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.
Greenwich is a fascinating area of London, with a host of museums and places of interest for tourists to visit; not least the Cutty Sark, the Royal Observatory and the National Maritime Museum.
The area is dominated by the Old Royal Naval College, an impressive complex of riverside buildings designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor at the behest of Queen Mary in 1694 as a Royal Hospital for men invalided out of the Navy. The buildings might be familiar with those even yet to visit London, as this World Heritage Site has formed the backdrop to many a blockbuster film; Pirates of the Caribbean, Les Miserables, Cinderella, The King’s Speech, The Dark Knight Rises and Skyfall …to name but a few.
I recently visited the Painted Hall, known as the UK’s ‘Sistine Chapel’ and originally conceived as a dining room, but soon became a ceremonial space reserved for special functions. Once you go inside, it’s not hard to see why.
As the name suggests, the Painted Hall is covered in frescos, totalling about 40,000 square feet and took Baroque artist James Thornhill (and his team of assistants) nearly twenty years to complete. They began work in 1707.
The Painted Hall comprises three connected spaces; the domed vestibule, the Lower Hall and the Upper Hall. Thornhill’s compositions, which include a cast of over 200 characters presents a vivid and suitably biased picture of early Eighteenth Century Britain, beginning with King William and Queen Mary, then Queen Anne and her consort Prince George of Denmark, and finally the arrival of the Hanoverians with King George I sitting in the midst of a large family portrait.
Baroque painting is not really my cup of tea, but the sheer scale, skill and audacity of the project cannot be disputed. Also, Thornhill’s masterpiece has only recently re-opened to the public following a two year (and £8.5 million) restoration, so is particularly striking and bright.
For those interested in Naval history, you can stand on the exact spot where Admiral Lord Nelson’s body lay-in-state after his death at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 before being moved to St Paul’s Cathedral for his burial in January 1806. You can also view a copy of the maquette made by E.H. Baily for the statue which now stands on the top of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.