Sunday, June 27, 2004

The District Line Explained

Many Londoners often ask themselves: Why is the District Line called the District Line? London is not divided into districts, but into parishes and Boroughs. Other than the line, nothing in London is called a District.

This line of thinking is based on a misconception. The line's name stems not from district meaning "area", but from an Italian banking family called the di'Stricti. The di'Stricti came to London in 1841 and in the 1860s provided much of the funding for the early Distict line, which was promptly name in honour of them - once that name had been anglicised.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Poetry on the Underground #2

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Rodents in Peace

Green Park was once home to the world’s only rodent cemetry, where gerbils owned by the younger members of the Royal Family are interred. Among the more famous names buried there is Mr Carrots, one of George III’s earliest pets, who once amazed courtiers by changing his own bedding.

The cemetry was closed to the public in 1968, when it was overrun by rats.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Poetry on the Underground

Friday, June 18, 2004

The Running of the Hills

15th-century London was filled with unusual diversions ranging from stoat kickboxing to locking 12 of the most stupid people who could be found in a house together for 12 weeks and then watching them through the windows. But one of the strangest pastimes was "the running of the hills".

This odd sport was introduced to the city by European merchants. It involved gathering a crowd of people at the bottom of one of London's many hills - Primrose Hill was said to be popular - and then running up it in as tight a formation as possible. The first contestants to reach the top then had to immediately come to a dead halt, hoping that those behind them would run into their backs and fall over. The person who knocked over as many people as possible won a yard of ale. Injuries scored extra points.

Sadly, this charming part of our heritage lost popularity and faded into its history, but is still practised on the continent. To this day, European visitors to the capital will attempt re-enactments by stopping dead still at the top of Tube escalators and pretending to read maps.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Tufnell Park: The Truth

This Isn't Londoner Alex Wiltshire has contributed this fascinating fact. It has been mildly edited.

Tufnell Park was controversially renamed after the Spinal Tap character Nigel Tufnell by the then Labour MP for the area, Bob Tree, in 1987. It was his reaction against its original name - Tebbit's Village. you can still see the remnants of scratched graffiti of phalluses on bikes on the walls of the tube station, references to Norman Tebbit's infamous quote on unemployment. Ironically, though Norman Tebbit had no relation to the original name, the Tebbit of Tebbit's Village, who was the major landowner and developer of the area in the mid-1800s, invented the inner tube for the penny farthing.

Monday, June 07, 2004

All Trains Terminate at Finsbury Park

When it was first opened in December 1906, the Piccadilly Line only had one stop - at Finsbury Park. It was an immediate financial failure, and almost went out of business altogether. However, investors poured in more cash and an extension to Barons Court was completed by 1909.

Still, it was used by almost no one, so in 1912 the decision was taken to update the timetable to include stations other than Finsbury Park.

Even then, it lost money heavily until it was decided to build stations along the stretch between Finsbury Park and Baron's Court, bring the total number of stops from two to fifteen. While some investors claimed this would decrease train speed, but common sense prevailed and the work was completed by 1915.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

The Emetic Cults of Victorian London

75 Beak Street, Soho, is now a slightly mad Bistro, but until 1861 it was the home of Doctor Bleasdale's Temperance Vomitorium, the last of the great Emetic Cults. It is believed that these mysterious establishments sprang from the coffee-house culture of the 18th century, specifically after an ill-fated experiment with pig's milk at an establishment in Cheapside had unexpectedly explosive and colourful side-effects.

By Victoria's reign, Emetic Cults had risen in tandem with the Temperance movement, in that they encouraged abstinence by permitting patrons to drink until the inevitable occurred. Dickens mentions them in Dombey and Son:

The next morning, refreshed after a visit to Bleasdale's purging-house the previous evening, Dombey again returned his attention to the matter of Paul and Florence ...

Sadly, by 1855 these unusual establishments had fallen from favour and by 1860 only Bleasdale's remained. On the centenary of its closure in 1963, Westminster council attempted to re-establish it, only to fail when three aldermen were hospitalised.

The Elephant's Greek Heritage

It's a common misconception that the name Elephant & Castle is a corruption of "Infanta de Castilla". This isn't true: it actually stems from the words "Bellephron and castor oil". In Greek mythology, the hero Bellephron trained the winged horse Pegasus by walking it around the roundabout now taken up by the lumpen Faraday memorial.

Where the castor oil bit comes from is uncertain. Possibly one of them had an upset stomach at the time.

Friday, June 04, 2004

The Power of Art

While the conversion of the Bankside power station into the Tate Modern was being planned, another, far more secret, set of negotiations was taking place on the other side of the Thames.

This was because in 1998 it was proposed by a Belgian consortium that the Tate Britain (then the Tate Gallery) be converted into a gas-fired power station. Although Westminster council liked the idea, it ultimately foundered on a dispute over employee parking.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

New Model Railway

An integral part of the 1980s plan to regenerate the Docklands east of London was the construction of an elevated light railway network covering the area. In 1986 government ministers issued tenders to establish who should be given the job of building this railway, and imagine their surprise when the winning bid came from Hornby!

Construction went ahead, and to this day the Docklands Light Railway remains the largest model railway system in the world, controlled from a state-of-the-art network centre at Poplar.

Saint Ockwell

Netto Ockwell was born in a disease-ridden swamp south of the Thames in 863 (map). He rose to prominence in 885 after his shirt fell apart during a drinking competition and he preached a fiery sermon on the spot about the importance of low-cost clothes.

Despite having no religious training from the church, or indeed any training at all, he rapidly acquired a following thanks to his vehement and often expletive-laden sermons in the area - mostly on no particular subject other than the audience being "fuckers", which was believed to be an imprecation against the sin of fornication - and his habit of falling into a deep meditative trance at about 8pm every evening until noon the next day. Thanks to his diminutive stature, he acquired the nickname "Little Ockwell" ("Lidl Ockwell" in old English).

Reports of his demise vary. Some of his more ardent supporters claim he was burned at the stake by the church for heresy. Others claim he set himself on fire demonstrating one of the cheap lighters he was attempting to sell. All accounts agree, however, that he miraculously exploded and was consumed by flames within seconds - possibly a byproduct of the enormous quantity of lamp oil he drank.

Although he was never officially beatified by the Vatican, the area became known as "Saint Ockwell's". This became "St. Ockwell" in 1705, and by 1840 was commonly abbreviated to "Stockwell", the name it bears today.

Tunnel Vision

The pedestrian subway systems under Marble Arch, the north side of Blackfriars Bridge and the southern end of Tottenham Court road were designed and built by the Ministry of Works in the Spring of 1940. Their intention was to confuse and demoralise as much of an invading enemy army as they could - it was estimated that as many as five Wehrmacht divisions could be tied down and destroyed by attrition in each system by a force as small as eight Evening Standard vendors.

Welcome to This Isn't London

This site was created on 3 June 2004 as the web's first, best and only* source of completely untrue - indeed, made-up and unfactual - facts and information about London, The World's Greatest City*. Its creator originally planned an Encyclopedia Errata of untrue facts about things in general, to counter the rising tide of accuracy and diligence on the internet*, only to realise upon being permitted access to the British Library's fabled Mythomaniacal Archive* that the vast bulk of interesting material therein was about London*, his home city.

This database will be updated hourly* and by September 2004 will contain more than 600,000 entries*.

*Might not be true.