. . . and The Ugly

Greater London House
The Cabbies Shelter Removal
The (Top) Secret Garden
Red for Danger
Flying Dead Cats
Bonaparte’s Penis
Houses that exist but aren’t there
Millbank Buttress
Buxton Memorial Fountain

greater-london-house-mineGreater London House
If you can’t afford a Nile cruise, get down to Hampstead Road. There you will find the one time factory of the famous Black Cat brand of the Carreras cigarettes. With its two black cats perched on guard at either side of the giant doorway entrance, it is said to be inspired by the Egyptian tomb of Tutankhamun discovered four years before the building was started.


The Cabbies Shelter Removal
In the 1960s developers knocked down four ancient streets running down to Temple Place to allow for a hotel to be built presumably so American tourists could see just the sort of roads they had destroyed. When the hotel reached completion the architects were amazed to find that just at the spot they’d planned to put their grand hotel entrance there was a green cabbie’s shelter.
With typical corporate stupidity they tried to use their financial might to have the shelter removed by the authorities, but they were told that the shelter had been there since 1880 and was staying put. With the image of their rich American visitors being greeted by a ramshackle old shelter they were forced to beg for its removal. For a price the shelter was duly moved a few yards down the hill away from the hotel’s lobby.

the-citadelThe (Top) Secret Garden
James Bond would know The Citadel on the corner of Horseguards Road and The Mall, it is a very odd building that most people fail to notice. Built from dark-red bricks and almost always covered in ivy, the building has a fortress feel about it, there are no decorative brickwork and not a ground-floor window in sight. The building was made to protect the Admiralty communications centre from bombs during the Second World War and almost nothing about it appears in any guide books about London. When it was first put up the press was forbidden to mention it and everything possible was done to make sure it was undetectable, particularly from the air. The walls are incredibly thick making it almost impregnable, and there is no doubt that it would withstand a conventional bomb or two, but just to be on the safe side the military decided that the best way to hide the building from the air would be to plant grass on its roof. However, this led to one extremely eccentric proceeding which continues to this day. Every morning in summer a secret service gardener  carrying his top-secret pass presents himself to the officials within the building and is allowed to enter. He carries with him a lawn mower; this has to be carried out through an upstairs window onto a set of steps that lead to the roof. He then mows the grass, carries his mover back downstairs across the office floor and out of the building.

Traffic LightsRed for Danger
The world’s first traffic light came into being before the automobile was in use, and traffic consisted only of pedestrians and horse and carts. Installed at an intersection in London in 1868, it was a revolving lantern with red and green signals. Red meant “stop” and green meant “caution”. The lantern, illuminated by gas, was turned by means of a lever at its base so that the appropriate light faced traffic. On 2nd January, 1869, this crude traffic light exploded, injuring the policeman who was operating it.

Burlington Arcade BeadleFlying Dead Cats
Just off Piccadilly is a row of tiny Georgian shops virtually unchanged since 1819. Burlington Arcade was built to cover a narrow alley that ran alongside the London home of Lord Cavendish. As he sat in the garden of Burlington House he was constantly being hit by items thrown over the wall from an alley alongside his home. Having grown tired of oyster shells, apple cores, old bottles and the occasional dead cat landing on his head he decided that a row of shops would put paid to this nuisance. The shops remain almost unaltered to this day with the famous beadles on hand to stop you running, whistling or carrying an open umbrella.

NapoleonBonaparte’s Penis
In 1972 Napoleon Bonaparte’s penis complete with a magnificent velvet-lined case was put up for auction at Christie’s. The item failed to reach its reserve price and was withdrawn, so to speak. It popped up again (sorry again about that) this time in Paris. It was bought by John Lattimer, a retired professor of urology (appropriately enough) at the University of Columbia, for around $3,000. The penis is still, as it were, in Professor Lattimer’s hands.

Leinster Terrace-1Leinster Terrace-2Houses that exist but aren’t there
When the line between Bayswater and Paddington was being built it became necessary to demolish two houses in what was then a recently built and highly prestigious row of terraced houses. The householders on either side refused to be beaten by the railway developers and managed to force through a condition that when the tunnel had been built and covered over, the facades at least of the two demolished houses should be reinstated. And that is precisely what happened. What look like a pair of rather grand houses is actually only walls about five feet thick. ©Kieran Meeke

Millbank ButtressMillbank Buttress-2Millbank Buttress
‘Near this site stood Millbank Prison which was opened in 1816 and closed in 1890. This buttress stood at the head of the river steps from which, until 1867, prisoners sentenced to transportation embarked on their journey to Australia.’  The nearby Morpeth Arms pub was built to serve the prison warders.

Buxton Memorial FountainBuxton Memorial Fountain
This gothic fountain, standing near the Houses of Parliament, was erected to mark the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 and is dedicated to Thomas Fowell Buxton, William Wilberforce and other prominent abolitionists. it was restored in 2007 – the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade.

Architect Alfred Waterhouse designed a whole menagerie of animals for the Natural History Museum, from the monkeys climbing about inside to the sculptures of extinct and living animals on the exterior. This pterodactyl, and a companion saber-toothed tiger decorate the first-floor of the east wing.

Many thanks to Kieran Meeke for giving me permission to reproduce this item. For more information of unusual facts and trivia, visit his excellent site Secret London.

4 thoughts on “. . . and The Ugly”

  1. Really interesting blog, thank you!
    And I arrived via research into the green cab shelters, for a novel about the children of a cabbie.
    You might be interested to know that Waterhouse, the designer of the Natural History Museum, wasn’t given a large enough budget to have the pterodactyl and all the statues and decorations on the building carved in stone. They were all cast in Italian terracotta clay, by a now unknown French sculptor Monsieur Dujardin.
    Another factoid you might like, the sculptures on the West wing of the building were all of living creatures and the East wing were of extinct creatures. They aren’t exactly zoologically correct, many look heraldic rather than lifelike! The pterodactyl is certainly ugly.


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