A Londoner through and through, this author never tires of learning about this incredible city.
Facts About the History of London
- Covering 620 square miles, London is not only the biggest city in Britain, but in all of Europe.
- It was established as a Roman settlement, called Londinium, in 43 AD, almost 2000 years ago. Of course at that time, it was much smaller than it is now. Londinium occupied the area where the financial centre of London, often simply called "The City" or "The Square Mile," is now found.
- Eventually, it spread out and now includes 32 boroughs—13 in "Inner London" and 19 in "Outer London." These include the City of Westminster, with its many famous buildings such as the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey.
Modern London Facts
- London now has the tallest building in the European Union, the Shard, which is 1,016 feet tall. It was opened to the public in February 2013.
- London's famous clock tower has been telling Londoners the time since 1859, but it is often called by the wrong name. Big Ben refers to the bell inside the tower, not the tower itself, which is merely called "The Clock Tower."
- The City, at the site of the original Londinium settlement, has many modern skyscrapers, as befits a financial centre. The most famous perhaps is officially called "30 St Mary Axe," which is far better known as "The Gherkin," for pretty obvious reasons, when you consider its architecture.
- A whopping 204 nations took part in the 2012 Olympic Games. The Paralympics were remarkable in that they were given as much prominence as the Olympic Games and were just as popular with the spectators.
My favourite part of the Olympics opening ceremony was the Queen parachuting into the stadium with James Bond! Check it out below.
Facts About the River Thames
- The Thames is the longest river running completely in England. It is 215 miles long. Its source is in the Cotswolds, near the village of Kemble, and it spills into the North Sea near Southend.
- The river appears very brown and dirty. This is because of strong tides constantly stirring up its muddy bottom.
- The river's name is pronounced "Temz". Of course, this is not the only word in the English language that is not pronounced as it is spelled, but it is curious for such an important landmark. One theory I had heard was that Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband, could not pronounce "Thames," being German. So as not to embarrass His Highness, everybody said the name the way he did. However, a more likely explanation is that the name of the river was always said with a "t" from Celtic times. The change to a "th" was made by some intellectual snobs who wanted to make it sound more Greek. But the change never took hold in spoken English.
- The oldest bridge crossing the Thames is London Bridge. Until 1209, it was wooden; it was then replaced by a stone bridge, followed by granite and finally concrete.
- The newest bridge is the Millennium Bridge, opened in June 2000 to commemorate the new millennium. It was quickly closed two days later because it was very wobbly, but it reopened in February 2001. I have been on it and it doesn't seem to wobble now.
Facts About the Royal Parks
- In the past, the Royal Parks were owned by the kings and queens of England (hence the "Royal"). They were mostly used for hunting. Presumably, in those days there was more forest and fewer flower beds.
- There are eight Royal Parks: Regent's, St. James, Kensington Gardens, Greenwich, Bushy, Richmond, Hyde and Green Park.
- They became open to the public by the Crown Lands Act in 1851. Before this, unauthorised access and poaching were punishable by death, and worse.
- St. James Park is pretty special because it has pelicans. The first pelicans to live there were a gift from the Tsar of Russia to King Charles II. The latest gift, three great white pelicans, came from Prague in March of this year.
Westminster Abbey Facts
- Westminster Abbey is officially "the Collegiate Church of St. Peter." It is right next to the Houses of Parliament in Westminster and has been a "Royal Peculiar" since the days of Elizabeth the First, which means that only the monarch has jurisdiction over it, rather than Bishops.
- It started as a Benedictine community in the 10th century. It was later rebuilt in 1042 by Edward the Confessor, who wanted to have the abbey serve as his burial place.
- The Gothic building that survives today was built by Henry III in 1245.
- Since William the Conqueror was crowned in Westminster in 1066, the Abbey has been the coronation place of all English and British monarchs (apart from Edward V and VIII, who were never crowned). Since 1308, every monarch has been coronated in King Edward's chair, which long housed the Stone of Scone (the Stone is now in Edinburgh Castle).
- Westminster Abbey has also been the venue for many royal weddings, including that of William and Kate Middleton in 2011.
- As well as a burial site for royalty, it is also the resting place of many famous British military figures, scientists and writers. It is one of the greatest honours to be buried in the Abbey. Some of the famous people buried there include Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens and Sir Winston Churchill.
Facts About the Tower of London
- The Tower of London—an enormous castle and fortress on the north bank of the Thames—was built by William the Conqueror in 1078.
- Although initially it was used as a royal residence, it soon became better known as a prison, in which various important figures who had fallen into disgrace were held. Some of the famous prisoners include Princess Elizabeth, who later became queen and was imprisoned by her sister Mary.
- Ravens have traditionally been kept at the Tower. Legend has it that if the birds ever abandon it, London will fall.
Fun Facts About the London Tube
- The London Underground was the first underground system in the world. The first tube train journey took place on 9th January 1863.
- Only 45% of the network is actually in underground tunnels. Most of the journeys in Outer London are overground.
- The total length of the Underground tracks is 249 miles.
- The shortest journey you can make on the tube is between Leicester Square and Covent Gardens. It is only 0.16 miles, but you would still have to buy a Zone 1 ticket for it, which if you paid cash would work out at £4.50. This would make the cost £28 (about $42) per mile, making it one of the most expensive journeys out there.
- On February 13th, 1944, U.S. talk show host Jerry Springer was born at Highgate Station, where his mother had taken shelter during a Luftwaffe bombing raid.
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