Waterloo. And that is what is called patriotism? Voting over here. Loos in 1851.

London calling.

London Walks connecting.

This… is London.

This is London Walks.

Streets ahead.

Story time. History time.


Good evening, London. It’s July 9th, 2024. Today’s pin: well, this is almost a diary entry. I want to jot down, very briefly, what I noticed and thought about when I schlepped down to the polling station early in the morning on the 4th of July to cast my vote. Three thoughts, really. None of them of startling originality but one of the things I like best about myself is the broad streak of Everyman that I’ve got running through me. Just a normal guy in a somewhat unusual situation: i.e., I’m an expat, an American who hasn’t lived in the United States for over half a century, an American abroad who’s well and truly gone native. Spent all of his adult with the Brits in their capital city. Married one of them, fathered several of them, lived and worked with them and for the last three or four elections voted with them.

So here’s what I thought, here’s what I noticed. First of all, I was once again pleased that the whole thing is so old-fashioned. An old Victorian building – our neighbourhood community centre – its main room repurposed for 15 hours. Friendly locals – are they volunteers, I wonder, must be – and who organises it, gets its shipshape? – on plain folding chairs behind folding trestle tables with printed lists of the names of everybody in that ward who’s eligible to vote – sitting there, greeting you, checking your name off the list and handing you a ballot. And off you go to the booth to put your X in the box beside the name of the person you want to be your MP.

It just feels right. The booth, the ballot, the pencil, making the X, folding the ballot and dropping it in the ballot box – I’m so glad that’s how it’s done. Very glad it’s not electronic voting.

The other two things I wondered about, respectively, were the names of the candidates being listed alphabetically. Pretty much has to be done that way. But it’s something this Everyman’s been aware of since his first day at school as a five-year-old back in the 1950s. My last name begins with a T. All my life whenever roll’s been taken I come last. Or nearly last. Anderson, Baker, Caldwell, their names get called first. And in the booth, running my eye down the list of names, I wondered, is there any advantage at all, if you’re a candidate, in having a last name that begins with an A or a B? The person I voted for, like me has a toward the end of the alphabet first letter surname. If her surname was Anderson she would have been at the top of the ballot and I wouldn’t have seen any of the other names. But having a surname that begins with a letter toward the end of the alphabet, well, I had to run my eye past all those other names. Arguably a minuscule disadvantage to my candidate – because had I been uncertain it would have given the other candidates a bit of exposure – tempted me – in a way that would not have happened had the candidate I was leaning toward had a last name that put her at the top of the list. It’s sort of the sweets at the checkout counter at the supermarket principle. Utterly trivial but this Everyman, c’est moi, me, David, that was one wisp of a thought that crossed my mind in the polling booth.

And I also wondered about the colours and symbols of the various parties’ logos. How much thought went into them? Do those images and their colours work subliminally on us? It’d be fun to know that. If in fact there is some science behind it.

The new party that’s garnered a lot of attention, the Reform Party – well, I call it the new party but it’s really the Ukip party in its new suit of clothes – I couldn’t help but notice its logo. It’s an arrow pointing to the right – it would be to the right, wouldn’t it, and not just because over to the right is where you put the X – anyway, when I saw it, I thought, yup, for sure, somebody’s given that some thought. That arrow leads the eye right over to where they want you to put the X. And I couldn’t help but wonder, how much of a difference has that design made? Does it work subliminally? Has it tipped the balance in some cases? Has that call to action arrow generated some votes for them – reached parts of the voter psyche a less directive logo wouldn’t have been able to reach?

Well, there you go, that’s the small change of what one Everyman voter jingled in the pocket of his mind on election day 2024.


Moving on, today’s Random. Here’s a great London factoid, compliments of my compatriot Bill Bryson. Talking about the Crystal Palace, the 1851 Great Exhibition, Bryson says the main attraction wasn’t an exhibition at all, but rather the elegant ‘retiring rooms’ – the euphemism of the day – where visitors could relieve themselves – tip a kidney –

give vent to whatever was pressing – in comfort.

Bryson’s done some impressive plumbing – he’s able to marshal the numbers. To think that they actually kept count. Was somebody sitting there with a notebook and a pencil? Four verticals and then a diagonal through them. And who actually counted them all up when it was over. I ask because Bryson cites chapter and verse. He says the offer was taken up by 827,000 people – 11,000 of them on a single day. And what’s really case closed is the greatest Iowan of them all reminding us that public facilities in London were woefully lacking in 1851. At the British Museum, up to 30,000 daily visitors had to share just two outside privies. Ouch. And no thanks.


And so we come to our main course, today’s Ongoing. One of the great joys of this job is you never go where a line of enquiry is going to take you. So as long as we’re in Kensington – at the Crystal Palace –

let’s nip down to St Mary Abbots, the parish church, where my Kensington Walk ends. When we’re able to we go into the church for a mini tour inside the main tour. There are six or seven absolute delights – all of them pretty much hidden – that I show my walkers in quick succession. It’s like a treasure hunt that’s all rewards and no slogging away. It’s all finds and no groping around in the haystack not even close to the needle.

Anyway, one of the needles is the stone commemorating Major General Ponsonby, who was killed at the Battle of Waterloo leading the charge of the Union Brigade. It’s always about the stories, isn’t it. The Major General was the commanding officer of the Union Brigade. The Union Brigade was so-called because it included an English, a Scottish and an Irish regiment. Ponsonby led a cavalry charge against the French 1st Corps. It was initially very successful. Ponsonby and his dragoons forced the French to retreat and then got in amongst the unsupported artillery and sabred the gunners. And then they overdid it. They kept on going instead of turning back. Ponsonby’s cavalry became a disorderly rag tag. Seeing which was all Napoleon needed. He counter-attacked with two regiments of cuirassiers and lancers. Too late, Major General Ponsonby realised what he’d let himself in for. He called for his horse. But the Major General’s chestnut charger and its groom were nowhere to be found. The Major General grabbed what was available: a small bay hack. The charger probably would have been equal to the very muddy terrain. The replacement horse wasn’t. It got stuck in the mud.

The Major General dismounted, tried to slog through the mud toward the British lines. It was hopeless. With the French cavalry bearing down on him the Major General tried to pass his watch and a miniature portrait of his wife to his Aide de Camp. “Take these, get them to safety.”

The French – cavalry and lancers – caught up with both of them. Speared them, ran them through.

That moment on June 18th, 1815 on that muddy Waterloo battlefield inevitably brings to mind another battle. A battle that took place on Bosworth Field on the 22nd of August 1485. And King Richard III’s anguished, desperate cry, “a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.” Twenty minutes earlier the Major General and his dragoons had sabred the French gunners. What goes round, comes round. Twenty minutes later Major General Ponsonby’s kingdom was his life. And there was no saving it. The mounted French lancers stuck him like a pig.

Several survivors later reported passing Ponsonby as he lay dead in the mud, still clutching the miniature of his wife.

And tracking that down, that was where the first step of the research trail led me to. Turns out there’s a painting of that final moment in Ponsonby’s life. I’m going to get a reproduction of that painting and show it to my walkers.

But the trail didn’t go cold there. I was most interested to learn that Ponsonby was one of two Members of Parliament who lost their lives at the Battle of Waterloo.

That of course brought to mind that telling statistic that 23 sitting MPs were killed in action during World War I. No less telling, the 30 British officers of the rank of lieutenant colonel or above who were killed on that terrible day, July 1, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

How brave they were those MPs. And officers. But the story doesn’t end there. The Ponsonbys – their various lines – their stock – runs down the centuries. They were an old Anglo-Irish aristocratic family. The Major General is a distant ancestor of the Prince of Wales.

So if we’re speaking of the courage of those World War I Members – the 23 and their fellows – what about the courage of Arthur Ponsonby, one of only two MPs to vote against Britain’s involvement in the war.

While all around him all were baying for blood, Arthur Ponsonby  stood up in the House of Commons and said,

‘The balance of power is responsible for this—this mad desire to keep up an impossibility in Europe, to try and divide the two sections of Europe into an armed camp, glaring at one another with suspicion and hostility and hatred…and bleeding the people to pay for the armaments.

About the war fever gripping the nation, he told the House,

‘I saw it last night when I walked through the streets. I saw bands of half-drunken youths waving flags, and I saw a group outside a great club in St. James’s Street being encouraged by members of the club from the balcony… and that is what is called patriotism.’

A fearless, virtually lone voice – he was attacked in the street because of his views – he was especially incensed by the government’s control and manipulation of information.

He said, you can hear his voice dripping with contempt, hear him shaming the warmongers,

he said, ‘With eavesdroppers, letter-openers, decipherers, telephone tappers, spies, an intercept department, a forgery department, a criminal investigation department, a propaganda department, an intelligence department, a censorship department, a ministry of information, a Pressbureau, etc., the Government is well equipped to “instruct” its peoples.’

William and Arthur Ponsonby – I bow my head in tribute to their courage. Neither of them was on my radar. Sir William swam into my ken when, nine years ago, his descendants had that plaque put up in St Mary Abbots on the 200th anniversary of his death.

Arthur I didn’t know at all, until I started down the Ponsonby trail a few days ago.

And where’s it led to? Well, let me put it this way, if a call went out for recommendations for a 13th statue in Parliament Square, Arthur Ponsonby would get my nomination.

A final, utterly charming note. When he was a boy Arthur Ponsonby was a page boy to Queen Victoria. Treat yourself. There’s a photograph of the two of them. The Queen is dressed for the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Albany. Her page boy, Arthur Ponsonby, is holding her train.


You’ve been listening to This… is London, the London Walks podcast. Emanating from www.walks.com –

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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