Today (July 8) in London History – the last piece to the puzzle

On this day (July 8) in 1921 George V opened the last of the London  Docks: the King George V Dock. 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.

Graham – the late, lamented Graham – wonderful guide – he was our last link to London Walks’ earliest days – Graham was hired by Keith Baverstock, the Australian who started urban walking tour companies, who founded London Walks – the oldest urban walking tour company in the world. Graham was a successful City of London banker. Keith took him on – made a guide out of him – that was in the early 1970s, some four years after London Walks was founded in 1968. Took him on because of his encyclopedic knowledge of the mysterious ways of the City of London, to say nothing of his connections. 

Anyway, Graham was fond of saying, “London’s going to be a great place when they finally finish it.” That was his wry response to the fact that the building of London – whether it be tearing down and rebuilding or first-time building – the building of London is never-ending – ceaseless and eternal. I’ve not a few times thought, scaffolding might well be London’s most profitable business. The demand is widespread, deep and never-ending. 

Anyway, on this day in London History – July 8th, 1921 – London was finally finished. Correction: a part of London was finally finished. 

The George V Dock – the last dock to be built in central London – was opened on this day. It was an extension of the Albert Dock. It was the finishing touch to a 120-year-long project. The first of the great London docks had been opened in 1801 by William Pitt the Younger, the first prime minister of that brand new sovereign state Great Britain and Ireland that had come into being in that year and would exist until 1922. There’d been 22 prime ministers and six monarchs since that first great London dock was built. And here’s the roll call. The first of the Georgian docks was the West India Dock. It was followed by the London Dock. And then the East India Dock. The Surrey Dock. The Regent’s Canal Dock. St Katherine Dock. The West India South Dock. The Royal Victoria Dock. Millwall Dock. And the Royal Albert Dock. The last one – the one we’re concerned with today – the King George V Dock – was an extension to the Royal Albert Dock. It had cost £4,500,000. That’d be getting on for half a billion pounds in today’s money. It was a big boy. It could accommodate 30,000-ton liners. It was opened by King George V. Buckingham Palace pushed the boat out for the occasion. His Majesty was accompanied by the Queen, the Duke of York, Princess Mary, the Duke of Connaught and other members of the royal family. They travelled by steamship to just below London Bridge. There they transferred to the graceful, snow-white steam yacht Rover.  Full-on ceremony. She was flying the Royal Standard from her mainmast and the White Ensign from her stern. The pier-heads at Gallions Reach were lined by seamen from H.M.S. Pembroke. The lock-sides by boys from the Royal Hospital School, Greenwich, the Warspite, the Arethusa and the Exmouth. 

And here’s the takeaway. Everybody knows about the traditions and ceremonies that mark the launching of a ship. It’s a good luck and blessing and christening ceremony. As it enters the water from the slipways the new ship is named aloud and a bottle of champagne is broken across its bow. Great stuff.

Well, live and learn. Turns out there’s a comparable ceremony for launching – so to speak – a new dock. Ready for this? The royal yacht entered the new dock by breaking a white silken band with her bows. And just like that the King George V dock had arrived.

Ok, Today in London. The recommendation. Has to be going on our Docklands Walk, doesn’t it. It takes place on the first Saturday of every month. So the next one will be Saturday, August 6th. Goes at 10.30 am. Meeting point is Canary Wharf Underground Station. Meet outside the main Jubilee Line exit, NOT the east exit. 

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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