Fun London Facts - Week #3
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.
London Curiosities (part 1)
London is full of curiosities, oddities, street antiques, little windows back in time that people pass every day without perhaps even noticing, or certainly registering their significance. Some of these are well known, and almost certainly all written about in one form or another. Below are a just a few I quite like.
Policeman's Hook - Great Newport Street
Secreted away on the side of a building on Great Newport Street (just by Leicester Square Underground Station) close to the busy intersection of St Martin’s Lane, Garrick Street, Long Acre, Cranbourne Street and of course Great Newport Street is a large hook, above which is written ‘Metropolitan Police’. Long before lights controlled the flow of traffic through this busy thoroughfare, a Policeman would stand directing cars, vans and bicycles using nothing but his hands and a sturdy presence. Hot work during those pre-war summers, and so a place to hang a Policeman’s coat was necessary. The story goes that one Policeman had taken to using a handy nail, protruding from the wall during building work. When the work ended and the nail was gone, the impromptu coat hook was sorely missed, so an official one instated.
WWII stretchers up-cycled as fences
During the Blitzkrieg attacks of WWII, mass civilian casualties were anticipated and therefore numerous A.R.Ps (Air Raid Precautions) were put in to place. One such action was to make loads of sturdy metal stretchers which could also easily be quickly washed down (gas attacks were a real danger too) if contaminated or bloodied. It would seem that a great many of these were taking up valuable space after the war, combined (I’m guessing) with the fact that many fences and railings had been melted down for the war effort. The stretchers became fences themselves. A few examples survive around ex local authority buildings, particularly in east or south-east London. The photo shows such a fence around the Dog Kennel Hill estate, east Dulwich.
WWII Blackout signs
Keeping on the WWII theme, there are still a few old ‘ghost signs’ directing people during the air raids of the 1940s to underground shelters, particularly around residential streets in Westminster. It is well known that thousands of Londoners huddled together deep below ground on Underground platforms, or even railway lines. American talk show host, Jerry Springer was born in Highgate Underground station in 1944, whilst it was being used as a shelter. During the ‘Blitz’, another A.R.P was to enforce ‘Blackouts’, ensuring that no light escaped from buildings or streets at night, and therefore making them harder to identify from enemy planes flying over head. Strict blackout regulations were enforced by wardens and those flaunting the rules would face penalties. Although the darkness made it difficult for German bombers to spot their targets, it also made it difficult for civilians to get around. White stripes were painted on kerbstones to try and make them more visible. The above sign which survives from this period reads ‘PUBLIC SHELTERS IN VAULTS UNDER PAVEMENTS IN THIS STREET’.
As you wander around London, you might pass what looks like a green shed on the side of the road, and either wonder what it is for, or not give it a second thought. The chances are, it’s a Cabmen’s Shelter. People started hiring horses and carriages to take the around the place in the 17th century, which was eventually regulated in a taxi service. The famous black cabs in London today are still officially called ‘Hackney Carriages’. If you were a cab driver, stopping to go to the toilet or grab some food was problematic as you’d need to get (and probably pay) someone to keep an eye on your horse and carriage. So, in 1875, these little huts started being erected, allowing cabmen to duck inside and get out of the rain. Horses could be tied to the bar running around the edge of the shelter, under the watchful gaze of the cabman and someone inside made and sold food. The chimney was for the wood burning stove. By 1914, 61 of these shelters had been built. Only 13 remain, but as they have Grade II Listed status, hopefully won’t be disappearing anytime soon. The shelter pictured can be found on Northumberland Avenue close to Embankment Underground Station and serves refreshments to the public, although most of the ones still in use are solely for licensed cab drivers who have ‘the knowledge’.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.