20 Things You Never Knew About London

Big Ben and red double-decker

Everyone likes to think they know their stuff when it comes to the capital, especially those who live there.

Sure, we all know about the history of Westminster, Buckingham Palace and the rest of the big attractions, but in a city so big there are always more secrets to be unearthed.

We’ve taken a look at some fascinating facts that are a little off the beaten track.

Until 1916 You Could Buy Cocaine In Harrods…

Customers of the world famous department store could buy some of ‘Ryno’s Hay Fever and Catarrh Remedy’ which was essentially pure cocaine and would help out in those times “when the nose is stuffed up, red and sore!”

Hitler Planned To Steal Nelson’s Column…

Had Nazi Germany successfully invaded the UK, Hitler planned to remove Nelson’s Column and take it back to Berlin!

SS plans claimed: “It would be an impressive way of underlining the German victory if the Nelson Column were to be transferred to Berlin”.

Covent Garden Is Just A Spelling Mistake…

It was intended to be known as ‘Convent Garden’ as it was formerly the market garden for a nearby convent.

The Upper Walkways Of Tower Bridge Were Once Open To The Public…

However, they were closed in 1910 when it emerged that it was a favourite place of prostitutes and pickpockets as regular pedestrians could only access them by stairs.

There Is An Underground Military Network Below Whitehall…

There is a huge network of tunnels which were created during both WW2 and the Cold War, but the exact number of tunnels and how they all link together is still a mystery.

Various Strange Animal Bones Have Been Excavated In London…

These include the bones of wolves, a crocodile, a mammoth and even hippo and elephant remains below Trafalgar Square!

London Stood In For Vietnam In The Movie ‘Full Metal Jacket’…

Director Stanley Kubrick lived in the city and shot all of his movies there. The harrowing battle scenes which took place in the ruins of Hue were actually shot in the abandoned Beckton Gas Works.

A Flock Of Starlings Once Landed On The Minute Hand Of Big Ben, Putting The Time Back Five Minutes…

There’s a bit of a dispute as to when this actually happened, with reports claiming 1945, 1949 and as recently as 1995, but having survived the Blitz, Big Ben lost a whole five minutes due to a flock of birds.

Only Six People Died During The Great Fire Of London…

The great fire of London was one of the most devastating events in the city’s history, but only six people were officially recorded as having died.

This could easily be disputed however, as the deaths of many lower and middle-class residents may not have been recognised at the time.

The Millennium Dome Has Been Used As A Homeless Shelter…

After the new millennium and before it became the O2 arena, the dome was used as a homeless shelter for a period over Christmas in 2004.

The City Is Home To A Number Of Lost Rivers…

London is home to a number of lost rivers including the Westbourne, which you can see being redirected above Sloane Square tube station if you look upwards, and the Tyburn, which runs underneath Buckingham Palace.

Waterloo Bridge Was Mainly Built By Women…

The bridge was built during the war when most men were fighting overseas and worked in a range of industries including on the construction of the Waterloo Bridge. As such you may hear the bridge referred to as “Ladies Bridge.”

London Used To Have ‘Vegas-Style’ Wedding Chapels…

Long before couples were getting married by Elvis in chapels in the Nevada Desert, London was home to its own wedding chapels between 1613 and 1754. Ceremonies would usually last less than 15 minutes due to a unique bylaw allowing marriages to be carried out in an area surrounding Fleet Debtors’ Prison.

Trafalgar Square Is Home To The UK’s Smallest Police Station…

On the Southeast corner of this famous tourist hotspot, you’ll find a tiny police box which could hold up to two prisoners at a time! Unfortunately, you won’t find any bobbies hanging around in it nowadays as it’s used to store cleaning supplies for the council!

There Are A Thousand Bodies Buried Beneath Aldgate Station…

It’s a little spooky but did you know that Aldgate East Station was built on top of one of the mass graves used during the Black Death?

The plague killed over 100,000 Londoners and such mass graves were simply necessary.

The Statue Of George Washington Stands On US Soil…

The first President of the USA proclaimed that he ‘would never again step foot on British soil’ and so when a statue in his honour was erected in 1921, it was decided to put some legitimate US soil underneath the statue!

Big Ben Isn’t Really What You Think It Is…

London’s most famous landmark is known around the world as Big Ben, but that technically isn’t its name!

The bell inside the tower is called Big Ben, but the tower itself was named Elizabeth Tower in honour of the Queen in 2012.

Prior to that it was known (rather boringly) as just: The Clock Tower

You Can Visit Cockney Cash Machines…

Across London, there are 30 special cash machines which have an extra language option: Cockney.

So if you ever want to see your ‘rattle and tank balance’ or get out ‘some moolah for ya sky rocket’ you know where to go!

There Was Once A Great Beer Flood In London…

It’s the stuff of dreams isn’t it? In 1814 approximately 1.4million litres of beer flowed out of the Meux & Company brewery and swept down Tottenham Court Road.

It started when a ruptured vat tipped over and had a domino effect, knocking over all the others!

There Are Ears And Noses Hidden Around London…

Not real ones of course! In 1997, the artist Rick Buckley installed 35 replicas of his nose on famous London landmarks as a protest against CCTV.

Similarly, Tim Fishlock stuck up small ears around Covent Garden and the West End.

Nowadays it’s believed there ten noses and two ears remaining for you to find…if you want to.

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