Thought I’d take a quick look at three London urban myths. Whilst writing this I started to feel a bit bad about dispelling these myths as each one has a certain charm about it, but as these are all well documented I decided to press on. However I don’t think that I’ll ever directly tell anyone on one of my tours that these are hoaxes. Historic facts can be a little stark at times, so where’s the harm in introducing urban myth now and again.
I’ve put the conclusions at the end of the post, so if you’d rather not have these myths busted then don’t read right to the end.
Hook: In a doorway in Great Newport Street, just off Leicester Square there is a small hook attached to wall. The story goes that as this area is the confluence of six busy roads, a traffic policeman was used to ensure the smooth flow of traffic, These officers were kitted out with a heavy cape to protect them from inclement weather, but during the summer months, the wearing of them could be uncomfortable. In the 1930s the building that the hook resides on was under construction and a large nail was protruding from the structure on which the Bobby on the beat would hang his cloak during hot weather. When the building was completed the nail was removed, but a helpful builder screwed the hook, along with the nameplate to the wall to ensure that cloaks could still be hung up while the traffic was being conducted.
Line: This is the legend that Buckingham Palace has it’s very own tube station on a spur from the Piccadilly Line. If Her Majesty needs to do an emergency flit in the event of a nuclear strike, or an armed revolution, she could be safely conveyed to Heathrow Airport via underground train.
Stinker: If you look closely next time you pass under Admiralty Arch just off Trafalgar Square, you can see the representation of a human nose. It is said that this a replica of Napoleon Bonaparte’s hooter and was installed at the request of the Duke of Wellington. The nose is of a height that would make it accessible to a man on horseback, and that every time the Duke passed it by he gave it a little tweak for good luck.
****Scroll no further if you wish not to know the real stories****
Hook: The tale that gets told usually places this around the 1930s citing the construction of the building. Surprisingly what looks like quite a modern-looking building is older than it looks. The facade is modern, but the building that dates from the 17th century, and as far as I’m aware there were no road traffic police in those days. There is a picture of the building taken in 1943. The facade looks different making it easy to see there is certainly no hook in evidence. By the 1930s traffic lights were commonplace in London, so it’s unlikely there would be a need for a policeman to direct traffic, and also the proximity from the hook to the road junction is some distance, which doesn’t make the hook very handy. There also seems to be a problem with the font used on the sign as it doesn’t correspond to the typeface in use by the Met at the time. It is thought that the hook is just a practical joke that seems to have been instigated sometime in the mid to late 1940s.
Line: It is certainly a fact that there are foot tunnels beneath the palace, but a full spur line and private station is a very long way from that. With the manpower needed to build such a feature, it would be expected that someone would have spilled the beans over the intervening period of time, but nobody has ever come forward to say that they were involved in its construction. Is Heathrow Airport the best location for escape? In the case of a nuclear strike it would definitely be targeted and given the time it would take to get there would in all probability have been destroyed. This is a strange one, difficult to prove and to disprove in equal measure. However, the myth seems to have been given credence after the Queens visit to to Aldgate Underground Station after the 7/7 bombings. A picture appeared in newspapers showing the Queen being presented with a replica station sign bearing the name Buckingham Palace. Perhaps she hung it in her own private station.
Stinker: This one is much easier to disprove. It is in fact part of a larger art installation originally called the “London Noses“, but now I believe known as the “Seven Noses of Soho“. They were created by artist Rick Buckley in 1997. Initially, about 35 were attached to buildings such as the National Gallery and Tate Britain but by 2011 only about 10 survived. The artist was provoked by the controversial introduction of CCTV cameras throughout London and inspired by the 1950s avant garde artists the Situationists, installed the noses under the noses of the cameras. The prank was not publicised and so urban myths grew up to explain the appearance of the noses. Further proof, if any is needed is that the Duke of Wellington died in 1852 and Admiralty Arch wasn’t built until 1910.