Tag Archives: London myths

Friday the thirteenth

Every year must contain at least one Friday 13th, but no more than three. The longest we can go without seeing a thirteenth is 14 months. This year has two: Today’s March and November.

The fear of Friday the 13th is friggatriskaidekaphobia which comes from Frigg, the Norse goddess of wisdom after whom Friday is named, and the Greek words triskaideka, meaning thirteen.

Just how many?

Here’s how many Friday the thirteenths there is every year for the foreseeable future.

(one) 2021, 2022, 2025, 2027, 2028, 2031, 2033, 2036, 2038, 2039

(two) 2023, 2024, 2029, 2030, 2032, 2034, 2035,

(three) 2026, 2037, 2040

The Friday the thirteenth sequence repeats every 28 years.

So what has this to do with London?

Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense was born in Leytonstone, east London on 13 August 1899 – remarkably his 100th birthday would have been Friday, 13 August 1999.

He made his directorial debut in 1922 with a movie called naturally – Number 13. Unfortunately, the film was doomed from the start and never got off the ground due to financial troubles.

Tyburn was a popular spot in London on Fridays as this day was once known as Hangman’s Day because it was usually when people who had been condemned to death would be hanged.

In Geoffrey Chaucer’s famous Canterbury Tales, where pilgrims walk from Borough High Street to Canterbury, relating stories to pass the time. In the Nun’s Priest’s Tale, she says “and a Friday fell all this mischance”.

With a province stretching back to the 1780s, the Eccentric Society took an interest in challenging superstitions and celebrated among its rituals was the Friday the thirteenth dinner, in which 13 members sat a dinner table surrounded by ‘unlucky’ objects, dining under ladders and held umbrellas and generally made of themselves lightning rods to bad luck.

Near miss?

Discovered in 2004 asteroid 99942 Apophis was thought to have a small chance of colliding with Earth on Friday, 13 April 2029. But you can rest easy because since then astronomers have revised their calculations and estimate it will miss us by miles.

The Curse of Falstaff

A curious tale relating to the land known today as Seven Dials and St. Giles exists; it claims that this district will be forever cursed. With modern Oxford Street at its northern boundary, Charing Cross Road to the west.

[E]NDELL STREET AND LONG ACRE are to the east and south respectively, this small area still retains the layout of many of its original medieval streets, which until the mid-19th century was a dense warren of tiny courtyards and alleyways, where large numbers of criminals and prostitutes lived.

A medieval leper hospital existed there amid open fields and the parish church to the north of the neighbourhood – St. Giles – is dedicated to the patron saint of lepers.

Developers erected houses for artisans and skilled tradesman in the 16th century, with Samuel Pepys commentating on the desirability of the area, but within a few years it had degenerated into an overcrowded and dangerous place.

Last drink for the condemned

For years St. Giles church officials paid for a last drink at the Resurrection Gate public house for the condemned on their journey down Oxford Road from Newgate Prison to the gallows and Tyburn. The old Oxford Road now renamed St. Giles High Street follows this route but the Resurrection Gate has been rebuilt by the Victorians and renamed The Angel Inn.

If the condemned man had been a resident of the area extra guards would try to stop any rescue mission as he popped into The Resurrection Gate for a swift half. More often than not the condemned would disappear into the Rookeries, as Seven Dials was known and would never be found.

The start of the plague

London’s plague of 1665 began here before wiping out a quarter of London’s population and 100 years later William Hogarth depicted the area in his famous engraving “Gin Lane”, which depicts the effects of alcohol and poverty. Charles Dickens called the area Tom All Alone’s in Bleak House, and it wasn’t until the 1880s when much the Rookeries were demolished to make way for Shaftesbury Avenue and New Oxford Street that the area became accessible to the visitor.

But the strangest fact about this area is that businesses fail to thrive with a turnover rate far higher than elsewhere.

Those in the theatre business regard the Shaftsbury Theatre nearby as jinxed with a higher number of flops than other West End venues. Centre Point, that large office block at the area’s north-western corner, which is now listed, was a London scandal for a decade because it was regarded as so ugly no one wanted to lease office space in it.

St.  Giles Church completed in 1712, is a rare example that has escaped Victorian “improvements” and the bombing in the Second World War, now has facing it this area’s newest addition – Central Saint Giles – a garishly clad office retail complex, itself standing forlorn almost empty as testament to Falstaff Curse.

220px-OldcastleburningWhy is this small corner of London so unlucky? In 1417 Sir John Oldcastle – reputed to be the model for Shakespeare’s Falstaff – was burned here at the stake on the order of King Henry V. Legend has it that as the flames rose around him Sir John is said to have cursed the land and surrounding area on which he was to die as well as the executioner, the king (who died six years later), and all his descendants.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 29th July 2011

Falstaff’s Curse

[A] curious tale relating to the land known today as Seven Dials and St. Giles exists; it claims that this district will be forever cursed. With modern Oxford Street at its northern boundary, Charing Cross Road to the west, with Endell Street and Long Acre at its east and south respectively, this small area still retains the layout of many of its original medieval streets, which until the mid-19th century was a dense warren of tiny courtyards and alleyways, where large numbers of criminals and prostitutes lived.

A medieval leper hospital existed there amid open fields and the parish church to the north of the neighbourhood – St. Giles – is dedicated to the patron saint of lepers.

Developers erected houses for artisans and skilled tradesman in the 16th century, with Samuel Pepys commentating on the desirability of the area, but within a few years it had degenerated into an overcrowded and dangerous place.

For years St. Giles church officials paid for a last drink at the Resurrection Gate public house for the condemned on their journey down Oxford Road from Newgate Prison to the gallows and Tyburn. The old Oxford Road now renamed St. Giles High Street follows this route but the Resurrection Gate has been rebuilt by the Victorians and renamed The Angel Inn.

If the condemned man had been a resident of the area extra guards would try to stop any rescue mission as he popped into The Resurrection Gate for a swift half. More often than not the condemned would disappear into the Rookeries, as Seven Dials was known and would never be found.

London’s plague of 1665 began here before wiping out a quarter of London’s population and 100 years later William Hogarth depicted the area in his famous engraving “Gin Lane”, which depicts the effects of alcohol and poverty. Charles Dickens called the area Tom All Alone’s in Bleak House, and it wasn’t until the 1880s when much the Rookeries were demolished to make way for Shaftesbury Avenue and New Oxford Street that the area became accessible to the visitor.

But the strangest fact about this area is that businesses fail to thrive with a turnover rate far higher than elsewhere.

Those in the theatre business regard the Shaftsbury Theatre nearby as jinxed with a higher number of flops than other West End venues. Centre Point, that large office block at the area’s north-western corner, which is now listed, was a London scandal for a decade because it was regarded as so ugly no one wanted to lease office space in it.

Central St. Giles

St.  Giles Church completed in 1712, is a rare example that has escaped Victorian “improvements” and the bombing in the Second World War, now has facing it this area’s newest addition – Central Saint Giles – a garishly clad office retail complex, itself standing forlorn almost empty as testament to Falstaff Curse.

220px-OldcastleburningWhy is this small corner of London so unlucky? In 1417 Sir John Oldcastle – reputed to be the model for Shakespeare’s Falstaff – was burned here at the stake on the order of King Henry V. Legend has it that as the flames rose around him Sir John is said to have cursed the land and surrounding area on which he was to die as well as the executioner, the king (who died six years later), and all his descendants.