London, the United Kingdom’s sprawling capital city, is full of surprises. It’s a city that’s constantly changing, with a fascinating history and cultural scene. Whether you’re staying in London for the first or the 50th time, there’s always something new to discover here. Let these seemingly useless facts inspire you to find something new in the city.
Big Ben Chimes in the Key of E
A lot of people think that Big Ben is the name of the clock, or the name of the tower which stands at the Houses of Parliament. In fact the tower was simply called ‘The Clock Tower’ when it was built, and was renamed ‘Elizabeth Tower’ in 2012, as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Celebrations. Big Ben is the name given to the bell that chimes out the hour across Westminster. Big Ben has been at the top of the tower since it was originally hung in 1859. Soon after it was hung, the bell cracked and did not chime again for 4 years, until it was repaired and the hammer replaced with a smaller one in 1863.
Though there have been a few interruptions, Big Ben has chimed out almost every hour since then. The bell weighs in at a massive 13.5 tonnes and has a 2.75 metre circumference.
200,000 Items a Year are Left on London Public Transport
Transport for London’s annual haul of lost property typically includes 40,000 books; 30,000 items of clothing, 20,000 mobile phones and 10,000 umbrellas, all of which are left on buses, trains and the Underground. Some of the weirder things that have ended up in Transport for London’s lost property office in recent years include a pair of breast implants, several stuffed animals and a bag containing two human skulls (which were quickly reclaimed by an absent minded Professor).
The lost property office employs 39 members of staff, who make every effort to contact the people who leave their possessions on the Underground and other services. All items are kept for three months before being donated to charity. Contact them here if you’ve managed to leave one of your valued possessions on public transport.
It is Illegal to Die Inside the Houses of Parliament
It would be a difficult one to prosecute, but this law has been on the books in London for several hundred years. It is also illegal to enter the Houses wearing a suit of armor. The Houses of Parliament are also known as the Palace of Westminster.
The Palace contains 8 bars, 6 restaurants, a rifle range and a hairdresser; none of which are open to the public. The current Palace was built in the 19th Century; on the bank of the River Thames – a location which was chosen so that the Palace could never be completely surrounded by a mob.
Arsenal is The Only London Football Team with a Tube Station Named After It
The north London team got its name from their previous location – in Woolwich, where the Royal Arsenal Munitions Complex was located, up until its closure in 1994. The team formed a company 1893, making them London’s first professional football club.
In 1913 Arsenal moved from Woolwich to Highbury, and in 1932 the nearby Gillespie Road Underground Station had its name changed to Arsenal. Find out how some of London’s other legendary football clubs got their names here.
A River Runs Through Sloane Square Station
Stand on the platform at Sloane Square Station, in the heart of fashionable Chelsea, and look up. You’ll see what looks like a big, ugly green girder; this is actually a tube containing whatever remains of the River Westbourne, a tributary to the Thames which starts at Hampstead Heath.
There are around 20 rivers, brooks and canals snaking their way across London, mostly hidden from view and known only to a few. Paul Talling’s excellent ‘London’s Lost Rivers’ documents the best of them brilliantly, and could give you some ideas for out of the way places to explore when you visit the city.
London is the Most Visited City in the World
In 2014, London was the most visited city in the world, according to Forbes Magazine; the city received more than 18 million visitors over the year. Linguistically, it is also the world’s most diverse city; with residents speaking around 300 languages between them.
Over the years the city has been home to a myriad of important historical figures; these include French philosopher Voltaire, American poet Edgar Allen Poe, Vietnamese revolutionary Ho Chi Minh; who used to wash dishes at a London hotel, and the legendary Mahatma Gandhi.
London is the Only City to Have Hosted 3 Olympic Games
The UK capital hosted the games in 1908, 1948 and 2012. London is the only British city to host the games, in terms of countries; only the USA has hosted the Summer Olympics on more occasions.
The 1948 games are often noted as one of the most significant historically, as they were the first post-World War 2 games, and the very first Olympic Games to be broadcast on television around the world.
London Has One Place Where You Can Drive on the Right
As you probably know, the United Kingdom is one of a minority of countries which drive on the left. The UK and Ireland are the only 2 European nations to drive on the left. Most of the others, roughly 30% of the world’s countries, are former British colonies.
Visitors to the capital city from the other 70% of the world might feel comforted to know that there is one place here where you can drive on the right: Savoy Court, where one of the city’s most prestigious hotels stands, has required all vehicles to drive on the right side of the road for more than 100 years.
The reason for this is that it is easier for passengers to exit their vehicles and for vehicles to get out of the court without turning. The court is on the hotel’s private property, so driving on the right here doesn’t break the law.
London was the First City to Reach 1 Million Inhabitants
For more than a Century, London was the largest city in the world, and in 1810 it became the first city in the modern era to reach one million inhabitants. In 1926, Tokyo overtook London as the world’s most densely populated city.
Since then, Tokyo has remained at the top of the pile with a population expected to reach 14 million in the next few years. London, meanwhile, remains the largest city in Europe but has dropped way down the global rankings to 34th position, with a population of 8.5 million.
The London Museum Owns 17000 Human Skeletons
The majority of these remains were recovered from archaeological sites in around the city, which has been continuously inhabited since around 4000BC. The skeletons date from early civilizations up to the post medieval period, and are carefully looked after by the London Museum and used for research in various disciplines.
London is home to some of the world’s finest Museums, displaying everything from Dinosaur bones and the wonders of nature, at the Natural History Museum to space age technology on display at the Science Museum.