Quirky London Facts

I didn’t know that… quirky London facts

One of the best views in London is from the top of the Monument – it’s 202 feet high because it is 202 feet from the site of the baker’s house in Pudding Lane where the Great Fire of London started in 1666. There are 311 stairs to climb but you do get a certificate to say you’ve done it!

The bright lights of Piccadilly Circus are famous through-out the world. So is the Statue of Eros. Look closely and you’ll see that Eros isn’t really a statue but a fountain on which a small figure rests, commemorating the philanthropic Earl of Shaftesbury. Some say that the figure is really a pun on Shaftesbury’s name as the bow doesn’t have an arrow in it and is pointing downwards as if the arrow (or shaft) has already been shot and is “buried” in the ground. Nearby Trafalgar Square, famous for Nelson’s column is also where London distances are measured. The actual point is on the corner of Strand and Charing Cross Road, near the statue of Charles 1 - there is even a plaque on the wall confirming this.

Marble Arch is a well-known landmark, seemingly lost on its own island. It was originally built as the entrance to Buckingham Palace but not used. Inside the Arch is a tiny office which used to be a police station.

On the traffic island at the junction of Edgware Road & Marble Arch is a plaque which most people ignore, marking the site of the Tyburn Tree, London’s main execution spot, where about 50,000 people were executed. Nearby in Bayswater Road is the Shrine and Tyburn Convent where the nuns still pray for the souls of those whose lost their lives.

Covent Garden is really a spelling mistake! The area used to be the market garden for what is now Westminster Abbey monastery and convent.

The architect of the Oxo Tower originally wanted to use electric lighting to advertise the meat extract product but permission was refused so he re-designed it with OXO incorporated as windows on all four sides of the window which shined out the advertising message. The building now houses restaurants, design shops and galleries.

In 1881 the Savoy Theatre became the first theatre to be lit by electricity. The Savoy Hotel stands on the site of the Palace of the Savoy – see the panels on each side of the approach to the hotel recording its history. Cars coming from the Strand to the Savoy must travel on the right, not left – this is the only place we’ve heard of in Britain where this happens.

Events that will change the world sometimes take place in innocuous places. John Baird first demonstrated how television would work above what is now Bar Italia in Frith St, Soho.

At one stage the Tower of London was like a zoo - it housed a menagerie of all kinds of animals includings lions. The moat used to have water in it but was drained in 1843 and during the war was used to grow vegetables.

Much of the land is London is still owned by The Crown and a handful of rich families. The largest and most lucrative of these historic estates is that of the Grosvenors, much of whose land is in Mayfair & Belgravia. Part of the reason that this area looks so smart is because the Grosvenor estate exercises strict control over the upkeep of properties, ensuring they are all regularly painted in a magnolia cream colour, don’t have satellite dishes and in some cases have the coat of arms on them. You can get a walking tour map of Mayfair & Belgravia from the estate office.

Criss-crossing London’s bridges and following the Thames Path(now the longest riverside walk in Europe) is a great way to see London. The oldest surviving bridge is the Clattern Bridge at Kingston dating back to the 12th century. Richmond Bridge is the oldest Thames surviving Thames bridge (built 1774) and is a great starting point for a leisurely walk to Ham House.

The Thames used to be incredibly dirty because it was where all waste from London ended up. In 1858 the stench became so bad it was known as “The Great Stink” - so plans were drawn up to provide proper sewers and drainage. The Victoria Embankment between Westminster and Blackfriars Bridges houses some of these and provides a major route from Westminster to the City.

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