London Facts That Aren’t Actually True

The small nose on the inside of Admiralty Arch is a monument to the Duke of Wellington

Legend has it that the Household Cavalry touch this strange protrusion every time they pass through the arch, as a mark of respect to the Iron Duke. In fact, it’s one of several prosthetic noses placed around London by artist Rick Buckley and only dates back a decade or so.

There’s a gas lamp on Carting Lane, off the Strand, powered by sewerage gas from the Savoy

There is indeed a curious lamp at the lower end of Carting Lane. However, it is not quite correct to say that it’s powered by sewer gas. The Webb Patent Sewer Gas Lamp, of which this is the only example left in London, was chiefly fueled by the mains supply of gas. However, a flue from the sewers did draw up waste gases for combustion along with the mains gas. The existing lamp on ‘Farting Lane’ is a replica.

The tower commonly known as Big Ben is actually called St Stephen’s Tower

We’ve dealt with this one ad nauseum. In short, it’s not. Since 2012 it has officially been called the Elizabeth Tower, and was previously called the Clock Tower. It was never officially called St Stephen’s Tower, but this name seems to have gained some currency. We reckon Big Ben should be acceptable as it’s by far the commonest label people use for the tower, even though it more properly refers to the bell. Big Ben has gained a kind of authority by way of overwhelming popular usage, much as it angers pedants when people use it. More here.

The Union Flag flying from Buckingham Palace means the Queen is at home.

Actually, it means the opposite. You’re looking for the Royal Standard if you want confirmation of the Queen’s residancy. The Union Flag above the Palace means she’s elsewhere, doing other Queenish things.

Old London Bridge was sold to a gullible American who thought he was buying Tower Bridge

This factlet remains popular as it plays into stereotypes of wide-eyed Yanks with no sense of history. But there are several problems with the idea. It’s true that the predecessor to the current London Bridge was bought by US businessman Robert P McCulloch and transplanted to Lake Havasu City in Arizona, where it can still be seen today. However, it wasn’t ‘Old’ London Bridge, a term usually reserved for the medieval span, which was demolished in the 1830s to make way for the John Rennie structure eventually purchased by McCulloch. There’s also no evidence that he mistook his acquisition for Tower Bridge, a rumour that the American always denied (although most people would, to be fair).

There are 109 journeys between London’s Tube stations that are quicker to walk

This urban myth is only hours old, but looks set to gain currency. The figure is based on a blog post by Diamond Geezer from three years ago. Yesterday, however, researchers from the TV show QI tweeted the ‘fact’ to their 131,000 followers. Diamond Geezer has followed up with a new post explaining how the original number is blanketed in caveats and certainly not definitive. It’ll be interesting to see if this one grows.

The entrance to the Savoy is the only place in the UK where vehicles must drive on the right

It’s true that the Strand entrance to the Savoy has reversed driving directions. It’s not the only place in the UK, though. We give you Hammersmith bus station, whose entrance and exit both force drivers to the right. All very confusing for pedestrians.

Look, see, ‘drive on right’.

The Viaduct Tavern contains old cells from Newgate prison (or Giltspur Street Compter) in its basement.

Not so, according to Peter Berthoud, who reckons the famous ‘secret London’ mainstay is just a cellar.

There are no roads in the City of London

Traditionally, this was the case. Plenty of Streets, Alleys and Squares, but no Roads. Since boundary changes in 1994, however, the eastern half of Goswell Road sits within the City. Technically, though, you can still say there’s not a single road in the Square Mile, as it only counts as a half road. More here.

Further spurious facts are welcomed in the comments. As is the inevitable remark spotting an error in our post.

See also: The Top 10 Tube Mysteries

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  • Bravenewmalden

    I never knew that about St Stephen’s Tower not being called St Stephen’s Tower. Now I have to trace all the people in the world that I smugly corrected when they called it that and say “As you were”.

  • Fray Brentos

    Yes but Hammersmith bus station isn’t a thoroughfare so doesn’t that help the claim of Savoy Place? Only busses and delivery vehicles are allowed into Hammersmith bus station. I’m brave enough (and stupid enough) not to check this fact on Google (because that’s lazy and probably erroneous).

    • http://twitter.com/sparticus Mark Walley

      There are various car parks that get you to drive on the right when you pull in and out.

    • Evernoob

      Vauxhall bus station – the buses go around the median strip in the middle where the stops are on the RHS

      • http://twitter.com/SocialistRabbit Socialist Rabbit

        None of these examples are regular roads, as Savoy Court is. Would it be accurate to say it is the only public highway, on which you are required to drive on the right?

        • Chris M

          There used to be a road in Bath with traffic on the right. Ambury was a normal street but linking two adjacent one-way systems a kerb-width central reservation with occasional poles was installed and traffic drove on the right side of this reservation. It seems that it has recently been converted into a one-way road for buses only as part of a redevelopment of the south edge of the city centre.

        • Pangolin

          This way does not appear to be a public highway. Most of the markings in it don’t conform to strict requirements of what must be used on the highway and the council’s yellow lines regulating waiting in Strand, stop at the entrance. It appears to be a private road and what conditions apply to it are at the discretion of the landowner.

  • http://twitter.com/MarcLoterijman Marc Loterijman

    Victoria Station (Eccleston Bridge entrance) Drop off point/car park is a thoroughfare and has reversed driving directions. Savoy is not the only place. http://bit.ly/rfoNE4

    • Anonymous

      Wow, nice one. It’s not very clearly signed.

    • adgb

      I work just by there … that exit confuses people crossing the road a lot.

  • http://twitter.com/MarcLoterijman Marc Loterijman

    Victoria Station (Eccleston Bridge entrance) Drop off point/car park is a thoroughfare and has reversed driving directions. Savoy is not the only place. http://bit.ly/rfoNE4

  • http://twitter.com/ollybenson Olly Benson

    Everyone knows that Covent Garden to Leicester Square is the shortest tube journey in London, but I’d hazard a guess (no actual research) that City Thameslink to London Blackfriars must be the shortest overground journey.  Not sure if it shorter than the Covent Garden -> Leicester Square journey, but it must be a close-run thing.

    • http://twitter.com/jdpearce Jo Pearce

      Shorter tube journeys - 
      Charing Cross to Embankment
      Cannon Street to Mansion House
      Cannon Street to Monument
      Aldgate to Aldgate East

      …and that’s just off the top of my head.

      • Brian Wolfe

        Queensway to Bayswater…

        • Cayalm

          Aldgate – Aldgate East isn’t a tube journey, unless changing at Tower Hill.

          Same with Queensway/Bayswater, via Paddington.

          • Mason

            West India Quay to Canary Wharf on the DLR. Surely the shortest, being closer together than the length of a DLR train…!

          • http://twitter.com/johnnyfoxlondon JohnnyFox

            There’s an even stupider new one in the making – given that ‘Crossrail’ is meant to be a time-saving way of getting from one side of London to the other, the front of the train will be in Bond Street station seconds after its rear carriage left the new platform for Tottenham Court Road.  Heaven knows why Oxford Street needed two Crossrail stops each with 250-metre platforms when they’re just 1287 metres apart …

        • qf

          Mornington Crescent!

      • http://www.facebook.com/chrisstrat Chris Williams

        Surely Canary Wharf to West India Quays. literally a 1 minute walk (if you were to walk along the platforms!)

        • MattFromLondonist

          It’s short, but it’s not the Tube…so it depends how the fact is framed.

          • adgb

            also – there is no direct walking route … that walk would actually take more like 10mins, to get over the footbridge.

    • Max

      Is Covent Garden shorter than Canada Water to Rotherhythe or Surrey Quays?

      • Frank

        You can see the platform at Canada Water from Rotherhithe station.

  • Anonymous

    So where did the (apparently erroneous) name St. Stephen’s Tower come from? Obviously I have a vested interest.

  • Anonymous

    So where did the (apparently erroneous) name St. Stephen’s Tower come from? Obviously I have a vested interest.

    • Ben Bawden

      St Stephen’s Tower is a completely different tower at the Houses of Parliament.

      • Anonymous

        Thanks Ben. Darn it.

        • http://twitter.com/SocialistRabbit Socialist Rabbit

          Which tower is St Stephen’s Tower then?

          • Peter Berthoud

            St Stephen’s Tower is roughly in the middle of The Palace of Westminster, on the Western side. It stands above the public ( St Stephen’s) entrance to the Palace.

        • http://twitter.com/SocialistRabbit Socialist Rabbit

          Which tower is St Stephen’s Tower then?

        • http://twitter.com/SocialistRabbit Socialist Rabbit

          Which tower is St Stephen’s Tower then?

    • Pangolin

      Victorian
      journalists “amusingly” referred to “news from St Stephens” when reporting on Parliament because the Commons used to meet in old St
      Stephens Hall. So any feature at the Palace of Westminster including the Clock Tower might also be referred to as “St Stephen’s ….” Since the jubilee it is “Elizabeth Tower”, not “Queen Elizabeth Tower” (which provides a nice symmetry with “Victoria Tower” at the other end. The clock is still just called the Great Clock.

  • Bravenewmalden

    I’m still going to tell people that the Savoy is the only place in the UK where vehicles must drive on the right. Who cares about bus stations and car parks? Sometimes there’s no magic in the truth.

    • Chris S

      Could it be the only public road where two-way traffic drives on the right hand side?

      • Pangolin

        If it was, but it gives every appearance of not being a public highway and instead being a private road where the land owner has painted markings of a different style to those used on the highway.

  • Jacob SW

    Erm… You claim that the nose on the Admiralty Arch is by artist Rick Buckley… but the link you provide is rather ambiguous on that point: “A fifth nose has also been seen on Admiralty Arch, although this is
    apparently not an original and is not a cast of Rick Buckley’s nose.”

  • Peter Berthoud

    Re: The Seven Noses, I have so far found eight, plus a false nose, it is just a bent bolt that looks a little nose-like. I run regular tours of all the “Seven Noses of Soho” and on these we explore the legend(s) surrounding them. I have also blogged on them a few times.

  • Badenmorgan

    That stream running under Gray’s antique market off Oxford Street isn’t part of the Tyburn even though they say it is.  The Tyburn is part of the sewer network!

    Constitution hill is named because Charles II used to take his constitutional walks there rather than it being something to with a royal or written constitution.

    In the ’50s did a bus really get stuck on the gap in Tower bridge when it was opening?

    • http://carolineld.blogspot.com/ Caroline

      The bus didn’t get stuck – it jumped the gap. It was the number 78, driven by Albert Gunter on 28 December 1952. 

      • Badenmorgan

        Thanks for that – another myth de-bunked!

        • Katie Miller

          And for once the truth is MUCH cooler than the myth – a routemaster! Jumping tower bridge! Awesome.

          • Mike

            Err – Routemasters didn’t exist in 1952…

          • Paulinderwick

            It would have been an RT or an RTL the predecessor of the Routemaster

    • Tom Bolton

      True – probably a spring feeding the Tyburn, as it’s adjacent to the sewer.

  • Badenmorgan

    Oh, and Boudecia isn’t buried under a platform in King’s Cross

  • NTT

    How about Senate House being earmarked by the Nazis for Hitler’s HQ?

    • rosiedrop

      I heard it was DuCane Court in Balham that Hitler quite fancied the look of…

      • Tom Bolton

        Undoubtedly a myth – came from the fact that it wasn’t hit during the early raids on South London, and that supposedly it was built in the shape of a swastika. These day easy access to aerial photographs shows that it isn’t.

    • rosiedrop

      I heard it was DuCane Court in Balham that Hitler quite fancied the look of…

    • Malcolm Mooney

      The Luftwaffe were instructed not to bomb it for that reason

      • Anonymous

         I read the same thing (not to be bombed) about Whiteley’s on Queensway. It was in a display they had.

        • No1

          Two words: Blenheim Palace

    • Warren

      Similarly DuCane Court in Balham

  • Mashburn

    Rotherham wasn’t bombed in the war as hitler wanted to move the townhall to Germany.

    • Mashburn

      I know its not London but quite interesting and followed on nicely from the senate house post.

    • Ladhar Bheinn

      I had always thought that Rotherham wasn’t bombed because they thought it already had been

  • http://twitter.com/zefrog Nicolas Chinardet

    The name Elephant and Castle has nothing to do with a Spanish infant… It’s just the name of a pub on what was a major corssroad. the imagery of an elephant with a tower-like structure on its back was very popular at some point…

  • guest

    COOL!

  • Simon Harding

    next you’ll be telling us the streets are not paved with gold!

  • Ross Corben

    I was about to say http://g.co/maps/a9mwa shows the Eccleston Bridge access, but someone staged a copy-cat stunt 8 months previously. Bus stops cant be on the right, all a bus’s doors are on the left (except for the drivers emergency exit). Is Savoy Court a throughfare? It’s only for the hotel/theatre so it’s more of an access; whether it’s public highway or not, you’re probably not welcome hanging out there. I want to know what the E&C pub was named after; an Infanta is a princess. Are Queensway & Bayswater on the same line? Hitler wanted Oxford for his capital didn’t he? Marylebone Lane follows the course of an old stream. There are some cupolas off an old London Bridge in Victoria Park.

  • DJack

    Hitler didn’t want anything in the UK as real headquarters. He wanted to create Germania out of the ashes of Berlin. He would have destroyed most of it himself to build a ridiculously vast Greek-style set of buildings, had Berlin not conveniently been flattened by the Soviets. 

  • Hic

    Now I know why I fell over rushing out of the path of a taxi on Savoy Court on my birthday in December 2007 (the day before the hotel closed for refurb). I have been blaming the champagne, but at those prices what were the chances of me actually being drunk? But my knee still hurts!

  • Mrs E

    You’ve all missed another hotel entrance where driving on the right was accepted (or prescribed), which is the St Ermin’s next to New Scotland Yard.

  • Pedantryoraccuracy-youdecide

    Part of the Tottenham Hale Gyratory forces traffic to drive on the right in both directions; specifically it’s a road called The Hale where the A10 has a junction with the A503.

  • dab.mail@btinternet.com

    There’s a hotel in Bloomsbury with a car hire office in their basement and you drive on the right when descending to their underground car park. Big signs keep telling you YES pass on the RIGHT!! (but only in English)

  • Pangolin

    Over and over we read – “The lantern on the southeast corner of Trafalgar Square was the smallest police station in the country.”
    No – it was essentially a police box.

  • Pangolin

    Part of Rennie’s London Bridge remains – an arch and a flight of stone stairs from the bridge down to Montague Close. But these are not “Nancy’s Steps” in Dickens’ Oliver as tour guides insist on telling people, as Dickens clearly describes the steps as leading to the Thames. They were demolished.

  • Pangolin

    The statue of Eros originally pointed up Shaftsbury Avenue as a visual pun – the shaft of the arrow would bury itself in that street if it was loosed.

    No – photos show it never did. And the statue is not of Eros anyway, it is
    of Anteros, and more correctly is simply part of the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain

  • Pangolin

    Perhaps, not seen as often now, but it was said that the Lanterns on the south corners of Trafalgar Square came from HMS Victory. They didn’t and were made for the Square.

  • Pangolin

    It is odd that so many people seem to think there is a street in central London called “The Strand”. There isn’t. There isn’t The Holborn, or The Kingsway, or The Whitehall either and people are able to correctly refer to those streets as Holborn, Kingsway, and Whitehall. There is a street called “Strand” – just take a look at the street name plates.

  • Pangolin

    Myth: The Queen stops at Temple Bar so as to be given permission by the Lord Mayor to enter the City.

    No – The Queen Stops so that the Lord Mayor can offer her his pearl-encrusted sword of state as an acknowledgement of her authority over him.

  • Krishna Omkar

    You mean “ad nauseam”, not “ad nauseum”…