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London’s top ten urban myths

Posted at 10:15 am, January 5, 2014 in Fun London, News

Top Ten, Pregnant Wee

1) Senate House was earmarked by Hitler for his British HQ 

Every University of London student knows that the imposing building that is their central library and admin hub was deliberately spared by German bombers because Hitler wanted it as a base in the event of a Nazi invasion. Maybe he did, but there’s absolutely no proof to support the idea. Furthermore, the accuracy of German bombs was about as predictable as the führer’s state of mind, and most of the Blitz raids happened at night. It shouldn’t take a history degree to figure out that the sparing of Senate House was probably accidental.

2) Elephant & Castle is named after La Infanta de Castilla 

Nice as it might be to imagine that south London’s most unglamorous intersection takes its name from a Spanish princess, the truth is far more prosaic. The name comes from a coaching inn that stood there in the seventeenth century. This in turn took its name from a blacksmith and cutler who previously occupied the site – he was a member of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers, whose crest features an elephant and a castle, but no Spanish royalty.

3) You’re always within six feet of a rat 

No you’re not, so stop squealing and get down off the table. The only way this might be true is if you live/work in the sewers or carry your pet rat with you everywhere. Research suggests that, on average, you’re actually about 164ft away from a rat. That’s about half the height of Big Ben, so just chill out, okay? Oh, for God’s sake, will you get down off that table!

4) American Robert P McCulloch bought London Bridge by mistake 

Oh, how we love to mock our American cousins. Give us a half-baked story that makes them look daft and we’ll swallow it whole. The idea McCulloch thought he was getting the iconic Tower Bridge in 1968 has taken firm hold in the popular imagination, even though it has been consistently and comprehensively denied by literally everyone involved. Still, we cling to it. Stupid bloody Yanks…

5) If the ravens leave the Tower of London, England will fall 

Not to be harsh, but you’d have to be a special kind of mad to believe this one. For one thing, it’s widely accepted that the Crown’s feathery protectors weren’t introduced to the Tower until the nineteenth century, and that their age-old connection was actually invented by the Victorians to add drama to the various Tower stories (torture and executions just weren’t enough for them). Secondly, they’re just birds at a frickin’ tourist attraction. The most dramatic outcome of their departure would be a sharp rise in men wearing tights and ruffs turning up at Jobcentres.

6) The Chanel logo appears on lampposts in Westminster 

Ahh, gawd bless all you romantics for believing this one. It’s certainly true that Coco Chanel was romantically entwined with the Duke of Westminster in the 1920s and early ’30s. But the two interlocking letter Cs that you can find on lampposts around Westminster are, sadly, not a besotted tribute by the Duke to his stylish amoureux. The posts weren’t installed until the 1950s, and the double C refers to City Council (of Westminster). Mind you, we wouldn’t put it past Mayfair to commission its own Chanel lampposts at some point.

7) The Queen is at home if the Union flag is flying over Buckingham Palace

Actually, it’s the other way round. If the Union flag is flying, the Queen isn’t in residence. The flag that means she’s indoors is the Royal Standard – a red, gold and blue quartered number, which features some odd, deformed lions. That’s the one to look for if you’re thinking of popping in for a cuppa with Her Maj.

8) A pregnant woman is legally allowed to wee into a policeman’s helmet 

We seriously advise against trying to put this to the test. From what we can tell, it stems from a well-meaning attempt to grant maidens with child some leniency in their bladder requirements. But the law stating that they could relieve themselves anywhere in public if a toilet wasn’t nearby, somehow transformed in the public imagination to: ‘’Ere love, why not ’ave a piss in a copper’s hat?’

9) The Great Fire wiped out the Great Plague 

Much like the population of London during the plague, this is a big grey area. It’s true that the fire destroyed many of the squalid slums that had allowed the plague to spread. And there were definitely far fewer outbreaks afterwards. But it’s now widely accepted that the major plague epidemic of 1665 had subsided of its own accord before the fire erupted in the summer of 1666. Looks like you should have failed History after all.

10) The word ‘nylon’ is derived from ‘New York’ and ‘London’ Really?

So stockings could have been referred to as Londorks? Or Orklons? Or Donnews? Or Newdons? No, no, no and, seriously, no. The initial name for the material was No-Run, but because the reality didn’t bear this claim out, the letters were changed until, finally, manufacturer DuPont settled on ‘nylon’. So they missed an opportunity to cement the special relationship with lady garments, and managed to make etymology boring.
Compiled by Dan Frost

Read other London top tens including:

➢  10 baffling statues
➢ 10 hauntings
➢ 10 movies on the tube
 10 weird shops

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