You may think you know a lot about the sights and historic treasures of London’s West End. Take a London walking tour, however, and you’ll discover strange and unusual facts about Britain’s best-loved landmarks. Here are just seven of them to whet your appetite:
1. There are 100 staircases, three miles of passages, and more than 1,000 rooms in the Palace of Westminster which is home to the House of Commons, House of Lords, and Big Ben. Despite having 650 MPs, the House of Commons only has 427 seats – which is why MPs have to stand during important debates.
2. Buckingham Palace was built on a site where King James I had a mulberry garden planted to cultivate silk worms. It didn’t work, though – it seems the king had the wrong kind of mulberry bush planted.
3. The first Penny Post Office in Westminster was set up on Gerrard Street in 1794. The site is now in China Town and is marked by a green plaque. Led Zeppelin is also rumoured to have staged its first band rehearsal in a basement in Gerrard Street.
4. Westminster Abbey’s museum has a collection of wax figures of previous kings and queens. Some were used during funerals, either put on top of the caskets or taken through the streets ahead of the funeral procession. Oliver Cromwell’s body was given a ceremonial ‘execution’ at the Abbey in 1658 – after the monarchy was restored.
5. More than 44 million visitors go to Covent Garden every year. It’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
6. A black background on one of the sides of the clock which overlooks the Parade Ground at Horse Guards is said to mark the beheading of King Charles I at the Banqueting House opposite. During the reign of Henry VIII, Horse Guards was the scene of jousting tournaments.
7. Number 10 Downing Street didn’t get its name until 1779 when more houses were added to the street. Until then, it was number five. Its builder Sir George Downing was called a ‘perfidious rogue’ by the diarist Samuel Pepys. He had been Cromwell’s head of intelligence but switched sides after the monarchy was restored.
If you’d like to learn more on our West End walking tour, buy it here. Get a second tour of London’s East End for free.