So, you’ve whizzed up the Shard and around the West End, and now you think you’ve heard everything you could possibly want to know about London? From elephants skating across the River Thames to the birth of Jerry Springer in Highgate Underground, we’ll bet you haven’t heard quite a few of these interesting facts about London before.
Interesting Facts About London
1. An elephant once trundled across the frozen River Thames
The River Thames doesn’t tend to freeze very often, so you can see why Londoners wanted to make a song and dance about it. In fact, until around 200 years ago, they used to hold a ‘frost fair’ to mark the occasion. Part carnival, part illegal rave, the party would involve dancing, singing, skittles and, of course, a liberal amount of drinking. Tradesmen would set up booths to sell their waves too, serving up coffee, gin, gingerbread and roasted mutton to punters. Between 1309 and 1814, sources estimate the River Thames froze 23 times and on five occasions the ice was thick enough to hold the fair.
The last time the Thames froze over was in February 1814, under George III. This frost fair, which started on 1 February and continued until 7 February was a big blowout. The ice was so thick that 12 printing presses were set up on the ice to document the event and someone led an elephant across the river below Blackfriars.
2. Feeding pigeons in Trafalgar Square has been illegal since 2003
Most people have been trained from a young age, courtesy of Mary Poppins, to feed the birds. That sort of behaviour doesn’t fly anymore though. Feeding the pigeons in Trafalgar Square was banned in 2003. The mayor’s office installed anti-pigeon wires and spikes and also enlisted the help of Harris hawks to scare the birds away.
3. It’s the only city in the world that has hosted three Olympics
London is the only city that has hosted the Summer Olympics three times. The first time the capital hosted the event was in 1908. The games were actually due to be held in Rome, but Mount Vesuvius erupted again in 1906 and destroyed much of Naples, so the government needed to re-direct its funds. The 1908 Olympics were actually the longest in history, lasting a whopping 187 days. The games took place in White City Stadium.
The second time London hosted the Olympics was in 1948. Funds were a little more stretched after the war, so there was no 187-day party to be had there. They did build the first indoor swimming pool in Wembley Stadium.
London last hosted the Olympics in 2012 and built the Olympic Stadium to accommodate the all-singing, all-dancing spectacle.
4. Jerry Springer was born in a London underground station
Only six babies have been born in the London Underground and four of those took place in the last 22 years.
On 13 February 1944, a young Margot Springer was taking refuge in Highgate Tube Station during the blitz. She gave birth to a little boy who would become one of America’s most famous chat show hosts, Jerry Springer.
5. Londoners have been obsessed with gin for a long time
The gin craze erupted during the early 18th century. Its popularity had been growing since the accession of William of Orange in 1688 as an appealing alternative to French brandy. It became even more popular when parliament restricted brandy imports during the political conflicts with France. Then, in the late 18th century, the monopoly of the London Guild of Distillers and practically anybody could make it. Authorities blamed gin for rising crime, prostitution and death rates. Stories circulated about women selling their children to buy gin. Eventually, the 1736 Gin Act made selling gin without a £50 annual licence illegal. Bootleggers thrived. Gin was flavoured with turpentine instead of juniper and very often poisoned those drinking it. Bad harvests, combined with compelling propaganda, pushed prices up and by 1757, the gin craze had subsided.
6. The Queen has to get permission to enter the City of London
The City of London, fondly referred to by Londoners as the Square Mile technically falls under the jurisdiction of Greater London and the GLA. However, it has a special status, with its own government, mayor and independent police force. Even today, if the Queen wants to enter the City of London, she needs to formally request permission from the Mayor via a ceremony held at Temple Bar.
7. It’s. Not. Actually. That. Rainy.
London gets an average of 583.6 millimetres of rainfall per year. That means it’s actually less wet than New York City, Barcelona, Istanbul, Rome, Sydney and Miami. Consider leaving the brolly at home, pals!