Tag Archives: London pedantry

A pedant’s guide to London

Are you the sort of person who tut-tuts whenever tourists describe the Elizabeth Tower as Big Ben? Correcting their error by knowingly stating: “Big Ben is the bell, not the tower”.

If so, read on…

Following is a paragraph filled with similar errors of London nomenclature, things that we pedants police with zeal.

I think there are 11 such ‘errors’ in the following text. How many can you spot, and have any others inadvertently crept into this American’s letter home?

We booked a Uber cab from the Rubens Hotel opposite Buckingham Palace, which has been the home of the Royal Family since the Georgians, just think Jane Austen could have visited the Palace. The Uber dropped us in Convent Garden with its quaint cobbled streets. We walked down The Strand, passing Savoy Court, which is the only street on which vehicles drive on the same side of the highway as we do back home. Charing Cross was then reached which I wanted to see as we were told by the Uber driver it was London’s actual centre. A walk down Whitehall took us to the Houses of Parliament, we then crossed south over Westminster Bridge and here was the South Bank Lion, a statue of Coade Stone, the formula lost in the mists of time. Finally, we took a ‘flight’ on the London Eye, and we could see as far as the Post Office Tower in Fitzrovia.”

Answers below…

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1. Only Licensed London Cab Drivers are allowed to call their vehicle a ‘cab’, in fact, any private hire driver advertising or putting signage on their vehicle purporting to be a cab is breaking the law.

2. Buckingham House only became a palace when Queen Victoria ascended to the throne in 1847, the building at the time was in a dilapidated state. Jane Austen died in 1817.

3. Covent Garden isn’t spelt Convent Garden although it should, land where the market building and the piazza now stand was referred to as ‘the garden of the Abbey and Convent’, hence its name. It’s the only spelling error in this puzzle… but I couldn’t resist.

4. Covent Garden has many stone-clad streets, but none are cobbled, they are setts (regular-shaped blocks). A favourite “I think you’ll find” of pedants.

5. The Strand is officially called just ‘Strand’ without the definite article, remember that any would-be Knowledge students.

6. Contrary to the common perception, even by cabbies, Savoy Court is not the only street in London which you must drive on the right. Hammersmith bus station, whose entrance and exit also force drivers to the right. All very confusing for pedestrians.

7. The centre of London is actually the Charles I roundabout, with the statue of the deposed king at its centre. Charing Cross is a very short street between Trafalgar Square and Northumberland Avenue, a stone’s throw away.

8. The Houses of Parliament is not The Gasworks as cabbies are wont to name, but is formally known as The Palace of Westminster.

9. Westminster Bridge aligns east-west, not north-south as often assumed. The counter-pedant could argue that it leads to an area known as the South Bank, which leads us to number ten.

10. When Eleanor Coade died in 1821, her business making stone decorations that were hard-wearing and resistant to London smog, just wasn’t the same. Her death coupled with a declining fashion for Coade stone meant by 1840 the company closed and the recipe for her famous stone was lost. It was only in the 1990s that the recipe for Coade stone was rediscovered, but thanks to the durability of this 18th-century invention, there are plenty of examples left to be found on London’s streets. The most famous is the South Bank Lion which actually faces south, guarding the South Bank to the north behind him. Confused?

11. The Post Office Tower should now be BT Tower — a name change that’s been in place for decades, but is still widely ignored. Oh, and in case you were musing whether the tower is not visible from the London Eye, yes it is.

A nerdy bonus. There is no pod labelled number 13 on the London Eye because 13 is seen by some as an unlucky number and so that number is missed out entirely. The pods go straight from number 12 to number 14. This means the whole idea to make 32 pods to represent the 32 London boroughs is a bit confusing when there is a pod numbered 33.