The Bad

Keep your clothes on
Where is Lord Lucan?
Calcium is good for the teeth
The Duke’s Tall Column
Who Done It?
Waste Not, Want Not
London’s Underground proves Darwinism
Soldiers must break wind
The World’s smallest police station
If the lions drink, London will flood

tyburn-tree-gallowsKeep your clothes on
Tyburn a place of entertainment for hundreds of years. Prisoners would be carried by cart from Newgate two miles away, facing backwards if convicted of treason. One of the perks being an executioner was keeping the victims clothes. Hannah Dagoe brawled with the executioner who tried to stop her stripping off and throwing her clothes to the crowd. She was an immensely strong Irish woman who, when the executioner tried to stop her, she nearly knocked him out of the cart. She was eventually to depart the world in the same state of undress as she arrived. Early forms of execution the prisoner had to mount a ladder with a rope tied around his neck and ordered to jump. Modified later by standing on a cart before a horse towed it away leaving you dangling. The crowd would surge forward to pull the legs of the prisoner to ensure a speedier death. Many women dashed forward to place the dead man’s hand on their cheeks or breasts as the dead were thought to have mystical gifts and be able to cure warts, pimples and other blemishes. Later the rope was sold at 6d a yard. Tyburn was closed as a place of execution in 1783 because of the ever increasing problem of riots associated with hangings, particularly highwaymen who where very popular. Picture courtesy of copyright-free-pictures

lower-belgrave-streetWhere is Lord Lucan?
Lord Lucan’s predecessor the 3rd Earl was almost solely responsible for the gallant fiasco of the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava on 25th October 1854. On the night of 7th November 1974 someone broke into this house at 46 Lower Belgrave Street and battered the Lucan nanny to death and inflicted severe head injuries to the Countess. Lord Lucan disappeared that same night and no one has officially seen him since. The Lucan family motto is “Spes Mea Christus” – Christ is my hope. If Lucan is still alive then Christ is practically his only hope.

algate-pumpCalcium is good for the teeth
Before the piping of water into the City there was a series of pumps from which water could be drawn. The water from Aldgate Pump had a different taste from the other local pumps. It was discovered that during its journey underground from the hills of Hampstead 5 miles to the north, it passed through a cemetery. Calcium from the bones gave its unique taste!

duke-of-york-columnThe Duke’s Tall Column
On the north side of The Mall you will find Duke of York’s Column. Commemorating Frederick the second son of George III and at a height of 124 feet was said to be high enough to keep him out of the way of his creditors, as he owed £2 million. The Duke as Commander-in-Chief at the time was popular, but the column was paid by stopping one days’ pay from each soldier in the armed forces, and he was not so popular after that.

new-scotland-yard1Who Done It?
When New Scotland Yard was being built in 1888, the torso of a woman, headless and without arms, was discovered in the foundations. All the resources of the Criminal Investigation Department failed to find the murderer or the identity of the victim. And so Scotland Yard was built on the site of an unsolved murder.

Waste Not, Want Not
Peter Rees Jones, the son of a Monmouthshire hat manufacturer, started out with a small shop in Hackney, but soon moved to Kings Road in 1877. The neighbourhood was fashionable and the business flourished. But by the time Jones died in 1905 it had fallen on hard times. John Lewis of the eponymous Oxford Street store was not a man to spend his money foolishly, but could not resist the opportunity to acquire the Sloane Square store. With £20,000 cash (£1,820,000 today) in his back pocket he resisted the urge to catch a taxi from Oxford Street to Sloane Square and walked very briskly the 2 miles to complete the deal, thus saving himself 6d. In 1914 his son John Spedan Lewis took control of John Lewis and clearly was not a chip off the old block setting up the profit sharing partnership, a business model still admired today.

dodo1_small1London’s Underground proves Darwinism
Astonishingly, London’s Underground provides a splendid example of Darwinism in action. In the mid-1980s scientists noticed that as well as the numerous rats and mice living in the Victorian tunnels deep under the streets of London there were also large numbers of mosquitoes. Nothing particularly unusual about that you might say, except that studies quickly revealed that the mosquitoes were very different from their cousins above ground. Comparisons were made with similar insects abroad and the London mosquito was sufficiently different to be labelled a new species. Scientists speculated that when the tunnels were first being built at the end of the nineteenth century mosquitoes would have been more common than they are now. The pools of stagnant water inevitable in and around building sites would have provided perfect breeding conditions, and when the tunnels were finally closed in the mosquitoes found themselves underground. They reproduced and migrated all along the system wherever there was water. Today mosquitoes exist in the deepest parts of the system and tests have shown that they can no longer interbreed with any other known species and physical isolation has made them change to the point where they have become a separate species, just as Darwin predicted. A note for creationists Mind the Gap is not mentioned in Genesis.

Albert bridgeAlbert Bridge NoticeSoldiers must break wind
Albert Bridge, the most elegant of all London’s bridges was completed in 1873 and strengthened by Sir Joseph Bazalgette in 1884 when he constructed the Embankment.
After the Second World War the London County Council wanted to pull it down, but Chelsea residents led by John Betjeman protested and got a reprieve. The bridge is as fragile as it looks, and notices on the four tollbooths still famously demand that all troops must break step when marching over it.
The local wags are forever changing the wording from break step to break wind.

Boy on dolphinIf living on Cheyne Walk is to your liking (I have to warn you that Mick Jagger lives nearby), and your pockets are deep enough, don’t be tempted to buy the apartment overlooking the bridge on the first floor of Pier House, for every morning your view at breakfast will be a rather unfortunate angle of The sculpture the Boy on the Dolphin.

proxyWorld’s smallest police station
At the south eastern corner of Trafalgar Square and missed by every tourist who comes to feed the pigeons is a rather fat lamppost. If you look closely you’ll notice that it has a tiny door and a window. It is possibly the world’s smallest police station. With barely room for two people to stand upright inside, this tiny lock-up still has a direct telephone link to Scotland Yard. Right up until the 1960s the Trafalgar Square lock-up was still in use, with so much crime in London now it’s hopelessly inadequate. Picture credit: http://www.geograph.org.uk/profile/13090

Thames LionsThe Thames Lions
These lion heads line both sides of the Embankment, staring out over the River Thames. Their mouths hold mooring rings and it is said that if the lions drink, London will flood. They were sculpted by Timothy Butler for Bazalgette’s great sewage works in 1868-70.
©Kieran Meeke

Many thanks to Kieran Meeke for giving me permission to reproduce this item. For more information of unusual facts and trivia, visit his excellent site Secret London.