The Mad

Achilles’ Penis
The Corsican’s Nose
Haig’s Urinating Horse
The Widow’s Son
A Skeleton in the Closet
A right pair of thespians
Standing for an Eternity
The one-legged escalator tester
Tower Bridge Chimney
. . . and finally do not steal this wall

achilles-statute2Achilles’ Penis
Achilles Statue in Hyde Park was cast in 1822 from cannons taken in the Peninsular War and at Waterloo and presented by “The Women of England” as a tribute to Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington. It was the very first statue of a naked man on public display in London. Originally anatomically correct, if you get my drift, but after the aforementioned women realised that all parts of a man’s anatomy scale up in size proportionately, a fig leaf was added later to save blushes. The addition has been chipped off twice – in 1870 and 1961, probably to see what’s underneath. If you look closely at the image you can see the join. Two contemporary cartoons show the furore it caused.


The Corsican’s Nose
At Admiralty Arch at the eastern end of the Mall a little-known trivia fact concerns the presence of a life-size human nose which protrudes from the inside wall of the northernmost arch. Best viewed on foot, or whilst sat in rush hour traffic, bewilderingly it stands at waist height for anyone riding a horse. As many a London cabbie will explain, it is said to resemble Napoleon’s nose and was rubbed by anyone riding through the arch as a snub to the diminutive Corsican.

haig_statueHaig’s Urinating Horse
Douglas, 1st Earl Hag who commanded the British forces in 1915 during the first world war, but has since been denigrated for his mismanagement of the battle of Passchendale, his critics were quick to point out that the hind legs of his horse suggest not propulsion but urination. Now spoiling the view of Dover House built 1787 by Henry Holland.

widows-son-bunsThe Widow’s Son
The story is that a widow’s house previously stood on the site. Expecting her sailor son home one Easter, she naturally baked him a hot cross bun but, unfortunately, he did not return. The widow lived in hope and next year made another bun, and so on. It was commonly believed that bread or buns baked on Good Friday would never grow mouldy and had a marked medicinal value, and it was also not unknown for such items to be hung up. The house became famous for its collection of buns, and when the pub was built on the same site it was naturally called the Widow’s Son and the custom continued; each year a sailor brings another bun. You can see the currant buns (sorry for the pun!) in the net.

jeremy-benthamA Skeleton in the Closet
Jeremy Bentham was an English jurist, philosopher, legal and social reformer and was best known for the concept of animal rights. In his will he requested that his body was preserved and stored in a wooden cabinet, termed his “Auto-icon”. Originally kept by Dr. Southwood Smith, it was acquired by University College London in 1850. The Auto-icon is kept on public display at the end of the South Cloisters in the main building of the College. For the 100th and 150th anniversaries of the college, the Auto-icon was brought to the meeting of the College Council, where he was listed as “present but not voting”. According to the university, it is a myth that the Auto-icon casts the deciding vote in meetings in the event of a tie. The Auto-icon has always had a wax head, as Bentham’s head was badly damaged in the preservation process. The real head was displayed in the same case for many years, but became the target of repeated student pranks including being stolen on more than one occasion. It is now locked away securely.

A pair of ThespiansA pair of Thespians in Cheyne Walk

Ben JonsonStanding for an Eternity
The Elizabethan playwright Ben Jonson was the antithesis of his contemporary William Shakespeare. While Will invested his money in land and property, Jonson seems to have invested his wealth on wine, women and gambling. In Elizabethan England a man found guilty of murder but could read Latin was not executed. Instead his thumb would be branded, as was Jonson’s, with the letter M. Towards the end of his life and still living in poverty Jonson is supposed to have discussed his funeral arrangements with the Dean of Westminster. “I am to poor to be buried in the abbey”, he is reported to have said, “And no one will lay out my funeral charges. Six feet long by two feet wide is too much for me. Two feet by two feet will do.” The dean is said to have promised Jonson that he could have his tiny area in what was to become known at Poets’ Corner, clearly thinking that Jonson intended only to have a small memorial attached to the spot. In fact Jonson was properly buried in the abbey when the time came, he did it by arranging to have himself buried standing bolt upright in his grave where he remains to this day. It was his final joke.

Earl's CourtThe one-legged escalator tester
When London’s first escalator opened at Earl’s Court Station in 1910 the passengers were too terrified to use it. The authorities needed someone to give the public confidence in the new contraption. Bumper Harris, a man had a wooden leg, stepped up to the plate (or should that be hopped up). He was employed to go up and down the escalator all day, unfortunately for Bumper he was too good at his job, the public soon thought nothing of using the new moving staircase and he was out of a job.

Tower Bridge ChimneyTower Bridge chimney

Is this the only bridge in the world with a chimney? Millions of visitors cross Tower Bridge every year but few notice this cast iron chimney painted to blend in with the lamp-posts. It’s a flue for a guardhouse under one of the bridgepiers, facing the Tower. ©Kieran Meeke

Wall Ownership. . . and finally do not steal this wall
‘THIS WALL the Property of
T CHANCELLOR Built 1824.’ So don’t try stealing it . . .

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.