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. 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. The Carlisle Arms on Bateman Street was the scene of London’s only known death through near-inhalation of a billiard ball. 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).
4. There’s a good reason why Penge in south London 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.