The Good

Exhuming King Charles
George Washington’s feet of clay
The world’s first greasy spoon
Our Flo
The spire that inspired a cake
Doggie Détente
Forward planning
Exporting churches
Sweeping dung
London’s smallest cathedral

 

charles-iExhuming King Charles
This statute by Hubert Le Sueur in 1633 and standing on the original site of Charing Cross, the final of 12 crosses erected by Edward I (he of Braveheart fame) along the route of the funeral cortège of Eleanor his Queen. This point is used as the starting point to measure distances from London. In 1649 John Rivett, a brazier, was ordered to destroy it by Cromwell, but he buried it in his garden and made a fortune by selling souvenirs allegedly from the metal. He gave it back to Charles II upon the Restoration of the Monarchy. The pedestal is said to have been designed by Wren and carved by Grinling Gibbons. The sword is not original, in the last century it was knocked off by an over- enthusiastic journalist covering a royal procession and was lost in the crowd. On 30th January each year, the anniversary of the King’s execution, the Royal Stuart Society holds a wreath-laying ceremony here.

 

washington20thGeorge Washington’s feet of clay
George Washington’s words of “not wishing to set foot on English soil again” have been respected, in the statute of him at the front of the National Gallery there lies beneath his feet a quantity of earth transported over from America.

established-17921The world’s first greasy spoon
This institution beloved by cabbies appears to have originated on the Wandsworth Road. According to its sign this establishment was founded in 1792 when William Pitt the Younger was Prime Minister. Did he have the world’s first bacon buttie?

florence-nightingaleOur Flo
Florence Nightingale came from good family and went into nursing a profession mostly populated by harlots. She went out during Crimean War with 38 nurses to tend over 10,000 injured soldiers. On her return to England in 1856 she raised £50,000 to start a nursing school at St. Thomas Hospital and strove to improve sanitary standards in hospitals. A small idiosyncrasy was that she kept an owl in her apron pocket. At the age of 40 she became a hypochondriac. A visitor at her house said they could hear her laboured breathing through closed doors as if she was breathing her last. But she managed to struggle on for another 50 years dying at the age of 90.

st-brides-church

The spire that inspired a cake
St. Bride’s Church in Fleet Street has a lightening conductor designed and fitted by the American republican and inventor Benjamin Franklin, but only after a row about whether American blunt-ended conductors or British pointed-end conductors should be used, I haven’t as yet climbed to the top to find out who won the debate. The church steeple, designed by Christopher Wren, was used by a local baker, a certain Mr. Rich, as the inspiration for the bridal cake design that we now take for granted. St. Bride’s didn’t get its name from the cake; the cake design copied the church spire and made the baker rich in more than just name.

giros-tombstoneDoggie Détente
The British love of dogs is legendary, visitors to Britain over the past 300 years have commented time and again that we Brits are much fonder of our dogs than our friends or family. One dog that enjoyed the tolerant affection of the British belonged to Hitler’s ambassador to Britain in the 1930s, Joachim Von Ribbentrop. In 1938 Ribbentrop’s dog Giro died and as a gesture of goodwill he was allowed to bury it in the gardens to the left of the Queen Mother’s memorial on the north side of The Mall. This despite that fact that when war came a year later and Von Ribbentrop immediately became a hate figure for the British, no one would have dreamed of disturbing the grave of his dog – probably because the British had always preferred the dog to a German anyway.

Westminster HallForward planning
Most buildings are designed to last for a finite time, but not so Westminster Hall. The Hall has one of the greatest architectural treasures of the late Middle Ages, the vast, intricate and magnificent hammer beam roof. The last major restoration was in 1913 when several major roof timbers had to be replaced. This presented the builders with a headache. England’s oak woods had long ago been felled and they could not find oak trees mature enough to provide the right sort of timber. Then someone had the bright idea of checking where the original timbers had come from and it was discovered that the Courthorpe family from Wadhurst in Sussex had provided the original timber and a descendant Sir George Courthorpe MP still owned the estate. When approached, he explained that when the original trees had been cut and sold to the King in 1399, the Courthorpe family thought that the time would come when the timbers would need repair so they planted a new stand of oak trees specifically for the purpose. Those trees were now ready and were duly cut down and used to repair the great roof of Westminster Hall.

St Martins In The FieldExporting Churches
The early churches of New England are based almost entirely on the design of St. Martin in the Fields. Completed in 1724 its revolutionary design of having its steeple at the east end of the church not the west end was the brainchild of architect James Gibbs who decided to turn convention on its head and build the steeple where we see it today. He also built it above an imposing portico that looks like the grand entrance to a Greek temple. Critics marvelled at the audaciousness of the new church and despite the innate conservatism of churchgoers and the church authorities, the new design soon became very popular, so much so that several members of Gibbs’ architectural practice were enticed to American by the offer of large sums of money. With the design of St. Martin’s packed in their bags they moved west as the American settlers moved west, building identical or near identical copies of St. Martins as they went.

Charles McGhee

Sweeping dung
One of the worst jobs you could have in Victorian London was a crossing sweeper; his job was pushing a path across a road covered with horse dung to let others cross. For many years an elderly black man, Charles McGhee swept a path across Fleet Street outside a wealthy linen draper’s shop. The shop was owned by Robert Waithman who later would become MP for the City of London. From the window above the shop the draper’s daughter watched the old crossing sweeper and on cold days arranged for someone to take him a bowl of hot soup and some bread. When McGhee died some years later it was discovered that he had left all his savings, some £700, an extraordinary sum in Victorian days, to the draper’s daughter. Cue a story for Walt Disney’s Christmas feel good film. Picture credit: http://www.oldlondonmaps.com/articles/beggars.html

Small St PaulsLondon’s smallest cathedral
OK, this is a bit of a trick question but do you know where London’s smallest cathedral is? Ask a cabbie and he’ll tell you: you need to look over the top of Vauxhall Bridge, where this miniature of St Paul’s is being held by one of the lovely statues that decorate each side.

©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.