One of the most visited cities in the entire world, London has culture, history and style in abundance. Whether you live in the ‘Big Smoke’ or you’ve always dreamed of visiting, here we bring you a collection of 34 of the strangest and most fascinating facts about the city that we guarantee you won’t have heard anywhere else.
1. Believe it or not, the name Covent Garden is actually a spelling mistake. The area was formerly the market garden of a convent.
2. If you’ve ever felt like the downwards escalator on the tube is like a slow descent into hell, you’re not alone. Religious Churchmen of the Victorian era were worried that the building of the London Underground would “disturb the devil”.
3. London’s Soho was named after a medieval hunting call used by James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth, when calling for his men at the Battle of Sedgemoor on 6 July 1685.
4. You’d never guess that the traffic island at the junction of Marble Arch and Edgware Road hides such a dark past. It’s the site of Tyburn Tree, London’s infamous public gallows where an estimated 50,000 people have been hanged.
5. On March 8th 1750, an earthquake struck the streets of London. Residents are said to have seen houses fall into the ground beneath them and fish shooting out of the River Thames.
6. It’s more than just train tracks and rats running under London’s streets; there are actually many hidden waterways. The Fleet River still runs from below the cellars of the Cheshire Cheese pub on Fleet Street.
8. Watch your step at Aldgate – the tube station is built on top of a plague pit where some 1,000 bodies were buried during the Bubonic Plague outbreak of 1665.
9. Aldwych tube station was closed in 1994 and has since been used as a film location for films such as Atonement, Superman IV and Patriot Games. It also features in The Prodigy’s famous “Firestarter” music video – twisted!
10. Scientists discovered a new species of mosquito on the London Underground. They named it Culex pipiens f. molestus and found that it survives off of the blood of rats, mice and maintenance workers.
11. There’s a huge military refuge under the streets of Whitehall. The entrance is at the telephone exchange in Craig’s Court.
12. Despite the great Fire of London destroying 80% of the city, there were only six recorded deaths. But don’t breath a sigh of relief yet because it’s long assumed that any deaths of the poor or middle-class weren’t recorded and also that many bodies were simply burned to nothing.
14. The first performance of a Punch and Judy show at Covent Garden was recorded in Samuel Pepys’s diary on 9 May, all the way back in 1662. It’s believed that a similar puppet show has been seen there every year since.
15. The nursery rhyme Pop Goes the Weasel refers to the act of pawning one’s suit after spending all one’s cash in the pubs of Clerkenwell.
16. Pubs such as the Fox and Anchor in Smithfield and the Market Porter in Borough are licensed to serve alcohol with breakfast from 7am. This isn’t for a swift one before work but instead, it’s traditionally to fit in with the hours worked by market porters.
17. The only true home shared by all four of the Beatles (besides a yellow submarine) was a flat at 57 Green Street near Hyde Park, where they lived in the autumn of 1963.
18. Want a witty oneliner for your gravestone? The famous Elizabethan actor Richard Burbage is buried in the graveyard of St Leonard’s, Shoreditch with a gravestone that reads “Exit Burbage”.
19.. Obviously fans of the multifunctional, Robert Hooke and Sir Christopher Wren built the monument to the Great Fire of London so that it was also a fixed telescope. What’s more, it was designed to study the motion of a single star.
20. London was the first city in the world to reach a population of more than one million, in 1811. It remained the largest city in the world until it was overtaken by Tokyo in 1957.
21. Postman’s Park, behind Bart’s hospital, is one of London’s great hidden contemplative spots. It is full of memorials to ordinary people who committed heroic acts and is famously featured in the film, Closer.
22. The only London theatre not to close during the Second World War was The Windmill in Soho, offering a variety show that mixed comedy acts with semi-nude female tableaux. These days, it’s a table-dancing club.
23. The Millennium Dome in Greenwich is the largest structure of its kind in the world. Believe it or not, it’s big enough to house the Great Pyramid of Giza or the Statue of Liberty inside. Only one at a time though.
25. Mayfair is quite literally named after a fair that used to be held in the area every May and Piccadilly after a kind of stiff collar made by a tailor who lived in the area in the 17th century.
26. Lots of modern Londoners would be proud to be labelled as a ‘cockney’ – but for many years, it was actually a great insult!
27. It is illegal in London to have sex on a parked motorcycle, beat a carpet in a public park or impersonate a Chelsea pensioner – the latter offence is still even punishable by death.
28. Marble Arch was designed by John Nash in 1828 as the entrance to Buckingham Palace, but it was moved to Hyde Park when Queen Victoria expanded the palace. It even contains a tiny office once used as a police station.
29. There’s a 19th century time capsule under the base of Cleopatra’s Needle, the 68ft, 3,450-year-old obelisk on the banks of the Thames at Embankment. Inside, you’ll find a set of British currency, a very old and probably unreliable railway guide, a Bible and 12 portraits of “the prettiest English ladies”.
30. Does architecture make you hungry? The tiered design of St Bride’s Church in Fleet Street is believed to have been the inspiration for the tiered wedding cake that these days, we all know so well.
31. The Houses of Parliament are home to 1,000 rooms, 100 staircases, 11 courtyards, 8 bars and 6 restaurants. Of course, none of these places are open to the general public.
32. Of the 51 British Prime Ministers who have held office since 1751, only one has ever been assassinated: Spencer Perceval was shot at the House of Commons in 1812.
33. Feel short changed by your sky-high London rent? London’s smallest house is just 3½ foot wide, forming part of the Tyburn Convent in Hyde Park Place where 20 nuns live.
34. East London is forever immortalised on film and is one of London’s most popular locations. It’s played host to everything from Oliver! to A Clockwork Orange and Full Metal Jacket. What’s more, the naval buildings of Greenwich stood in for Washington in Patriot Games.