London Trivia: Fig-uring it out

On 18 June 1822 the ’countrywomen of England’ had an embarrassing surprise having contributed to a 18ft tall figure of Achilles as a way of honouring the Duke of Wellington living close by in Apsley House. Said to be in the Duke’s likeness, it was the first nude public statue in London. Standing an impressive 36ft on its plinth his manhood was equally notable. The women had a touch of the vapours and a fig leaf was attached. The organic codpiece has twice had attempts at removal.

On 18 June 1583 Richard Martin, an Alderman arranged an insurance policy for William Gibbons, a salter. At 8 per cent over 8 months it was the world’s first known insurance policy

The Old Bailey’s Blind Justice roof statue is unusual in not having a blindfold. Her impartiality is said to be shown by her ‘maidenly form’

In Gough Square off Fleet Street is a statue of Hodge, the pet cat of Dr Samuel Johnson, writer and lexicographer who lived nearby

A macabre statistic is that the most popular suicide time on London’s Underground is around eleven in the morning

Greek Street is named after mass of Greek Christians who arrived in London around 1670 after being persecuted under Ottoman rule

The nude cover shot for John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s 1968 album ‘Two Virgins’ was taken at their flat at 38 Montagu Square

The Prospect of Whitby pub dates from 1520 and is named after ‘The Prospect’ a Whitby registered coal boat moored there in the 18th century

Tim Berners-Lee appeared in the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony – a US TV commentator had no idea who he was so suggested viewers Google him

The station with the most platforms is Baker Street with 10 (Moorgate also has 10 platforms but only six are used by Tube trains – others are used by overground trains)

Harry Beck produced the well known Tube map diagram while working as an engineering draughtsman at the London Underground Signals Office. He was reportedly paid 10 guineas (£10.50) for his efforts

Colehearne Court in Brompton Road was Princess Diana’s home in the early 1980’s when she charged two flatmates £18 a week rent

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: Kimberley Chambers

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.

Kimberley-Chambers[S]unday Times #1 bestselling author Kimberley Chambers lives in Hornchurch and has been, at various times, a disc jockey, a cab driver and a street trader. She is now a full-time writer. Join Kimberley’s legion of legendary fans on and @kimbochambers on Twitter

What’s your secret London tip?
Always haggle. You can find yourself a great bargain in London’s markets – and even negotiate on price in some shops.

What’s your secret London place?
It’s not exactly secret but, given it’s the only surviving track, I’d recommend a night at the dogs in Romford.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?
I’m a terrible commuter, and I always seem to get stuck on the Tube at rush hour. I should probably get more black cabs!


What’s your favourite building?
It would have been White Hart Lane, had it not just been knocked down

What’s your most hated building?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s the Emirates!

What’s the best view in London?
I love sitting and having a drink by Butler’s Wharf, and looking out at the river and the old docks, imagining what it was like in its heyday

What’s your personal London landmark?
It would be Roman Road Market – I used to work down there in the 80s, and it really was the place to be

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
I adored Julien Temple’s London: the Modern Babylon – it’s an amazing portrait of London in the good old days

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?
I used to drink regularly in the Horn of Plenty in Stepney, it was one of London’s great traditional boozers.

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
Shopping, of course – so it would be a mooch around Harrods, followed by a decent meal in Chinatown and a few drinks with friends in an old East End pub.

Orange Cab

Another in the occasional series ‘old cabs never die’ Here I found this dazzler in Essex (where else?). Bizarrely it’s advertising a skip company and is to be found on the A127 near Upminster. It still looks in pristine condition, soon it will be covered with dirt being so close to a 4-lane dual carriageway. The company is called Skip It Essex is that what one should do? Skip Essex

London Trivia: Amorous intrigue

On 11 June 1763 the world’s most famous lover arrived in London. Thirty-eight year-old Giacomo Girolamo Casanova from Venice came to rekindle his friendship with Mrs. Cornelys. Unfortunately an assignation with a Livonian Baron’s mistress 9 months later caused him to leave abruptly on 11 March 1764. His subsequent autobiography Story of My Life is regarded as one of the most authentic sources of the customs and norms of European social life during the 18th century.

On 11 June 1819 a Mr. Mortimer sent a girl to collect two of his other children from school popping into a grocer’s in Rathbone Place she returned to find this children gone along with the woman caring for them

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

18th century writer Samuel Johnson’s cat Hodge has a statue in Gough Square. Next to Hodge are oysters, his favourite food

Nell Gywnn, orange seller and mistress to Charles II was born in the Coal Yard, now Stukeley Street off Drury Lane in 1650

In June 1815 Major Henry Percy interrupted a ball at 16 St James Sq. to announce that 3 days earlier we had defeated the French at Waterloo

Starring Hugh Jackman, Ian McShane and Scarlett Johansson Woody Allen’s romantic comedy Scoop wasn’t given a London cinema release

In Regency times Bond Street was more popular with male shoppers such as royal fashion adviser Beau Brummell

The colour scheme at Boston Manor Tube station was inspired by local team Brentford FC’s nickname – ‘The Bees’

The longest journey without change is on the Central line from West Ruislip to Epping, and is a total of 34.1 miles

Hoare’s Bank, Fleet Street first operated from the Golden Bottle in Cheapside in 1672. Customers have included Samuel Pepys and John Dryden

Byward Street near the Tower of London takes its name from the word ‘byword’, meaning password, which was used at the Tower each evening

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.

Mummified Londoners

The most famous mummies to be found in London are in the British Museum, but these are Egyptians, not Londoners who have been embalmed.

So in an effort to redress the balance here a four of London’s finest desiccated deceased once living in the capital.

All these four have rather curious histories after having shuffled off this mortal coil.

An object of desire
Catherine-of-Valois tomb

Catherine of Volas tomb effigy

[W]e wouldn’t know of Catherine of Volas but for an entry in a famous diary. Dying in 1437 Henry V’s Queen was embalmed and buried at Westminster Abbey. Half a century later alterations to the Abbey necessitated placing her coffin above ground. There she stayed, and for more than 200 years she remained an object of curiosity, with the public paying 1/- (5p) to view her corpse lying in an open coffin.

That old reprobate, Samuel Pepys in his diary wrote of treating himself on his 36 birthday

. . . and I had the upper part of her body in my hands, and I did kiss her mouth, reflecting upon it that I did kiss a Queen and that this was my birth-day, thirty-six years old, that I did first kiss a Queen.

A Skeleton in the Closet
[J]eremy Bentham was an English jurist, philosopher, legal and social reformer and was best known for the concept of animal rights. In his will, he requested that his body was preserved and stored in a wooden cabinet, termed his ‘Auto-icon’. Originally kept by Dr Southwood Smith, it was acquired by University College London in 1850. The Auto-icon is kept on public display at the end of the South Cloisters in the main building of the College. For the 100th and 150th anniversaries of the college, the Auto-icon was brought to the meeting of the College Council, where he was listed as ‘present but not voting’. According to the university, it is a myth that the Auto-icon casts the deciding vote in meetings in the event of a tie. The Auto-icon has always had a wax head, as Bentham’s head was badly damaged in the preservation process. The real head was displayed in the same case for many years, but became the target of repeated student pranks including being stolen on more than one occasion. It is now locked away securely.

Air dried
[L]ondon’s only mediaeval true mummy is in the church of St. James Garlickhythe. ‘Jimmy Garlick’ was discovered by workmen in 1839 while excavating under the chancel. Thoroughly desiccated by time the corpse of a young man had been dried by natural mummification – a rare event in London’s climate.

An excellent account with images of Jimmy Garlick when he was exhumed can be found at Revisiting old Jimmy Garlick.

Where there’s a will . . .
[M]artin van Butchell had an unusual marriage contract with his wife. The wife had an unusual clause written into the 18th-century contract. It stated certain articles could only be retained while [his wife] remained ‘above ground ‘.

Upon her demise, Martin had her body embalmed, dressed in her wedding clothes and placed in a glass-topped case positioned in his drawing room.

In so doing he drew large crowds to view, what he described as “dear departed”.

His new wife begged to differ and the body was presented to the Royal College of Surgeons, remaining there (above ground) until 1941 when a German finally laid her to rest.

Images: Jeremy Bentham by Matt Brown (CC BY 3.0)
Martin van Butchell: The Crazy Dentist and the Display of his Embalmed Wife by All That is Odd