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Guest Post by David Long, Author of Bizarre London
From the time of Boudicca to the Boris Bike, in a sprawling metropolis covering 600 square miles – a city where eight million Londoners speak 300 different languages – it’s only right to expect places which are unexplained, unusual or just plain odd. Here are 10 of our favourites:
London Hydraulic Power Company
For more than 100 years the turbines here sent pressurised water through 200 miles of pipes all over London to power hotel lifts, theatre curtains and even dockyard cranes. One of the turbines has now been transformed into a restaurant and art gallery called The Wapping Project.
Kensal Green Cemetery
This Victorian cemetery with its huge elaborate tombs and beautiful landscaping is the final resting place of Thackeray, Trollope, Brunel and the great showman Blondin. Also two of George III’s children, Princess Sophia and Augustus, Duke of Sussex, were laid to rest here.
Fortnum & Mason
Far from the Highlands, the so-called Scotch Egg was actually invented in 1738 by upmarket grocers Fortnum & Mason. The store also sold Britain’s first-ever baked beans (after buying H.J.Heinz’s entire stock in 1866) and silver-plated ‘sporks’ – a combined spoon and fork – for soldiers to use in the trenches.
Dans Le Noir
The great Victorian engineer Marc Brunel once held a banquet under the River Thames to show his tunnel was safe (it wasn’t and flooded soon afterwards) and in 1843 several stonemasons had supper at the top of Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square. Today, the Dans Le Noir restaurant offers guests the chance to eat in total darkness, allowing the food’s taste and texture to be appreciated without distraction.
Opened in 1819, Burlington Arcade is one of London’s oldest shopping centres. Uniformed beadles are still on hand to enforce an old bylaw forbidding visitors to run, sing, whistle or open their umbrellas.
The converted tower of a ruined Christopher Wren is London’s tallest house, with three bedrooms spread over 11 storeys. Christchurch Greyfriars Garden – open to the public and free to enter – is the burial place of no fewer than three queens.
Cabinet War Rooms
Winston Churchill’s wartime bunker is just a tiny portion of a vast, top secret government complex hidden under Whitehall. In the 1930s, more than six acres of bomb-proof offices were excavated beneath ministry buildings, shielded by a 17’ layer of concrete which can still be seen from the road outside. Visitors can explore this wartime bunker at the Churchill War Rooms.
The Mason’s Arms
This Central London pub was where condemned prisoners could enjoy a last pint free of charge on their way to the gallows at Tyburn. On hanging days it was traditional to deal with highwaymen first, as the ‘aristocrats of crime’, then common thieves and finally anyone convicted of treason. The gallows are long gone but the pub is still said to be haunted by at least one of the poor unfortunates. Enjoy a drink at the pub at 51 Upper Berkeley Street, W1.
The Travellers’ Club
Unique among London’s traditionally secretive gentleman’s clubs, The Travellers’ Club offers occasional guided tours for the public. It was founded in 1819 when new members were required to have travelled at least 500 miles from London.
Berry Bros. & Rudd
This 17th-century wine merchants is a veritable museum of viniculture, and is still family-run after more than 300 years. Giant leather-bound ledgers contain the personal details of distinguished customers. Not just Byron, Beau Brummell and George IV but Frenchmen too, including King Louis-Philippe and Napoleon III.
David Long is author of Bizarre London: Discover the Capital’s Secrets & Surprises