Friday, 1 September 2017

Two #London Anniversaries, A Serial Killer & The Ongoing Soap Opera of the Royal Family

Welcome to the first in an occasional series of diary entries from DC Editor Adam Scott-Goulding dealing with the day-to-day business of being a London Walks tour guide…

Thursday 31st August 2017: Two London Anniversaries

Welcome back Daily Constitutionalists! I trust you had a great summer and I hope you enjoyed the Nightly Photoblog with my collection of 31 eccentric London signs.

Judging by the hit count many of you seemed to be following the August reblog of my Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London. That's very gratifying as I had a lot of fun putting it together. Who knows, perhaps 2018 will be the year that I get around to turning it into an actual London Walks tour. I'll definitely be adding new posts to the series later this year.

So the hols are over and I'm back in the London Walks saddle, leading tours and blogging here on The Daily Constitutional.

Yesterday, 31st August, I led two London Walks tours, one at either end of town – Kensington in the afternoon and Jack the Ripper at night.

Both walks took place on famous London anniversary days.

In the small hours of the 31st August 1888 Mary Ann Nichols was murdered in Buck's Row, East London. Such a death, in the poor part of town, would have passed in obscurity had it not been for the brutal nature of the event – and the similar brutality of the other killings that make up the world's most infamous cold case file, the Whitechapel Murders.

When I first started leading the London Walks Jack the Ripper tour 11 years ago, I did pause to wonder: Will I be spending my nights in the clammy company of serial killer-obsessed nerds? Will I be rubbing shoulders with voyeuristic rubberneckers drawn to such a nasty tale?

You will note, gentle reader, that I was too vain to have considered my own part in the whole affair. Would leading a Jack the Ripper Walk make me a clammy serial killer nerd, a thoroughly unsavoury type? Maybe you would be the judges of that (as ever, drop me a line with your thoughts).

Turns out that the only clammy nerds I meet are those that I already knew.

The story is the thing. Not just the facts but the way it's told

That's what draws people to this nasty tale. It's not the gore. It's the story. 

Some are drawn by the mystery. The word "unsolved" is like a red rag to a bull to some. Others are interested in the social history (plenty of that on my Jack tours on Thursdays). Others yet seem to love the conspiracy theories most of all – and I need little encouragement to weave those into my narrative – making sure that we all know that when I do so we are blundering off the beaten path of cold hard fact. As a Russian gent said to me on the tour just last night: "The crazy stories add salt to the tale." Very well put.

He said it with particular reference to the royal family conspiracy and the Duke of Clarence – to which I'll return in more detail on another day.

The royal conspiracy is central to From Hell – both the ham-fisted (and enjoyable) movie with Johnny Depp and the excellent, detailed, political, psychogeographical graphic novel by Allan Moore and Eddie Campbell (read more on that in an earlier post HERE).

Given that last night was the 129th anniversary of Mary Ann's death – and given that I am ALWAYS asked about the royal family on the Jack the Ripper tour, it was inevitable that last night's walk would put both centre stage.

Three different London Walkers on the Jack the Ripper walk (they were from Enfield, Chicago and Ontario) mentioned the other London anniversary yesterday – the 20th anniversary of the death of Diana Princess of Wales

And each of them brought it up in the context of conspiracy and the wilder excesses of the British press and, these days, the Internet. (Thought: how much more chaotic and lurid would the Ripper case have been if we'd had Twitter?)

I'd already spent part of the day discussing the Diana anniversary on the Kensington walk. It seemed impossible not to, given that a steady flow of well-wishers attended Kensington Palace gates throughout the day yesterday. On top of that, the world's media swarmed the scene.

On the Kensington walk, a London Walker from South Africa asked me, with no small degree of incredulity:

"Why are the media here? Are they waiting for the princes to come out and say something?"

"No," I replied, "That happened was yesterday."

"So… they're just waiting in case something happens?"

She had a point. Despite the sunshine and the hubbub (the gathering had a distinct lack of mourning reverence) the scene had something of a carrion crows circling feel to it.

The 24-hour news is a greedy beast indeed and requires constant feeding.

The TV crews were lined up in official, designated spots. Short queues formed at almost every crew. I made enquiries: they were interview subjects ready to give their views on air

Some were Diana fans, some had worked with her on, or had been beneficiaries of her charitable endeavours. Others were "Royal Watchers" and "Royal Experts", there to – as my Russian friend from last night's walk had put it – "add salt to the tale". Speculation, conspiracy and tittle-tattle.

Among the ordinary Brits and tourists paying respects, I did pause to wonder at the mix of people: how many were clammy, royal-obsessed nerds and voyeuristic rubberneckers drawn to such a tragic tale?

For a second time, you will note I leapt to judgment on my fellow Londoners rather than turning the spotlight on myself. What was I doing there? I could have re-routed the tour to avoid all the brouhaha. And why am I blogging about it here?

Full circle: the story's the thing. And the way it's told.

My task – to not let a good story get in the way of the truth while remembering that I've been engaged by London Walkers to be a good storyteller – is one of my favourite conundrums at the heart of this job I love. And yesterday was a day of royal conspiracy theories whether I wanted it to be or not. The people asked and that's what they got.

On the way home, as August collected his linen jacket and sun hat ready to vacate the stage for that fruity old ham September, my thoughts turned to the next big festival of storytelling… Halloween. How could they not, given that the last part of my walk home takes me through the local graveyard…


I'll be podcasting with my colleague Andy on things that go bump in the night (catch up with last year's Halloween Podcast HERE, HERE and HERE) and on Saturday night (tomorrow) I'll be leading Ghosts of the Old City (watch my little preview film, in which I discuss the business of storytelling HERE).

How, I pondered, as I filed past the permanent Londoners in the graveyard, do I square up the notion of storytelling and sticking to the facts of London on a ghost tour? Do ghosts exist? Can such things be?

I've met some pretty reasonable-looking London Walkers down through the years who have shared their ghost experiences with me. Not clammy nerds or sociopaths – I never meet such types on my London Walks. It's led me to keep an open mind.

I'll be sharing my ghost stories on Saturday. Come and tell me yours – or your conspiracy theories or, indeed, your opinions of the royal family. It's one of the great pleasures of the job.

I lead the Old Kensington tour every second Thursday meeting at 2pm High Street Kensington tube.

I lead the Jack the Ripper tour every second Thursday at 7.30pm meeting at Tower Hill tube.

Join me on the Ghosts of the old City on Saturday at 7.30pm meeting at St Paul's tube (exit 2). 

A London Walk costs £10 – £8 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at

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