Today (July 10) in London History – “that” American millionaire

On this day – July 10, 1862 – the great American philanthropist George Peabody was made a Freeman of the City of London.


London calling.

London Walks connecting.

London Walks here with your daily London fix.

Story time. History time.

July 7th. July 7th, 2022. It’s history now. And what a day – what a day, day and a half it’s been. Never done this before but I’m going to create a time capsule for July 7th, 2022. A pull-together of articles and a few comments that – like comets – have streaked across – and scored – my mental skies these last few hours. Like those old time-lapse photographs of the night sky that show the trajectory of stars. Who’s to say but maybe somebody will be preparing a Today in London History package or presentation come July 7, 2122 or July 7th, 2222 and what happened today will take centre stage and if somebody unearths my time capsule, well, they’ll have it all to hand, “here’s what happened and here, conveniently set out like cakes and cucumber sandwiches at a tea party are the goodies that struck the fancy of somebody who was there that day all those years ago.”

And for those of you who are here now – the quick – as in alive and kicking in July 2022 – well, I’ll put the capsule up in a day or two and you can see what the London Walks capo was reading and responding to – and in many cases giggling at – on July 7, 2022.

Ok, moving on. This is the Today in London History podcast for July 10th. And we’re going to go to July 10th, 1862. Look in on a ceremony in the City of London. An American – one George Peabody – is being made a freeman of the City of London. He’s not bought the honour. He’s not paid anyone off for it. Not slipped anyone a back-hander. Well, money has changed hands – but not in that way, that way that’s become the common currency of the degraded times we live in. No, George Peabody, the American millionaire, has so far this year donated £150,000 to the welfare of the poor of London. And the money’s being put to the use for which it’s intended. It’s being looked after properly. The Peabody Trust has been set up to administer it. It’s a roundish anniversary for George Peabody and his adopted city. He came to London 25 years ago to negotiate a loan to save the state of Maryland from bankruptcy. He started a very successful American bank in the City of London. Come retirement he decided to put most of his fortune to work for London’s downtrodden, deserving poor. Here’s how he put it in a letter to the Times, “the purpose of the fund is to ameliorate the condition of the poor and needy of this great metropolis and to promote their comfort and happiness.”

Were there strings attached? Of course there were. But fair dues. The beneficiaries had to be Londoners by birth or residence. They had to be the London deserving poor. They had to be of good moral character. How successful was it? Twenty years later the Peabody Trust owned 3,500 buildings. And 160 years later – today – they’re still going strong. 

George Peabody has another seven years to live. Chances are come early November I’ll be telling the tale of his funeral here on this podcast. It’s a remarkable story, both because of size and spectacle of the funeral and because of what was going on on the world stage at that time. And most of all, because of the response of Londoners. 

Ok, Today in London. Apart from watching the news, tracking back over what happened today – well, how’s about – when it’s open again – a visit to the Ragged School Museum. As they say in their publicity, A Slice of Victorian Life. And, yes, this is one for your To-Do when it reopens list. They’re closed at the moment for refurbishment. 

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. Nothing to add except… Welcome back! You were sorely missed. See ya tomorrow.

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