Five Weird Facts About London You Probably Didn't Know

By M@ Last edited 21 months ago
Five Weird Facts About London You Probably Didn't Know

Each month, we'll unload five of the oddest things we've heard about the capital, choosing trivia you won't find in many, if any, trivia books.

1. St Paul's amazing levitating dome

The dome of St Paul's Cathedral once became completely separated from the rest of the church.

On 17 April 1941, a German bomb penetrated the North Transept. The shock from the blast was funnelled up into the famous dome, causing the entire structure to lift by a millimetre before settling back down.

A hairline crack still runs around the base of the dome. Source: Oliver Caroe, Surveyor to the Fabric of St Paul's, personal communication

2. Death by billiard ball

The Carlisle Arms on Bateman Street was the scene of London's only known death through near-inhalation of a billiard ball.

The Carlisle Arms, Soho.

In November 1893, a 24-year-old envelope cutter named Walter Cowle reckoned he could place a whole billiard ball in his mouth and still close his teeth. This he achieved, but only by accidentally blocking his windpipe and choking to death.

The coroner later declared that it was a 'silly and dangerous feat to attempt'. You can still drink in the pub to this day, but it no longer contains a billiard table. Source: Grantham Journal, 11 November 1893

3. John Barry, Bernie Ecclestone and Jeffrey Archer were all housemates... sort of.

All three have owned the penthouse in Alembic House, the 1960's mid-rise tower close to the MI6 building at Vauxhall. Source: London Walks, London Stories, by David Tucker (more info here).

Alembic House (the taller building). Image by M@.

4. There's a good reason the name Penge sounds odd to the modern ear.

It's one of the very few places in London whose name is thought to have Celtic (pre-Roman) origins, from penceat, meaning 'tree hill'.

Nearly all other area names are derived from Germanic Anglo-Saxon languages, or from later times. Brent is another Celtic example, although it doesn't sound nearly so hilarious. Source: The London Encyclopaedia and other texts

5. There are 118 different ways of getting into the Barbican...

Or at least there were, until recent work along London Wall and Moorgate curtailed some of the options. Source: Robert Rider, Londonist Out Loud

Feel free to share your own trivia below. The odder the better. More next month.

Last Updated 12 September 2016

Brandy Del Anderson

I love this series! Neat trivia!

Alan O'Kelly

Penge sur-la-mer, beautiful place.


One of my favourites: the object that looks like a slightly wide lamp-post in the south-east corner of Trafalgar Square was, until the 1960s, a police overnight lock-up for drunk and disorderly people (fitting one person.) If you look inside, you can still see an old telephone which was at the time a direct line to Scotland Yard.

Nikki Waye

Did you know their is a lighthouse in London, at least 26 miles from the nearest coastline?


118 ways in, so why is it so difficult to find even one way out of the Barbican?


An altogether more fab fact is that Alembic House is used in Theatre of Blood.

Best LDN Walks

I wrote an article "19 stupid facts about London" for Twenty Something London, see if there is anything there that takes your fancy!



Re Walter Cowle & the billiard ball - I believe I recall seeing his larynx, complete with billiard ball, in a jar in the forensic museum at the old Middlesex Hospital. (I had a summer job looking after the printer & it's output when I was 16 some forty years ago, and crept around the creepy museum at lunch times). Some images stay with you.......

Rob Barber

When you stand outside the Prince Albert in Crystal Palace you are at exactly the same height above sea level as of you were standing on the top of the cross on the dome of St Paul's Cathedral

Jose Luis Ugarte

Ye Olde Chesire Cheese in Fleet Street. Dicken's place to be back in the day!

Doaa Mohaisen



Outside the Houses of Parliament is a statue of Oliver Cromwell. Directly opposite, upon the wall of St Margaret's Church by Westminster Abbey, is a small bust of Charles I. Though erected 60 years apart, the two old enemies now face each other in eternity.

Tao Kaffo

Great series...!

Geoff Leonard

Note that John Barry didn't actually own the penthouse in Alembic House -- he occupied an appartment on the floor below. So more of a neighbour than a housemate. :)


118 ways (by which I take it you mean routes) of getting to the Barbican - I suppose it depends where you are starting from.