1. St Paul’s in the Blitz
Known as the ‘Second Great Fire of London’, December 29 1940 saw countless buildings razed to the ground by the Luftwaffe. An incendiary bomb landed directly on the dome of St Paul’s and smouldered for a few nail-biting minutes, threatening to melt through the lead and set the wooden support beams alight. Fortunately, it rolled outward on to the surrounding stone gallery and was extinguished, much to the relief of battered but defiant Londoners. St Paul’s going up in smoke? Heaven forbid!
2. The Gunpowder Plot
You know the story: it’s 1605 and a gang of Catholics attempt to liven up the state opening of parliament with three dozen barrels of gunpowder stashed in the cellar beneath the throne of James I. Exactly what kind of country we’d be living in today had the plot succeeded is difficult to imagine, but Guy Fawkes, the group’s munitions expert and eventual patsy, has famously been described as ‘the last man to enter parliament with honest intentions’.
3. Assassination attempts on Queen Victoria
Over the course of her 64-year reign there were seven (known) attempts on the monarch’s life. Indeed, trying to bump off the sovereign became so trendy that to discourage people seeking the notoriety of a harsh sentence the crime of regicide was briefly downgraded. The third would-be assassin was one John William Bean, a 17-year-old hunchback dwarf. His gun failed to discharge and despite fleeing he was swiftly arrested when coppers simply rounded up every hunchbacked dwarf in London.
4. Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick
It’s Wembley Stadium, 1966, and 11 minutes into extra time in the World Cup Final. England ace Geoff Hurst unleashes a potent strike, which glances off the crossbar and across the goal mouth. But did it cross the line? Swiss referee Gottfried Dienst said it did, but recent video analysis suggests that he was wrong. West Germany, stunned, went on to concede another goal and ultimately lose the final. Thus a hefty chunk of our postwar national pride rests on what is most likely a- whisper it – near-miss.
5. Ray Davies’s brush with death
The Kinks’ was a sickly spending his fair share time in hospital. At age 13 an inpatient St Thomas’s beside the and, following a botched tracheotomy, came close to death. Somehow he pulled through, and when fit enough to be wheeled on to the terrace, Davies saw the view which would later inspire one of London’s greatest tunes: ‘Waterloo Sunset’.
7. Blue ice showers
A chunk of ‘blue ice’ the size of a portable TV fell from the sky in 2008, luckily missing any people but annihilating the garden shed of a bemused family from Sutton. For those unfamiliar with the term, ‘blue ice’ refers to the nuggets of frozen disinfectant and human waste which occasionally drop from leaking aeroplane toilets. This Sutton projectile was larger than the more usual football-sized ‘poodlebugs’ (yes, that’s a thing, too) of which some 35 are reported to fall nationwide each year. Gross.
8. The 1948 London Olympics 100m
As record holder in the 100m dash, sprinter Barney Ewell had every reason to think he’d walk the event at the 1948 London Olympics. However, he wasn’t reckoning with young upstart Harrison ‘Bones’ Dillard, who, following a catastrophic qualifier in his preferred 110m hurdles event was reluctantly plonked into the 100m starting line-up. Dillard ran a flyer and the unfortunate Ewell was just pipped at the post, as revealed in the sport’s first ever photo finish.
9. Exploding manholes
Over the years, the great angry monster that is London has tried myriad innovative ways to wipe its inhabitants clean off the face of the earth. This summer, the Great Wen excelled itself by making manhole covers literally explode in the street. Blamed on heavy rainfall shorting electrical circuits, notable incidents in Pimlico and Piccadilly have yet to claim any lives. Yet.
10. The War of the Worlds
Forget the naff movie adaptations – in HG Wells’s classic novel strange lights in the sky over, um, Woking presage the Martian invasion of Earth via London. For much of the book our fair city gets comprehensively whupped by the bug-eyed interlopers. However, the Martians eventually succumb to our native bacteria. Skanky Old London 1, Wannabe Alien Overlords 0.
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