London: one of the largest cities in the world and very familiar to almost everyone.
However, very few know its secrets and hidden gems.
The publisher says: “(The book) uncovers the hidden gems of legends, scoops, inventions, adventures and birthplaces that shape the city’s compelling and sometimes turbulent past.”
Here we reveal some of the fascinating facts it contains… all courtesy of the author and Ebury Publishing.
LONDON BRIDGE – AN ANCIENT WONDER OF THE WORLD
The first London Bridge was built around 52 AD. C. by the invading Roman army of Emperor Claudius, somewhere near the site of the current bridge (above).
“London Bridge is where London began,” explains Winn. “The first bridge was built around 52 AD by the invading Roman army of Emperor Claudius, somewhere near the site of the current bridge.
‘The first stone bridge was built in 1176, during the reign of Henry II. When completed in 1209, it was 6m wide, 274m long and had 20 arches. This bridge became one of the wonders of the world and would last 600 years.
‘In the 15th century, buildings lined the entire length of the bridge, some of them seven or eight stories high and touching at the top, turning the bridge into a tunnel.
“In 1722, the Lord Mayor ordered traffic on the bridge to be kept to the left, the first time the rule was made officially mandatory in Britain.”
Winn explains that in the 1960s, Robert McCulloch of Arizona purchased a replacement bridge built in 1831 for $2,460,000. He had it shipped to Lake Havasu City on the Colorado River. It was recognized by the Guinness Book of Records as “the largest antique ever sold,” Winn notes.
THE BURIED HEART OF RICARDO CORAZÓN DE LEÓN
“The heart of Richard I (the Lionheart) is said to be buried somewhere in the northern part of All Saints’ churchyard next to the Tower, beneath a chapel built there by Richard in the 12th century,” he explains. Winn, and adds: “The chapel no longer exists.
THE OLDEST COMPETITION
“Britain’s oldest annually contested sporting event, The Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race, is a four-mile (7.2 km) rowing race from London Bridge to Chelsea,” Winn reveals.
MARX LEFT HIS MARK
Winn explains that Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto was first printed by JE Burghard at 46 Liverpool Street in 1848.
ENGLAND’S FIRST THEATER
Actor James Burbage built England’s first theater in 1576 in Shoreditch, Winn notes. His name? Theater.
St Paul’s Cathedral was the site of the first lottery in England
England’s first state lottery was held in 1569 at the west door of St Paul’s Cathedral, Winn reveals.
The only cross-eyed statue in London is that of political commentator John Wilkes (1725-97). It is located, Winn explains, on the corner of Fetter Lane and New Fetter Lane in the city.
FIRST MOVING IMAGES
Some of the first moving photographs were taken at Hyde Park Corner in 1888 by William Friese-Greene, inventor of the cinematograph, Winn reveals.
NAOMI CAMPBELL DISCOVERED
“Supermodel Naomi Campbell was ‘discovered’ when she was 15 while shopping in Covent Garden,” explains Winn.
Winn reveals: “Jack Smith introduced the first grapefruit to England at his Berwick Street market stall in 1890.”
THE RITZ HOTEL MAKES HISTORY WITH SUITE BATHROOM
The Ritz hotel, opened in 1906, was the first hotel in London to have every room with a private bathroom, Winn reveals.
THE OLDEST CHEESE STORE IN BRITAIN
At 93 Jermyn Street is Paxton and Whitfield, Britain’s oldest cheese factory, Winn reveals. It was founded in 1742. The author explains that Stilton cheese was first sold here in London.
THE FIRST TRAFFIC ISLAND
St James’s Street is home to what is believed to be London’s oldest traffic island. It dates back to the early 18th century, Winn reveals.
DOWNING STREET – IS HUE GOING THERE?
Downing Street’s bricks used to be yellow
“The houses on Downing Street were originally built from yellow bricks, which over two centuries became blackened by pollution,” says Winn. “After a restoration in the early 1960s, the bricks were painted black.”
THE ORIGIN OF THE PHRASE ‘FOLLOW THE LINE’
‘Along the carpet of the central aisle separating the two sides of the House of Commons,’ Winn writes, ‘are two red lines that are exactly two sword-lengths long and are separated by one step. No member may place his foot beyond the line on his own side; this is to prevent members from arguing their case with swords and gives us the expression ‘toe the line’, which means to behave.’
FANTASTIC PLACE TO LIVE
St George’s Square in Victoria is the only square in London built on the riverfront, reveals Winn, adding: “Bram Stoker (1847-1912), the author of Dracula, died at number 26.”
LIMEHOUSE IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Limehouse is something of a celebrity magnet, attracting residents such as Lawrence of Arabia director Sir David Lean, Sir Ian McKellen and Steven Berkoff.
FLOATING POLICE STATION
Waterloo Dock used to house Britain’s only floating police station, says the author.
Selfridges opened its doors in 1909 and is run according to American founder Harry Gordon Selfridge’s mantra of “the customer is always right.”
The first of the famous stores to appear on Oxford Street, Winn reveals, was John Lewis, which opened in 1864. Selfridges opened in 1909, run according to American founder Harry Gordon Selfridge’s mantra of “the customer is always right”.
Winn adds: “Sir Edward Elgar opened the first HMV store at 363 Oxford Street in 1921. And it was here, in 1961, that the Beatles recorded their first demo album.”
Sir Samuel Morland (1625-95), the inventor of the megaphone, lived in Hammersmith Terrace.
CUENCA ENGINE TIMING
On the railway bridge near Putney Bridge station, Winn reveals, there is a plaque dedicated to motor racing pioneer Frederick Simms (1863-1944), whose first workshop was located there. He founded the Daimler Motor Syndicate, one of Britain’s first automobile companies, and founded the RAC (Royal Automobile Club) in 1897.
Winn reveals that, at just 40 feet wide, Battersea Bridge is the narrowest road bridge in London.
The French philosopher Voltaire (1694-1778) spent three years living in Sword House in Wandsworth, the author explains.
LATEST NEWS FROM GAS STATIONS
I Never Knew That About London by Christopher Winn is available on Amazon and elsewhere
Britain’s first self-service petrol station opened at the southern end of Southwark Bridge in November 1961, Winn reveals.
CHARLIE CHAPLIN’S LONDON HERITAGE
Charlie Chaplin was born in East Lane, Walworth, on April 16, 1889, the author divulges, and grew up in Kennington Road.
DEPTFORD – BIRTHPLACE OF THE ROYAL NAVY
“The ‘deep ford’ at the mouth of the Ravensbourne (river) is the birthplace of the Royal Navy,” explains Winn. ‘The first royal dockyard was established here in 1513 for Henry VIII, who lived in nearby Greenwich. Within 20 years, Deptford had become Britain’s most important shipyard.
MORE DEPTFORD CLAIMS TO FAME
Band Dire Straits formed in Deptford in 1977, Winn notes.
The first McDonald’s fast food restaurant in Britain opened in Woolwich in 1975.
MORE WOOL CLAIMS TO FAME
“Britain’s first permanent building society, The Woolwich, was formed in the upstairs of a Woolwich pub around 1844,” explains Winn.
HISTORY OF HARRODS
In 1898, Britain’s first escalators were installed at Harrods. Women who reached the top were offered brandy to calm their fumes.
Harrods opened in Knightsbridge in 1849. It was a wholesale grocery store owned, explains Winn, by Charles Henry Harrod (1799-1885).
Winn continues: ‘In 1898, Britain’s first escalators were installed at Harrods. The women who reached the top were offered brandy to calm their spirits.
SAN JAMES STREET – LOTS OF HISTORY
St James’s Street has great historical impact.
Winn reveals that at number 3 is Britain’s oldest wine merchant, Berry Bros and Rudd, established as a grocer in 1698.
Next to Berry Bros is Pickering Place, Britain’s smallest public square.
Coming in at number 9 is John Lobb, Britain’s oldest boot maker.
Coming in at number 71 are Truefitt & Hill, Britain’s oldest barbers.
I Never Knew That About London, by Christopher Winn, is available at Amazon and in other places.