London is an amazing and fascinating place with a long history and lots of interesting tales to tell about its growth and development. However, there are a few that will surprise even the most knowledgeable Londoner or well-read visitor to the city.
Take a look through our 8 strange facts and learn something about London that you never knew before.
1) The Underground
Born in the Victorian era and the backbone of London’s transport system ever since, the London Underground is a source of great pride (and sometimes great consternation!) for Londoners getting around the city.
Its development met with objections from some unlikely quarters. While one might expect well-to-do gentlemen to quibble over the noise and disruption of the works in their areas of work and home life, warnings from the clergy would not have been top of the list of expected grievances. However, Victorian church men warned the government against the building of the Underground, claiming the noise from the trains would “disturb the devil.”
2) The Bridges of London
One of the things for which London is most famous is its Thames bridges, criss-crossing the river and allowing people and trade to flow from north to south.
What many people don’t realise is that whilst the bridges are considered to be a feat of the ingenuity of men, Waterloo Bridge was predominantly built by women. The bridge as it stands today was built during World War II by women, who were amongst some 24,000 female construction workers who took on traditionally male roles across the city during the war.
3) The Great Fire
The Great Fire of London was a calamity that saw the destruction of a considerable amount of the architecture and infrastructure across the city. Starting on Pudding Lane, the fire swept across the city with flames fanned by strong winds and fed by the timber that was the common building material of the day.
In spite of the widespread destruction wreaked by the fire, only six people lost their lives as a result of the blaze. Given the extent of the fire and the damage to property, this is quite remarkable.
4) Harrod’s Department Store
Prestigious Harrod’s department store in London’s Knightsbridge has long been associated with the sale of luxury goods to gentrified Londoners and visitors to the city. Few people know that until 1916 amongst the toiletries on sale at the store customers could procure pure cocaine, which was on sale to the general public.
5) Nelson’s Column
The plinths on Trafalgar Square surround the soaring column that sees Admiral Lord Nelson surveying the city towards Westminster and Whitehall. So impressed with the statue was Adolf Hitler that he planned, upon his expected conquering of the British Isles, to dismantle it and take it to Berlin.
6) Animal Magic
Well-known as a densely populated city, few would think of London as being a particular haunt for wildlife. However, around the city excavations have found animal bones including a crocodile in Islington, a hippo in Trafalgar Square and a mammoth in King’s Cross. No-one knows where these animals came from.
7) The Tower of London
Through the ages, the Tower of London has been the focus of a great many traitorous dealings and Royal incarcerations as the throne of England was contested by monarchs from across Europe. It finally fell into disuse as the home to those who had committed treason against the United Kingdom after the execution of Josef Jakobs, a German intelligence agent who was shot by a firing squad in 1941.
8) St Paul’s Cathedral
One of the most iconic sights on the London skyline could have looked a lot different if Sir Christopher Wren had been allowed to have his way. On his original designs the dome of the cathedral, which is now topped with a spire, was crowned with a 60 foot high stone pineapple. That would have given quite a different aesthetic to this classical structure!
A city with the history that London has is bound to have a few surprising tales to tell. Through its lifetime, it certainly has seen its fair share of unusual goings-on. We can only imagine how what we do now will appear to our descendants in hundreds of years’ time.