Category Archives: Tangential Topics

Unanswered Questions

From time to time I am asked a question which I think is worth mentioning – or sometimes where I actually don’t know the answer! Here are some such and in most cases some answers.

UNANSWERED (if anybody can offer answers then please leave a comment)

Where are the Rotherhithe Tunnel ventilation towers?

Was St Paul’s Shadwell rebuilt in its original style?

Where exactly was the News International print works?

Is Wapping station Art Nouveau?

Were there many churches in Limehouse?

Why is St Anne’s, Limehouse so big?

What is served at an Execution Breakfast?
This relates to the Magpie and Stump pub which stands on the street called Old Bailey opposite what was once the site of public executions. The landlord made a nice earning by providing guests with a first floor room where they could watch the action at the gallows whilst enjoying an Execution Breakfast.


ANSWERED

Where are the four Rotherhithe Tunnel ventilation shafts?

From south to north:-
1. Corner of Brunel Road and Canon Beck Road in Rotherhithe
2, Octagon Court, Rotherhithe (visible from shaft 3).
3. King Edward memorial park, Shadwell (visible from shaft 2).
4. Corner of The Highway and Heckford Street, Shadwell. This is not the original building which was demolished in 1967 for a road widening scheme.

Which churches can fly the White Ensign apart from St Anne’s Limehouse?

There are 8 other churches, the only one in London is St Martin in the Fields.

How much must a vessel pay to have Tower Bridge opened?

Not a penny, it is free.

What does the Birchin in Birchin Lane mean?

The Lane of the Barbers.

From whom did JMW Turner inherit the two cottages which became the Old Star pub?

From his Uncle Joseph Marshall, his mother’s brother, who was a butcher in Brentford in West London.

Why and when is a bale of straw hung under London bridges?

An old tradition last observed at Millennium Bridge in December 2023. It is to indicate that workers are underneath the bridge and that headroom is reduced as a result. By night a white light is used instead,

Where can one buy Lord Mayor’s honey?

Some of it is sold on City Giving Day.

Is JP Morgan an American bank?

The original JP Morgan was a British Bank formed in the mid 1800s which merged with Chase National Bank in 2000 to form JP Morgan-Chase. Today, therefore, it is American.

Did Lloyds insure the Titanic?

Yes, the policy was for £1 million and was paid out within 30 days of the sinking.

What did Judge John Jeffries die from?

He died in the Tower of London from kidney disease of which he had been a chronic sufferer.

Where were the pumps feeding the Hydraulic Ring Main?

These were found at Bankside (Southwark), City Road (near Liverpool Street station), East India Dock (Blackwall), Mansell Street (City of London/Tower Hamlets), Pimlico, Rotherhithe and Wapping Wall (Shadwell).

Is the Import Dock (West India Quay) smaller than it was?

The north wall by the Museum is original but part of the south dock has been reclaimed.

Was St Anne’s Limehouse rebuilt in its original style?

Yes

How long does the Plague virus last?

It’s a bacterium rather than a virus. In dry conditions or when exposed to sunlight it lives no longer than 72 hours. In damp dark conditions survival for up to 24 days has been recorded. No long term data seems to be available though bacteria in general cannot survive more than three years without sustenance (unless frozen when they can last for millennia – 120,000 years is the current record).

Was Mozart a freemason?

Yes, initiated into a Vienna lodge at the age of 28.

Did St Anne’s Limehouse suffer bomb damage?

It suffered minor damage during both world wars but nothing structural.

How many churches are there in the City?

I didn’t know the exact number and hazarded a guess at fifty, I was not far wrong.

What are the entry requirements and fees for Christ’s Hospital school today?

Pupils must show “academic potential”. Boarding fees are £14,000 per term though bursaries and the occasional free place are offered. Day pupil fees are £7,000 to £9,000

What was the City population in 1066?

Around 15,000.

Events

Upcoming events involving or sometimes merely tangential to the City and Docklands. Dates a little sparse at the moment as many places have not yet released their 2024 schedule.

2024

April 7th. London Landmarks Half Marathon. Alongside the Marathon, free walking tours in several parts of the City. [Details to follow]

June 2024. Knolly’s Rose Procession. Delivery of a single rose to the Lord Mayor to settle a 600 year old planning permission problem (don’t you just love the City?!) . [Details to follow, date unconfirmed].

Sunday September 21st. Sheep Drive. Freemen exercise their right to drive animals across a City bridge. Details to follow, [date unconfirmed].

Tuesday September 24th. City Giving Day.

Saturday November 10th. Lord Mayor’s Show. Welcoming in the new Lord Mayor. Details to follow.

Saturday December 14th. North Wood Morris Xmas Day of Dance. All day traditional entertainment opposite the City on the South Bank. [Recheck date nearer the time].

Saturday December 22rd, 10:00am to 11:30am. Head for Smithfield Market and grab a meaty bargain at the Annual “Xmas Eve” meat and turkey auction [not confirmed]

2025

Dates provisional

Sunday January 5th, 12:30. Blessing Of The River. Takes place on London Bridge. Details will be at calendarcustoms.com/articles/blessing-the-river-thames . [Date not confirmed].

The Black Rat

Rats are not indigenous to the UK. The first rat, Rattus Rattus or the Black Rat or Ship Rat came from India and arrived with the Romans during their occupation of England (43-410ad) . Despite being called black, some were light or dark brown.

The rat was unjustly blamed for spreading the Bubonic Plague.

Rattus Norvegicus– the Brown Rat or Sewer Rat – arrived in the 1700s and this is the rat you’ll see these days.

Despite the Latin name, the Norwegian connection is uncertain and the Brown Rat is believed to have come from China.

They don’t make themselves evident in the City except on the site of St Gabriel Fenchurch off Fen Court where they may be seen quite often, day and night.

The Brown rat is in the same category the Grey Squirrel and Signal Crayfish: a successful invasive species which ousted its incumbent counterpart.

In the UK the Black Rat was last recorded in the Hebrides in 2018 but is now probably extinct in the wild in the UK, though small colonies may survive on some offshore islands and across the river in Southwark. It is still bred in captivity and sold as pets or used in laboratory experiments.

SQUIRRELS

It amuses me that people will feed a squirrel but run away from a rat. They are very similar and both, of course, vermin. A squirrel is effectively a rat with a hairdresser and a PR agent.

Sextant and Octant

Many of us have heard of a sextant – but maybe not an octant.

So called because it traverses an arc covering 60 degrees or one sixth of a circle.

It would be used on a ship to measure the elevation of celestial objects – sun, moon, planets or stars – and then by reference to tables, clock or calendar determine how far north or south the vessel was – to an accuracy of around a thousand feet.

The sextant was preceded by the octant which worked through an arc of 45 degrees or an eighth of a circle. As a navel cadet, engineer Marc Brunel made his own octant.

The sextant found favour in the late 1700s when new navigational techniques required a device which would compare the elevations of the sun and moon. The octants 45 degree ‘sweep’ was often insufficient as larger angle were needed.

Unicorns

Unicorns are found in several City churches including St Benet Paul’s Wharf and St James Garlickhythe. They also appear on the coat of arms of the Wax Chandlers’ livery company.

In heraldry they signify purity.                         

Belief in Unicorns survived in medieval times.

Here is how to capture one.

As dusk falls, obtain a lady who is a virgin.

Take her into the woods and sit her down against a tree.

Tie her to the tree so she cannot escape and leave her there.

Tip toe back in the middle of the night.

Hopefully you will find a Unicorn resting its head in her lap because she is so pure.

Metro Memory

This is very trivial and tangential but it does relate to the City and Docklands and is rather fun, albeit a thief of time.

How does it work? It tests your memory or knowledge of London’s public transport.

You type in, one by one, every ‘metro’ station that you can remember. This means Underground, Overground, Docklands Light Railway and Elizabeth Line. Out of town stations such as Reading on the Lizzie Line are included (there’s a free one for you!).

Tramlink and National Rail stations are excluded unless they are metro stations as well.

A map will show which stations you’ve entered. You can move the map around to see the blanks and (maybe) remind you of stations that you have missed. The map is geographic instead of schematic and it’s interesting to see where stations are in relation to each other.

A counter will indicate what percentage of them you’ve so far managed to remember. There are over 500 in total.

Find the quiz at london.metro-memory.com – and don’t blame me if you get engrossed and forget to eat or pick up the children.

You can play it on your phone but laptop or PC is better as you get a better view of the map.

If you don’t finish in one go then you can carry on from where you left off another time. This applies even if you’ve closed your browser or restarted your computer – provided you’ve not cleared cookies in the meantime.

The game will, not unreasonably, ask for a donation from time to time. You can bypass this and carry on or bung in a few quid as the quiz would have involved quite a bit of work.

Aficionados of I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue will, of course, finish at Mornington Crescent.

Test your METRO MEMORY

Old English

…or Anglo Saxon

Considered to have been spoken during the Old English period from 450-1150.

This is the earliest recorded period of English language, up until Middle English took over in 1150.

Mainly the language of Germanic immigrants (and invaders!) . The language was also referred to as Anglo-Saxon.

Gamma Draconis

Many of you will know the tower called The Monument. You may not know that its design was inspired by an object 150 light years away.

The Monument commemorated the Great Fire of 1666 and was built by Christopher Wren. The architect, however, was not Wren but his assistant Robert Hooke who had a particular plan for the building.

Like Wren he was also an astronomer. At this time some scientists still believed that the sun rotated around the earth. Hooke was determined to prove that the opposite was true.

A star called Gamma Draconis passes over the City every night and Hooke reasoned that by taking observations of the star at different times of the year he could prove that the earth went around the sun.

To do this he needed a telescope around 200’ long and, obviously somewhere to put it. The tower, therefore, was also an observatory.

Hooke’s astronomy was perfect, his calculations were flawless, the telescope was built with absolute precision and positioned perfectly within the building.

He had, however, failed to take two factors into consideration. His observations could involve fractions of a millimetre but every time a vehicle rolled down nearby Fish Street Hill, the tower vibrated slightly and upset his readings. Also, surprisingly for an architect, he’d failed to consider that a 200’ tall building would sway in the wind!

PARALLAX

How would Hooke’s experiment have worked? He was using something called parallax.

Here’s an example. Stand at the end of a room and choose something, say a picture, on the opposite wall. Take 3 paces left and you’ll be looking at the picture from a certain angle. Take 6 paces right and the angle changes. This is parallex.

He theorised that if the earth went around the sun then in, say, June it would be one side of the sun and in December on the other. and there would be quite a long way between the two.

If he took observations of Gamma Draconis in June and then again in December and the star was shown to be at a different angle (albeit a tiny one) then this would prove that the earth was indeed circling the sun.

Freemasonry

…has suffered three centuries of fake news so please set aside your preconceptions.

There are about six million Freemasons worldwide with around 200,000 in the UK.

Freemasonry’s origins are unclear but they seem to have been modelled on – or at least inspired by – the Guilds and Livery companies.

They meet in groups called lodges. The first City lodges were formed in the early 1700s and met in pubs along Fleet Street and at the Goose and Gridiron which was just north of St Paul’s cathedral.

Meetings are presided over by an officer called the Master. The title is used in both male and female lodges. It is not gender specific but denotes somebody who has mastered their trade.

The Master is supported by two Wardens – the same as in the City livery companies.

The ritual and mysticism make reference to geometry, astronomy and, not surprisingly, architecture.

Were one to witness a ceremony then it might appear there is a Christian element as the officials include a Junior and Senior Deacon and there is mention of God.

This is actually what Freemasons call the “Great Architect Of the Universe”.

It is up to each individual mason to decide, privately and personally, how he or she interprets this.

Lodges have no class barriers – a labourer may sit down with a Lord. They are strictly non-political.

Ever since conception they have been places where people of any religion could meet – even in communities which were divided by different faiths.

To this day the discussion of politics and religion is forbidden on Masonic premises.

Members  follow several principles, these include:-

  • To be honest in business and personal dealings.
  • To support a fellow member or friend in time of need.
  • To obey the laws of the land – anybody who has committed a significant crime is not allowed to remain nor become a Mason.
  • To help the less fortunate members of society. As such Freemasons in the UK give around £135,000 each day to charity (£50 million per annum) and contribute over 18 million hours voluntary work each year.

Famous Freemasons include aviator Charles Lindberg, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, scientist Edward Jenner, jazz player Louis Armstrong, politician & author Winston Churchill and Joséphine de Beauharnais whom you will know better as Joséphine Bonaparte.

In the City: Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington; author Alexander Pope and architect Nicholas Hawksmoor.

Women’s Rights campaigners
Several prominent members of the Suffrage and similar movements were masons:-

Lady Agnes Grove (1863-1926). Outspoken suffrage supporter, using her skills as a writer and public speaker.
Annie Besant (1847-1933) . Women’s rights activist and Suffrage leader
Annie Cobden-Sanderson (1853-1926). Militant suffragette who was sent to prison; member of Women’s Freedom League.
Charlotte Despard (1844-1939). Anglo-Irish suffragist, socialist and pacifist, founder of the Women’s Freedom League, one of the main suffrage organisations.
Evelina Haverfield (1867-1920). Prominent suffragette, having taken part in demonstrations, been arrested and imprisoned
Muriel, Countess De La Warr (1872-1930). President of the Federated Council of Suffrage Societies, which tried to unify the many disparate suffrage groups and determine a united policy.

First female masons?

The first record of female masons is in 1740s France. In UK about 5,000 women are masons, most belong to around 300 lodges under the Order of Women Freemasons which was formed in 1908.

Was Christopher Wren a Mason?

This has been subject to debate for over 200 years. There is evidence to suggest that he had begun some connection with freemasonry in the 1690s but there is no firm proof that he was ever actually a mason.