100 London facts for our 100th post!


To commemorate our 100th post here at Bluebird Towers, settle back and read 100 interesting, strange and downright fascinating facts about London:
  1. The Great Smog of London lasted from Friday 5th December to Tuesday 9th December 1952.  It is estimated that 12,000 people died prematurely because of it.
  2. The London Eye is the largest observation wheel in the whole world.   It weighs 2,100 tonnes in total.
  3.  The daylight bombing of the first day of the Blitz on London , September 7th 1940, involved 300 tons of high explosives and thousands of incendiaries.  By the following morning 500 Londoners were dead and another 1400 injured.  After this day, Fighter Command amended its defences, and the intensity of this daylight bombing was never repeated on the same scale.
  4. The only road in London in which you can drive on the right is Savoy Court, the short, turning street in front of the Savoy Hotel.
  5. The City of London has never been under the authority of the monarch.  The Queen may only enter the Square Mile of the City if she is given permission by the Lord Mayor.
  6. 80,000 umbrellas are lost every year on the tube.
  7. Christ Church, Lambeth, has a spire decorated with stars and stripes. Half the cost of the church was borne by Americans, and the tower commemorates President Lincoln’s abolition of slavery.
  8. London’s first traffic island was put in St. James’s Street in 1864 at the personal expense of a Colonel Pierpoint, who was afraid of being run over on his way to his Pall Mall club. When it was finished, he dashed across the road to admire his creation and was knocked down by a cab.
  9. In the floor of Westminster Abbey is a tiny stone marking the burial place of the poet Ben Jonson. He was too poor to pay for the normal grave space, so he is buried standing up.
  10. Rudolf Hess was the last prisoner to be kept in the Tower of London, in 1941, after the plane he had been flying solo crashed in Scotland.
  11. The London production of Chicago opened in 1998.  Since then it has used more than 14,871 pairs of tights, 581 metres of fishnet fabric, 871 metres of black lace fabric, 760 pairs of men’s socks, 136,520 hairpins, 9,666 hair grips and 2,321 litres of washing-up liquid.
  12. Buckingham Palace has its own chapel, post office, swimming pool, staff cafeteria, doctor’s surgery and cinema.
  13.  London is home to people speaking 300 different languages.
  14.  In 2012, London will become the only city that has hosted the Olympics three times (1908 and 1948 previously)
  15.  23 and 24 Leinster Gardens in Paddington are dummy houses built to hide the Tube line running underneath (the old Metropolitan, now a section of the Bakerloo). The windows are painted on, and behind the façade is a track.
  16.  Mosquitoes live within tube tunnels.  They’re not native to Britain and can’t be found anywhere else. It’s thought they travelled on Underground trains from Heathrow where they arrived by plane. They also form their own unique species.
  17. London has had five names in the last 20 centuries.  London began life as Londinium, the Roman fort at the Thames crossing. During the Golden Period of Roman occupation it was called Augusta. Later during the Saxon period of occupation it was known as Lundenwic (actually an area west of Londinium near present day Trafalgar Square). During the 9th century the old abandoned Londinium was repopulated and known as Lundenburh and Lundenwic was depopulated and renamed Ealdwic (old town) – which is where the present district ‘Aldwych’ gets its name. After that it was called London, and so it remains…
  18. Karl Marx once narrowly avoided arrest for drunkenly smashing street lights in Tottenham Court Road after an all-day bender.
  19. The most significant Charles Dickens museum in the world, at No 48 Doughty Street, is in a house where Dickens only lived for three years.  It was saved from demolition by the Dickens Fellowship in 1923.  It holds 100,000 items connected to Dickens.
  20. The Sherlock Holmes Museum is based as close as it can be to the address of 221b Baker Street.  The house is government protected, due to its “special architectural and historical interest”.  There are now 25 Sherlock Holmes Societies around the world, in countries as diverse as Japan, Israel, India, Australia and Venezuela.
  21. The River Thames is 215 miles long, has 47 locks and carries some 300,000 tonnes of sediment a year.
  22. Only two people have ever had their coffins transported by tube: Dr Barnardo and William Gladstone.
  23. There is only one tube station that doesn’t have any of the letters in the word “mackerel” in it – St John’s Wood.
  24. In 1925 an office boy called William Taynton was asked in Frith Street, Soho, if he minded taking part in an experiment.  The man who asked him was Logie Baird, and he paid William Taynton half a crown to be the first person to ever appear on television.  A blue plaque commemorating this first television experiment is on the first floor of No 22 Frith Street, now occupied by Bar Italia.
  25. Soho is also home to London’s only French Protestant Church and was home to a shop called “Anything Left Handed” selling household products specifically designed for left-handed people.  Unfortunately this shop has now closed.
  26. The concept of the Christmas cracker was invented by Tom Smith, a baker and confectioner on the Goswell Road, EC1 in 1847.  By 1890, he had sold 47 million of them.
  27. Clerkenwell was famous for its gin distilleries in the 18th century – with the big three (Stone’s, Tanqueray’s and Gordon’s) all setting up in Clerkenwell in the 1740s.  They were probably attracted to the region due to its close proximity to the Fleet river, and also to the droves of thirsty cattle traders passing by en route to Smithfield.  The only London-based gin distillery left today is Beefeater Gin, which is based on Kennington in the former Haywards pickle factory,
  28. It was Lord Byron’s valet, James Brown, who established Brown’s Hotel in Dover Street in 1837. Alexander Graham Bell made Britain’s first telephone call from there in 1876. Agatha Christie’s At Bertram’s Hotel is also based on Brown’s.
  29. Mayfair’s most eccentric dentist was Martin von Butchell (1735- 1814). When his wife, Mary, died in 1775 he had her embalmed and turned her into a visitor attraction to drum up more business. Doctors injected the body with preservatives and colour additives to give a glow to her cheeks and gave her glass eyes. The body, dressed in a lace gown, was embedded in plaster of Paris and placed in a glass topped coffin – which was put on display in von Butchell’s window. When he remarried, his second wife demanded that he get rid of his first wife’s corpse. It ended up in the Royal College of Surgeons, where 166 years later it was blown up in a German bombing raid.
  30. Suite 212 at Claridges was declared Yugoslav territory by Sir Winston Churchill so that Crown Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia could be born on home territory. King Peter of Yugoslavia moved to Claridges with his queen after he was exiled in 1941. A spade full of Yugoslav earth was placed under the bed so that the prince could be born on Yugoslav soil.
  31. The Ritz hotel in Piccadilly was built on a site previously occupied by The Old White Horse Cellar, one of the most famous coaching inns in London. The Ritz was one of the first steel-frame buildings to be erected in Europe. The restaurant has so many chandeliers that its ceiling has had to be specially reinforced.
  32. From 1808  to 1814 Hampstead Heath hosted a shutter telegraph chain (system of conveying information by means of visual signals, using towers with pivoting shutters)  connecting the Admiralty in London to naval ships in Great Yarmouth.
  33. William Whiteley opened London’s first department store, Whiteleys, in 1863, by buying up a series of Westbourne Grove shops.  He was shot dead outside the new Whiteleys in Bayswater, in 1907, by a man who claimed to be his illegitimate son, Horace Raynor.
  34. Actor William Terris was shot and killed outside the stage door of the Adelphi Theatre, where he was performing, in 1897.  His killer was a jealous actor called Richard Prince.   Terris’s ghost has apparently haunted Maiden Lane and the Adelphi dressing rooms ever since.
  35. In 1666 the Great Fire of London swept through the City, destroying almost every building in its path. The fire blazed with such ferocity because the medieval and Tudor buildings were made of wood; and so was the ‘Hoop & Grapes’, but luckily the fire stopped just yards away. After the fire wooden buildings were forbidden.  This pub is now the only surviving 17th-century timber-framed building in the City, in Aldgate High Street.
  36. Another old boozer, is Gordon’s Wine Bar in Villiers Street, WC2.  It is situated in the same building that was home to Samuel Pepys in 1680 and has been a wine bar since 1890.  It has no music, no modern characteristics, is still owned by the Gordons family and is reputed to be the oldest wine bar in London still operating.
  37. Many people think The London Palladium is London’s biggest capacity theatre, but in fact The Coliseum Theatre just pips it, having 2,358 seats to The Palladium’s 2,286.
  38. There are five prisons in London and four of them were built by the Victorians (Wormwood Scrubs, Wandsworth, Pentonville and Brixton).  Brixton is the oldest prison in London still in use, whilst the authorities made the most of the labour force they had in prisons by getting the prisoners to build Wormwood Scrubs themselves.  The smallest prison in London is a single room in the base of the St Stephens Tower in the Houses of Parliament.  Although never used these days, it is still classed as a state prison.
  39. The Piccadilly Circus statue fondly known as Eros is officially called “The Angel of Christian Charity”.
  40. In 1750 the whole of London only had 6 policemen.
  41. London Clay is a heavily fossiled, bluish coloured clay which dates back to between 36million and 42million years ago, and which is found in many areas in south east England.  It is ideal for driving tunnels (it was used heavily during the construction of London Underground) being impermeable.
  42. There is a Euston Square tube station but there is no place actually called Euston Square.  That is because of a grisly 1878 murder of a woman named Matilda Hacker who was found dead in a cellar at No 4 Euston Square having been strangled.  The name of the square was subsequently changed to Torrington Square.
  43. The population of London is approximately 7,556,900.  The biggest European city population is Moscow, which has 10,415,400 residents.
  44. The first ever Sainsburys shop opened in Drury Lane in 1869.
  45. The Roundhouse in Camden was originally built as a turntable engine shed for the London & Birmingham Railway in 1846.  But within 10 years the engines were too big for the building to continue to serve its purpose.  The Roundhouse has been a bit of a white elephant ever since, with no sense of purpose, although in recent years considerable investment has been put into it to create a performing arts venue.
  46. London Zoo is the world’s oldest zoo, having opened in 1828.  It has never received state funding and exists wholly on Fellows, The Zoological Society of London and charitable donations.
  47. The bronze statue of Peter Pan was erected in Kensington Gardens in 1912.  It marks the spot where J M Barrie first met Jack Llewellyn Davies, the boy who was the inspiration for Peter.
  48. Pelicans have been kept in St James’s Park since the 17th century ever since the Russian Ambassador made a gift of them to Charles II.
  49. Hyde Park is known as the “Lungs of London”.  It is not the prettiest park (that award probably goes to the Regent’s Park) but it is one of the biggest and is full of different ducks, swans and birds.  Speakers Corner was established here in 1872.
  50. The Serpentine is London’s oldest boating lake (1730) but it is artificial, created to look as if it has evolved naturally.  Part of the old River Westbourne was dammed to help create it.
  51. The word “Strand” is an old English word for “shore”.  It makes reference to when the Thames was more shallow and more wide, and would have flowed along the side of the Strand.
  52. When Suetonius, the Roman General, defeated the uprising of the Iceni tribe led by Boudicca, he slaughtered 80,000 Britons on the site of what is now Kings Cross.
  53. The much-loved Euston Arch was controversially demolished in 1961.  In 1994, part of it was found buried in the Prescott Channel in the East End where it had bizarrely been used to fill a chasm.  The Euston Arch Trust was established in 1996 to “right a historical wrong” and rebuild the arch.
  54. The area Maida Vale is named after a pub, The Count of Maida, on the Edgware Road.
  55. Until the 1840s Notting Hill was a rural area known for its pig farming, until its owner, Mr Ladbroke, had the idea of building an estate.
  56. Wembley Stadium has 2,618 toilets, more than any other venue in the world.
  57. 10 Hyde Park Place, Marble Arch, is probably London’s smallest house.  It is 3 foot, 6 inches wide and is a corridor on the ground floor and a bathroom on the first floor.  Constructed in 1805, it has only ever had one tenant.
  58. London’s biggest private home (after Buckingham Palace) is Witanhurst, on Highgate West Hill, N6.  It has 65 rooms, including 25 bedrooms, a gym and a library.  Plans have recently been submitted to Camden Council for a labyrinth to be dug in front of the house to house an underground cinema, beauty parlour and car park.
  59. Hatchards of Piccadilly is the oldest bookshop in London and opened its doors in 1797.   It has three royal warrants and remains the oldest bookshop in Britain that still trades from its original premises.
  60. Prince Albert did not introduce the first Christmas tree into London, as popular opinion would have it.  The first person who had a Christmas tree in London was Queen Charlotte, consort of George III, wanting to recreate the German Christmases of her childhood.
  61. The Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square has been an annual gift from the Norwegians since 1947, in particular gratitude to the people of London from the people of Oslo, for assistance during the Second World War.
  62. Human habitation in Shepherds Bush can be dated back to the Iron Age.
  63. Berkeley Square’s London plane trees are amongst the oldest in the city, having been planted in 1789.
  64. No 50 Berkeley Square is reported to be the most haunted house in London.  Not only is the attic room haunted by a young woman who died there, but a whole range of deaths followed in the attic rooms throughout the 19th Century.  As a bet, Lord Lyttleton slept in the attic in 1872, with his shotgun. He apparently fired his gun at several apparitions throughout the night.
  65. London receives less rainfall annually than either Rome or Bordeaux.
  66. London’s population in 1939 was half a million more than today.
  67. Despite feeling as if it’s a leftover from a former time, and that it has been overtaken by air freight, the Port of London still handles 45million tonnes of cargo through the Thames every year.
  68. The University of London is the largest teaching university in Europe.  It has 125,000 students.
  69. Upper Street has more bars and restaurants than any other street in the United Kingdom.
  70. The George Inn is a National Trust-owned, medieval pub in Southwark and one of the few Grade I listed public houses in England. Next door to it once stood The Tabard, which was the pub from which Chaucer’s pilgrims started their walk to Kent in “The Canterbury Tales”.
  71. The inspiration for Paddington Bear came to writer Michael Bond one evening when he saw a lone bear for sale in a Paddington store on Christmas Eve, 1956.  The duffel-coat wearing bear from Deepest Darkest Peru is adopted in Bond’s stories by the Brown family after being found at Paddington Station with a sign around his neck saying “please look after this bear”.  Bond was inspired by his memories of newsreels of children being evacuated out of London at the beginning of World War Two with suitcases and signs around their necks, and decided to do the same for Paddington.
  72. There are 46 places on six continents named after London.
  73. The Square mile of The City is actually 1.12 square miles. It has 11,000 residents, but 330,000 people travel to work in this one square mile daily.
  74. The City of London police is the smallest territorial police force in the world, as it only covers the Square Mile, although it has nearly 1,000 officers and special constables.
  75. The City of London has had city status for time immemorial – i.e. no historical information exists to show that it wasn’t a city at any point in known London history.
  76. Wiltons Music Hall remains the only music hall in London, a remnant of what was once the city’s most popular form of live entertainment.   It first opened in 1859 and was saved from demolition by a group of campaigners, including John Betjeman, in the 1960s.  It’s current condition remains perilous, however.
  77. In 1895, an American visitor to a training college for teachers of physical education in Broadhurst Gardens, South Hampstead demonstrated a new type of basketball where the girls played with wastepaper baskets at both ends of the hall.  This was the first game of netball to be ever played in the UK.  The rules were codified in 1901.
  78. In 1854, the London Necropolis Company opened the world’s largest cemetery in Brookwood, Surrey.  Special trains carried coffins there from London’s Waterloo Station. The rail service was withdrawn when the station was bombed in 1941.
  79. South Kensington is still sometimes referred to as “Little Paris”.  The area is not only known for its Francophile bookshops but also its French doctors and dentists.
  80. The façade of Libertys in Regent Street is constructed from the timbers of the navy’s last two wooden warships : HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan.
  81. 8 people drowned and 15 buildings were completely destroyed in the Great London Beer Flood of 1814.  A brewery vat burst just behind what is now New Oxford Street and 30,000 galloons of beer flooded the area.
  82. During the 1860s, London’s most notorious prison, Newgate, became a kind of theatre.  On Wednesdays and Thursdays between 12pm and 3pm visitors could tour the prison.  Being briefly locked in a windowless cell was one of the highlights.
  83. By 1870 there were 20,000 public houses and beer shops in London.  By 1945 there were only 4,000.
  84. London’s first sandwich bar, Sandy’s, opened in Oxenden Street in 1933.
  85. 40% of Londoners died in the Black Death of 1348.
  86. By the end of the 18th century, London was the centre of the watch-making trade, with more than 7,000 men in Clerkenwell assembling 120,000 watches a year.
  87. In the 18th century a ‘Winchester Goose’ was not an animal.  It was the nickname for a prostitute that plied her trade on the south bank of the river.  There, the landlord was the Bishop of Winchester, who leniently tolerated prostitution and took tax revenues from all businesses in the district.
  88. In 1815, West Hampstead was such a quiet, rural enclave, that its residents were reported to have heard the cannon fire from the Battle of Waterloo at Brussels.
  89. The Uncrowned King of Limehouse was the unofficial title of the landlord of the Railway Tavern, West India Dock Road, in the 1890s.  He acquired a massive collection of antique artefacts – including Ming vases – which he displayed in the bar, and was a generous donator towards the striking Dock workers in 1912.  He died in 1932.  His funeral procession was said to have been London’s best attended until that of Winston Churchill.
  90.  Adverts in tube carriages are known as “tube cards”.  They are very good value; in 2009 they cost £10 per week, and travellers spend an average of 13 minutes per journey viewing them.
  91. Playwright George Bernard Shaw served as a St Pancras councillor from 1897 to 1903, during which he worked to establish the first free ladies toilet in the borough.
  92. Both Hampstead’s New End Theatre and Knightsbridge’s Pizza On the Park were entertainment venues converted from hospital mortuaries.
  93. Big Ben is not the name of a clock.  It is the name of the bell within St Stephens Tower.  It weighs 13 tons, and is accompanied by four quarter bells, which weigh between 1 ton and 4 tons each.
  94. The ‘Dirty Dozen’ is a nickname for a section of 12 Soho streets used by cab drivers to short cut between Regent Street and Charing Cross.
  95. A ‘cockney’s luxury’ is the slang term for breakfast in bed, followed by a good defecation in a chamber pot.
  96. The Camberwell Beauty is the colloquial term for Nymphasil antiopa, a velvety, chocolate brown butterfly rarely seen because it migrates annually to Scandanavia from London.  This is not to be confused with a ‘Camberwell Carrot’, which is an enormous marajuana joint, as mentioned in the film Withnail & I and which is ordinarily constructed from three or more cigarette papers.
  97. The British Library was formed in 1973 from the British Museum Library.  It has over 14 million books, 920,000 journal titles and 3 million sound recordings.  It moved to its new home at St Pancras at 1998, and membership is open to all.
  98. According to the London Hackney Carriage Act of 1831, black cab drivers should by law carry a bale of hay in their cabs at all times.  This Act has never been repealed.
  99. The BBC’s Broadcasting House is constructed of Portland stone and the four groups of sculptures featuring Ariel, the invisible spirit of the air.  In June 2008 the glass and steel sculpture on the top of the building, titled ‘Breathing’ was unveiled.  It is a tribute to workers of the BBC who have been murdered or lost their lives whilst working for the Corporation.
  100. The ‘Lutine bell’ is a ship’s bell rung at Lloyd’s of London in Lombard Street before important announcements.  The bell was carried on board the French frigate La Lutine which surrendered to the British in 1793.  It only rings at Lloyds during disasters :  during the Second World War it was used as an air raid warning and it was last rung during the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001.

Many thanks to all our readers for following The London Bluebird throughout 2011.  The blog will return, as usual, on Thursday 5th January 2012 and will be updated every Thursday from then on.  Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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