We have a confession to make. We’re kind of geeky.
You know that guy in the office that’s always coming up with weird facts about things you’ve never heard of? Yup. That’s us, 24/7. We live for quirky trivia and fun tidbits that make us sound like a clever-clogs. You don’t want to come up against us in a pub quiz. No, sir.
We’re a little boring around the water cooler. We’re trying at dinner parties. But wow, don’t we ever make the best tour guides. After all, it’s the little details that make life worth living.
London is a hive of fascinating secrets. Let’s uncover some of the best.
1. Hidden cities
Millions of people tread the concrete pavements of London every day. Little do they know that buried beneath the surface is one of the richest archaeological sites in the world. You’d have a tough time getting to it, however.
London was first settled by the Romans in 43 AD. Since then, it’s been built on by the Saxons, the Normans, and later the Tudors and Stuarts. What remains of their townships is still buried beneath the city today.
2. The not-so-great fire of London
In the center of the City of London stands a monument that commemorates the Great Fire of 1666. It serves as a memorial to the many homes that were lost and the 6 people who lost their lives as a result of this tragedy. Ironically, perhaps, a total of 7 people lost their lives falling from the top of the monument, making it more deadly than the fire itself.
3. The day that time began
Did you know that time as we know it was invented by astrologers in London? Before 1884, every township in England had its own, independent measure of time. With the invention of Greenwich Mean Time the country now had a standard system for time keeping that would soon become a world standard. In fact, Mean Time means precisely that – it’s the average time that the sun crosses the Greenwich Meridian throughout the year. If you’d like to learn more about Greenwich and the History of time, check out our Greenwich tours.
4. Paddington Facade
Take a walk down Leinster Gardens near Paddington and you’re unlikely to notice anything strange. The lovely townhouses look just like the rest of the city. If you were to knock on the door to number 23, however, you’d be waiting on the doorstep a while. Numbers 23 and 24 are actually fake houses built to hide exhaust ports from the London Underground.
5. Death at the tower
The last execution to be carried out at the Tower of London was not as long ago as you think. In 1941 a German spy named Josef Jakobs was caught and executed by firing squad at the tower.
6. Mystic rivers
Even deeper than the archaeological treasures of the Norman period lies another secret. London is built above an entire system of subterranean rivers that make up the tributaries of the Thames. There are over 20 rivers in this hidden network, most of which are completely underground. You can, however, see a few of the rivers as they make their way to the surface in Tottenham Cemetery, Romford, and Brentford.
7. Stop the traffic
Many important inventions were conceived in London, but few have been so crucial to the evolution of the modern city as the humble traffic light. Street traffic lights were invented by a railway signaling engineer, and the first light was erected outside the Palace of Westminster in 1868. Unfortunately, it exploded after only a month of use.
We hope you’ve loved these fascinating facts about London as much as we have. If you’d like to hear even more of the capital’s many stories we highly recommend one of our walking tours. Let your guide reveal all its secrets.