If you have arranged a meeting with us at our new London office, you might be interested to know some unusual facts about London!
Love it or hate it (and we all secretly love it!), London is a feast for the senses. Recently ranked the world’s number one city for the ninth year running by the real estate consultants Resonance Consultancy, seeing off competition from the usual suspects like Paris and New York, London has something for everyone.
Steeped in history and boasting a world-class entertainment scene and scores of cultural attractions, most of us have only scratched the surface of England’s capital. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll be amazed by the treasure trove of unusual facts about London just waiting to be uncovered. Here, we’ve pulled together ten of our favourites.
1. London is the smallest city in England
Believe it or not, London is England’s smallest city! The metropolis we know as London is actually ‘Greater London’, and the City of London itself is a mere 1.2 square miles in size, with a population of less than 10,000. This part of Greater London is the oldest, founded by the Romans in around 43AD and called ‘Londinium’. Nowadays, the ‘City’ as it is known, is the beating heart of London’s finance industry and home to over 500 banks.
2. London is home to the country’s smallest police station
Nestled in the southeast corner of Trafalgar Square is a tiny building dubbed ‘England’s smallest police station’. Ok, so it isn’t strictly a police station, but rather an observation box into which a lucky member of the 1920s police force could squeeze, to keep their eye on the goings-on in Trafalgar Square. It is, nevertheless, a unique piece of history hidden in plain sight. You won’t catch a glimpse of a member of the constabulary wedged into it anymore, though – nowadays, it has the dubious honour of being a cleaning cupboard for Westminster Council.
3. Big Ben isn’t called Big Ben
Let’s talk about that iconic London landmark – the clock tower you have known forever as Big Ben. In actual fact, it is the clock inside the tower that is called ‘Big Ben’. The clock tower that looms over the Palace of Westminster is called Elizabeth Tower. It will always be ‘Big Ben’ to us, though.
4. London is technically a forest
According to the United Nations, anywhere that is made up of at least 20% trees qualifies as a forest. Despite its imposing cityscape packed with instantly recognisable buildings such as the Shard and the Gherkin, London is, in fact, 21% trees! The city has nearly enough trees for its 8.3 million inhabitants to have one each, making London a true urban forest.
5. It is illegal to feed the ‘flying rats’ of Trafalgar Square
Dubbed ‘flying rats’, or ‘rats with wings’, pigeons get a raw deal in London. So disliked are they that in 2003, the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, made it against the law to feed pigeons within the parameters of Trafalgar Square. Anyone caught doing so faces prosecution and a fine, although it’s very rare for the penalties to be enforced. Nevertheless, it’s probably best to put your bag of birdseed away while exploring the area!
6. London’s black cabbies store so much information about the streets of London that their brains physically grow in size
Along with red phone boxes and beefeaters, black cabs are integral to London’s character. They’re so prevalent around the streets of London that you might be surprised to learn that it’s actually pretty tricky to get a licence to become a cabbie. Hopefuls must undergo rigorous training through a course known as ‘The Knowledge’. The Knowledge takes, on average, between 3 and 4 years to complete, during which time students are expected to memorise every street, shortcut and place of interest in London. The extent of the information they need to store is so vast that scientists have proven that cabbies’ brains physically increase in size to accommodate it.
7. London is home to a tribe of bright green wild ring-necked parakeets
It can come as a bit of a surprise to spot a shock of green soaring through the London skyline, but it will just be one of the bright green wild ring-necked parakeets that call the capital their home. Theories abound as to how these tropical birds ended up in the urban jungle that is London. One legend states that they escaped in 1951 from the set of the film ‘The African Queen’ that was being filmed in West London, another that Jimi Hendrix released a pair of breeding birds called Adam and Eve whilst strolling down Carnaby Street. The rest, as they say, is history. The birds now inhabit many suburbs of London and are laying down roots in other parts of the South East and beyond.
8. A central London underground station was a mass burial site
Millions of people use Aldgate station in the City of London each year, and we’re pretty sure that few realise they’re standing on what was once a mass burial site containing around 1,000 bodies. The skeletons were discovered in the 1800s, when workers began building the station and are believed to be victims of the bubonic plague that ripped through London some 200 years earlier. In 2013, when Crossrail was being built, a further so-called ‘plague pit’ was discovered in another busy City location, Charterhouse Square, leading to speculation that there could well be scores of undiscovered ‘plague pits’ buried beneath London’s streets.
9. There are two secret houses near Hyde Park
To the untrained eye, Leinster Gardens near Hyde looks much like any other affluent London street. Look a little more closely however, and you will discover that two of the houses are, in fact, not houses at all, but merely 6-inch-deep facades. Numbers 23 and 24 Leinster Gardens are not owned by wealthy businesspeople or celebrities, but by Transport for London, who designed them to hide a piece of railway track. They were built to look identical to their majestic neighbours, with the same imposing windows, doors and columns, albeit imitations.
10. London gets less rainfall than Paris, Rome and Monaco
Complaining about the weather is a quintessentially British trait but, despite what the doom-mongers may tell you, London is a remarkably dry city, ranking behind Paris, Rome and Monaco in terms of mm of rain per year. What the city lacks in precipitation, though, it makes up for in unpredictability. Dry, sunny days often turn pretty soggy, so it’s best to take an umbrella with you when you’re out and about taking in all London has to offer.
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