Before we start, don’t forget it’s London Fashion Week next month and we’re always full of fashionistas so if you’re coming to London to experience the buzz of LFW, book your stay at the Rathbone now!
So, everyone in the world knows the Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament and London Bridge (which isn’t falling down despite the best efforts of 19th century nursery rhyme writers). But not everyone knows about the lost rivers, bizarre statues, strange stones, embassies to non-existent countries and coffeeshops 360 years older than Starbucks….
Here’s our very own guide to London’s strangest, oddest, most obscure, bizarre and downright odd places that make this 2,000-year-old city so amazing! They’re all accessible, some are just lying around waiting to be found, some you’ll have to dig a little deeper to uncover but for a (very) offbeat guide to London, read on…
Every article on the internet about London’s history will start with – ‘A 2,000-year-old city with a rich and vibrant history, London is blah blah blah….’ or some version of it. Valid yes, but it’s getting a bit tired. The people who live in this city and the people who come to this city are looking for a little more. Something a bit leftfield, out of the ordinary.
The places we’ve chosen chart the history of London but in a fun, fascinating, freaky way!
Ready? Let’s go…
Twinings Tea Shop, The Strand, WC2 – There’s nothing more British than a cup of tea and this is where it was all started by a young man called Thomas Twining in 1706 and it’s been there ever since! FYI, London’s oldest coffee house dates from 1652 and is in St Michael’s Alley, off Cornhill in the City.
The River Fleet, Blackfriars Bridge – Used by the Romans, the largest of London’s mysterious ‘lost’ rivers was buried for 250 years until it was re-discovered in 1999. The mouth can be seen under Blackfriars Bridge.
The Old Curiosity Shop, Portsmouth Street, WC2 – The inspiration for Dickens’ 1841 novel of the same name, the shop, now selling high-end shoes, has been there for over 500 years was first bequeathed as a gift by King Charles II to one of his mistresses.
Embassy of the Republic of Texas, St James’s Street, SW1 – Today it’s Berry Brothers & Rudd, one of London’s foremost wine merchants with two acres of cellaring but in the 1830s before it succeeded to the union it was the Embassy of the Republic of Texas, at the time an independent nation with borders threatened by the US and Mexico. Look for the small plaque in Pickering Place.
London’s Smallest Police Station, Trafalgar Square, WC2 – You’ll do well to find this one! Hidden in the southeast corner of Trafalgar Square is a small closet-like space with a black door topped with an ornate lamp built in the 1930s to keep an eye on the square. It used to have a direct line to Scotland Yard, now it holds mops for the square’s cleaners.
Seven Noses of Soho – In 1997, an avant-garde artist stuck plaster casts of his own nose around Soho as a critique of the Big Brother society, ‘right under the noses’ of the cameras. He let the urban myths create themselves, one of which says that if you can find all seven you will be bestowed with untold riches…
The London Stone, Cannon Street, EC4 – No-one knows where it came from, what it was for or who brought it to London (probably from Kent) but it was written about as far back as the 10th century. Some say it was used as the point from where all distances to Roman London were measured and some say it’s associated with the legend of King Arthur. It’s in an enclosed grill outside 111 Cannon Street so go and find it!
Monty Python’s Foot, National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, WC2 – Go into Room 8 of the National Gallery, find Bronzino’s ‘An Allegory with Venus & Cupid’ and see if you can find Monty Python’s iconic foot, the same one found by young animator Terry Gillian in the 1960s while looking for graphical inspiration for his new TV series.
London’s Oldest Drinking Fountain, Holborn Viaduct, WC2 – Set in to the railings of St Sepulchre-Without-Newgate, the ornate granite basin, a gift by philanthropist Samuel Gurney, attracted 7,000 people a day in the 1860s and came complete with two cups for people to use.
Metropolitan Police Coat Hook, Great Newport Street WC2 – Installed at a chaotic six-lane convergence in Covent Garden in the early days of motoring, an elaborate, wrought-iron hook next to number four was put up for the traffic officer to hang his heavy wool coat on. It’s subsequently become somewhat of a treasure-hunt landmark for wannabe-cabbies doing the Knowledge.
Philpot Lane Mice, Eastcheap, EC3 – Look up between two buildings on Philpot Lane and you’ll see a tiny sculpture of two mice eating a piece of cheese. Its creator is a mystery, as is its raison d’être but local legend says it may represent two builders of The Monument who got into a fight over an allegedly stolen cheese sandwich, fell to the ground and died.
The Original Pearly King, Trafalgar Square, WC2 – Nothing says London quite like the Pearly Kings and Queens and you can find the gravestone of the original ‘king’, street sweeper Henry Croft, in the crypt under St Martin-in-the-Fields church. It’s a tradition that continues to this day!
So if you’re coming to London, take a trip off the beaten track and discover the bizarre, freaky, strange and downright odd places that make this city the best city in the world! Don’t forget to make sure you book your stay at The Rathbone now and our concierge will point you to wherever you want to go and whatever you want to see!