London’s secret sights – some attractions you never knew were there


Jeremy Bentham’s skeleton In the South Cloisters of the main building of London ‘s University College stands a cabinet containing the clothed skeleton of philosopher and reformer Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). (The head you see is actually Bentham’s wax-covered skull.) The cabinet used to contain Bentham’s entire mummified body, but his corpse didn’t cooperate andhe decayed. By the way, Bentham, one of the inspirations for the founding of University College, specifically requested that his body be dissected after death and then preserved in this fashion. — Taken from National Geographic London Book of Lists: The City’s Best, Worst, Oldest, Greatest, and Quirkiest (National Geographic Books; ISBN 978-1-4262-1382-3; $19.95) by Tim Jepson and Larry Porges.


The stone nose of Admiralty Arch Admiralty Arch’s northernmost arch (the one on the left as you look toward Trafalgar Square) is home to a mysterious life-size stone nose that protrudes about halfway up the wall. Urban legends about the nose (and several others spotted around the city) circulated until it came to light in 1997 that an artist named Rick Buckley had placed these objects to protest the growth of London’s expansive (and “nosy”) anti-crime closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras.


The Duke of Wellington’s horse block On the east side of St. James’s Waterloo Place, SW1, a small white block stands curbside. It’s a horse block laid by the Duke of Wellington in 1830 as a means to help gentlemen of a certain age (or diminished height) mount their rides. A fine 19th-century relic.


The Eisenhower Centre/Goodge Street deep level shelter Protective deep level air-raid shelters—complete with bunks, bathrooms, kitchens, and medical facilities for 8,000 people—were built at eight strategic tube stops during World War II. The one across Tottenham Court Road from the Goodge Street tube stop (WC1) is particularly noteworthy, as it doubled as General Dwight Eisenhower’s command base during D-Day. One of the shelter entrances—on Chenies Street, close to the junction of North Crescent—is still visible and has been renamed the Eisenhower Centre in the president’s honor.


Burlington Arcade’s Beadles Burlington Arcade, since 1818 the posh passageway of shops coming off of Piccadilly, actually has its own legal jurisdiction. Instead of security guards, “Beadles” in Edwardian dress will politely ask you to leave if you run, whistle, hum, open an umbrella, or otherwise flaunt your scofflaw nature.


The Bells of St. Sepulchre The church bells of St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate, near the Old Bailey, have a long history of announcing and/or portending doom. For centuries, the large bell in the church tower was rung to mark executions at nearby Newgate Prison. In addition, from the 17th to the 19th centuries, the clerk of St. Sepulchre’s was responsible for ringing a small handbell outside the death row cells of Newgate prisoners— at midnight on the day of their execution—to help the condemned prepare to meet their maker. This Execution Bell is kept in a glass case in the church’s nave. “All you that in the condemned hole do lie, Prepare you, for tomorrow you shall die.” – Part of the rhyme recited by St. Sepulchre’s clerk while ringing the Execution Bell at Newgate


Ferryman’s seat On the south side of the Thames, on Bear Gardens, Bankside, SE1, not far from the Globe Theatre, is a stone chair carved into a building wall. This was a ferryman’s seat, the taxi stand of the Middle Ages, where watermen would wait for fares to cross the Thames. This pintsize alcove is said to be London’s last remaining example.


Leinster Terrace’s fake housefronts The neighborhood around Leinster Terrace, W2, just north of Bayswater Road, was already a populated and upscale area when the first tube line was built through the area in the 1860s. These early underground trains needed periodic venting for their engines to cast off steam and smoke, so the fake town house facades at 23-24 Leinster Terrace were cleverly built to hide the tracks and belching fumes behind.


Macklin Memorial Charles Macklin, one of London’s most famous 18th-century actors, once killed a fellow actor during a backstage argument by stabbing him in the eye. Although found guilty of manslaughter, Macklin never went to prison. He immortalized the shame of his deed on his own memorial plaque—in the churchyard of St. Paul’s Church in Covent Garden—which depicts a knife plunging through the eye of a theatrical mask.


Sewer lamp On Farting Lane, WC2, just off the Strand, stands the noble sewer lamp. Story goes that this lamp runs on methane fumes provided (slightly indirectly) from the, ahem, by-products of the Savoy hotel’s guests next door. Such lamps were indeed built in England to help diffuse methane from sewers, and Carting Lane’s is often cited as London’s last—but all evidence points to the fact that the original sewer lamp was damaged in a traffic accident and replaced by the replica you see today.


John Snow’s water pump You can still see the original water pump that helped spark the terrible cholera outbreak of 1854. On Broadwick Street, W1, on the western edge of Soho, stands what’s become known as John Snow’s water pump. Dr. Snow traced the area’s many cholera deaths to contaminated water from this source, marking one of the first instances of evidence-based sleuthing to try to control an epidemic. Until then it was thought the illness was a result of a general miasma in the air and/or the base moral makeup of the poorer classes who were often hit hardest by disease. “The researches of Dr. [John] Snow are among the most fruitful in modern medicine. He traced the history of cholera.” – The Lancet, 1866


London’s first water fountain On the corner of Holborn Viaduct and Giltspur Street, EC1, carved into the side of St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate church, you’ll find the handiwork of 19th-century philanthropists who worked to improve Londoners’ access to clean drinking water. This public fountain, the first of 85 built around the city from 1859 to 1865, drew water from springs unconnected to the putrid Thames.


York Watergate Before the Victoria Embankment was built in the 1860s, the great houses on the Strand had pride of place, with gardens that fronted the Thames. Among them was York House, the home of the first Duke of Buckingham, built in 1237. The mansion’s Thames watergate, from 1626, is all that remains; the house itself was razed in 1675. The watergate can now be found within Embankment Gardens, 150 yards (137 m) inland from the riverbank.


The Roof Gardens High atop the hustle/bustle of Kensington High Street, W8, is an incongruous 1.5-acre (0.6 ha) man-made oasis of rosebushes, fruit trees, evergreen shrubs, oaks, lavender, and more. The Roof Garden—free and open to the public—consists of three themed gardens, complete with wandering flamingos and a fish-stocked stream.


Best of the rest Wilton’s Music Hall ( ) near Tower Hill, for its live shows, quirky events and the very fine Mahogany Bar; Dennis Severs’ House ( ) in Spitalfields, “the closest you will ever get to living in grubby 18th-century London”; the gruesome Old Operating Theatre ( ) in Southwark; The London Wall (examples at Tower Hill and Barbican); London’s smallest police station (the southeast corner of Trafalgar Square); and Hyde Park’s pet cemetery (which can only be seen through appointment with local police). — Taken from National Geographic London Book of Lists: The City’s Best, Worst, Oldest, Greatest, and Quirkiest (National Geographic Books; ISBN 978-1-4262-1382-3; $19.95) by Tim Jepson and Larry Porges.

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