Tag Archives: London trivia

London Trivia: WERTY Keyboard

On 1 January 1845: The suspect for the murder of Sarah Hart using prussic acid boarded the train at Slough bound for Paddington. The nascent telegraph could not send the letter Q. The message describing the suspect read: ” . . . In the garb of a Kwaker“. John Tawell was the first person to be arrested the result of telecommunications technology. Found guilty he was publicly hanged in Aylesbury on 28 March 1845 watched by a huge crowd.

On 1 January 1967 George Harrison recognised by the doorman was barred from Annabel’s for not wearing a tie, he went to Lyons Corner House

The last man in Britain to be hanged for killing a police officer was Guenther Podola at Wandsworth Prison in 1959

The Savoy Hotel has a permanently lit gas lamp near the river entrance powered by methane gas from the sewers

John Keats trained as an apothecary/surgeon at Guy’s hospital but he gave up surgery for a precarious existence as a poet

Number Ten Downing Street has two front doors, rotated to allow maintenance. The zero is at a slight angle to mimic an earlier one that slipped

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

A stone in the beer garden wall at the Prospect of Whitby, Wapping identifies the wall as the boundary between Wapping and Limehouse

The ‘Ashes’ are displayed at Lords but the cricket match that led to the ashes being presented is played at the Oval

The first commercial flight from Heathrow was made on 1 January 1946 by South American Airways bound for Buenos Aires in a civilian Lancaster

1757 saw publication of Harris’ List of Covent Garden Ladies a directory of prostitutes and their special skills, it was very popular!

In January 2005, in an attempt to alleviate a problem with loitering young people, the London Underground announced it would play classical music at problem stations

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.

Sunday Best

After seven-and-a-half years there are more than 2,700 Trivia Tweets floating around in the Twitterverse for in July 2009, to give CabbieBlog more immediacy, I started to post daily trivia via the nascent Twitter platform, naturally using the handle @cabbieblog I 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 triviality every Sunday starting on 1st January 2017. Each post will have a short essay relating to the day in question along with 10 other pieces of useless information. 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 send yourself off to sleep.

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.

The icons displayed below show the 10 categories used if information is worthy of a piece of London trivia and are included on every page:

On-this-day_thumb.gifStarts 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_thumb.jpgThe 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.

Urban_thumb.gifLiving 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.

Health_thumb.gifThe 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’.

Politics_thumb.gifThis 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.

Arts_thumb.gifLondon 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.

Leisure_thumb.gifLondon 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.

Sport_thumb.gifLondon 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.

Trans_thumb.gifAs 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.

Work_thumb.gifYes, 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 5.30 am and pen 1,000 words.

Misc_thumb.gifThis 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, nor does it claim to be a definitive list.

If you have found anything new please drop me a line at:

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 first coffee house

In 1971 three men sat down and decided to open a coffee supply company in Seattle which within 40 years would become the largest coffeehouse company in the world.

Their choice of name would be prophetic for they chose a fictional seafarer. Their first favoured name was Pequod named after a whaling boat from Moby Dick this was rejected in favour of Starbuck the ship’s chief mate.

[T]he coffee shop we know today came about after Howard Schultz, who had joined the company the previous year; he travelled to Italy and saw potential to develop a similar coffee house culture in Seattle.

Using a coffee house to relax, talk with friends, meet and conduct business might have been novel to Howard Schultz but in London 300 years ago this was precisely what Londoners did in coffee houses. Only of the business conducted would have been marine insurance, for the type of boat featured in Moby Dick. According to Dr. Matthew Green who conducts coffee house tours of London the Starbucks in Russell Street, Covent Garden occupies the same site that 300 years ago stood Button’s Coffee House. It was here that people gathered to discuss the issues of the day. Journalists would gather stories with poets and play writers would meet to discuss and critique each other’s work.

Nailed to a wall where Starbucks community board now resides was the marble head of a lion with open jaws in which Button’s customers were invited to pop stories for weekly publication.

London’s coffee culture had started in 1652 by a Greek, Pasqua Roseé and it wasn’t long before he was selling 600 dishes of coffee a day. The beverage was seen as an antidote to drunkenness and the coffee houses popularity would give rise to London becoming the world’s insurance capital.

The coffee houses became the centre for free thought as well as business and by 1663 there were 82 coffee houses within the old Roman walls of the City. By the 18th century London had over 550 coffee houses each with its own identity unlike today’s homogenised Starbucks.

London’s coffee houses would transform Britain. The exchange of ideas would make it the centre for invention and the arts.

The first stocks and shares were traded in Jonathan’s close to the Royal Exchange. Lloyd’s Coffee House on Lombard Street (now a Sainsbury’s) attracted merchants, ships’ captains and stockbrokers.

How did the beverage taste? The 18th century palate found it comparable to ink or soot for it was a thick, gritty but addictive drink which gave a physical boost.

Starbucks might product a more sophisticated brew but the convivial atmosphere where debate and communicating (with laptops) did not originate in Seattle but within London’s Roman walls by a Greek.

“Where to, Guv’?”

It was an e-mail from the public relations department of a games manufacturer which prompted me to write this post, that, and a touch of post Festivities writer’s block.

Jim Walker a cabbie colleague of mine who grew up in the shadow of Tower Bridge has devised a three-dimensional board game “Bridge Up”. Characters like Little Maxi the London taxi move around the board while players have to answer trivia questions about the River Thames and the history of Tower Bridge. And to celebrate the launch of his board game Jim has been given the rare honour of pushing the button to open the London’s iconic bridge.

London Cabbie

[A]fter that e-mail I remembered that my daughter had, as more of a joke, from a car boot sale bought for me another taxi based game – London Cabbie – which I’ve found recently on eBay retailing for £65.

The London Cabbie Game (1971) was invented by Drakes, Jarvis, Walsh and Gluck, which sound more like an Eastend solicitor practice than games inventors. The aim of the game is to make money, work out the best routes to get passengers to their destinations, whilst avoiding traffic jams. The four inventors clearly know something about cabbies as the board reassuringly doesn’t go South of the River.


Another London cab based game is TAXI, which worked on the premise that it was more fun negotiating London streets on cardboard than on tarmac. This rather frivolous 1960’s game has among its passengers model Susan Scantly, Bubbles Dimpleby and Felix Softpad.

Although firmly stuck in that era, and featuring an old FX cab on the cover, whose driver looks as if he can afford to ignore a rather smart gentleman hailing him standing at the front of a queue, board game does at least cross the river, if only to the major stations. What is lacking, which no self-respecting cabbie today would be without, is a pair of boxing gloves or an England football shirt hanging from the mirror.

Destination London

When Rachel Lowe pitched her game Destination London to The BBC’s Dragon’s Den entrepreneurs they criticised her in a variety of ways, turning down her idea. The game went on to become Hamley’s best selling game of 2004. She invented the game from her experience working as a cabbie in Portsmouth while studying for a law degree.

Players are, you’ve guessed it, cabbies, moving through the city visiting tourist sites accruing money. The format has been modified for other cities and has even a Destination Hogwarts.

Christmas History Trivia

Victorian London played a massive part in how we celebrate Christmas today.

William Sandys published Christmas carols and Christmas plays; Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol; Sir Henry Cole invented Christmas cards; Thomas J Smith invented the Christmas cracker; and Prince Albert encouraged us all to put Christmas trees in our homes, like good Germans. It is a custom we all practise today.

[T]hroughout the Middle Ages a midwinter festival associated with Christmas was celebrated with feasting, dancing, games, boozing and general merriment. Things ran into difficulties from the Reformation, particularly with Puritan elements, whereby many Protestants saw Christmas as being either a pagan or Popish celebration. Christmas was actually banned by a Puritan-dominated parliament in 1647. Protests and riots followed, notably in Canterbury.

Matters improved throughout the Georgian period, but by the early 19th Century, Christmas as a celebration was once again in decline.

Then, in 1833, London solicitor and antiquarian William Sandys published Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern, comprising 80 carols which included classics such as The First Noel and God Rest You Merry Gentlemen. He published an updated version, called Christmas-tide, Its History, Festivities and Carols, With Their Music, in 1852. In addition, Sandys wrote several Christmas plays and other Christmas-related works.

Charles Dickens. As we all know, he wrote A Christmas Carol, which was published on 19th December 1843. The effect of the book on the revival of Christmas cannot be underestimated. Apart from adding to the language of Christmas, with scrooge, bah, humbug and all the rest of it, the book revived the Christmas tenets of family, good cheer, feasting, gift-giving and charity. The phrase Merry Christmas was pretty much invented by Dickens.

Christmas cards were first produced in London by Sir Henry Cole in 1843, the same year as A Christmas Carol was published. Sir Henry was instrumental in introducing the penny post a few years previously, so we can see where the shrewd fellow was going with this one. Themes on early cards were celebratory rather than religious.

Christmas crackers were invented by a sweet manufacturer called Thomas J Smith of London in 1847. Whereas we now have a toy inside the cracker, Smith originally used one of his sweets. He came up with the idea of the message inside and the explosion on pulling the cracker.

The Christmas tree is a German innovation which was introduced to Britain by Queen Charlotte, consort of George III. Prince Albert further promoted the use of Christmas trees, since when they became a fixture in the British home. The spruce Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square is a thank-you gift to the people of London from the people of Oslo for British assistance in defeating Germany in World War II. The tradition began in 1947. The plaque reads:

This tree is given by the city of Oslo as a token of Norwegian gratitude to the people of London for their assistance during the years 1940-45.

Christmas Day was always a customary as opposed to a statutory holiday having the same rest-day status of Sundays. It only reached the statute books under the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971. Boxing Day was established as a public holiday a full century earlier under the Bank Holidays Act of 1871 and is a peculiarly British tradition, only really celebrated in Britain and Commonwealth countries.

Copyright ©2010 London Historians Ltd. Registered in England No. 07325071

My thanks go to Mike Paterson for permission to reproduce Christmas History Trivia which appeared on his London Historians blog. London Historians was launched in August 2010 as a club for Londoners who’d like to learn more about their city’s history. They will be organising visits, talks, walks, social events and discounts to selected historical attractions and exhibitions. The site features a ton of useful information to give you a single launch pad to everything you want to find out about London’s history. Members are invited to contribute information and reviews to the site, if you like reading about London’s history you won’t be disappointed by following this link.