When Horatio Nelson was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 he was brought back to London to be given a massive send off. Normally, if sailors died at sea they were thrown over board. You didn’t carry dead people around on ships. For Nelson they made an exception and stuck him in a barrel of brandy, pickling him for the journey. Legend has it, that the crew that returned on his ship, the HMS Victory drank the brandy from the barrel whilst Nelson was in it.
The Burlington Arcade is the longest covered shopping Street in the UK. It runs alongside Burlington House, originally built as a 17th country manor. When 19th early century resident Lord George Cavendish got annoyed with his neighbours throwing stuff over the wall in to his garden, he arranged for the whole street to be covered, opening it in 1819 as a super duper luxury shopping precinct, which it remains to this day.
55% of the London underground is over ground.
In 1875 these green huts started popping up. They’re called Cabmen’s Shelters and provided the drivers of horse drawn Hackney Carriages somewhere to shelter from the wind, rain and cold. A stove inside meant they could keep warm and cook food and the bar around the edge was for tying horses two. Two decades later there were sixty-one in London, but today only thirteen survive and have been given listed building status. Some provide snacks to the public, whilst the others, cab drivers still sit in them.
Strand runs from Trafalgar Square to Fleet Street. A lot of Londoners call it ‘The Strand’, but there is no prefix. The word ‘strand’ in most northern European languages means beach, and Strand runs parallel to the Thames, which until the 1860s came much closer. It literally means the beach or bank of the Thames.
Construction on Tower Bridge began in 1887 and was completed in 1894. The now incredibly iconic design was chosen by way of competition, with the lucky winner being an architect called Horace Jones who also designed a number of London’s Victorian markets. It seems not much luck was involved as Jones was also one of the competition judges. He chose his own design.
New Zealand House was completed in 1963. It was the first tower block to be built in central London after WW2 and was in fact built on the site of the Carlton Hotel which was bombed during the war. This modernist high rise was a highly contentious building at the time and towering over its neighbours should have given those that worked in New Zealand House amazing views across London from their desks, but unfortunately not. For nearly 50 years they’ve had to close the blinds every day. I believe the building was loosing too much heat through the myriad of glass, known as ‘thermal flow’, and ordering the blinds to be closed, although drastic, solved this problem. Just one of the many building projects in London gone wrong.
The word Trafalgar, as in Trafalgar Square is actually of Arabic origin. The Battle of Trafalgar took place in 1805 off the south coast of Spain near Cabo de Trafalgar (Cape Trafalgar) which was itself taken from the Arabic ‘Taraf-al-ghar’ which has a number of possible meanings, one being rocky outcrop.
The Heron Tower on Bishopsgate has in its lobby the largest privately owned aquarium in the UK. The aquarium holds 70,000 litres of water and over 60 species of fish.
Houndsditch is a street in the City of London and is so called because (according to Elizabethan historian John Stow at least) it was once a ditch that ran along the outside of the old city wall and Londoners literally used to throw dead dogs over the wall in to the ditch. Houndsditch.
St Paul’s cathedral completed in 1711 is 365ft tall. Architect Christopher Wren who designed it was at the time professor of Astronomy at Oxford University and it represents each day of the year. He liked doing stuff like that.
If it’s sunny, at certain times of day, the shadows cast by Westminster Bridge create penises on the pavement.
There have been pelicans in St James’s Park since 1664 after they were given as a gift to King Charles II from the Russian ambassador. By the 1980s the pelicans had stopped breeding and there was only one left so someone in the UK government wrote to the Russians asking for some more. They duly sent some over and were installed in the park but stories were soon circling that these new pelicans were eating the other birds in the park. The stories were dismissed on account of the fact that pelicans don’t eat other birds, then someone filmed a pelican eating an entire pigeon. It became headline news that those pesky Russians had deliberately sent over killer pelicans to ruin our park.
Egyptologist and archaeologist Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie (born 1853) was a Hampstead resident. In 1933 he moved with his wife to Jerusalem where he died in 1942. For some reason Petrie had made provision for his head to be returned to the Royal College of Surgeons in London, but as there was a war on, it wasn’t top of anyone’s ‘to do’ list. Eventually, Petrie’s head made it back but at some point the label fell off and it spent many years languishing on a shelf in the Royal College of Surgeons with no one knowing who’s head it was.
Happily, Petrie’s head has now been identified.
I'll undoubtedly regret this, but I've set myself the challenge of posting a fun London fact every day for the whole of 2023. That's 365 facts! (I know you knew that).
I'm posting them over on Twitter and Instagram each day, then every week I'll do a round up here. So here are my fun London facts for the first week.
On the 23rd October 1843, the 14 stonemasons who built Nelson’s Column had a dinner party at the top before the statue of Horatio Nelson was hoisted up.
When Sam Wanamaker was raising funds for Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in the 1990s, he was reliant on private donations, with each individual or organisation rewarded with their name engraved on a paving stone around the theatre. John Cleese phoned up and said “If you spell Michael Palin’s name wrong, I’ll give you double.” And so it is, that next to John Cleese is the larger paving stone of 'Michael Pallin'.
William Fortnum was a footman for Queen Anne in the early 18th century. One of his jobs was to replenish the palace candles each evening, but the Queen apparently insisted on new candles each day. William sold on the used candles, making a tidy profit which he used to set up his grocery shop with Hugh Fortnum in 1707. This is why candles are a motif in Fortnum & Mason today.
Elizabethan playwright Ben Jonson (1572 – 1637) is the only person in Westminster Abbey buried standing up. The reason? By the end of his life he’d spunked most of his money, so before he died, negotiated a deal to be buried standing up. It took up less space and was therefore much cheaper. Clever chap.
The famous bronze lions at the base of Nelson’s Column are anatomically incorrect. Lions can’t actually sit with their back legs like this. Edwin Landseer who made them was a Victorian water-colour painter and had never made a sculpture in his life. He based the back of them on his own dogs.
Rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix and German born composer George Frideric Handel were nextdoor neighbours …albeit 200 years apart. Handel moved to Brook Street, Mayfair in 1723 and spent 40-years living there. In 1970, Hendrix moved in with his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham to the top floor room at 23 Brook Street. When Hendrix learned of his famous old neighbour he went out and bought ‘Music for the Royal Fireworks’ and ‘Messiah’ which incidentally Handel wrote next door.
The two buildings have been transformed in to the rather brilliant Handel & Hendrix in London museum. It’s currently closed for refurbishment, re-opening in May 2023. Well worth a visit.
Built by Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke, The Monument is a monument to the Great Fire of London in 1666. Completed in 1677 it stands 202ft tall because if it were to fall eastwards (which it hasn’t yet) the top of it would touch the spot where the fire started in Thomas Farrinor’s bakery on Pudding Lane, 202 feet away.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.