Mark Mason is one of our heroes. He took on the challenge to travel the entire underground network on foot for his book Walk the Lines and survived a victorious champion, packed full of exciting London tales. He now takes people on guided 90 minute walks along different stretches of Tube lines, uncovering the area’s trivia and history. We asked him for five of his favourite discoveries from his travels…
1. Central Line
I already knew that St Mary le Bow (home of the Bow Bells) took its name from the bowed arches in its crypt (which is still there today, housing an excellent cafe). But I didn’t know that each of the 12 bells has an inscription from the Bible on it, the first letters of which spell ‘D. WHITTINGTON’.
2. District Line
I already knew that when Monet painted the Thames he had nearly 100 canvases on the go at any one time, because the appearance of the river changed so rapidly. But I didn’t know that Westminster Bridge is green and Lambeth Bridge is red because they’re at the Commons and Lords ends of Parliament respectively.
3. Piccadilly Line
I already knew that when a deep level line crosses a cut-and-cover one on the Tube map, the cut-and-cover goes over the deep level to mimic reality. (Cut-and-cover lines, like the Metropolitan and District, are near ground level, as they were constructed by digging up then relaying the road, while deep level ones, like the Piccadilly, were tunnelled without breaking the surface). But I didn’t know that at South Kensington station the platform columns are painted (top to bottom) green, yellow and blue to symbolise the fact that the District and Circle Lines are above the Piccadilly Line.
4. Central Line
I already knew that the Royal Exchange’s symbol is the grasshopper because of its founder Thomas Gresham. One of his ancestors was born illegitimately and abandoned by his mother in a cornfield; he was only found because a local boy chased a grasshopper into the field. Without that grasshopper, reasoned Gresham, his ancestor would have died, and he would never have been born. But I didn’t know that the steps of the Royal Exchange are one of the four places in London from where the proclamation of a new monarch is made (the others being St James’s Palace, Charing Cross and the site of Temple Bar).
5. Piccadilly Line
I already knew that Green Park has no formal flowerbeds because Charles II’s wife caught him picking flowers there for a mistress, and ordered every last one to be ripped out. But I didn’t know that Section 23 of the Royal and Other Parks and Gardens Regulations (1977) forbids you from touching a pelican without prior written permission.
Find out more about the walks at theimportanceofbeingtrivial.com.