10 London Tidbits You May Not Know
If you’re on your way to London soon, or if you’re a regular visitor to England’s capital, here are some facts you might want to know to impress your friends and family the next time you show them your travel photos!
- Big Ben is not actually the name of the iconic clock tower located at the north end of the Palace of Westminster. Big Ben is the bell inside the tower. The tower used to be called simply the “Clock Tower,” but was renamed “Elizabeth Tower” in 2012 to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II, which marked the 60th anniversary of the accession of Queen Elizabeth II. Big Ben weighs thirteen and a half tons and chimes in the key of E. He was either named after Benjamin Caunt, a famous bareknuckle boxer at the time the bell was created, or else named after Sir Benjamin Hall, who was the commissioner of works when it was cast—people aren’t sure. Right now the tower is under renovation so Ben only chimes for special occasions, but the renovation is set to complete in the early 2020s.
- England is notorious for having somewhat preposterous laws. If you’re traveling to London, make sure that you know the ropes. It’s illegal to beat or shake any carpet or rug in any street. However, beating or shaking a doormat is allowed before 8am. In some districts, it’s also illegal to keep a pigsty in front of your house, slaughter cattle in the street, sing profane or obscene songs or ballads in the street, or wantonly disturb people by ringing their doorbells or knocking at their doors.
- There is a popular myth that it’s illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament. While this isn’t true, we wouldn’t recommend doing it anyway. The myth apparently traces back to the idea that anyone who died within grounds was entitled to a state funeral. It is, though, illegal to wear a suit of armor into the Houses of Parliament.
- Several time capsules are buried throughout London. There was one placed underneath Cleopatra’s Needle when it was finally erected in the City of Westminster in 1878. Inside the capsule, among other things, there is a copy of the Bible, a complete set of British coins, a portrait of Queen Victoria, 10 daily newspapers, cigars, hairpins, and a dozen photographs of the best-looking English women they could find. A time capsule was buried more recently under the Design Museum which included a London 2012 Olympic torch, a tin of anchovies, some stamps, an iPhone 4s, and a bottle of Burgundy.
- The Tower of London is home to six ravens. Their captivity there is based on a longstanding superstition and is said to be, perhaps, a “Victorian flight of fantasy.” Superstition says that if the ravens ever leave, Britain and its Crown will both fall. Because of this, the ravens are carefully guarded and monitored; their wings are clipped on one side so they cannot fly away, and “backup ravens” are kept nearby in case something should happen. There is some research to support that the presence of the ravens is closely tied to victims of executions at the Tower—perhaps the ravens were used to dramatize the events.
- If you’re looking for a place with a funny name to have a pint or two, you can always go to the Pyrotechnists Arms, which locals call “The Pyro.” Another pub that might be in the running for longest-named pub is The Hung Drawn and Quartered, named after a brutal medieval practice. If neither of these two strangely-named pubs tickles your fancy, wander over to The Only Running Footman. This pub got its name from the men who were employed to run out in front of horse-drawn carriages to pay tolls and clear the way. Footmen were also sometimes required to run messages to other houses or fetch items for the wealthy. After the Great Fire, the roads became clearer and the need for footmen died down. One of the last footmen bought the pub, known informally as “The Footman,” where his buddies and fellow former-footmen would often gather for drinks.
- London’s iconic Black Cab company puts its drivers through rigorous testing before they’re officially allowed to transport citizens and visitors. It’s rumored to take between two and four years to learn the nearly 350 “common” routes, as well as the names of more than 25,000 streets. Cabbies-to-be are also required to memorize the names of alleyways and famous landmarks. The arduous test is called “The Knowledge,” and has been described as one of the most difficult tests in the world to pass. Before sitting for the exam, an applicant must first pass a medical check, a character evaluation, and a self-assessment!
- The London Eye is one of the most notable landmarks on the London skyline. Here are some things you might not know about the Eye: because the cars are enclosed, it’s not actually a Ferris wheel; instead, it’s considered an “observation wheel,” and it’s the world’s tallest at 443 feet. Though there are 32 capsules, they number up to 33. The number 13 has been omitted out of superstition. The 32 total capsules represent each borough of London.
- The wine cellar of King Henry VIII is still intact underneath the Ministry of Defence. This is quite a feat if you consider that the building above it was destroyed by fire several times and then razed in the 18th and 19th centuries for more modern development. When the Ministry of Defence was built, they went as far as to encase the entire cellar in steel and concrete to move it just slightly so that it could remain as-is!
- The London Zoo is the world’s oldest scientific zoo. It was founded in 1828 and opened to the public in 1847. A well-loved docile Canadian black bear at the zoo, Winnie, was the inspiration for A.A. Milne’s famous children’s book Winnie-the-Pooh. While the real-life Winnie was a female, Milne’s character Winnie was not.
If you haven’t been to London and these facts inspired your wanderlust, you can check out our Celtic Kingdoms cruise, which begins and ends in London. We even offer a special Go Next Pre-Cruise Program in London with tours of Trafalgar Square and Westminster Abbey. Take a ride with one of the famous Black Cab drivers and watch out for the iconic bicycle-wheel shape of the London Eye on the night skyline!