thames to London. Good Queen Bess – Queen Elizabeth I – clad in a suit of armour – goes down to Tilbury to address those 4,500 militiamen. Breathe fire into them, Steel them to the task at hand. What she says to them – as a piece of oratory – won’t see its equal until Winston Churchill works his magic with words some 350 years later. Here’s her address:

And now we’re going to come forward 23 years – August 9th, 1611– and we’re going to the other end of the social scale.

We’re going to meet a London woman who, alas, is given some rough treatment. She’s magnificently named. Step forward Maudlin Tichon. Maudlin’s a parishioner of St Martin in the Fields. She was sharp-tongued. A scold. So much so that they arranged a special punishment for her. And no need to be coy about that vague pronoun “they” – the people who punished her. They will have been men.

We get the tale from the City of London Records Office. That word scold, that’s their word. I prefer to think of Maudlin as high-spirited. And I very much hope she gave as good as she got. I think of her as a Tudor Yenta – to use that splendid Yiddish word. I can see – or rather hear – that sharp tongue of hers lacerating them with the Tudor equivalent of that good old Yiddish curse, “May a buffalo in heat find you in his time of need.” Or in that same vein – how does the story go – “An elderly Jewish woman is leaving the garment district to go home from work. Suddenly a man who has been walking toward her stands in front of her, blocks her path, opens up his raincoat and flashes her. Unruffled, Maudlin takes a look and remarks, “You call that a lining.”

Anyway, whatever she said, it earned her special treatment from the parish fathers. The usual punishment for a scold was a ducking in a stream. The swine wanted to make an example of Maudlin so they laid on some extra for her. She was towed across the Thames at the tail of a boat. That was on August 9th, 1611. I hope she found a way to pay them back.

And more power to English female-dom – on August 9th, 1979 Britain’s first nudist beach opened. In Brighton of course. As one would expect, women acquit themselves better than men. The event attracts lots of peeping toms – all men of course. The women comport themselves with a lovely combination of joie de vivre and dignity. It’s been suggested that the culturally shaming page 3 picture – which of course now, and rightly so, has pretty much been consigned to the dust bin of history – said page 3 picture – the brainchild, needless to say, of editors of my gender –  it’s been suggested that the yucky press coverage – which inevitably featured coy, unclad but discreetly posed young women may have been the petri dish and ingredients that gave rise to the Page 3 girl.

But it’s quite a yomp, isn’t it, August 9th. One of the greatest moments of the greatest monarch of them all and, one hopes, the wrath and blazing indignation and unquenchable spirit of Maudlin Tichon and fearless and dignified nudes on Brighton Beach. British women – we all should be lost in admiration. 

And for a Today in London recommendation, I think we better go to the V & A. Start with Londoner Sir Paul Pindar’s House. It’s almost contemporary with Queen Elizabeth’s day at Tilbury. And just generally, the V & A’s collection of Tudor objet d’art runs to nearly 2,000 items. Enough to get you started. 

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. See ya tomorrow.

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