London Trivia: Playing for time

On 30 July 1966, playing West Germany at Wembley Stadium England won football’s World Cup for the first time since the tournament began in 1930 watched by 93,000 spectators including the Queen. Another 400 million people around the world watched the keenly fought match on television. In the final moments of extra time Geoff Hurst powered home his third goal to give England a 4-2 victory and to become the first man ever to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final.

On 30 July 1746 the last executed traitor to have their head displayed on a pike (his at Temple Bar) was Jacobite rebel Francis Towneley

It was outside the Lamb and Flag pub, Covent Garden in 1679 that poet John Dryden was set upon by thugs, being beaten very close to death

The Lamb and Flag, Rose Street, Covent Garden dates back to 1627 being a favourite watering hole of Charles Dickens

Victorian publisher Joshua Butterworth left money for a ceremony at St. Bartholomew’s, Smithfield to give alms and buns to poor London widows

It is thought that the ‘Window Tax’ brought about the phrase: “Daylight Robbery”, being robbed of daylight by taxation

Gieves (the name) of Gieves and Hawkes, 1 Savile Row was the inspiration for P. G. Wodehouse’s butler Jeeves, albeit spelt different

In 1251 a Polar Bear given to King Henry III by the King of Norway lived in the Tower of London and went fishing in the Thames

Cricketing legend W. G. Grace was a practising doctor who worked from his practice at 7 Lawrie Park Road, Sydenham

Early London and Greenwich Railway trains were made in the style of a Roman galley ship to fit in with the viaducts they travelled across

London’s oldest shop Twining’s in the Strand has been selling tea since 1706. Twining family home in Twickenham, Dial House is now a vicarage

One of the first (if not THE first) British suppliers of Doc Marten shoes and boots was Blackman’s, Cheshire Street, Bethnal Green

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: The Two Bears

Bear baiting, a popular ‘sport’ in Elizabethan England, where dogs would be set upon a bear chained to a post, snarling bloodhounds or mastiffs were set loose from their kennels to snap and tear while the restricted bear could do little in defence other than rear up on its hind legs.

Frequently the tether was too weak or the bear was too strong and the real fun started when the wild animal broke loose.

Bear Alley EC4
[F]rom Ludgate Circus walk north along Farringdon Street. Bear Alley is about 250 yards on the right,
Bear Alley is known to have existed prior to the Great Fire of 1666 and probably took its name from the Bear Inn which stood near to here.

As a tavern name ‘The Bear’ became popular in the early 16th century when bear baiting hovered around the top of the list of popular sports. Sporting tavern keepers, in an effort to poach custom from neighbouring hostelries, were always eager to promote tournaments of one kind or another in their yards and we have no reason to suppose that mine host at The Bear on the banks of the Fleet was any different.

Up until 1874, Bear Alley used to turn in a south-easterly direction to link up with Old Seacoal Lane but the laying of railway lines into the newly constructed Holborn Viaduct Station caused it to be turned into a cul-de-sac.


Bear Alley

In the same year as the Alley lost its dignity, Farringdon Street lost its market. In those days Farringdon Street was the widest street in the City and almost opposite to Bear Alley, on the west side, the Farringdon Market had flourished for 45 years. It replaced a market of much longer standing, known as the Fleet Market, built on the banks of the stinking river in 1737, and cleared away in 1828 through an appalling reputation gained from the unlawful occupants of the dozens of alleys leading from its perimeter. Although the Farringdon Market had endured the inadequate conditions of its sloping site for so many years, market days came to an end when the stalls were transferred to Smithfield.

Bear Gardens SE1
[F]rom London Bridge Station cross to the west side of Borough High Street and continue in a southerly direction. Cross Bedale Street, bear right onto Southwark Street and then turn right into Stoney Street. Take the first left into Park Street following it round to the right and then left. Bear Gardens is about 240 yards on the right, just to the west of Southwark Bridge Road.


Bear Gardens

On the site of Bear Alley there stood one of Southwark’s most popular entertainment attractions – that of bear baiting; the macabre spectacle that drew men and women from miles around. As gory as it might have been, the sport allured droves of spectators from all over London and from all walks of life.

Bear baiting around Bankside began in the 1540’s as an alternative nice little earner to line the pockets of the racketeers who ran the unvirtuous establishments which once graced these parts. It all started when a bill was passed by Parliament to abolish the ‘stewhouses’, or brothels as we know them, and led by Henry VIII the members actually promoted the instigation of bear baiting arenas. Henry was an enthusiastic sports spectator and with his first experience of baiting, he became riveted to the blood-thirsty contest. So enthralled was he with the sport that he ordered his henchman to bring him an assortment of the finest grizzly animals to be had. It happened that the servant returned with specimens that His Majesty would be pleased to show in any circle, and as a result, the man was appointed Yeoman of His Majesty’s Bears.

The arena which occupied the site of the Alley was a circular construction surrounded by fencing to protect the spectators who gathered around the perimeter. Against the force of hundreds of bodies, it was not unusual for this fencing to give way, leaving the spectators exposed to the vicious beasts, which all too often resulted in tragic consequences. With the entertainment about to begin, as the tension mounted and the crescendo of shouts from the crowd reached a peak, the bear was led out and tethered to a stake, already handicapped through the common practice of filing down the teeth.

Bear baiting steadily diminished in popularity towards the end of the 17th century and the proprietors found it increasingly more difficult to attract sufficient spectators to support the events. The Bear Gardens closed down in about 1682 but the sport continued in other parts of the City and was not declared illegal until 1835.

The approximate site of the Bear Gardens arena is estimated to have been a few yards north of Park Street, where the Alley opens out into a small square. A little further to the north were the out buildings where the bears were caged, and the gnashing dogs made ready for the bloody fight. Also around the site would have been the houses of those associated with the running of the arena – the promoter and livestock handlers.

On the corner of Park Street is the Shakespeare Globe Museum with its entrance in Bear Gardens. Exhibits on view are models of some of London’s early theatres together with other models depicting Shakespearean history, and upstairs is a functional reproduction of a 17th-century playhouse. The Georgian warehouse housing the Museum faces onto a street of attractive cobble stones.

Images: Bear Alley off Farringdon Street. First mentioned by Leake, 1666 Stow tells us that the Market-house for meal stood there (1722). By Basher Eyre (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Sackler Studios on Bear Gardens. Providing Globe Education with four workshop studios and a rehearsal space for students and theatre practitioners. Located close to the Globe Theatre, the Sackler Studios are on the corner of Bear Gardens and Park Street, on the site of Sam Wanamaker’s first office in Bankside and where he developed his ideas for Shakespeare’s Globe. By Patrick Mackie (CC BY-SA 2.0)


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.

Curzon, a Place of death

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde: To lose one rock star may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.

So it was for American singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson who in the 1970s owned flat twelve at 9 Curzon Place.

First, it was Ellen Naomi Cohen better known as Mama Cass Elliot front person of the Mamas and Papas.

[S]he was big in every sense, her ex-group had enjoyed worldwide hits and although only 5ft 5in tall, she weighed about 15 stone. Now a solo singer she was in London in the summer of 1974 to star at the London Palladium.

Number 9 Curzon Place (now 1 Curzon Square) had been gutted just after the Second World War, and a lift shaft brutally thrust up the central stairwell and a dozen apartments created. It was into this lift that Mamma Cass ascended up the four floors to Flat Twelve. It was to be her final ascent, she was found dead in the bedroom.

Rumours flew that she had choked to death on a ham sandwich (no mention was made whether it was pepperoni or salami), but pathologist Professor Keith Simpson found no traces of food blocking her trachea and concluded she was the victim of a heart attack and the prolonged effects of obesity. She was aged 32.

Four years later the wild man of rock, again at the age of 32 and in the same flat, died in a rather incongruous fashion.

Keith Moon, the legendary drummer for The Who, was one of the most flamboyant characters in rock. Described by his biographer, Tony Fletcher, Moon:

threw his head into the cavernous jaws of certain disaster time and again, tempting fate with an almost unparalleled intake of alcohol and drugs, and emerged on every occasion just about whole

He famously drove his lilac Rolls-Royce into a swimming pool, in fact, his own garden pond, Moon the Loon was an exploding time bomb.

On 6th September 1978 Moon was staying with his girlfriend Annette Walter-Lax at Harry Nilsson’s flat and contrary to his hell-raiser lifestyle was taking Heminevrin, a medication for countering the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

After attending a film launch party he went back to flat twelve, had a nightcap and fell into a deep sleep.

Awaking the next morning he demanded Annette make him breakfast. Complaining at having to get up to make breakfast Moon snapped: “If you don’t like it, you can f**k off!” – at least he was true to form for his last reported words.

After eating a steak washed down with yet more Heminevrin tablets, Moon and his girlfriend went back to sleep. Annette tried to wake him later in the day, but Moon lay lifeless in the bed. She tried to revive him and called a doctor, but Moon was dead on arrival at the hospital.

Once again, it was Prof Simpson who performed the post mortem. He found 32 Heminevrin tablets in Moon’s stomach, reporting: “The quantity was enormous, and constituted a vast overdose.” The coroner recorded an open verdict.

The Wild Man of Rock had died to try to give up booze, just two weeks after turning thirty-two.

London Trivia: The Frying Pan

On 23 July 1863 Alexandra Park named after Queen Alexandra, the wife of King Edward VII officially opened with a flower and fruit show along with other entertainments. The Times described it as ‘The Bois de Boulogne of Holloway or Highgate’. Until September 1970, it hosted horse racing, including many evening meetings televised by the BBC. The racecourse was nicknamed ‘the Frying Pan’ owing to its shape, its most prestigious race was the London Cup.

On 23 July 1690 at aged 76 Richard Gibson, court dwarf to Charles I died. His wife Anne Shepherd dwarf to Queen Henrietta Maria suvvived him by 10 years

The London Silver Vaults subterranean strongrooms have never been broken into, they are surrounded by steel-lined walls over 1-metre thick

Staple Inn located next to Chancery Lane Station is the only surviving Inn of Chancery its lopsided timber-framed façade dating back to 1545

On 23 July 2011 the greatest singer of the generation, Amy Winehouse, the daughter of a London cabbie, was found dead in her Camden apartment

In 2008 a one ton bomb found at Bromley-by-Bow during railway work, the largest found in 30 years was detonated by controlled explosion after it started ticking

Tony Hancock, Harry Secombe, Peter Sellers, Bruce Forsyth and Tommy Cooper all had their first success at the Windmill Theatre

The London Silver Vaults have more than 40 subterranean shops which reputedly hold the largest collection of silver for sale in the world

The first Wimbledon Championships were suspended for the weekend so as not to clash with the annual Eton v Harrow cricket match at Lord’s

Heathrow was the world’s first airport connected to an underground railway when what was known as Heathrow Central opened in December 1977

Ealing Studios is the world’s oldest working film studios established in 1931 by the theatre producer Basil Dean

The Blind Beggar pub, Whitechapel est. 1654 takes its name from a ballad was reputedly built on the spot where Lord Montford used to beg

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: Adrian Prockter

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.


[B]orn in London – in Forest Hill – and still living in the same Post Code, I was educated at a secondary school a short distance from Tower Bridge. I think a love of London was inevitable. I have spent my life lecturing on the history of London and conducting walks around the whole of Inner London and the City of London.

What’s your secret London tip?
If you want to get to know London you need to explore it on foot.

What’s your secret London place?
One of my secret London places is walking beside the Thames, particularly in Bermondsey and Rotherhithe.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?
London has a fantastic transport system that goes wrong too often, probably due to lack of proper maintenance.

What’s your favourite building?
St Paul’s Cathedral is my favourite building.

What’s your most hated building?
Many of the modern buildings are just so insensitive in their design and in their position relative to other buildings. The most hated at the moment is the recent ’20 Fenchurch Street’, nicknamed the ‘Walkie Talkie’ by Rafael Viñoly. It is just hideous and on a site that ruins the views of the Tower Bridge from the east.

What’s the best view in London?
Having several hills, London has several long distance views. Living in Forest Hill, the views towards the City from the little park called One Tree Hill is really great.

What’s your personal London landmark?
One building that is a personal landmark is the old St Olave’s School, in Tooley Street. It was recently renovated and opened as a hotel. It was there as a teenager I discovered what a fantastic place London really is.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
One of the best books on London is the London Encyclopedia by Ben Weinreb, now in its third edition.

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?
Of the many in London, the Angel Inn, Rotherhithe, because of the amazing sunsets over the Thames.

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
Being retired, I no longer take days off from work. If I did, I would choose to continue exploring the City of London because there is always something new to see – an old building I had not see before or a new development that has changed a street or lane.