The 10 Best London Oddities | Strange Things to Spot in London
We all love a London historic oddity right? Over the years running my London walking tours (and blog) I’ve spotted many a curiosity, but here are my top 10 best London oddities to look out for…
1. Metropolitan Police Coat Hook
This tiny hook at 5 Great Newport Street (by Leicester Square Station) is supposedly where policemen would hang their cloaks whilst directing traffic at this busy junction. It’s story is a little murky, but I’ve outlined it in its dedicated blog post here so you can make up your own mind!
2. The Thames Gauge
Every so often this little oddity on Westminster Bridge gets a clean up, the stickers are removed and it (almost!) gleams in the sunshine. But what is it? If you climb the fairly treacherous rungs and peer through the dark, vertical windows you will see some illuminated numbers glowing red. They tell you the current depth of the River Thames!
3. Philpot Lane Mice
Quite possibly London’s smallest public sculpture, this gem of a find is on the side of a former Victorian warehouse in the City of London. No one really knows the true story behind it, but the urban myth is fairly tragic; it’s a memorial to two workmen who fought over lunch. Read more here.
4. Soho Noses
A favourite on my Sordid Soho walking tour, there are seven soho noses to find and if you track them down, infinite wealth is yours! As you might have guessed, there’s a bit of embellishment going on here and the real story is a little more prosaic. In any case though, they’re brilliant things to find! Read more and see the locations here.
5. Britain’s “Smallest Police Station”
First things first, it’s not actually Britain’s (or even London’s) smallest police station. This was more of a look out post with a telephone line, just about big enough to house a police officer to keep an eye on protests in Trafalgar Square.
Here’s what it looks like inside. Not really that glamorous!
6. Chewing Gum Art
Although I’m always extoling the virtues of looking up in London, there’s fun things to spot on the ground too. Case in point is along Millennium Bridge, where you can find a collection of the tiniest paintings in London. Transforming dropped chewing gum into mini masterpieces, Ben Wilson (aka the Chewing Gum Man) has been brightening up these bits of litter for years!
See more examples (and a picture of Ben himself!) Over on my blog post.
7. WWII Stretcher Railings
Take a closer look at certain post-war London housing estates and you’ll notice a curious kink in the railings. Amazingly these are recycled Second World War stretchers, used to carry wounded civilians during air raids and then given a new lease of life as street furniture. Only a few examples survive today, but they’re brilliant little oddities to spot!
8. The Tower Subway
The idea of hidden tunnels under London will never not be exciting, but it’s not often you can see much evidence above ground.
Thankfully with the Tower Subway, you have a great reminder of what was once a train and later pedestrian crossing under the Thames! It only functioned for a few decades but this 1920s round brick entrance is a great little oddity to spot! Read more about its history here.
9. The Bank of England ‘Deflector’
You’d expect the Bank of England to have top notch security systems in place, but around the back on Lothbury is something a little more curious.
I’m not sure of its technical term, but lets just say it deflects liquid back onto any would-be perpetrator! Those looking for a little space for quiet relief, beware!
On a similar vein, these ghost signs have a similar meaning behind them.
10. Marchmont Street Artworks
Lastly, we end on a poignant note. These artworks date from 2006 and can be found along Marchmont Street in Bloomsbury. It’s so easy to miss them, but they’re reminder of a particularly devastating period of London’s history during the 18th century.
They are oversized replicas of tokens, tiny items that mothers left with their children at the Foundling Hospital, an orphanage that opened in 1759. The idea was that they could help identify and reunite mother and child after she had found her feet. In reality very few were ever claimed. Read more here.
Any more favourite London oddities you’d add to this list? There are hundreds more! Let me know in the comments.
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At your suggestion, I went to see the mouse sculpture a few years ago on my walk to St. Dunstan’s in the East. I stay in Bloomsbury when I’m in London and have seen the Marchmont Street tokens. I’ve also seen one of the noses. So much more to discover the next time I come.