19 Facts About London That Sound Made-Up But Are True

By Matt Brown and Will Noble.

Londonist is sort of 20 years previous. In all these years, we have amassed a bulging battle chest of weird tales and unlikely trivia in regards to the capital. Listed here are simply 19 of our favorite information, all of which sound like they’re made up, however are utterly true…

1. Scotch eggs had been invented by Fortnum and Mason

A scotch egg sliced in half with some tomatoes on a plate

The scotch egg was initially for posh Londoners on the transfer. Picture: Expertise by way of inventive commons

Whereas the Scottish had been the brains behind scotch whisky, they actually weren’t behind scotch eggs. These frugal meat-n-dairy globes had been invented in 1738 by the opulent Fortnum & Mason division retailer, as an easy-to-scoff picnic factor for rich people on the transfer. They’re regarded as impressed by Indian snack nargisi kofta, so why ‘scotch’? As Fortnum & Mason says “On the time, we referred to it as a ‘scotched’ egg due to anchovies added to the meat to offer it a stronger flavour.” We must always level out there’s additionally a declare that scotch eggs had been first bought in Whitby, though with fish paste slightly than meat.

2. There isn’t any such place as Bond Road

A Bond Street roundel

Sure, there is a Bond Road station, however there is not a Bond Road. Picture: Matt Brown/Londonist

As soon as upon a time (aka 1686) there WAS a Bond Road in London, named for Thomas Bond, whose motto was ‘The World shouldn’t be Sufficient’. Nevertheless, quickly after, New Bond Road was constructed, with the unique Bond Road renamed Previous Bond Road. So whereas there is a Bond Road station (and sq. on the Monopoly board), there isn’t any precise place named Bond Road. Effectively, not in central London anyway; if you wish to be pedantic about it, London has two Bond Streets — in Chiswick and Forest Gate.

3. Bob Hope was born in Eltham

Bob Hope in a dinner jacket

Nope, Bob Hope wasn’t from Palm Springs, however Eltham. Picture: public area

In Eltham, south east London, you will discover the uncannily named Bob Hope Theatre. However the nod to the golden period American comic — identified for entertaining GIs at Christmastime, and taking part in golf with Bing Crosby in Palm Springs — might hardly be much less tenuous; Hope was born in Eltham, and lived right here for the primary 4 years of his life, earlier than shifting on to larger and higher issues. Hope visited the playhouse in 1980, and when it discovered itself in dire straights quickly after, he organised fundraising golf video games to make sure it stored going.

4. A bundle of straw have to be hung beneath bridges on the Thames whereas they’re being labored on

A bale of straw inside Tower Bridge

A bundle of straw completely hangs from Tower Bridge as a part of the exhibition. Picture Matt Brown

A much-peddled London delusion is that cabbies should carry a bale of hay of their boots, supposedly as a hangover from days when all autos had been horse-drawn. Alas, this does not maintain water. There may be, nonetheless, an historical bylaw involving a bale of straw that is very a lot nonetheless in observe. We really noticed it in motion in 2023: as IanVisits explains, when a river bridge’s headroom is lowered (as occurred with the Millennium Bridge not too long ago whereas abseilers labored on it), the bylaw states {that a} bale have to be dangled beneath it, as a warning to boats. You’d’ve thought the pendulous group of abseilers in hello vis would’ve completed the trick, however we’re nonetheless glad such olde traditions prevail.

5. The Nice North Wooden is in south London

A mosaic showing Norwood surrounded by trees

South Norwood library’s mosaic depicts the world surrounded by woodland. Picture Matt Brown

Till medieval instances, a lot of the London space — and wider England — was lined in dense woodland. The Saxons and their Norman successors chopped down a number of it to create farmland and garner wooden for development, ship-building and gas. One patch that lingered on bigger than most was referred to as the North Wooden, and later the Nice North Wooden. It stretched virtually from the Thames at Deptford proper all the way down to Croydon. How the identify took place is open to debate. Even in medieval instances, “Nice South Wooden” might need made extra sense given its path from the inhabitants centre of London. However maybe it was named by the individuals of Croydon, to differentiate the wooden from the Weald, which ranged to the south of the city.

Patches of the Nice North Wooden survive at present, as a string of smaller woods alongside the south London hills, and it additionally lives on in place names similar to Norwood and Forest Hill.

6. Keith Moon and Mama Cass died on the similar age, in the identical spot

Two Sixties music icons expelled their remaining breaths in the identical condo — most likely the identical mattress. Drummer Keith Moon of The Who and Mama Cass of the Mamas and Papas each died at Flat 12, 9 Curzon Place in Mayfair. The condo belonged to fellow 60s musician Harry Nillson, who would lend it out to rock-and-roll buddies throughout his lengthy absences. Cass Elliot (Mama Cass) was staying right here on 29 July 1974 when she died of a coronary heart assault (not choking on a ham sandwich, as common delusion would have it). A little bit over 4 years later, Keith Moon was additionally discovered useless in the identical room. He’d overdosed on a prescription drug he was taking to fight alcoholism. Each musicians had been aged 32. After this second tragedy, Nillson bought his condo to Moon’s bandmate, Pete Townshend. The block nonetheless exists, although remodelled.

7. Tower Bridge was turd brown till the Nineteen Seventies

Inside the Tower of London we see steel beams painted brown

The bridge’s bathroom hues can nonetheless be seen on metal framework inside its towers. These are dummy staff, by the best way.

These daring pink, white and most-of-all blue colors are so hanging it might be pure to imagine that Tower Bridge has at all times been that manner. However up till 1977, the span was a turdsome brown, or “vivid chocolate brown” because the bridge’s official web site spins it. Apparently, this was Queen Victoria’s favorite color — a revelation we do not fairly know what to do with. The bridge was given its fashionable color scheme to mark Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee, proving that you simply actually can polish a turd. The unique browns can nonetheless be seen on a tour of the bridge, the place inside ironwork maintains these feculent hues.

8. London would not really exist

Effectively, does it? Once we say “London” the place precisely can we imply? There’s the tiny Metropolis of London (the Sq. Mile), alongside the Metropolis of Westminster, each of which lie inside Better London (the 32 boroughs plus the Metropolis). Demographics typically communicate of Internal London and Outer London. However is there any political or territorial entity that’s simply plain previous “London”? The time period appears to be used as a type of fuzzy shorthand for Better London slightly than having standing in its personal proper. However that is appropriately. No vacationer would say “I am catching a flight to Better London”; the “Mayor of Better London” sounds a little bit of a mouthful; and we’re undoubtedly not altering our identify to GreaterLondonist. Curiously, the one place the place London was an official, political identify was as a European Parliament constituency. Now we have left the EU, London has ceased to exist. (Extra dialogue right here, with some glorious feedback.)

9. London was briefly referred to as Augusta

What was the identify of our metropolis in Roman instances? When you answered “Londinium” then you might be principally right. Town was based beneath that identify (for causes unknown) and flourished for over 300 years. Across the yr 368, the town was renamed Augusta, as proven on quite a few cash from the period. It’s thought that the identify was predominantly utilized by officers, as a manner of highlighting the town as an essential imperial centre. It would not final lengthy. A number of a long time later, Rome withdrew its soldiery and Londoninium-Augusta progressively withered away.

10. There was a plan to maneuver the Thames to Peckham

A map of a diverted Thames through Peckham

Map by Matt Brown

Admittedly, it was a plan that by no means bought additional than one man’s demented drafting board. However, sure, again in 1933 architect William Walcot actually did counsel diverting the river via south London. The standard riverbed can be paved over to serve the motor automobile. In the meantime, all of the railway stations can be closed and changed by one big hub at Kennington, full with rooftop aerodrome. Extra particulars right here.

11. There isn’t any London statue of Charles Dickens

Bizarre reality… London has extra statues of Man the Gorilla than of its biggest novelist. It was Dickens’s dying want that he shouldn’t be commemorated with a statue. His written works had been all of the memorial he wanted. And look, although you may, all throughout this good metropolis and you’ll not discover one public statue to the scruffily bearded pensmith. The closest we get is a small bust on personal land throughout the Holborn Bars courtyard — constructed on the positioning of one in all Dickens’s former properties. (Man the Gorilla, in case you are questioning, is commemorated in each the Pure Historical past Museum and Crystal Palace Park.)

12. The District line used to go to Windsor and Southend

A number of underground traces are at present shorter than was as soon as the case. Most famously, the Central line as soon as carried on from Epping to Ongar — a piece now lined solely by heritage railway. The Met line, in the meantime, went a lot additional than Amersham, reaching past Aylesbury to some super-obscure villages in Buckinghamshire. Extra usefully, the District line (then a part of the Metropolitan) as soon as ran all the best way to Windsor (1883-1885) within the west and Southend within the east (1910-1935).

13. The Kray twins had been among the many final to be imprisoned on the Tower of London

The Tower of London is related to many a well-known prisoner, from Anne Boleyn to Man Fawkes. The penal custom continued effectively into the twentieth century, with spies from each world wars put beneath lock and key throughout the Tower. Among the many final to be incarcerated had been the Kray twins, who spent just a few nights behind bars right here in 1952 after failing to report for Nationwide Service. The unlikely sounding little bit of trivia is confirmed by Historic Royal Palaces, who oversee the Tower.

14. The geographic centre of London is south of the river

a computer generated map of greater london with red crosshairs showing a point in lambeth

Everybody is aware of that the official centre of London — from which all distances are measured — is Charing Cross, particularly the statue of Charles I. A plaque there says as a lot. However what in regards to the geographic centre, the purpose on which you could possibly steadiness London had been you to discover a cosmically scaled pinhead? Effectively, again in 2010 we did a bit experiment (balancing a cut-out of London on a knitting needle). The centre of gravity turned out to be near Lambeth North tube station. Our crude methodology was refined 4 years later when a tech-savvy reader used GIS software program to pinpoint the centre of London. The end result? On a housing property simply not far away from the Previous Vic. Lambeth is formally the centre of London.

15. Probably the most profound ideas in human historical past occurred at a pedestrian crossing in Russell Sq.

A phone box vending tiramasu

Tiramisu from a cellphone field… NOT essentially the most stunning factor that occurred on this nook…

In 1985, Diana Ross and the Bee Gees discovered themselves in the midst of a series response. One man who bought there half a century earlier than, although, was Leo Szilárd. The Hungarian physicist was ready to cross the busy junction of Southampton Row and Russell Sq. in Bloomsbury. Because the lights modified he stepped off the kerb and one thing clicked in his mind. Szilárd had dreamt up a approach to unlock atomic vitality; a way to smash neutrons into atoms and begin a series response. It proved to be probably the most consequential ideas in human historical past, main (by way of the work of many different researchers) to nuclear weapons and nuclear energy, and completely remodeling the principles of geopolitics and the steadiness of energy for many years if not centuries to come back. Go to this unremarkable spot at present, and also you’d by no means guess its significance.

16. As a younger man, Karl Marx drunkenly smashed up the gasoline lamps of Tottenham Courtroom Street

Karl Marx talking in a pub with a pint

Non-artist’s impression of how a drunken Karl Marx may not have seemed. Picture Matt Brown

Szilard wasn’t the one émigré to take inspiration from the streets of London. Karl Marx was smashing issues up on the sting of Bloomsbury 80 years earlier. However slightly than firing neutrons into nuclei, the bearded communist was hurling stones at gasoline lamps. All of it occurred after pub crawl alongside Tottenham Courtroom Street. Marx and his buddies bought into an argument with some boozy Brits in regards to the deserves of the German individuals (some issues by no means change). The confront had been beginning to flip ugly, and the chums determined to depart. Based on the memoirs of Wilhelm Liebknecht:

Now we had had sufficient of our ‘beer journey’ in the intervening time and so as to cool our heated blood, we began on a double march, till Edgar Bauer stumbled over a heap of paving stones. Hurrah, an concept! And in reminiscence of mad college students’ pranks he picked up a stone and Crash! Clatter! A gasoline lantern went flying into splinters. Insanity is contagious — Marx and I didn’t keep far behind, and we broke 4 or 5 road lamps.

You’ll be able to nonetheless do a Karl Marx pub crawl alongside Tottenham Courtroom Street at present, however please do not smash the road furnishings.

17. Ring-necked parakeets are probably the most widespread birds in London

A parakeet flies towards an open hand

Picture Matt Brown

Now and again, a message pops up on our area people discussion board: “Has anybody misplaced a parrot? Simply noticed a giant, inexperienced hen flying round.” In some way, giant swathes of the inhabitants stay oblivious to London’s parakeets although the birds are vivid, loud and apparent — and in every single place. No one actually is aware of what number of there is perhaps within the London space, although some estimates put it at over 30,000. In 2015, the RSPB’s Huge Backyard Fowl Watch discovered that the ring-necked parakeet was the seventh most frquently noticed hen, forward of robins, crows and customary gulls. Fairly the place the birds got here from is one thing of a thriller. Folklore theories say that they are both descendants from birds who escaped from the set of The African Queen, or else from a breeding pair launched by Jimi Hendrix within the 60s. Each have been debunked, and the boring reply might be that the inhabitants slowly constructed up from escapees from numerous aviaries.  

18. Fitzrovia did not exist as a spot identify till simply earlier than the second world battle

The Fitzroy Tavern entrance mosaic

Picture Matt Brown

Individuals typically bemoan new coinages for present, like Midtown or “the Information Quarter”. However space rebranding shouldn’t be a brand new factor. The lands north-east of Oxford Road had been thought of as a continuation of Soho till effectively into the twentieth century. It was solely within the Thirties that individuals began to make use of the time period Fitzrovia, taken from the Fitzroy Tavern which was common with writers, artists and intellectuals. We not too long ago discovered the time period in use in 1930, just a few years sooner than beforehand documented. So it is nonetheless lower than 100 years previous.

19. James Bond and George Smiley had been neighbours (with Alex Rider)

The 2 most well-known spies in common fiction lived inside metres of one another. George Smiley, protagonist of quite a few John le Carré novels, is given the handle of 9 Bywater Road, Chelsea — an actual handle. Bond’s house isn’t said exactly, though it’s described by Ian Fleming as a “plane-tree’d sq.” off the King’s Street”. An excellent match is Wellington Sq., and this location was utilized by each William Boyd and John Pearson in their very own James Bond writing. Wellington Sq. is instantly reverse Bywater Road, so Smiley and Bond might have been on nodding acquaintance. To additional cement Chelsea as a hotbed of espionage, boy-spy Alex Rider can be a neighborhood lad, dwelling someplace between the King’s Street and the Thames. To deliver issues full circle, Rider’s writer Anthony Horowitz would go on to pen a trio of James Bond novels.

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