7 London Spots With Weird Christmas Connections
In search of a festive post this year, I’ve collected my favourite London stories with weird Christmas Connections. The more tenuous the better, here’s my round up of festive facts you might have never spotted…
1. The V&A
It might be the World’s Greatest Museum of Art and Design, but did you know it was the beginning of a very traditional Christmas custom?
Henry Cole, first Director of the museum, sent the very first Christmas card in 1843!
Greetings card, John Callcott Horsley, 1843, England. Museum no. MSL.3293-1987. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Today they hold a collection of greeting cards for all occasions, currently numbering about 30,000 examples.
2. Finsbury Square
This is very niche, but I think you’ll enjoy it.
Ever spotted this memorial fountain on the corner of Finsbury Square?
It remembers Tom Smith; ordinary name. Extraordinary contribution to the British Christmas.
In 1847 Tom invented the Christmas Cracker, pretty much by accident. He owned a small bakery on Goswell Road and loved sharing new ideas. He was first inspired by the Parisian ‘bon bon’, a colourfully wrapped sugared almond. They sold well in 1840, but after a few years he needed another USP to crank up the Christmas sales.
The story goes that Tom was inspired on hearing the crackle of a log on a Christmas fire, instilling that sound and excitement into the packaging so when it was broken you’d get a pop! Somewhat surprisingly the British couldn’t get enough of small explosives at the Christmas table and Tom was so successive he moved to a bigger property on Finsbury Square. He left his business to his three sones and when he died a memorial fountain was erected to remind us Londoners where the Christmas cracker began!
3. Westminster Abbey
The Abbey is the nation’s coronation church; every monarch who has ever been crowned has had the bejewelled hat popped on their head here.
So the Christmas connection comes from one of the early adopters of the coronation tradition, William I (that’s William the Conqueror to you) was crowned here in 1066 on 25th December, not a bad Christmas gift right?
4. Ham Yard
In the middle of a modern development, a stone’s throw from Piccadilly Circus, one of the most charitable Christmas events ever recorded took place.
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We’re back in 1851, year of The Great Exhibition. People from all over the world are coming to London to see the world’s greatest expo of design, arts, industry and craftsmanship. This event was huge and ultimately laid the foundation of South Kensington, including allowing the establishment of the V&A, Royal Albert Hall and Imperial College to name a few.
But not everyone was profiting. Enter Alexis Soyer, a chef who’d worked in some of London’s top 19th century kitchens and who basically invented the soup kitchen. Soyer decided to make a difference and in Ham Yard (no pun intended) he laid on a Christmas meal, complete with a live band. as many as 300 people could sit down for Christmas lunch at each 30 minute sitting and at the end of the day they had fed 22,500 people. That’s around 1% of London’s population at that time.
Thankfully Londoners haven’t quite forgotten that Christmas is a time for giving and this year the closed Euston station is turning into a homeless shelter for 200 people on Christmas Day.
5. The Met Office Roof
If you’re dreaming of a White Christmas you might be disheartened to find out just how scientific the definition of one is.
With £1000s being spent on bets of whether it’ll be a snowy yuletide, accuracy is key and it all comes down to whether there is a single snowflake on the Met Office rooftop in the 24 hours of 25th December!
Sadly, the Met Office no longer has an HQ in London, but they’ve used many buildings in their past including Penderel House.
Today you can only see New Penderel House on High Holborn (above) or the new 71 High Holborn (below) which was the former ‘State House’.
Instruments were installed on the roof of State House (which had better weather exposure according to the experts) and the results were transmitted over to Penderel House. The London Weather Centre opened there in 1965 and was there until 1992.
Thankfully they do have evidence of this happening, just look at that London 1960s skyline!
London Weather Centre Roof, 1965 – BRITISH CROWN COPYRIGHT, THE MET OFFICE / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
6. 48 Doughty Street
Famous as the only surviving London home of Charles Dickens, Doughty Street is also home to the Charles Dickens Museum.
And of course Charles Dickens is responsible for one of the greatest Christmas tales ever told;
The Muppets Christmas Carol A Christmas Carol!
Amazingly, Dickens wrote the story in a rushed 6 weeks. Conscious of a Christmas deadline and wanting a moral story that reflected London’s mistreatment of the poor, originally he was going to publish a pamphlet entitled; “An Appeal to the People of England on behalf of the Poor Man’s Child.” Thankfully his publisher persuaded him to go for a snappier title and the it worked. The first edition sold out in three days!
Currently the museum has an exhibition all about A Christmas Carol and over the festive period they always decorate the rooms in the classic Victorian style!
Find out more about visiting here.
7. Regent Street
I had to include a nod to London’s spectacular Christmas lights. But did you know it was Regent Street, not Oxford Street that first hosted an official lights ‘switch on’?
An austere London, recovering from WWII rationing and in recession was a pretty gloomy place. So the Christmas lights seemed a good way to give people a morale boost – and encourage some seasonal spending.
In 1954 the lights went on, the button pushed by a celebrity to boot! The Venezuelan-born Miss World, obviously.
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