London Trivia: Birth of an ideal

On 30 April 1907 for 20 days history was in the making. At the Brotherhood Church, which once stood on the corner of Southgate Road and Balmes Road, the 5th Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party was held. Attendees included Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Rosa Luxembourg and Maxim Gorky. The rest is history. The site is now occupied by a mixed-use residential and business building, with the exact site of the church now a Tesco Express.

On 30 April 1980 gunmen took over the Iranian embassy at Prince’s Gate, under the full glare of the media the SAS stormed the building on 5 May killing 5 and releasing the hostages

In 1906 Messrs Spillberg, Nabian and Aaroris of Nelson Street, Stepney were convicted of smuggling saccharin which then was considered a drug

Liverpool Street’s Great Eastern Hotel (now the Andaz) opened in 1884 and was at one time the only hotel in the City

Builders working on the Builders working on the Bakerloo Line are reported to have suffered from the bends while tunnelling under the Thames

During World War II and the Nazi occupation of Holland Queen Wilhelmina moved her Dutch government into her London home at 77 Chester Square, Belgravia

The Cliff Richard musical Summer Holiday had a bus bound for ‘London to the South of France via Dover Paris’ most was shot in LT’s bus works Aldenham

Museum of London tracing the capital’s history from Prehistoric times to the present day is the largest urban history museum in the world

In 1966 actor, bodybuilder and politician Arnold Schwarzenegger lived at 335 Romford Road Ilford as a guest of bodybuilder Charles Bennett

The first section of the Underground ran between Paddington and Farringdon Street. The same section now forms part of the Circle, Hammersmith & City, and Metropolitan lines

Miles Coverdale who supervised the production of the first complete bible in English in 1535 was once Rector of St Magnus the Martyr

When the Millennium Dome was built, a Blue Peter capsule was buried containing amongst other items a spice girls cd, a tamagotchi and a Blue Peter badge!

CabbieBlog-cab.gifTrivial Matter: London in 140 characters is taken from the daily Twitter feed @cabbieblog.
A guide to the symbols used here and source material can be found on the Trivial Matter page.

Down Your Alley: Greenhill’s Rents

Two week’s ago I asked the question: Where do the Rents get their name?

It would appear from the comments that the word rent is derived from the Germanic ‘rend’ that covered ‘broken – torn-up – to tear’ and in this context it referred to a ‘broken house/place’ and was probably a pejorative term. At the time I couldn’t find any reference to the rents (or dilapidated houses) of Mr Greenhill until I came across this piece.

[G]reenhill’s Rents are to be found just off the south side of Cowcross Street just before the junction with Charterhouse Street, about 165 yards east of Farringdon Station.

When John Greenhill bought the Castle Tavern at number 34 Cowcross Street he already owned many of the houses in the area. He was a notable businessman with an ever-open eye for speculative opportunity.


Google Streetview of Greenhill’s Rents

In 1737 he purchased a newly built row of houses on this site and let them out at attractive rents, hence the appendage to his name. However, his subsequent profit-making plans to erect market stalls met with violent demonstrations and as a result, his application to the City Council was flatly turned down.

There is also a more entertaining story concerning the Castle Tavern; it goes like this: George IV, feeling lucky one day, called in to try his hand at the local cockfighting venue. Fortune was with him and on the first four or five bouts, he made a reasonable killing. Chuckling and stamping his feet he thought he would go the whole hog on the next fight and increased his stakes multifold, leaving only his taxi fare home.

Waiting for the fight to begin he heard on the grapevine that the opposition had been doped. Naturally, he wanted to be in on a good thing and reached into his pocket for his last few coins. As fate had it, the information was wrong and his bird lost. Fearful of returning home penniless he scurried round the corner to the Castle, where the landlord was just calling time. ‘You’ll have to be quick’, he shouted as the King breathlessly scrambled through the door. ‘Look’, he said, ‘I’m a bit short of the readies, how about lending me a few quid till next week’.

On this, the landlord grabbed him by the throat and threatened to throw him through the window. ‘Hang on’, the King screeched, ‘you know me, I’m the King’. ‘Yeh, and I’m Oliver Cromwell’, laughed the landlord. The King pulled out his watch and chain, a fine specimen handed down through the family. ‘What about this as security?’ Closely examining it the landlord agreed. ‘Three quid’, he announced, ‘and not a penny more.’ George IV was so overjoyed that he took the cash and granted him a pawnbroker’s licence on the spot.

The three brass balls of the pawnbroker still hang in the bar today but it is inadvisable to turn up at the Castle on the expectation that you will be fed and watered in return for your all-singing-all-dancing quartz watch.

CabbieBlog-cabMuch of the original source material for Down Your Alley has been derived from Ivor Hoole’s GeoCities website. The site is now defunct and it is believed Ivor is no more. Thankfully much of Ivor’s work has been archived by Ian Visits and Phil Gyford.

London storeys

Mezzanine, ground level, ground floor, lower ground, gallery, multi-storey, upper, loft, attic, duplex, first, second, lower ground, LG, basement.

Even a storey is spelt differently as it is in American English.

And is any level part of a building given a nomenclature both sides of the Atlantic can understand?

[F]loor numbering in London can be confusing to visitors from outside of Europe, especially since it differs from American floor numbers. Keep in mind that London buildings use the term ‘ground floor’ to describe what seems obvious – it’s on the ground hence the name is ground floor, not what people in the States would call the first floor.

In London, the first floor is one storey up. Therefore, the first floor in London is equivalent to the second floor America, and so on.

Additionally, Londoners use the phrase ‘lower ground’ to describe the basement. In this way, the lower ground level is underground.

However, lower ground floor flats are not exactly cellars – they often have windows at the front and looking towards the terrace/garden areas in the back. This is because those clever Victorians built up the roads before constructing the houses. This gave each a ‘basement’, illumination from the stairwell, and an additional door for one’s servants use.

Then, of course, we have floor 12 Immediately below floor 14 omitting number 13. But that is another storey.

Picture: Elevator Wiki is a Fandom Lifestyle Community. (CC-BY-SA).

London Trivia: For valour

On 23 April 1390 (St. George’s Day) a joust was held between Lord Welles, Ambassador to Scotland, and Sir David de Lindsay, a Scot, on London Bridge. This was a result of an argument as to the valour of the two nations. On the third run Lindsay unhorsed Welles so easily that the crowd began yelling that he had nailed himself to his saddle. To prove he had not, Lindsay jumped off his horse and then back on, while still wearing his full suit of armour.

On 23 April 1702 gout ridden Queen Anne became the first monarch to be carried to her coronation and wore a £12 wig to improve her demeanour

Reggie Kray and Frances Shea’s photographer at their wedding at St James the Great, Bethnal Green Road in April 1965 was David Bailey

Dr Samuel Johnson once owned 17 properties in London, only one of which survives – Dr Johnson’s Memorial House in Gough Square

18th century Hampstead was a spa resort where people came to take the waters which reputedly had health giving properties

In April 1905 Vladimir Lenin lived at 16 Percy Circus, since demolished and replaced with the rear of Kings Cross Royal Scot Travelodge hotel

Actor, dancer, comedian and clown Joseph Grimaldi lived at 56 Exmouth Market, Islington from 1818 to 1828, there is now a park off Pentonville Road named after him

Coram’s Fields park and playground in Bloomsbury is unique in that adults are only allowed to enter if accompanied by a child

The sport of golf, which originated in Scotland, was first played in England on Blackheath in 1608. The Royal Blackheath Golf Club was one of the first golf associations established (1766) outside Scotland

London’s heavily congested streets mean that a taxi’s average speed of 17mph is slower than that attained by Hansom cabs over 100 years ago

The ‘porter’ style of beer was officially invented at the Bell Brewhouse in Shoreditch by Ralph Hardwood in 1722

Marc Isambard Brunel came up with his idea on how to dig the Thames’ Tunnel whilst in debtors’ prison watching a shipworm bore through wood

CabbieBlog-cab.gifTrivial Matter: London in 140 characters is taken from the daily Twitter feed @cabbieblog.
A guide to the symbols used here and source material can be found on the Trivial Matter page.

The London Grill: Graham Greenglass

We challenge our contributor to reply to ten devilishly probing questions about their London and we don’t take “Sorry Gov” for an answer. Everyone sitting in the hot seat will face the same questions that range from their favourite way to spend a day out in the capital to their most hated building on London’s skyline to find out just what Londoners really think about their city. The questions might be the same but the answers vary wildly.


[L]ondon tour guide, London taxi driver and proud Londoner to boot. My company is called London Cab Tours and it’s been going for about ten years (although I’ve been guiding for over fifteen):

I can be seen taxi touring and walking my clients around central London, visiting London’s highlights, big sights and back streets. Tour themes cover London Highlights, London Rock’n Roll and London Horror. Tours to Hampton Court Palace are always good fun too and I also have an English Countryside Tour, which ventures out to villages in the Chiltern Hills.

What’s your secret London tip?
Look up above eye level. The architectural, sculpted and carved details on London’s buildings are many and varied.

What’s your secret London place?
Guildhall, Gresham Street, EC2. The Guildhall Art Gallery has London’s best collection of Pre-Raphaelite and 19th century paintings as well as displaying London related art from the 17th to the 21st century. Remains of the Roman Amphitheatre, discovered in the 1980’s, sit magnificently below, in what is now the Art Gallery basement.


Guildhall and porch

The 15th century Great Hall, second only to Westminster Hall in size, has one of London’s best collections of statues and sculptures. The City of London Police Museum has recently relocated to the Guildhall West Wing, right next to the Guildhall Library which has the largest collection of London related books in the world. Underused and it’s all free.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?
Traffic congestion – its causes and the people who cause it.

What’s your favourite building?
St Paul’s Cathedral. This building can be enjoyed from the Golden Gallery to the Crypt, the tip top of the Dome to its subterranean depths. Unique.

What’s your most hated building?
Baynard House, Queen Victoria Street, EC4. It was/is a BT telephone exchange and represents Brutalist architecture at its worst (don’t get me wrong, I quite like Brutalism, but not this one). The remains of a Roman gateway were discovered here, a Norman-to-Tudor era castle stood here and a Royal Palace not far away. Who’d know that now?

What’s the best view in London?
The individual and unique view from every bridge over the River Thames.

What’s your personal London landmark?
Wembley Stadium. I grew up and still live in NW London.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
Film: Kind Hearts and Coronets. Anti-hero Louis D’Ascoyne Mazzini was raised in Clapham (filming was in Acton), reaches the giddy heights of St James’s and ends up (spoiler alert) condemned to hang in a ‘London Prison’.
Book: 1984. A ‘London’ book to its bones, it still horrifies.
Documentary: The Secret History of Our Streets: Episode 6 – Arnold Circus. This BBC 2 series was great and the final episode about Arnold Circus and the Boundary Estate was BBC social history production at its best. Fascinating and beautifully touching.

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?
At the moment, Tas (Anatolian Turkish food, various sites, I usually end up at the one in The Cut, SE1).

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
Museums, art galleries, exhibitions + lunch probably in Soho or Covent Garden. To be ideal it also has to be sunny and dry.