Trafalgar Square Redux 12 – the Statue Nobody Knows

London calling.

London Walks connecting.

This… is London.

This is London Walks.

Streets ahead.

Story time. History time.

It’s March 6th, 2024.

The pin for the day – the news story that gets the show on the road – is the findings of a new study by the children’s charity Kindred. The study polled 1,000 primary school teachers in England and Wales about the developmental conditions of kids starting school. The findings don’t make pretty reading. Twenty-five percent of the little kids starting school aren’t toilet trained. Nearly 40 percent of them “struggle to play or share with others.”  More than one in four of them are at sea with books. They don’t know what they’re for. They don’t know how to use them. Basically they don’t know what a book is. Given a book their instinctive response is to swipe it or tap it, “as if using an electronic device.”

I hope at least some of you are as horrified by that as I am.

Yet another reminder – not that we needed any – that we live in a scambling and unquiet time. Yes, you heard correctly. I didn’t say ‘scrambling’, I said scambling. It’s an old word. An obsolete word. Shakespeare knew it and used it. Its primary meaning is contentious or rapacious. That’s certainly our time. But its secondary meaning is also applicable. The secondary meaning is slipshod, slovenly, makeshift, carelessly executed. I think there’s a direct connection between the primary and secondary meanings. Rapacity and contention are a couple of the main drivers of our polity, our culture. And rapacity and contention are skewing the way we educate our kids. Kids not knowing what a book is and how you use it, there’s something badly wrong there, something slipshod, makeshift, carelessly executed. A scambling and unquiet time indeed.

Can’t resist a personal story here. A couple of months ago I was in the Maldives. One day we took a break from our resort island and went on a tour of a work-a-day Maldives island. Though island’s hardly the word for it. It wasn’t much more than a big sandbar. Maybe a quarter of a mile long, a couple of hundred yards across. Unpaved streets on a grid pattern. Maybe 1500 villagers. Modest houses. No palatial houses. No hovels. The two finest buildings – by a long shot – were the elementary school and the secondary school. I know next to nothing about Maldives history, about their culture, their present-day situation, etc. but the fact that the best buildings on that little island are its two schools – well, to me that says they’ve got their priorities right.

Moving on, today’s Random. Howzabout a stark London history factoid. In 1658 there were 50 capital crimes. And from there it just takes off. Up, up, up. The great London historian Peter Ackroyd says over the next century the number of offences for which men and women could be hanged rocketed up to over 350. Forgery was a capital crime. You could be hanged for stealing goods worth a shilling or more. You could swing for cutting down a tree. Or damaging a garden. Or burning down a barn or a hay rick. Or poaching deer, rabbit, or fish. Or being out at night with a blackened face. Marrying a Jew was a capital crime. As was writing threatening letters. You could be hanged for possessing a hunting dog. In fact, you didn’t have to commit any of those crimes. Being found guilty of conspiring to commit them could earn you a death sentence. Conspiring. Conspiracy. Interesting words. They’re cognate with inspiration and respiration. The root of which is to breathe. Con the prefix to conspiracy means with. Conspiracy ultimately means to breathe together. I suppose the idea is you have to get close and whisper. You’re planning a crime with somebody else you don’t want to be overheard.

Well, that’s crime and punishment on the local, individual level. For our Ongoing – yes, its back to Trafalgar Square – let’s take a look at crime – or if you will, the taking of life – at a national and international level.

Which neatly brings us to the Trafalgar Square statue of a man whom nobody knows, nobody cares about. Which was pretty much how London Mayor Ken Livingstone put it twenty-five years ago. He was talking about the two generals who flank Nelson’s column. General Napier and Major General Havelock. Ken Livingstone, who’s now history himself – and that’s the word history used in that disparaging sense that Americans are prone to wheel out – Livingstone, who’s now so last century, said he didn’t know the generals from Adam and his guess was that not one person in 10,000 who passed by them had the foggiest who they were. And that maybe they should be put out to pasture and replaced with monuments that actually meant something to today’s Londoners. Well, the London Mayor didn’t get his way. And his saying that was like poking a stick into various and sundry hornets’ nests. The army wasn’t happy. Nor was the conservative opposition and their outriders in the Telegraph and other newspapers for whom Red Ken was anathema.

But it’s hard to take issue with Ken Livingstone’s opening salvo. People don’t know Generals Havelock and Napier from Adam. For me, for London Walks, for this podcast, that’s a teaching opportunity. I can give you a factoid or two and a couple of nicknames that will bring General Havelock instantly into focus and guarantee that you’ll never forget him. Starting with nicknames. General Havelock’s close friends called him “the galvanised ramrod.”

And it almost goes without saying that he looms large in a couple George Macdonald Fraser’s wonderful, acidly funny Flashman novels. Macdonald Fraser rates him. Which is good enough for me. In the Flashman weltanschaung he’s known as Gravedigger Havelock. But there’s grudging respect – Macdonald Fraser portrays him as a very competent officer. But let’s give the last word to Flashy himself – Macdonald Fraser’s antihero. Harry Flashman, that insatiable lecher, scoundrel, liar, cheat, thief, coward and toady unforgettably and irreverently describes the great Victorian general as “Abraham Lincoln dying of diarrhea, with his mournful whiskers and bloodhound eyes”. That also is good enough for me.

What else? Well, General Havelock has the distinction of being the only dead man to have been made a baronet. Queen Victoria conferred the baronetcy on him from afar. She was in England. He was in India. And he’d just died. It took two months for the news of his death to reach these shores. Her Majesty thought she was honouring the living hero Lucknow. But as it happened he died shortly before she bestowed the honour on him.

So why the statue? Well, that hugely important event in British imperial history. The Indian Mutiny of 1857. It all comes down to words, doesn’t. That nomenclature, Indian Mutiny, is controversial today. But in 1857 it captured how the British felt betrayed by the Indian soldiers they were employing, who then rebelled against them. Time – seven generations to be exact – has ploughed under those raw feelings of betrayal and today what happened in India in 1857 is usually referred to as the Great Rebellion. But even on these far shores of time, we shouldn’t kid ourselves about what happened. There were monstrous cruelties. And an almost unimaginable – certainly for those times – loss of life. Some 6,000 British dead. That figure, I suppose, can be looked at unflinchingly. But for every Briton slain close to 135 Indians were killed. The best rough estimate is 800,000 dead Indians. To get that into perspective, that’s within shouting distance of the number of British dead in the Great War.

In geopolitical terms it was a continental eruption and earthquake, the tremors of which reached round the world. It led to the dissolution of the East India Company. And look, time out on the field for an unashamed London Walks plug. Lisa Honan, the distinguished diplomat, touches on the Great Rebellion on her East India Company walk.

But the hurricane of the Great Rebellion didn’t just batter the East India Company. The uprising changed everything. It forced the British to reorganise the army, the financial system and the overall administration in India.

Library shelves are groaning with book-length studies of the Great Rebellion. And properly so. But for our purposes here I’m confine myself to putting down markers on two bases. The spark that touched it off. And Major General Havelock’s march on besieged Lucknow.

The spark – terribly and fascinatingly – has a London connection. A North London connection. Enfield to be exact. Famous for the Enfield Pattern 1853 rifled musket. The rifle and its ammunition was introduced to the ranks in India. The balls it fired used paper cartridges that came pre-greased. To load the rifle the Indian infantrymen, the sepoys, had to bite the cartridge open to release the powder. The grease used on these cartridges was rumoured to include tallow derived from beef, which was anathema to Hindus, and lard derived from pork, which was offensive to Muslims. Animal fat cartridges. Spark is the right word. Those cartridges, ordering those soldiers to bite down on them – it was like striking a match in a gunpowder arsenal.

As for the relief of Lucknow in north India… the British Commissioner at Lucknow had time to fortify his position inside the residency compound. There were about 1700 defenders – to be exact 855 British soldiers, 712 Indian soldiers and 153 volunteers. They were protecting nearly 1300 civilians. And protect them they did. But at a cost. The attackers were in adjacent buildings. Firing at will. The Commissioner was shot dead. In the event, the Lucknow defenders were able to hold off their attackers for 90 days. That’s how long it took the relief force under Sir Henry Havelock to fight their way to Lucknow. Havelock’s numerically small column – it was about 2,500 men – defeated rebel forces in a series of increasingly large battles on the way to Lucknow. For the record, the Major General and his relief force got to Cawnpore a day too late. The massacre had happened. The women and children, alive and dead, flung down the well. That got all the attention of course. Less well known – it shouldn’t be – the murderous reprisals Major General Havelock’s forces carried out when they got to Cawnpore and saw what had happened. In 20th-century aerial warfare terms, it was a blanket bombing of reprisals. Well, that’s another ghastly chapter in the The Great Rebellion tale. We have to get the Major General to Lucknow. Havelock’s fighting his way through Indian country – how weirdly appropriate that American usage is in this instance – Havelock’s fighting his way through Indian country came to be known as he First Relief of Lucknow. The First Relief because his forces weren’t strong enough to break the siege.  But getting there gave heart to and reinforced the besieged Lucknow garrison. It took the arrival of a second, larger force under Sir Colin Campbell to break the siege and ultimately relieve the garrison.  But Major General Havelock’s long, embattled march – badly outnumbered as they were – did the trick with the Victorian public. Earned him what a contemporary newspaper called imperishable glory. And in due course, the statue in Trafalgar Square that the London Mayor said was irrelevant because nobody had the foggiest about General Havelock.

It’s true that the long view you get from history – safely removed from the passions of the day – is disinterested. It provides perspective. Perspective that’s sharpened by more recent historical events that loom much larger in our minds: the Holocaust, Hiroshima, 911, etc. And that sieve-like quality of history – draining away the felt experience of the time – that’s not an unmitigated good. So let’s end by getting back to how Lucknow felt to the men and women for whom it wasn’t history – it was their lives, their times, the big news story of the day. End by getting back to how they felt about Major General Henry Havelock.

This contemporary newspaper account mainlines us back into the eye of that storm of felt experience. “He [Major General Havelock] was a commander who lived in the hearts of his soldiers, and for whom and with whom they were prepared to dare every danger and encounter every toil. His story will be recorded in the proudest pages of England’s history, and his example will nerve the arms of warriors yet unborn. His fame survives as a rich legacy to his country, and it is for that country to consult its own honour amongst the nations by taking care of his family. His monument will be found in the love of his soldiers, in the gratitude of the women rescued at Lucknow, and in the reverence which will embalm his memory in the affections of his countrymen. Whether Redtapism will be able or unable to find a precedent for a national monument we know not, but to live in marble would be but a small addition to the blaze of imperishable glory in which the sun of Havelock has gone down.”

I’m tempted to end this on that note but if you’re going to be completely clear-sighted – and hard-headed – about London you have to mention the other Havelock. The lion named Havelock. And of course once you know the story of Havelock the lion you can’t not think about it when you’re in Trafalgar Square looking at the statue of Major General Havelock. You can’t not think about it because just 20 yards away from the statue is one of the four lions that guard Nelson’s column. Anyway, Havelock the lion. He was of course named after the Major General. He was a performing lion at Astley’s Amphitheatre. Astley’s Amphitheatre was the first modern circus ring. It was located at Westminster Bridge Road. More or less in the direction in which the Havelock statue is looking. And I’m afraid Havelock the Lion did something pretty ghastly barely two months before the Havelock statue was erected in Trafalgar Square. The statue was unveiled on April 5th, 1861. On January 22, 1861 an inexperienced circus undergroom named Smith entered the circus ring. The circus’s three lions – one of them being Havelock – were kept in a cage at the back of the circus ring. But they’d torn off a heavy iron bar which crossed the front of the cage and burst open the door. They were prowling around the circus ring when Smith walked in upon them. As soon as he spotted them the undergroom turned on his heel. Who wouldn’t. He tried to get to an adjoining stable yard. He didn’t make it. Havelock caught him – seized him by the haunches – throttled him. Fixed its fangs in his throat. Dragged him about. Dashed his head against the ground. A man in the stable yard heard a shuffling sound. He rightly suspected something was amiss. He summoned some other grooms. When they got to the circus ring Havelock was crouching over Smith’s body as a hungry dog hangs over a piece of meat. Crockett the lion conqueror – that was the term they used, not lion tamer but lion conqueror – Crockett the lion conqueror arrived. He threw the animal off, dragged the still-warm body into the yard. A surgeon was sent for but could do nothing. Crockett secured the lions. Fourteen hours later it was show time at Astley’s. Yes, the show went on that night. Havelock and his two fellow lions went through their usual performances before a crowded audience. That’s London for you. Hard as nails.

Needless to say it’s not a matter of taste, but surely it’s a small mercy that Major General Havelock was not known as The Lion of India.

And there I’ve done it for you. That unknown planet – Major General Havelock – has come swimming into your ken. Henceforth you’ll look at him eagle-eyed whenever you’re in Trafalgar Square. You’ll look at him and you’ll see a galvanised ramrod, and then, like a magic lantern, he’ll appear to you as “Abraham Lincoln dying of diarrhea, with his mournful whiskers and bloodhound eyes.”

And maybe you’ll say under your breath to him, “Top of the morning to you, Gravedigger.” And let him know that you’re with him and as far as you’re concerned it’s two fingers to the former Mayor. And out of the corner of your eye, I guarantee you, you’ll catch a glimpse of the Lion. And you just might murmur, “now you stay put, Havelock, you stay right where you are.”

You’ve been listening to This… is London, the London Walks 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:

By way of example, Stewart Purvis, the former Editor

(and subsequently CEO) of Independent Television News.

And Lisa Honan, who had a distinguished career as a diplomat (Lisa was the Governor of St Helena, the island where Napoleon breathed his last and, some say, had his penis amputated –

Napoleon didn’t feel a thing – if thing’s the mot juste – he was dead.)

Stewart and Lisa –

both of them CBEs –

are just a couple of our headline acts.

Or take our Ripper Walk. It’s the creation of the world’s leading expert on Jack the Ripper, Donald Rumbelow, the author of the definitive book on the subject.  Britain’s most distinguished crime historian, Donald is, in the words of The Jack the Ripper A to Z,“internationally recognised as the leading authority on Jack the Ripper.” Donald’s emeritus now but he’s still the guiding light on our Ripper Walk. He curates the walk. He trains up and mentors our Ripper Walk guides. Fields any and all questions they throw at him.

The London Walks Aristocracy of Talent – its All-Star team of guides – includes a former London Mayor. It includes the former Chief Music Critic for the Evening Standard. It includes the Chair of the Association of Professional Tour Guides. And the former chair of the Guild of Guides.

It includes barristers, doctors, geologists, museum curators, a former Museum of London archaeologist, historians,

university professors (one of them a distinguished Cambridge University paleontologist); it includes

criminal defence lawyers,

Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre actors,

a bevy of MVPs, Oscar winners (people who’ve won the big one, 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 walking and Good Londoning

one and all. See ya next time.

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