55 Interesting Facts about London I’ll Bet You Never Knew

London. It’s no surprise that one of the most vibrant cities in the world has its fair share of stories to tell. It’s time to take a dig into the history of the city with these 55 weird and interesting facts about London.

Contents

London Is the Only City that has Hosted the Olympic City Three Times

In 1908, 1948 and 2012 respectively. Although 2012 was a brilliant, it pales in comparison to the 1908 edition, which lasted for 187 days – making it the longest Olympics ever.

In the 19th Century a Vat of Beer Exploded and the Tidal Wave it Created Killed Eight People

The London Beer Flood (like the great flood, but boozier), took place in 1814. A vat of beer at the Meaux and Company Brewery in Tottenham Court Road exploded, causing a tidal wave of 1,470,000 litres of porter to engulf the nearby streets. Eight people died, including five people gathered for a wake.

Over Half of the London Underground is Actually Overground

How’s that for a brain boggler? No doubt you’d noticed when you play the “QUICK, catch the mobile signal” game as you bob up and down over and underground on the Tube.

Original Ideas for the London Underground included a Series of Underground Rivers Where People could Float on Barges

Wouldn’t that have been just brilliant? Instead of jamming your way onto a packed train, you could hop on a barge and float down a subterranean river to your next destination.

Facts about the London Underground
It could have all been so different… (Envato)

London’s Large Number of Trees Mean that it Falls Under the UN Definition of a Forest

The next time someone dismisses the city as crowded and overpopulated, why don’t you tell them this little fun fact about London. Just under 1/5th of the area of Greater London is woodland – meaning that it falls under the UN’s definition of a forest. The capital received its first official Forestry Conservator in 2002.

There are Two Fake Houses in Paddington That Were Built to Hide the Tube Line

Numbers 23 and 24 Leinster Gardens might look like normal houses at first glance, but in reality they’re fake. The houses were built as a facade to cover the unsightly Metropolitan Line, which pops out behind.

Want to visit the fake houses? I’ve featured them in my bumper list of London’s most unusual spots – check it out.

Tower Bridge once Opened…. With a Bus on It

Tower Bridge is a feat of mechanical engineering, and at the top of everyone’s list of things to do in London but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t seen it’s fair share of slip ups over the years.

In 1952, bus driver Albert Gunter was happily pootling along on the bridge when, to his horror, it started to rise. In a feat worthy of any Hollywood film, Bertie put his foot to the floor, accelerating the bus so it jumped the 10 foot gap and hurtled along the other side to safety. Good old Bertie eh?

Read More: 20 Weird and Wonderful Facts about Tower Bridge

Each Year London’s Buses Travel an Estimated 12x the Circumference of the Earth

London’s bus system is truly incredible. There’s barely a road not serviced by its ever-trusty bus network. There are so many buses in London that each year they collectively clock up over 300 million miles, which is more than 12x the circumference of the earth. Take that Superman.

Cock Lane Used to be the Only Street Licenced for Prostitution in Medieval London

I wish more roads in London were named in line with what you can expect to find there… Oxford Street would be called “Street of Ever Mounting Irritation ”, Piccadilly “Curious blend of toffs and neon”.. .you get the picture.

Anyway, Londoners were much better at naming streets back in the day. Take Cock Lane in Farringdon, so named for the fact that a number of brothels operated on the street in medieval times. No mistakes going to be made there.

PS. Farringdon hasn’t quite thrown off its days of disrepute, which is why it’s home to some of London’s coolest bars. Check out my guide to the best bars in Clerkenwell and Farringdon…

You Used to Able to Buy Cocaine and Heroin in Harrods

Including a kit that was called “A Welcome Present for Friends at the Front” – sold by Harrods in 1916. The kit included cocaine, morphine and syringes. In fairness, it sounds like exactly what I’d want if I was on the Front too.

There are Five Tube Stations that are Named After Pubs

Can you guess which ones they are? OK, I’ll tell you… The Angel, Elephant & Castle, Manor House, Royal Oak and Swiss Cottage. Sounds like a pretty good London pub crawl to me.

London Used to Stink

In 1858, in what is now referred to as The Great Stink of London, the Thames stank so much that curtains in the Palace of Westminster had to be cloaked in chloride of lime to hide the smell.

Laws were enacted to make it illegal to butcher animals within the city and stopped sewage from being dumped into the Thames as it had been before.

Read More: 43 (Rather Brilliant) Quotes about London

There are Over 1,000 Bodies Under Aldgate Station

One of the more macabre London facts is that Aldgate Underground Station was built on the site of a mass grave of victims of the plague. It’s estimated that there are over 1,000 bodies under the station. Pretty grim.

Over 8% of Brits Live in London

Because the city is just that fabulous. London’s population stands at 8.97 million people – to put that fun fact about London into context, that’s greater than the total population of Austria.

It’s estimated that London’s population will continue to grow to a whopping 9.5 million by 2026. I can only hope that they schedule more tubes – it’s packed enough as it is.

Black Cab Drivers Have to Pass The Knowledge, Which is Incredibly Hard

Ever wondered how black cabbies seem to know London like it’s the back of their hand? It’s because they have to take The Knowledge, which takes 2-3 years of constant studying and requires that cabbies learn 320 routes through over 25,000 streets to pass the test.

A Polar Bear Used to Live in the Tower of London

Henry III was given a polar bear as a present. He kept the bear in the Tower of London, chained up in reach of the River Thames so that it could catch fish.

Each Year at Christmas, Norway gives London a Christmas Tree for Trafalgar Square

As a thank you for British allegiance and aid given to Norway in WWII – a tradition that dates back to 1947. The tree is generally over 20 metres and aged between 50-60 years and forms a central part of Christmas in London.

Read More: The Insider’s Guide to Trafalgar Square – The History Behind the Landmark

Some of London’s Street Names Were So Filthy that they Had to be Changed

Pissing Alley, Gropecunt Lane, Shiteburn Lane and Stinking Lane among them. The City of London used to be filled with some rather shocking road names. They were changed as they were thought to be too offensive to the modern mind.

Read More: Gorgeous Old Pubs in Farringdon and Clerkenwell

Big Ben’s Real Name is The Elizabeth Tower

Yes, that’s right. One of the most interesting facts about London is that one of its best-known attractions is called by the wrong name. Well, technically it’s not the wrong name – Big Ben is actually the bell within the tower rather than the tower and the clock itself.

Palace of Westminster and Big Ben - London facts
Big Ben should be called Elizabeth Tower

Read more: Two Days in London – A First Timer’s Itinerary

Navy Ships have to Give a Barrel of Rum When they Enter the Port of London

Because London is a city that loves to drink and has come up with some pretty inventive ways of getting its hands on the good stuff. It’s not actually practiced, apart from at the Ceremony of the Constable’s Dues, when a navy boat coughs up and pays a barrel to the Constable of the Tower of London.

London is a City of Many Names: In the Past it has been Called Londinium and Ludenberg

Here’s an interesting fact about London – London was first founded as a city by the Romans who called it Londinium – it was later called Lundenwic before settling in to be good old London.

The London Underground is the Oldest Underground in the World

Which perhaps some of the rather haphazard planning… There are so many interesting facts about London related to the tube. Did you know that the two closest stations Leicester Square and Covent Garden are only 260 metres apart – a journey that takes a mere 20 seconds. Or that half a million mice live in the Underground?

19 Million Tourists Visit London Every Year

Which, considering the resident population is just under 9 million means that there are over twice as many tourists in the city as inhabitants. Still, we’re not in Iceland’s position, which sees over seven visitors per resident visit the island each year.

Read Next: 20 Unusual and Quirky Things You Didn’t Know about the London Eye

The Queen has to Ask for Permission to Enter the City of London

Being the Queen definitely has its perks but did you know that the Queen has to ask the Mayor of London for permission to enter the City of London. Well, that’s not exactly true – she kind of just announces her presence through an elaborate ceremony at Temple Bar and precedent is that the mayor always allows her to enter.

That said, I’d love to see the day when he’s just like “can you come back tomorrow, today’s just mad hectic and we really can’t fit you in love”.

London Zoo was the First Zoo in the World

London Zoo opened in 1828 – at first it housed animals that had been kept in the Tower of London but it opened to the public in 1847.

During WWII, London was the Seat of Government of Six Countries

London was one of the few safe places for governments displaced by the war during World War II. The governments of Poland, Belgium, France, Norway and Holland took residence in London during the war.

It’s Illegal to Feed the Pigeons in Trafalgar Square

I remember the days when Trafalgar Square was grim as f*ck. Hoards of pigeons used to swarm all over the square, and the chance of you being crapped on was about 100%. That’s why former Mayor Ken Livingstone made it illegal to feed the pigeons in 2003.

The Speed Limits in Central London Have Remained the Same Since Horse-Drawn Carriages Rattled Along the Streets

The Mayor of London, our much-loved Sadiq Khan, recently announced plans to reduce speed limits in central London. That’s a big move considering that speed limits in Central London haven’t really changed since the days of the horse and cart.

Before 1980 all Banks Operating within the City of London had to be Within 10 Minutes’ Walk of the Bank of England

So that in case of emergency, the Governor of the Bank of England could call a meeting and have the head of every bank present within 30 minutes.

There are More International Phone Calls Made from the City of London than any Other Place in the World

Thanks to the fact that the city is a global financial hub (well, for now).

It’s Not Actually Against the Law to Die in the Houses of Parliament

I’ve read so many fake facts about London stating that it’s against the law to die in the Houses of Parliament. It really isn’t! Which makes sense as how the hell would you enforce that one?

Can we put this one to bed – if you want to die in the Houses of Parliament you can do so safe in the knowledge that the courts won’t be pursuing you into the afterlife to claim their dues. Let’s face it, Guy Fawkes died in Parliament just fine.

But it IS Against the Law to Wear a Suit of Armour in Parliament

I know, I know, you’d been polishing the damn thing for weeks in preparation right?!

Great Ormond Street Owns the Rights to Peter Pan

JM Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan gifted the rights to the story of the boy who never grew up to the children’s hospital Great Ormond Street, in 1929. Barrie used to live behind the hospital.

Read more: The Best Things to do in Winter in London

The Entrance to the Savoy is the One Road in the UK Where You Drive on the Right

Everyone knows that here in the UK we drive on the left… apart from the road leading to the entrance of The Savoy. One of those oft-repeated facts about London, it’s said that this was so that women could disembark from cars easily – but the reality is that the layout of the road means it makes practical sense to drive on the right.

London is the Largest City in Europe

London is the largest city in the European Union – both by size and population by far. Things start to get a bit difficult when you look at the definition of Europe though, as if you include Russia and Turkey, Istanbul and Moscow pip London to the post.

You Can Find the Exact Centre of London

Hint: it’s marked by a plaque in the church of St Martin’s in the Fields. Perfect excuse to head on a little Instagram quest?

London’s 8.9 Million Residents Speak over 300 Languages

London’s residents hail from all over the world (which is why it’s so damned cool). Together they speak a whopping 300 languages.

You can Tell if the Queen is in Buckingham Palace as the Royal Standard is Flown from the Flagpole

The Royal Standard (flag) is different to the Union Jack. You can tell if the Queen’s at home in Buckingham Palace – if she is, it’s the Royal Standard that’s flown on the flagpole. The Union Jack is raised for the rest of the time.

Buckingham Palace
Nope, the Queen isn’t Home

And it’s One of the Most Diverse Cities in the World

One of my favourite London facts is that it is one of the most diverse cities in the world. Ethnically white, black, asian, arab and mixed groups make up the near 9-million population of the capital.

There Must Be Six Ravens in the Tower of London at all Times

At what point does tradition turn into superstition? One of the weirdest but fun facts about London is that there must be six ravens in the Tower of London at all times – as it is believed that the tower will fall without them. There are currently seven ravens at the Tower because it’s better to be safe than sorry right?

The Great Fire of London Destroyed More than Four Fifths of the City

The Great Fire of London raged throughout London for four days in 1666. In the course of those four days, it destroyed four-fifths of the City of London – but only six people were reported dead. The Bakers’ Guild finally apologised for the fire… in 1989 – 320 years after the fire was started by a baker in Pudding Lane.

There are over 1,000 Rooms in the Palace of Westminster

Over 1,100 in fact. The Palace of Westminster (where the Houses of Parliament is based) was originally built as a royal residence in the 11th century. Most of the current buildings date from after 1840 after two fires destroyed both the original structure and its replacement.

In the 18th Century You Could Pay for Your Entrance to London Zoo by Bringing a Cat or Dog to Feed to the Lions

This is one of those grim facts about London that’s a sign of just how horrible we used to be. Technically speaking, this practice applied to the menagerie of animals stationed in the Tower of London before they were transferred to London Zoo as we know it today, but that’s just splitting hairs.

The Statue of George Washington in Trafalgar Square sits on Imported Soil

Good old Washington famously stated that he would never set foot on British soil again, and so they brought over some American soil for his statue to sit on.

Winnie the Pooh Was a Real Bear and she Lived in London Zoo

Winnie the Pooh was a real bear who lived in London Zoo. But that’s where the similarities end because a) the real Winnie was a she, not a he b) she was most certainly not yellow and c) I’m pretty sure that if you encouraged her to hang out with piglets and donkeys, it would have had a much more grisly end.

Jerry Springer Was Born in a Bomb Shelter at Highgate Station During WWII  

American talk show host Jerry Springer’s birth was nearly as dramatic as some of the showdowns in his television programme. Gerald “Jerry” Springer was born in Highgate Underground Station, which was being used as a bomb shelter in 1944.

The Bedlam Asylum Was Once one of the City’s Most Popular Visitor Attractions

All evidence points to the fact that people are just pretty grim deep down. Back in the 18th century, the Bedlam Asylum was one of London’s most popular visitor attractions. People would pay the entrance fee and then watched the impromptu show unfold.

The Shard is Made from over 11,000 Panes of Glass

Love it or hate it (for the record, I love it), The Shard is the tallest building in London. Constructed of over 11,000 panes of glass, it’s the perfect place to soak up some fabulous views of the city.

The Shard - Fun Facts about London
The Shard (Envato)

Westminster Abbey Features the Oldest Anglo-Saxon Door in England

I know that you’ve always had a burning desire to see the oldest door in Britain amiright? The door to the Abbey’s Chapter House is nearly 1,000 years old.

There are Around 20 Subterranean Rivers Flowing Underneath London

These include the River Peck in Peckham, the River Fleet and the River Tyburn, which runs through Regent’s Park and under Buckingham Palace and was once reputed to have the best salmon fishing in London. Wait. You can go salmon fishing in London?

There’s a Time Capsule Under Cleopatra’s Needle

Cleopatra’s Needle has watched over the Embankment since 1878 and has been confusing everyone with why there’s a sphinx smack bang in the middle of London ever since.

Did you know that there’s a time capsule under the Needle, which contains pictures of pretty ladies, a bible and a razor among other things.

I can only wonder what 2018’s equivalent would contain…

London’s Buses Weren’t Always Red

The iconic red bus is a symbol of London – but London’s buses weren’t always red. Prior to 1907 buses were actually different colours depending on their route.

Hyde Park has its own Pet Cemetery

Hyde Park’s curious pet cemetery was started in 1881 by the then gamekeeper who started burying dogs in the gamekeeper’s lodge’s garden. By the time it closed in 1903, over 300 beloved dogs (and a dog) had been buried in the enclosure.

The Barbican’s Conservatory Contains over 2,000 Species of Tropical Plants

Urban jungle takes on a whole new meaning when you visit the Barbican’s lush conservatory. Boasting over 2,000 species of tropical plants, you can also have afternoon tea there too.

Read More: Visiting the Barbican Conservatory – What You Need to Know Before You Go

The London Underground Has its Own Subspecies of Mosquito

This is actually my favourite fact about London. The London Underground genuinely has its own subspecies of mosquito culex pipiens molestus – so named for its love of the taste of human blood. Think about that the next time you feel itchy on the Circle Line.

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