Trivial Matter: London in 140 characters
“London, a nation, not a city”- Benjamin Disraeli (1870)
A little under 10 years ago I started blogging about London using much of the information derived from what I had learnt while undertaking The Knowledge; the arduous test that every London cabbie has to undertake before being let out on the public highway. These short missives soon transmogrified into CabbieBlog with my writing short twice-weekly essays on anything within the M25 that took my interest.
To give the site more immediacy I started to post daily trivia via the nascent Twitter platform and soon realised that there was a mine of information to be had about London – all there was needed was to try and précis the information into 140 characters and produce one for every day of the year.
I am now posting these nuggets of trivial information one for each day with a short piece of information relating to the day in question. They may be read on a weekly basis or as they are all tagged trivial matter one could dip in and out, either when collating questions for a pub quiz; bore your colleagues at work; or just to read one day at a time.
Each post is named after a calendar date (including leap year) with anything that might have occurred on that day. Sometimes it will be something as prosaic as a notable person’s birthday, on others, something more interesting. On the odd occasion London has seemed to hold its collective breath and not done anything, this will also be included.
Icons displayed show 10 subjects worthy of a piece of London trivia and are included on every page.
ON THIS DAY
Starts every page and you might be tempted to read it as just that: what previously happened in London on a particular day. An unusual day might be: On 11 December 1937 cheetahs were raced at a packed Romford dog track there was no winner they lost interest after covering a short distance.
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
The capital has never been short of chancers, villains and the hapless criminal, among them is this gem: In 1952 a Nigerian visitor was fined £50 for committing an indecent act with a pigeon in Trafalgar Square and £10 for having it for his tea.
THE URBAN LANDSCAPE
Living in London one cannot escape from the concrete jungle. Much of this trivia will consist of highest; lowest; deepest; or smallest, for example: You can find Britain’s smallest police station, designed in 1926 to monitor demonstrations, in the south-east corner of Trafalgar Square.
LIFE AND DEATH
The most important facet of our lives, but what happens when “Mustn’t complain” just doesn’t cover it their demise arrives from an unexpected quarter: In 1938 a pedestrian was killed by a stone phallus falling from a statue on Zimbabwe House in the Strand rest removed for ‘health and safety’.
This is probably the richest sources of ridiculous trivia. The boys (and girls) from the Palace of Westminster just keep on giving: Harold Wilson always drank Lucozade during speeches – but from a blue glass, as he worried that in a clear one it would look like Scotch.
London has the largest number of theatres in the world, iconic cinemas and a world famous opera house, but some choose to make their own entertainment. In 1905 millionaire George Kessler flooded the Savoy’s courtyard to float a gondola, a birthday cake on an elephant’s back and Caruso singing
London has the widest choice of ways to waste one’s time: walking in a park; going to the pub; or reading what some bloke has written as the odd best seller: Jeffrey Archer’s London phone number ends 007 – he bought the old flat of Bond composer John Barry, who’d chosen the number.
London has hosted three Olympic Games and even the oddest cricket match: The foppish son and heir apparent of King George II died in Leicester House as a result of being struck in the throat with a cricket ball.
As a London cabbie I’m pleased to note that other road users sometimes come unstuck: On 28 December 1952 a No.78 double-decker bus driven by Albert Gunter was forced to jump an opening Tower Bridge, he was awarded a £10 bonus.
Yes, we all have to do it, but are we as dedicated as the man who introduced the post box? Before Anthony Trollope started work at the General Post Office, St. Martin’s-Le-Grand each morning he would rise at 5:30am and pen 1,000 words.
This is from the bits and bobs draw, trivia worthy of inclusion but without a home. How for example would you classify: In 1969 Laurence Olivier started a petition demanding that the dining car of the London to Brighton train reintroduce kippers – it worked.
With a history as long and diverse as London its trivia is rich and wide-ranging. Sometimes the entries in these posts will be based on fact, for others their origin is dubious. All errors, omissions and any repeats are entirely mine. This series is not intended to be used for reference, or does it claim to be a definitive list. If you have found anything new please drop me a line at:
Mention must be made about the sources of many of the Trivia treats related here between these digital covers. Their help – both intended and unintended – has been a huge inspiration for someone whose best school report read:
David has tended ‘Nellie’ our ancient chicken most conscientiously. Thank you, for your help – D. Pankhurst, DeBohun Primary School July 1958
Stephen Pile’s sublime The Book of Heroic Failures and The Ultimate Book of Heroic Failures has done much to redress the balance away from the smugly successful towards the ‘could do better’ featured here.
David Long’s many publications about London’s curiosities and trivia have pointed me firmly in the direction of the capital’s most eccentric inhabitants, of particular note is The Little Book of London.
Brewer’s Dictionary of London Phase & Fable by Russ Willey contributed precisely what the author promised.
The Shady of Lady’s Guide to London will, if you ask her politely, email you daily updates about what happened in London on the current day in question. Some of her communications have also been used here.
A London Year: 365 Days of City Life in Diaries, Journals and Letters compiled by one of London’s great modern chroniclers Travis Elborough assisted ably by Nick Rennison relates first-hand accounts of misadventures that have beset Londoners over the years. Travis Elborough has also unwittingly provided information from his book London Quiz: How well do you know London?
Peter de Loriol beat me to the post in producing work of this magnitude, his seminal work The London Book of Days has been a constant source of knowledge and inspiration.
Tour guide Diane Burstein @guidediane and tweets from @realLONDONfacts must also be mentioned.
The recently published Curiocity by Henry Eliot and Matt Lloyd-Rose is probably the best source of unusual trivia, a beautifully produced tome it is a must for every Londonphile’s bookshelf.
As someone who’s sporting knowledge could comfortably be written on the back of a stamp (you won’t find me banging on about the shortcomings of England’s manager in my cab) I’m indebted to Simon Inglis and his comprehensive Played in London, 360 pages of boring facts about sport.
Some of this content is probably urban myth. Wikipedia often spins a spiffing yarn, the best have been stitched into the narrative.
The icons used throughout are designed by Shannon E Thomas and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Featured image on posts and tweets: A London bus passes a telephone box on Haymarket by EO1 is reproduced with added text under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.
Thanks must also go to the many replies I have received over the years regarding my London Trivia tweets @CabbieBlog none of which, I have to confess, I’ve got round to giving a response.
Almost last, but not least, to Jenny for supplying me with essential sustenance as I sat in my lonely scrivener’s garret.
. . . and finally Rupert my dog who patiently listened as I narrated to him what nuggets of rubbish I had found.
4 thoughts on “Trivial Matter”
Why thank you for the mention! Peter de Loriol
Your book taught this cabbie much about London, just don’t tell my customers, I’m supposed to know everything.
Wow! That is a real compliment! This book took 3 months of trawling through online newspapers plus my London library at home. With the older newspapers I took the obligatory days off because ‘news’ travelled slower!
I very much enjoyed researching it!
Your book The London Book of Days certainly shows how much research was undertaken. A great read to dip in and out.