Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountains
As you explore London look out for the often-impressive Victorian drinking fountains erected through the auspices of the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association. This philanthropic organisation was established in 1859 by Samuel Gurney MP and Edward Thomas Wakefield, a barrister, to provide free drinking water for the people of London. It was originally called simply the Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountain Association but changed its name in 1867 to include cattle troughs. There had been a cholera epidemic in 1854 which exposed the contamination levels in London's water, and sparked a number of much-needed improvements of which this movement was one. Its key principle was "that no fountain be erected or promoted by the Association which shall not be so constructed as to ensure by filters, or other suitable means, the perfect purity and coldness of the water."
The first fountain was built on Holborn Hill on the railings of the church of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate; it still exists today, although it is now located on the other side of the church, on the corner of Newgate and Giltspur Streets. In the next six years 85 fountains were built around the city, and within 11 years there were 140 fountains in place, in addition to 153 cattle troughs. The fountain in my photo dates from 1867 and is near the north end of Blackfriars Bridge. The inscription reads:
Sam Gurney - MP
The association still exists today but as the Drinking Fountain Association, supporting the provision of drinking water overseas as well as in the UK, where it installs drinking fountains on playing fields and in schools.
- Historical Travel
Pearly Kings & Queens
Update April 2014: web links checked, one corrected
The custom of decorating your clothes with small pearl buttons originates in working class parts of London and those who do so are known as Pearly Kings & Queens. It is generally thought that the original Pearly King was Henry Croft, an orphan street sweeper who collected money to support the orphanage where he had been raised. He had many friends among the "Costermongers" as London Street traders were known, and many of them supported his fundraising. At that time the costermongers used to wear a distinctive outfit, with pearl buttons along the seams of their trousers and on their pockets. Croft went one step further and sewed buttons all over his suit to create the first “pearly suit” to attract attention to himself and to his fund-raising activities. As he got more and more successful in his charity efforts, more people asked for his help, and he in turn enlisted the support of his costermonger friends. The Pearly Kings and Queens were born, with a “Royal” Pearly family for each borough, and the title handed down from one generation to the next.
The Pearlies organised themselves into the London Pearly Kings and Queens Association. Over time this has splintered and there are now several similar groups, including a London Pearly Kings and Queens Society and a Pearly Kings and Queens Guild. Each presumably would claim to be the most authentic! See what you think by visiting their websites:
London Pearly Kings and Queens Association: www.thepearlies.co.uk
London Pearly Kings and Queens Society: www.pearlysociety.co.uk
Pearly Kings and Queens Guild: www.pearlykingsandqueens.com
One of the attractions in the Tower of London are the Yeoman Warders, usually called Beefeaters.
Once a guardian force to take care of prisoners and guard the crown jewels, they are, today, a sort of guide or public relations, always available to a smile or the mandatory picture.
- Castles and Palaces
- Historical Travel
I've been to London enough time that I can feel the pain of the locals who are trying to commute amidst a sea of unseasoned public transport riders. Here are a few tips to help keep you from being flattened during your time on the tube
-If you are hopping on an escalator and don't intend to walk down or up as the case may be, be sure to get over to the right to allow those folks who do want to walk or are in a hurry to get past you. There's always someone desperately dashing for the next train.
-do not stop at the top or bottom of the escalator to wait for friends, hug your friends goodbye, text your BFF, answer your cell phone or check your map
-have your travelcard/Oyster out and ready to use, don't be digging around in your pockets while standing at the barriers
-if you need to check a map, they have them on the walls of the tube station, blown up in fine detail. Don't stand in the middle of the station trying to figure it out.
-if you can avoid rush hour, do it. If you have to ride then, do not get into the car and stand at the entrance, make your way down the aisle so people behind you can get on.
Page 3 beauties
A couple of the newspapers, or should I call them tabloids, feature topless women every day on page 3. My husband's assistant (a man, lest you start thinking kinky thoughts) either didn't believe him or wanted a couple of pictures of topless women so we brought him home a couple of souvenirs. There was a campaign to get them removed but as of April 2014 they were still there.
Update April 2014: one extra photo added, web link corrected and website info updated, small changes to text
Walking around London you are certain to notice many of these blue plaques on the walls of the buildings – some quite ordinary looking, others obviously grand and historical. These indicate that someone of note once lived in the building, or in another building on the same site. This could be somebody really famous, or simply a person notable in their field, so don’t expect always to have heard of them. But it’s fun to look out for the names and dates, and visualise what the building and its surroundings would have been like in their day, and it’s exciting when you do come across someone really famous, perhaps even one of your own heroes.
The scheme was started in 1867 by the Royal Society of Arts. By 1901 they had erected thirty-six plaques, the oldest of which now surviving are those commemorating Napoleon III and the poet John Dryden, both erected in 1875. Responsibility for the plaques was then passed to the London County Council in 1901, and to the Greater London Council in 1965. In 1986 it was taken over by English Heritage, who still administer the scheme. There are about 700 official plaques altogether, most of which are blue with white lettering.
However there are also several other authorities, and occasionally private individuals, who choose to put up plaques, e.g. the rectangular blue glazed plaques of the Corporation of London (in the City) and the green plaques set up by Westminster City Council.
The unveiling of a new plaque is often marked by a small ceremony, where a cord is pulled open curtains to reveal the plaque for the first time. There are usually speeches about the person or event commemorated and the event is often attended by relatives, descendants or associates of the person. I went to such a ceremony while working for the City of Westminster, when a plaque commemorating Olaudah Equiano, a Nigerian slave who became a world famous slave abolitionist, was unveiled at 73 Riding House Street as part of the city’s programme of events for Black History month.
The Blue Plaques website has a searchable database, so if you’d like to find buildings associated with a specific person, you can. Some of the most popular are:
Charles Dickens – his home at 48 Doughty Street is now a museum (note that most of these Blue Plaque properties are not open to the public in this way)
Karl Marx – he lived at 28 Dean Street in Soho for six years while in exile in London
Sherlock Holmes – ironically not a real person at all, but a fictional detective, who was said to live at 221b Baker Street (like the Dickens House, this is also a museum)
J F Kennedy – he lived as a child at 14 Princes Gate, which was the official residence of the US Ambassador in those days, a post held by his father
William Shakespeare – there are no buildings left in London that are associated with him, but a plaque at 86-8 Curtain Road (in Hackney) marks the site of the first ever theatre to be built in Great Britain, where he would have acted in his early days in the city (the theatre was later moved to Bankside and renamed the Globe)
- Historical Travel
Update April 2014: improved photos, some changes to text
Like many towns and cities, central London’s streets are adorned with lights in the run-up to Christmas each year, although in my opinion commercial sponsorship of these has led to recent displays being less festive than in the “good old days”. Nevertheless, a trip to the West End to see the lights is an annual outing for many London families, and it marks the start of the Christmas season, and Christmas shopping frenzy, for many.
The streets that always have lights are Bond Street, Regent Street and Oxford Street, but you may find them elsewhere too. Covent Garden also always looks very pretty at this time of year. It’s the custom to invite a celebrity to switch on the lights – for instance in 2006 the Bond Street lights were switched on by super-model Sophie Dahl, while those in Oxford Street were switched on by soul singer Leona Lewis, who performed on stage with a number of other acts to entertain the crowds. Leona was back again in 2013, this time switching on the Regent Street lights and performing alongside many other stars. The street was closed to traffic for the afternoon - it was a real family fun day.
There have been concerns in recent years that all this brightness is not very “green”, as the traditional lights use a lot of electricity. Responding to this Regent Street introduced new LED lights sponsored by Nokia: ”100% recyclable, the LEDs are far better than traditional light bulbs, requiring a fifth of the energy they do. As with all of the West End Christmas lights, the Regent Street lights are carbon offset through PURE, the first UK registered charity dedicated to combating climate change by carbon offsetting.” So you can enjoy the lights with a reasonably clear conscious!
The lights are switched on some time in November (check local press or Time Out London for details) and remain until Twelfth Night, the 6th January.
Tube stations to use: Oxford Circus (Central, Bakerloo and Victoria lines), Bond Street (Central & Jubilee lines), Piccadilly Circus (Piccadilly & Bakerloo lines)
Update April 2014: additional photos
Sooner or later on a trip to London you are likely to find yourself in a pub – or you certainly should do if you want to experience one of the great British traditions. I thought it would be helpful to provide some tips on how to fit in like a local.
Firstly, you need to know that you have to go to the bar to order your drinks. Please don’t sit at a table and wait to be served – you’ll get very thirsty and frustrated!
Secondly, you will have to pay for your drinks as you order them, unlike the European system of keeping a tab and adding it all up at the end of the evening. The exception to this are the smarter “gastro-pubs” where the emphasis is more on eating and where you may be asked if you’d like to put the drinks on a tab to pay with the food bill at the end of your meal.
If you’re with a group of people, it’s common practice to buy drinks in rounds. Each person takes it in turns to buy a round of drinks for the whole group. There’s a lot of etiquette attached to this that it would be impossible for you to pick up in a short visit, but there are a few important points to note. The last round is often the cheapest as by then some people will be drinking half pints or soft drinks, so it’s considered very bad form to be always the last person to offer to buy a round. But if someone in the group is drinking only soft drinks (e.g. a designated driver), it would be polite to suggest they don’t buy a round when they offer, as it makes for an expensive way to buy a few glasses of orange juice!
In a large group it’s unlikely that everyone will get a turn to buy a round. There are a number of alternatives. You might split into several smaller groups for the purposes of buying drinks (this often happens naturally as you approach the bar). You might propose a kitty, with everyone putting an agreed sum into this at the start of the evening and sharing out any leftovers at the end (and again, remember the non-drinker – perhaps he or she could put in half the amount that drinkers contribute). Or if you drink together regularly, buying rounds is probably OK as anyone who doesn’t buy one can start the process next time!
By the way, it isn’t usual to tip the staff in a pub, but if you visit regularly or spend a whole evening there and get good service, you can offer to buy the person serving you a drink – “would you like one yourself?” is the usual query. Don’t be offended if they pocket the money for later though – they can’t have too many when they’re supposed to be working!
So now you have your drinks, what else do you need to know? Well, firstly, since July 2007 it has been illegal to smoke in an enclosed public space in England (hooray!), so if you want to light up you’ll need to go outside. You could take your drink with you or if friends are staying inside leave it with them – an unclaimed drink is likely to be cleared away by bar staff. In most pubs you can buy food to go with your drink – this might be anything from a bag of peanuts to a gourmet treat, but traditional dishes include pies, fish and chips or a “ploughman’s lunch” (bread, cheese and pickles). Unlike drinks, groups of friends would normally each buy their own meal, and to do this you’ll again have to order at the bar. You’ll probably be given some sort of number or other sign to put on your table so the server can bring the meal to the right table.
There may be entertainment in the pub – live music, sport on TV or maybe a quiz. Choose your pub according to whether you want to participate in something like this or not – if you really want to talk with your friends, a pub without entertainment will be better.
Despite the British reputation for reserve, someone in the pub on their own is likely to be willing to engage in conversation, and the same may apply to groups of people. Try saying hello and take it from there, but bear in mind that they may have come to talk privately together, so be sensitive to the body language and move on if people don’t want to chat.
And lastly – have fun :-)
How to behave like a Londoner on the Tube
Update April 2014: additional photos
Here are some (slightly tongue-in-cheek) rules for how to appear like a Londoner while travelling on the city's underground train network:
~ Always call it the Tube, never the Underground or Subway
~ Don't talk to strangers - this isn't a safety tip, it would just expose you as the tourist you are. Londoners NEVER talk to each other on the tube unless there's some sort of emergency. Ideally you shouldn't even talk to the person you're with ;-)
~ Stand on the right on the escalator - there are signs about this everywhere and unlike many other transport systems I've been on, here people usually stick to this rule. If you insist on standing on the left, prepare to be flattened by a commuter in a hurry!
~ Please don't stop dead in front of either a) the entrance, b) the automatic gate c) the top of the escalator or d) the map strategically placed at the entrance to a passage - see above re commuter in a hurry ;-)
~ Talking of maps, if you want to blend in look at it before you travel and memorise your route - getting a map out is a sure give-away sign of a tourist
~ If you pick up one of the free papers that are given out during the morning and evening rush hours make sure you leave it for someone else to enjoy after you
As I said, all this is intended mainly in fun, but if you go along with some of these suggestions at least you should find your journey pleasanter. My final tip is a serious one though:
~ Unless you can't avoid it, don't travel in the rush hour - you'll be trampled on, squashed and will surely wish you'd stayed at home. Leave the rest of us to suffer and come out a bit later when we're all stuck in offices, shops etc :-)
The Yeoman Warders are probably better known as The Beefeaters but did you know that They were formed by Henry VII .
The Name derived either from the French 'Buffetier' meaning food taster or from the French belief that all Englishmen eat Roast Beef, A French description for the English being 'Les Rosbifs'
The Yeoman Warders were responsible for looking after Prisoners in the Tower although there have not been any since the Early 1950's (The last two prisoners were Ronnie and Reggie Kray who were held there before being moved to a military prison at Shepton Mallet after deserting from their National Service)
They are responsible for guarding the crown jewels and for looking after the famous Ravens as well as acting as tour guides.
- Arts and Culture
- Historical Travel
- Castles and Palaces
In 1415 after the Battle of Agincourt The Duke of Orleans (Nephew to the French King) was staying as a hostage at the Tower of London, While he was there he wrote a Love Poem to his wife. This was the First Valentine Card
- Arts and Culture
Would You 'Adam 'n' Eve It?
If you are visiting London you may very well hear a few phrases of Cockney Rhyming Slang being spoken.
There are many theories about the origins of rhyming slang. The most popular is that it began in the mid nineteenth century as a secret language of the criminal classes in London to confuse the police.
It has also been suggested that it originated during the early part of the nineteenth century during the major reconstruction of London's infrastructure, when the building of main roads, railways and the docks were taking place. The main workforce was made up of local men and Irish immigrants and to perplex their 'foreign' counterparts the Cockneys are said to have invented rhyming slang.
Another theory is that it came from the fertile imaginations of street chanters, nomadic wanderers who would travel from market to market telling stories, singing ballads and telling the people the news of the day. There were so many of these itinerant entertainers that each had to develop their own style of patter which they embellished with colourful phrases and pieces of slang, some of which rhymed.
Whatever its origins, rhyming slang is still in use and below are some of the more common phrases you could hear on the streets of London today.
Adam 'n' Eve - Believe
Almond Rocks - Socks
Apples 'n' Pears - Stairs
Barnet Fair - Hair
Boat Race - Face
Borasic Lint - Skint (penniless)
Butcher's Hook - Look
China Plate - Mate
Currant Bun - Sun
Daisy Roots - Boots
Dickie Dirt - Shirt
Dog 'n' Bone - Phone
Frog 'n' Toad - Road
Half-Inch - Pinch (to steal)
Jack Jones - Alone
Loaf of Bread - Head
Mince Pie(s) - Eye(s)
North 'n' South - Mouth
Oily Rag - Fag (cigarette)
Plates of Meat - Feet
Pork Pies - Lies
Rosie Lee - Tea
Rub-a-dub-dub - Pub
Ruby Murray - Curry
Sherbet Dab - Cab (taxi)
Skin 'n' Blister - Sister
Sky Rocket - Pocket
Syrup of Figs - Wig
Tea Leaf - Thief
Tit for Tat - Hat
Trouble 'n' Strife - Wife
Two 'n' Eight - State (upset)
Whistle 'n' Flute - Suit.
- Arts and Culture
During the London 2012 Olympics, the mascots, Wenlock and Mandeville, could be seen in various London locations.
Wenlock, the Olympic mascot, was named after Much Wenlock in Shropshire, where a forerunner of the modern Olympics was held in the nineteenth century.
Mandeville, the Paralympic mascot, was named after Stoke Mandeville in Buckinghamshire, where the Paralympics originated. [Incidentally the road signs on entering Buckinghamshire have now been changed from the welcoming 'Buckinghamshire - Speed Cameras' to 'Buckinghamshire - Home of the Paralympics'.]
The mascots proved quite controversial as the design was not universally popular.
- Family Travel
I was walking across Hungerford Bridge and noticed this accumulation of broken skateboard decks, I assume casualties from the nearby activity on the South Bank. Steelwork by Norman Foster: the pier is by I.K. Brunel, builder of the first footbridge here....they reused the chains to make the Clifton Suspension Bridge
- Skiing and Boarding
Central London tubes are busy and can be annoying. People working in Central London are constantly in a hurry and can get very irritated with tourists not abiding by the rules. Always stand on the right side of the escalator. Even though it might seem unbelievable, there are people who run up and down the escalator stairs. Don't block the entrance gates while trying to figure out where you want to go to. If you are going to travel on the tube regularly it might be useful to get an Oyster card. It is quicker to tap at the gates and rides are far cheaper than individual tickets.
The tubes are full, especially during peak times, which is in the morning from about 7 to 10 and in the afternoon/evening from about 4 till 7. That doesn't mean it won't be full at other times, but you stand a better change at getting a seat.
Wait for people to disembark the tube before you get on. Be prepared to stand most of the way or all way in the centre of the city. Don't be concerned about personal space as there is none during busy times.
View tube rides as just another experience and try to be polite even though regular users might not be.
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