London Trivia: A sparkling idea

On 9 February 1792 German-Swiss entrepreneur Johann Jakob Schweppe arrived in London to set up his first Seltzer water factory at 141 Drury Lane. Despite an unpromising start with his Swiss partners pulling out, Johann Schweppe persevered, his Soda Water became the colloquial term for sparkling water within a decade cementing his business name in the popular lexicon and creating the worldwide brand.

On 9 February 1996 an IRA 500kg bomb in a truck exploded at South Quay, Canary Wharf at 7pm, killing two and injuring 39, causing over £100 million damage

In 1992 driving a Porsche 911 a driver clocked up 147 mph, the highest speed recorded by the police on the M25 needless to say he got banned

The oldest surviving Blue Plaque is Napoleon III staying at 1c King Street in 1848 it’s the only one installed during a candidate’s lifetime

On 9 February 1915 Only Fools and Horses actor Lennard Pearce, who played Grandad in the TV show, was born in Paddington

The Connaught Hotel was called The Coburg, but like the Royal Family changed its name during World War I to avoid anti-German sentiment

In 1851 Britain’s greatest painter J. M. W. Turner bequeathed the contents of his studio to the nation the Tate holds 39,389 pieces

In 1912 the first Royal Variety Show took place at the Palace Theatre. Queen Mary was shocked by male impersonator Vesta Tilley

Only 14 men have run each and every one of the 34 London Marathons, one is former head teacher Mike Peace his best time is 2:37.12 in 1991

Over 47 million litres water are pumped from the Underground each day, enough to fill a 25m swimming pool every quarter of an hour

The man appointed by Charles II to put out the Great Fire of London was his brother the Duke of York – after whom New York was named

The statues of Livingstone and Shackleton outside the Royal Geographical Society have given rise to cabbies calling it “Hot and Cold Corner”

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.

London’s lost letters

London’s Least Used First Letters

Flicking through the alphabetical list of London postal districts, there are countless entries for certain letters, but very few for others; and these eight are absent: I, J, O, Q, V, X, Y and Z.

Unsurprisingly there are no locations in London beginning with X, according to Wikipedia’s strangely comprehensive List of United Kingdom locations there are no places in the entire United Kingdom beginning with X. In London’s case, that’s no suburbs, no stations, no roads . . . perhaps the odd nightclub and a dozen Chinese restaurants, but nothing of any geographical significance.

That said, the index at the back of a London A-Z isn’t completely blank for the letter X. There is a single entry, which is Xylon House in Worcester Park.

London’s second least used index letter has to be Z. Again no names of suburbs, boroughs, stations, or postal districts start with Z, but unlike X there is a well known London attraction that instantly springs to mind. London Zoo is as well known as they come and is officially known as ZSL London Zoo, the Zoological Society of London. This ticks all the Z boxes – twice.

It’s arguable whether J or Y comes third in the Least Frequent Initial Letter stakes, but I’m going with J. No London boroughs start with J, nor London constituencies, nor the names of any London suburbs. As for stations, none of London’s tube stations nor railway stations begins with J, but we do have a disused station, namely Junction Road. As for Y only the locality of Yiewsley and Yeading, both in the borough of Hillingdon, carry that initial, alas neither are postal districts.

The Queen is ignored

There are lots of Qs in London, mainly thanks to the fact that we’ve had a queen not a king for the majority of the last 200 years. Surprisingly no one, and I mean, no one has thought to name a postal district after Her Majesty after over 60 years of dedicated service.

You might have thought V was an excellent letter to start a designation after all the nascent penny black postal service was started in Victoria’s reign, but postcodes hadn’t been invented at the time.

As for the last two – I and J – those of you living, like me, in north-east London are now saying: “What about Ilford and the IG code?” Unfortunately, this rather salubrious area is in Greater London; and the nearest O postal district is in Wallingford near Oxford, not to be confused with Walford, BBC’s fictional location in Eastenders, more of which next.

Cracking the code

Does anyone understand postcodes in London? The E20 postcode of Albert Square in BBC’s soap Eastenders (no I don’t watch it either) was merely fictitious, but Olympic bosses applied for premises on the Stratford site to use the iconic postcode, despite the next available East London code being E19.

Postcodes it would seem to have no obvious logic to their designation and no relevance in relation to the adjoining areas.

To complicate life for a cabbie house numbers sometimes have even and odd numbers on opposite sides of the street, while on others the numbers run sequentially up one side and down on the opposite side, in addition, some houses are designated a street and number even though their front door actually opens onto an adjacent road, and to further complicate matters the convention that the lowest number on any street is supposed to be the house closest to Charing Cross is ignored, or is that an urban myth?

If London’s postcodes are allocated alphabetically why is it that E2 is Bethnal Green; E3 Bow; E4 Chingford; E5 Clapton; E6 East Ham; E7 Wanstead; and then arbitrarily E8 Hackney?

Conversely, if the postcode number denotes its position away from the centre of London why is NW1 near Mornington Crescent but NW2 miles away in Cricklewood; and Sloane Square SW1 while Brixton Hill is SW2 and Scotch Corner just yards from Sloane Square near Harrods SW3? How does that work?

You have to ask yourself, just why it is necessary for Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens to be in five different postal districts unevenly divided between W1, W2, W8, SW1 and SW7, with the lines curving and twisting through the parks.

Early simplicity

It all started out so simple; during the 1840s the number of letters being sent in London was increasing rapidly, with many localities having similar street names, letters were often misdirected. So in the 1850s, a committee was instructed to find a way to stop the confusion. They originally planned to rename the streets, but many residents objected, so they decided instead to split the city into various sectors. The two central sectors were EC and WC (East and West Central) and the outer ones were named N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W and NW after the points of a compass. A scheme which involved people adding these letters to their addresses was implemented during 1857 and 1858. In 1866 in author Anthony Trollope, then a surveyor, who also introduced our red pillar boxes, suggested that NE be merged into E and then S vanished two years later, after being split between SE and SW.

While it is immensely helpful for the Post Office in locating addresses, without a vast knowledge of the postcode system it is of little use to the man, or cabbie, on the street, except to perhaps point people to a general area, say within 10 miles from their destination. If you want to find where you are going don’t rely on a postcode; use a map or better still jump in a cab and let him figure it out.

Some notable postcodes:

SAN TA1 – Father Christmas
GIR OAA – Girobank
RM1 1AA – Royal Mail Customer Service
E20 – Walford (Eastenders) or the Olympic Park
SW1A 1AA – Buckingham Palace
SW1A 0AA – House of Commons
SW1A 0PW – House of Lords
SW1A 2AA – 10 Downing Street
SW1A 2AB – 11 Downing Street
W1A 1AA – BBC Broadcasting House, Portland Place

Use your loaf

When I buy my Kingsmill sliced from my local supermarket (£1) I wouldn’t trust it if there was no wrapper even if the shop was pristine. So why is it that on Borough High Street with its constant traffic jams of vehicles churning out diesel fumes while waiting to cross London Bridge one maker or should that be creator, of ‘artisan’ bread, displays his wares on a bench in the street?

The man who cycled London

I have studied maps for most of my life, as a boy scout to undertaking the Knowledge.

So when I discovered Davis Vilums and his passion (or should that be an obsession?), I couldn’t wait to feature it here.

Latvian born Davis grew bored with cycling the same route to work each day and decided to discover alternative streets. Using the cabbies’ bible, the Geographers’ A-Z Super Scale Map, he set out to travel down every street listed.

Overall it took him four years to visit every single road on the map, a not dissimilar time it takes to complete the Knowledge. Starting from his home in Walworth cycling to work in Fitzrovia, a journey that would take between 30 to 40 minutes. Later he expanded his journey to two hours getting to the office whilst reaching the furthest places on the A-Z, and remarkably never being late for work.

When Phyllis Pearsall decided to navigate the labyrinthine London streets, she claimed to have set off early each morning to walk – and catalogue – the streets of the city. She was said to have worked 18 hours a day walking around the 3,000 miles of London’s 23,000 streets to produce the A-Z Street Atlas of London (pronounced A-Zed), completed the task, she claimed, in one year.


Davis planned to visit not only the main roads but every single accessible mews, yard, cul-de-sac and park trail it was possible to go through, taking a more realistic time to complete the task. Unlike Phyllis Pearsall, he used the Endomondo app to make a proper record of the journeys proving that he had actually been there.

I believe that ‘walking the streets’ (or cycling in Davis’ project) has come to be a metaphor, as you go through the atlas you are walking the streets, and discovering London. In fact, Davis found some paths through buildings that weren’t visible on the map, Shoreditch, Bermondsey and one I know Temple, which runs below the Savoy.

Davis’ record of his achievement can be found at Cycling through all the Streets in Central London.

Taxi talk without tipping

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