9:50am Wednesday 28th May 2014
By Omar Oakes
Our corner of London has a rich and unusual history, with some very interesting (but completely useless) facts surrounding each of its towns.
BAFTA nominated animator and director Martin Pullen, whose credits include Postman Pat and The Wombles, has penned his second book, The Completely Useless Guide to London.
Mr Pullen very kindly looked through his research and found the most fascinating (but again, useless) factoids to tell your friends and family about the next time they visit.
1. Grass at the Oval Cricket Ground is from Tooting
The Oval cricket ground in Kennington was established in 1845, the turf laid down over what was an eighteenth-century cabbage patch. The 10,000 squares of turf came from Tooting Common.
2. Pigs have flown over Battersea
The cover of the 1977 Pink Floyd album Animals features a pink inflatable pig flying above Battersea Power Station.
The story goes that on the day of the photo shoot the nine-metre-diameter pig broke free from its moorings, causing disruption as wind blew it across Heathrow Airport’s flight path.
The pig was later recovered from a field in Kent but, after a further day of filming in bad weather, the finished album cover was created using a composite of two photos.
3. London is a sea-side town - until you get to Teddington
Far from flat, in the 1970s the Stag Brewery in Mortlake was known for brewing the fizzy keg beer, Watneys Red Barrel.
With the River Thames being tidal as it flows through the capital, the river banks are classified by Ordnance Survey mapping as part of the British coastline, meaning that London is ‘-on-Sea’.
The coast officially ends several miles inland of London, at Teddington Lock.
4. Robin Hood's racing cars were made near Wimbledon Common
Nestled between Wimbledon Common and Richmond Deer Park, in the seventeenth century Putney Vale was home to the Bald Faced Stag.
An infamous drinking den for highwaymen on the road from London to Portsmouth, the Bald Faced Stag eventually called last orders, remaining closed until – in 1912 – racing driver Kenelm Lee Guinness established a workshop in the basement.
Following successful sales of his high-performance KLG spark plug, Guinness founded the Robin Hood Works, expanding to create a production line in the former pub’s outbuildings.
The Robin Hood Works went on to build two world land-speed record-breaking cars: Sir Malcolm Campbell’s ‘Blue Bird’ and Major Henry Segrave’s ‘Golden Arrow’. Campbell claimed the record in 1927, reaching almost 175 mph on the Pendine Sands of Carmarthen Bay, South Wales. Two years later Segrave broke the record, reaching 231 mph at Daytona, Florida.
In 1927, Guinness sold the Robin Hood Works to Smith’s Industries and, with the company continuing to expand, the former Bald Faced Stag and outbuildings were replaced with a new building featuring a distinctive large clock.
Smith’s Industries have long since moved on and the famous landmark clock is now part of an ASDA supermarket.
5. Croydon is in Brazil
The imposing entrance to Croydon B Power Station doubled as the exterior of the infamous Ministry in Terry Gilliam’s 1985 film, Brazil. The interior of one of the giant cooling towers also doubled as the torture chamber.
Having been decommissioned the previous year, Croydon B Power Station has since been demolished and is now an IKEA store.
All that remains are the twin towers, ringed in blue and yellow neon and standing proud in the self-assembly furniture store car park. The surrounding street names of Ampere, Volta and Galvani hold testament to the former power station.
6. Twickenham Stadium saw the world's first streaker at a major sporting event
Streaking continues at Twickenham to this day, such as during an England Six Nations rugby match in 2013. (KirethArt / YouTube)
In April 1974, Australian Michael O’Brien became the first streaker at a major sporting event, when he ran across the pitch naked as England played France at Twickenham rugby stadium. As he was escorted off the pitch, a policeman famously covered O’Brien’s ‘assets’ with his helmet.
7. If Thatcher stayed on as Prime Minister, Streatham could have been a very different place
Story tells that, in the late 1980s, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher planned to bulldoze entire streets of Victorian houses parallel to Streatham High Road, dig down and build a six-lane underpass, then fill it back in, thereby moving the traffic bottleneck north to Brixton.
Plans were dropped after the Conservative Party themselves dropped Margaret Thatcher as their leader.
8. There are nearly as many bricks in Battersea Power Station as people in the UK
Battersea Power Station is thought to be the largest brick building in Europe.
Wandsworth Council estimate the brick count as 61m. Placed end-to-end, it would form a line almost enough to stretch around the entire coast of mainland Britain.
Generating its last megawatt of electricity in 1983, the following year a competition to redesign the site was won by Alton Towers Limited, with a proposal for an indoor theme park.
Work was begun in 1986. By the time the money ran out in 1989 the roof had been removed and the interior left to suffer from the elements.
9. Oliver Cromwell had a secret tunnel in Kew
Just downstream of Kew Bridge, close to Strand-on-the-Green, is the small, mostly tree-covered, Oliver’s Island.
Legend less solid than a River Thames’ mud bank tells that Oliver Cromwell once took refuge on the island, the republican military leader setting up his headquarters on the north shore in the Bull’s Head Inn. A secret tunnel is said to connect the island to the inn.
In 1777, a river tollbooth was built on Oliver’s Island: a wooden structure looking not-unlike a small castle.
10. Frankenstein would never have existed had it not been for Putney Bridge
After being jilted by her lover, in 1795 Mary Wollstonecraft attempted to commit suicide by jumping from the original Putney Bridge.
Surviving the fall, she met and married William Godwin and gave birth to two daughters. Elder daughter, Mary, went on to marry poet Percy Shelley and write the novel Frankenstein.
Illustrations by Martin Pullen. The Completely Useless Guide to London is available from bookshops and online retailers.
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