London’s Urban Myths

The Seven Noses of Soho
The Myth of the 7 Noses of Soho is a peculiar one. Rumour has it that there are 7 sculpted noses on buildings in the square mile that is Soho. It’s said that if an individual finds all 7 they also attain infinite wealth. Oh! If I find all 7 noses and become infinitely wealthy you can be assured that I would share the infinite wealth fairly with everyone who reads CabbieBlog. Paul Raymond is the only person attributed to finding them turning him from a failed ventriloquist into a property mogul.

Pigeon Travel cards
It’s not much as urban legends go, but many people claim that pigeons regularly ride the Underground on certain routes, routinely boarding and exiting at the same stations. Not surprisingly, my sources aren’t clear on which stations or lines the pigeons have been seen riding. I’ve seen one board a train at Earl’s Court, but I’m not certain it was deliberate. I didn’t see it alight from the train, either. Scary thought, that: first clever sheep, now intelligent commuting sky rats.

moon Ghost of the Underground
While on the theme of the Underground, it is less expected to discover a ghost on the Tube, and not far from the Tower. Staff at Aldgate station have been keeping a log of such incidents since the 1950s. In one report a maintenance worker is said to have survived a 22,000 volt shock from the third rail, immediately after a colleague had observed what he took to be a grey-haired figure, presumably his guardian angel, gently stroking his hair.

Queen’s Resting Place
Boudica was queen of the Iceni tribe of East Anglia. She joined up with the Trinovantes of Essex to rebel against the Roman treatment of her people. Together they attacked Roman settlements at Colchester, St Albans and destroyed the city of Londinium in AD60. She is said to be buried under platform 9 or 10 of King’s Cross Station.

Nelson in a gilded cage
Contrary to the popular rumour Nelson’s body isn’t in the gilded ball on the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral but down below in the crypt. Brought back to England preserved in a barrel of rum, Nelson’s body on arrival was placed in a magnificent sarcophagus originally intended for Cardinal Wolsey. The Cardinal didn’t need it after his altercation with Henry VIII.

Sniffy Judges
Judges presiding at the Old Bailey today still at certain times carry nosegays of aromatic herbs. This is a tradition harking back to a time when typhus or “jail fever” was endemic in the Justice Hall of Newgate. There is of course no evidence that a nosegay provides any protection whatsoever.

Camelot in Cockfosters?
Sir Thomas Mallory seemed convinced that Winchester was Camelot. Now there is another contender for the site of Arthur’s legendary Court, this time in North London, at the far end of the Piccadilly Line. Yes, I know it sounds rather far-fetched, but all the evidence (and there is plenty of it) indicates that a real Camelot once existed at the very centre of Enfield Chase, the Royal Hunting Ground of the Plantagenet Kings. Today it is still there, hidden in woods on the fringe of Trent Country Park, and known as Camlet Moat. Archaeological digs have been conducted, back in the 1880s and again in 1923 and some interesting finds were unearthed. They suggest a substantial structure with stone walls over five and a half feet thick, a massive drawbridge 38ft long and a subterranean dungeon. Sounds like a castle, doesn’t it? Smaller relics from the Roman period suggest the site is originally of impressive antiquity.

So how far will your cabbie go?
Sorry, I had to clear up this Urban Myth. Cabbies do not have to take you wherever you choose. Unless we have a good reason not to, drivers must: Accept any hiring up to 12 miles (20 miles if starting at Heathrow Airport) or one hour duration if the destination is in Greater London. Fares for destinations outside Greater London may be negotiated between the passenger and driver before the journey. If no fare is agreed before the start of the journey then the maximum fare will be that shown on the meter at the end of the journey. There, now don’t ask me again.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 8th December 2009

London Trivia: Pomp and circumstance

On 28 October 1215 the first Lord Mayor was presented to the monarch during the reign of King John and that tradition in the form of the Lord Mayor’s Show continues to this day. The first Mayor of London in 1189 was Henry Fitz Alwyn, but it was William Hardell, who went in procession from the City to Westminster to swear the oath of allegiance to the King. Hardell was one of the enforcers of Magna Carta.

On 28 October 1958 the State Opening of Parliament was first broadcast on BBC Television, Richard Dimbleby commentated on the first time Parliament allowed the cameras in to watch the ceremony

There is no place called Euston Square because of the 1878 murder of Matilda Hacker who was found dead in a cellar at No 4 having been strangled, it was subsequently changed to Torrington Square

The world’s first public street lighting with gas was installed in Pall Mall, London in 1807. In 1812, the London and Westminster Gas Light and Coke Company became the world’s first gas company

In 1952, the Great Smog of London was so bad that blind people led sighted people home from the train stations

The two bollards at the end of Boundary Passage are French cannons from the Battle of Trafalgar. They have a cannonball bunging their muzzle

1970’s ITV sitcom On The Buses starring Reg Varney was partly filmed at Wood Green bus depot as well as Lavender Hill cemetery

The Museum of London, which retraces the history of London from Prehistoric times to the present day, is the largest urban history museum in the world

The badge of West Ham United Football Club is a reminder that their nickname ‘The Hammers’ comes, not from their location, but from their origins as the works team of the Thames Ironworks shipbuilders

In the film Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the Hogwarts headmaster has a scar that resembles a map of the London Underground on his knee

Busking has been licensed on the Tube since 2003. Sting and Paul McCartney are both rumoured to have busked on the Underground in disguise

Berry Bros & Rudd on St. James’s Street have an 18th-century coffee scales, once used Lord Byron (13 stone at the age of 17)

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: Herbal Hill

‘Take ginger, galingale, cinnamon, nutmeg, grains of paradise, cloves bruised, fennel seed, caraway seeds, origanum, one ounce each. Next, take sage, wild marjoram, pennyroyal, mint, red roses, thyme, pellitory, rosemary, wild thyme, chamomile, lavender, one handful of each.

Beat the spices small, bruise the herbs, put all into a limbeck with wine for twelve hours; then distil.’

[I]f taken four times daily it was claimed to cure dropsy, prolong life to eternity and probably scare evil spirits out of their wits. In our day of sophisticated medical remedies it would take the courage of a hero to contemplate swallowing such a preparation, but until less than 100 years ago it was a typical remedy, at the finger tips of every dedicated housewife.

The secret of a successful mixture was to have a goodly number of ingredients; that is, as many as necessary to convince the patient that it was going to do him good. Thus, a cure for a simple illness, such as the common cold, might have included merely two or three varieties of herb whereas the most popular cure for the plague, known as ‘plague water’, included the combination of fifty-nine varieties.

Herbal Hill

Herbs and spices have been the basis of every medicinal preparation ever since the cure of illness was first thought of. On the kitchen shelf of every household, there was a mighty tome of recipes for the treatment of all kinds of ailment; the housewife diagnosed the problem and prescribed the treatment. Only when in immediate danger did anyone think of calling in a physician, or more commonly a herbalist. Treatments varied widely and no two herbalists held alike views on remedies; they were all independent in their thinking and everyone claimed to have ‘invented’ the cure for all ills.

The demand for herbs in a large city like London was such that some gardeners dedicated their entire grounds to the cultivation of herbs; these were the main suppliers to the herbalists, but every gardener choosing to set aside a plot for the growing of herbs would be sure to sell his yield. We know that in the 16th century there was an established garden on the site of Herbal Hill wherein a variety of herb plants were grown; whether this was an expanse entirely given over to the purpose, or a section of a multi-purpose garden is not known. Also unknown is the owner or tender of the garden. There are various possibilities but three distinctly come out as clear contenders. Firstly, there was St Mary’s Nunnery which occupied the site to the east of Farringdon Road; the nuns owned numerous acres of land but their boundary is unlikely to have extended further west than the line of the present main road. Then there was the garden of the Bishops of Ely, notable throughout London for its quality orchards and a fine strawberry patch of which Shakespeare found necessity to mention in Richard III: ‘My Lord of Ely, when I was last in Holborn I saw good strawberries in your garden there.’ The Bishop’s garden was a sizeable estate but presumably, the northern limit was on a line with that of the garden of Sir Christopher Hatton who gained his plot from the Ely estate with the help of Elizabeth I. This means that the Herbal Hill site would have been just outside the Bishop’s garden.

Coming in very strongly is John Gerard, barber-surgeon and native of Cheshire, who moved to London in 1577 and took up the position of head gardener to William Cecil, Lord Burghley. Gerard bought a house in Holborn, about midway between the two gardens he was commissioned to tend; one at Lord Burghley’s mansion in the Strand and the other at Theobalds, to the north of the Ely estate. On these plots, he continued the work he had been following for many years, that of refining the art of rearing and nurturing an unrivalled array of herbs, fruits and flowers. The high degree of his dedication inspired the writing of Herbal, published in 1597, the first comprehensive catalogue of herbs, ever compiled. In 1602 Gerard’s skill was recognised by Anne of Denmark and as a reward for his commitment to the subject he was granted the lease of a two-acre plot of land on the site of the present King’s College. All evidence does seem to suggest that it was the activities of John Gerard that led to the naming of Herbal Hill.

There are no herbs or flowers here now, not even a solitary ghost of Gerard’s skilful creation desperately trying to poke its head between the cracked paving. Today, Herbal Hill gives the impression of not knowing where it is; it seems lost in its surroundings of the not quite inner city, yet not quite anything else.

Image: Looking south from its junction with Ray Street. This narrow street runs right through to Clerkenwell Roadby Dr Neil Clifton (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.

The Ripper’s Route

It’s a sure bet that anyone visiting London during Halloween season will be grabbing a chance to take part in the capitals most infamous dark history tour . . . Jack the Ripper.

The identity of the world’s most notorious serial killer who terrorised the streets of Whitechapel with a macabre series of murders between August and November 1888, has continued to baffle the world.

[F]OR THE LAST 130 years there has been wide speculation among crime enthusiasts, armchair detectives and an army of authors about who the murderer really was. An insane barber? A deluded medical student? Or even a prince of England. All have taken their turn in the dock.

Whatever the truth, many sites associated with London’s most notorious series of murders can still be visited – and of course Jack the Ripper tours remain the most popular dark themed activities among the traveller. Here are some of the sites and locations associated with the Victorian killer.

Ten Bells Pub
The Ten Bells pub is located on the junction of Commercial Street and Fournier Street in Spitalfields and has close ties with at least two of the Ripper’s victim’s, Annie Chapman and Mary Kelly. It is said both women had their last drink in the pub the night they met their end. So it’s highly possible jack himself drank here in the establishment.

Mary Ann (Polly) Nichols murder site
Mary Ann Nichols, known as Polly to her friends is regarded as the first of the Jack the Ripper victims. Her body was discovered lying in the street by two men on their way to work at 3.30am on 31st August 1888. Her throat had been cut back to the bone and her abdomen mutilated. A chilling calling card of the Ripper. The location was originally called Bucks Row but was changed to Durward Street some years later and can be found at the back of Whitechapel underground station.

The murder of Annie Chapman
Not too far from Bucks Row (Durward Street) the body of Jack’s second victim, Annie Chapman, was discovered in the backyard of 29 Hanbury Street in the early hours of 8th September 1888. The site was eventually demolished in 1969, but not before being filmed for the documentary The London nobody knows starring James Mason. The location is now part of the Truman Brewery carpark.

Location of the Elizabeth Stride murder
Elizabeth Stride was the first victim in the night known as the “Double Event”, where the Ripper murdered two women in the space of 45 minutes. Strides body was discovered at 1am on 30th September in Dutfields yard, just off Commercial Road in a street called Berner Street. The narrow yard where the murder took place has now been replaced by a school playground and the street has been named Henriques street.

Location of the Catherine Eddowes murder
The second victim on the night of the Double Event was Catherin Eddowes, a 45-year-old from Wolverhampton. Her body was found in the dimly lit corner of Mitre Square. It was the first and only time the Ripper had moved out of his comfort zone in the East End and committed an attack in the city of London. Eddowes was heavily mutilated and her throat had been cut twice back to the bone. Mitre Square still exists but has been modernised lately and is surrounded by modern office blocks.

The Mary Jane Kelly murder Location
Regarded as the final victim of Jack the Ripper, Mary Jane Kelly was murdered in her small tiny room at 13 Miller’s court. Her room was located only a stone’s throw away from the Ten Bells pub, in Dorset Street. The street saw major changes over the years before being completely wiped out in 2017 with a new office block being planted on top of its location. However all is not lost, a public walkthrough has been made inside the middle of the building and so it’s still possible to come and stand on the site where her room once stood.

CabbieBlog-cabThis is a sponsored guest post for which CabbieBlog has received a fee. Proceeds from these articles help keep the wheels turning on this site offering free content for anybody with an interest in London. All links here conform with guidelines set out in Write a Post.

London Trivia: Ringing the changes

On 21 October 1856 the Great Bell cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry was delivered to Palace Yard on a dray pulled by 16 horses taking 18 hours. It was proposed to call this bell ‘Big Ben’ after Sir Benjamin Hall the President of the Board of Works. The 13½ ton bell was pulled 200ft up to the Clock Tower’s belfry, a feat that took 18 hours, 7ft 6in tall and 9ft diameter, it soon cracked giving it the distinctive ring we know today.

On 21 October 1805 the British fleet commanded by Admiral Horatio Nelson defeated a French-Spanish fleet in the Battle of Trafalgar, fatally wounded, was brought back and interned in St. Paul’s Cathedral

There are five prisons in London and four of them were built by the Victorians (Wormwood Scrubs, Wandsworth, Pentonville and Brixton). Brixton is the oldest prison in London still in use

It was Lord Byron’s valet – James Brown – who established Brown’s Hotel in 1837. Agatha Christie’s At Bertram’s Hotel is based on Brown’s Hotel

Mayfair’s most eccentric dentist was Martin von Butchell, when his wife, Mary, died in 1775 he had her embalmed and turned her into a visitor attraction to drum up more business

‘So hour by hour, be thou my guide, that by thy power, no step may slide.’ The words to Big Ben’s chimes known as the Westminster Quarters and is the most common clock chime melody

A blue plaque commemorates the site of the Tabard Inn, immortalised in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, in Talbot Yard, Southwark

The George Inn is a National Trust-owned, medieval pub in Southwark and one of the few Grade I listed public houses in England

For the London 1908 Olympics there was the first purpose-built Olympic swimming pool, at the Paris Olympics of 1900 the competitors had to race through sewage in the River Seine

A spiral escalator was installed in 1907 at Holloway Road station, but linear escalators were favoured for the rest of the network. A small section of the spiral escalator is in the Acton depot

In 1809 as part of a hoax a resident of 54 Berners Street was visited by hundreds of maids requesting jobs and tradesmen delivering goods

Medieval London’s streets moral impurity was underlined by their names: Codpiece Lane, Sluts’ Hole, Cuckold Court, Whores’ Nest, Maiden Lane

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.