London Facts: the Weird and the Wonderful

London facts: Tower Bridge in all its beauty
Photo by Charles Postiaux on Unsplash

London is the biggest country in the UK; the River Thames runs through it, and it has a population of over nine million. But alongside those standard details are a number of interesting London facts that aren’t as widely known. Here are 20 London facts to kick things off – did you know that…

Around 13% of the UK population lives in the capital; the city is growing at twice the rate of the country as a whole.

London’s economy is larger than that of several entire countries in Europe, including Sweden and Austria.

In 2015 a parking space in South Kensington sold for just shy of an eye-watering £500,000. The listing read: “Boasting an exceptional location, this exquisite underground parking development boasts a secure, prestigious and exclusive environment.”

The Beatles recorded sessions of their White Album at Trident Studios in Soho, and it’s where David Bowie made Ziggy Stardust. Other famous artists and bands who used the facility include Elton John, Queen, and the Rolling Stones.

Urban foxes are quite a common site: according to the Metro the capital is home to 18 of the bushy tailed animals per square kilometre. Their diet consists of scavenging through household rubbish or hunting for small mammals such as rats and mice – it’s estimated that up to half a million of the latter live in the Underground tube network.

After its construction in 1894 the walkways of Tower Bridge became a haunt for prostitutes and pickpockets. By 1910 they’d been closed to pedestrians and weren’t reopened until 1982.

The Knowledge – the test black taxi drivers have to pass in order to get their license was introduced in 1865 and is crazy difficult. Not only do cabbies have to learn 320 routes across 25,000 streets, they also have to save to memory the location of around 20,000 landmarks and attractions. It can take between two and four years to store all of that detail. And no, satnavs are not permitted. 

Alongside the items you’d expect people to leave on the Underground such as phones, keys and umbrellas, strange things galore have also been lost there over the years – false teeth, an urn of ashes, a prosthetic leg, and a life-size Gorilla that ended starring in the Night Tube campaign. As many as 1,200 objects go to TfL’s London’s lost property office each day. And some fairly odd things have been witnessed too: a man with a pair of cats on leads, a passenger eating a Full English, and commuters clipping their nails and brushing their teeth (yuk).

On the subject of the tube, Blackfriars is the only station to have entrances on both the north and south side of the Thames.

According to a 2014 study by the Met Office using records back to 1981, London is the driest city in Britain with just 56 centimetres of rain each year. The wettest? Cardiff.

Big Ben is the name of the bell, not the clock tower; it chimes in the key of E.

Karl Marx published the Communist Manifesto in 1948 and was exiled to London. There, he worked on Das Kapital in the reading rooms of the British Museum. The space was also used by other famous figures such as Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling, George Orwell and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Hyde Park houses a pet cemetery; the final resting place for more than 300 animals, including monkeys and birds. Inscriptions include: ‘Dear Impy – Loving and Loved’, ‘Alas! Poor Zoe’, and ‘Darling Dolly – my sunbeam, my consolation, my joy’ tug at the heartstrings’.

Hitler coveted Nelson’s column: he planned to dismantle it from Trafalgar Square and rebuild it in Berlin if Germany won the war.

TfL calculated that around 6.5 million passengers a day ride London’s buses. To give perspective, that’s greater than the population of Scotland. The longest route runs from Heathrow to Croydon and is almost 24 miles, while the shortest is in Barnet at just 1.5 miles.

On average the London Eye has more annual visitors than the Pyramids of Giza and the Taj Mahal. The 32 capsules represent the number of boroughs in the capital.

Arsenal is the only football club in the city to have a tube by the same name. Originally called Gillespie Road, it was renamed after the team moved northwards from Woolwich. Gillespie Road can still be seen tiled along the platform walls.

There is no such thoroughfare as Bond Street, only New Bond Street and Old Bond Street; King’s Road has signs both with and without the apostrophe; the famous Petticoat Lane has in fact been officially known as Middlesex Street for more than a century; and the Strand is officially just Strand.

More than 300 languages are currently spoken in London schools. Some of the most common after English are Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi, Hindi and Turkish.

Main image: Charles Postiaux on Unsplash