140 London Underground Facts

Some people say that we are living in a post-fact world.  This epic list of facts relating to the London Underground says otherwise!  So whether you use it every day or just see it on movies, here are some facts that only Fox News could ever disagree with.

1. The average speed on the Underground is 20.5 miles per hour including station stops.

2. The busiest Tube station is Waterloo, which was used by around 95 million passengers in 2015. In 2014 Oxford Circus took top spot, in 2009 it was Victoria, and in 2005 it was King’s Cross.

3. On the Metropolitan line, trains can reach over 60mph.

4. The shortest distance between two adjacent stations on the underground network is only 260 metres. The tube journey between Leicester Square and Covent Garden on the Piccadilly Line takes only about 20 seconds, but costs £4.90 (cash fare). Yet it still remains one of the most popular journeys with tourists who seem unaware of the short walk above ground.

5. Many tube stations were used as air-raid shelters during the Second World War, but the Central Line was even converted into a fighter aircraft factory that stretched for over two miles, with its own railway system. Its existence remained an official secret until the 1980s.

6. Angel has the Underground’s longest escalator at 60m/197ft, with a vertical rise of 27.5m.

7. The shortest escalator is Stratford, with a vertical rise of just  4.1m.

8. Only 45% of the Underground is actually in tunnels.


Dark areas indicate the tunnelled sections of London Underground. Map from Londontopia.net

9. The longest distance between stations is on the Metropolitan line from Chesham to Chalfont & Latimer: a total of only 3.89 miles.

10. The longest continuous tunnel is on the Northern line and runs from East Finchley to Morden (via Bank), a total of 17.3 miles.

11. Aldgate Station, on the Circle and Metropolitan Lines, is built on a massive plague pit, where more than 1,000 bodies are buried.

12. The longest journey without change is on the Central line from West Ruislip to Epping, and is a total of 34.1 miles.

13. The deepest station is Hampstead on the Northern line, which runs down to 58.5 metres.

14. In Central London the deepest station below street level is also the Northern line. It is the DLR concourse at Bank, which is 41.4 metres below.

15. There are around 40 abandoned or ‘ghost’ stations on the London Underground.  Whilst some such as Aldwych are used for filming purposes, others are long forgotten such as the British Museum station.

16. The TARDIS, (Dr Who’s transport) can be found outside Earl’s Court station. Or at least an old police call box can.

17. The London Underground manages about 10% of all green spaces in London.

18. Wildlife observed on the Tube network includes woodpeckers, deer, sparrowhawk, bats, grass snakes, great crested newts, slow worms.

19. Over 47 million litres water are pumped from the Tube each day, enough to fill a standard leisure centre swimming pool (25 metres x 10 metres) every quarter of an hour.

20. The London Underground trains were originally steam powered.


21. The station with the most platforms is Baker Street with 10 (Moorgate also has 10 platforms but only six are used by Tube trains – others are used by overground trains).

22.The District Line has the most stations: 60.

23. The Waterloo and City Line has the fewest stations (no intermediate stations)

24. The Underground name first appeared on stations in 1908.

25. London Underground has been known as the Tube since 1890 due to the shape of the tunnels.

26. The first deep-level electric railway line also opened in 1890.

27. The Tube’s logo is known as “the roundel” (a red circle crossed by a horizontal blue bar)

28. The station with the most escalators is Waterloo with 23.

29. The total number of passengers carried during 2013/14 was 1.265 billion – making it the world’s 11th busiest metro.

30. The highest station above sea level is Amersham, at 147 metres.

31. Tube trains travelled 76.4 million kilometres last year.

32. The Northern line has the highest maximum number of trains required for scheduled peak period service: 91.

33. The Waterloo & City line has the fewest scheduled for peak period service at just five.

34. The total length of the London Underground network is 250 miles.

35. In 1926, suicide pits were installed beneath tracks due to a rise in the numbers of passengers throwing themselves in front of trains.

36. The eastern extension of the Jubilee line is the only Underground line to feature glass screens to deter “jumpers”.

37. The earliest trains run from Osterley to Heathrow on the Piccadilly line, starting at 4.45am.

38. The greatest elevation above the ground level is on the Northern line at Dollis Brook viaduct over Dollis road, Mill Hill: it rises a total of 18 metres (60ft).

39. One of the early names proposed for the Victoria Line was the Viking line.

40. In 1924, the first baby was born on the Underground, on a train at Elephant & Castle on the Bakerloo line.

41. The American talk show host Jerry Springer was born at East Finchley during the Second World War: his mother had taken shelter in the station from an air raid.

42. Builders working on the Bakerloo Line are reported to have suffered from the bends while tunnelling under the Thames.

43. The inaugural journey of the first Central line train in 1900 had the Prince of Wales and Mark Twain on board.

44. The tunnels beneath the City curve significantly because they follow its medieval street plan.

45. The Central line introduced the first flat fare when it opened at the turn of the 20th century. The tuppence fare lasted until the end of June 1907 when a threepenny fare was introduced for longer journeys.

46. Charles Pearson, MP and Solicitor to the City of London, is credited with successfully campaigning for the introduction of the Underground. He died in 1862 shortly before the first train ran.

47. The first escalator on the Underground was installed at Earl’s Court in 1911.

48. The first crash on the Tube occurred in 1938 when two trains collided between Waterloo and Charing Cross, injuring 12 passengers.

49. Harry Beck produced the well known Tube map diagram while working as an engineering draughtsman at the London Underground Signals Office. He was reportedly paid 10 guineas (£10.50) for his efforts.

50. Harry Beck’s map was considered too big a departure from the norm, but the public liked it and it became official in 1933.

51. Busking has been licensed on the Tube since 2003.

52. Sting and Paul McCartney are both rumoured to have busked on the Underground in disguise.

53. The phrase “Mind the gap” dates back to 1968. The recording that is broadcast on stations was first done by Peter Lodge, who had a recording company in Bayswater.

54. The Peter Lodge recording of “Mind the Gap” is still in use, but some lines use recordings by a Manchester voice artist Emma Clarke. On the Piccadilly line the recording is notable for being the voice of Tim Bentinck, who plays David Archer in The Archers.

55. The Jubilee Line was the only Underground Line to connect with all the others until the East London line ceased to be part of the Underground in 2007 (now the Central Line does too).

56. Approximately 50 passengers a year kill themselves on the Underground.


57. Fewer than 10 per cent of Tube stations are south of the Thames.

58. The total number of lifts on the Underground, including four stair lifts, is 167.

59. Smoking was banned on the Underground as a result of the King’s Cross fire in November 1987 which killed 31 people. A discarded match was thought to be the cause of that inferno.

60. An estimated half a million mice live in the Underground system.

61. 1961 marked the end of steam and electric haulage of passenger trains on the London Underground.

63. In the film Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the Hogwarts headmaster has a scar that resembles a map of the London Underground on his knee.

64.There are only two tube station names that contain all five vowels: Mansion House, and South Ealing.

65. Edward Johnston designed the font for the London Underground in 1916. The font he came up with is still in use today.

66. Amersham is also the most westerly tube station, as well as the highest (see above).

67. A macabre statistic is that the most popular tube suicide time is around 11am.

68. In January 2005, in an attempt to alleviate a problem with loitering young people, the London Underground announced it would play classical music at problem stations.

69. The Underground has the oldest section of underground railway in the world, which opened in 1863.

70. The first section of the Underground ran between Paddington (Bishop’s Road) and Farringdon Street. The same section now forms part of the Circle, Hammersmith & City, and Metropolitan lines.

71.The Underground was first used for air raid shelters in September 1940.

72. During the Second World War, part of the Piccadilly line (Holborn – Aldwych branch), was closed and British Museum treasures were stored in the empty spaces.

73. The first Tube tunnel was opened in 1880, running from the Tower of London to Bermondsey.

74. The Central Line used to be nicknamed as the ‘Twopenny Tube’ for its flat fare.

75. Dot matrix train destination indicators were introduced onto London Underground platforms in 1983.

76. The single worst accident in terms of fatalities on the Underground occurred on February 28, 1975 at Moorgate, when 42 people died.

77. The Piccadilly line extended to serve Heathrow Terminal 4 in 1986.

78. Penalty fares were only introduced in 1994.

79. The Tube carried one billion passengers in a year for the first time in 2007.

80.The last manually operated doors on Tube trains (replaced by air-operated doors) were phased out in 1929.

81.The Jubilee Line was named to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 – but the line did not open until 1979.

82. A census carried out on September 27, 1940, found that 177,500 Londoners were sleeping in Tube stations.


83. During the war, special supply trains ran, providing seven tonnes of food and 2,400 gallons of tea and cocoa every night to people staying in the Tube.

84. Covent Garden is believed to be haunted by the ghost of William Terris who met an untimely death near the station in 1897.

85. Another station that is believed to be haunted is Farringdon. The so-called Screaming Spectre is believed to have been a milliner.

86. The Seven Sisters Underground station is believed to have been named after a line of elm trees which stood nearby until the 1830s.

87. The fictitious station of Walford East, which features in the long-running soap opera Eastenders, is supposed to be on the District Line.

88. Every week, Underground escalators travel the equivalent distance of going twice around the world.

89. According to TFL, London Underground trains travel a total of 1,735 times around the world (or 90 trips to the moon and back) each year. Each train on average travels 114,500 miles a year around London.

90. A spiral escalator was installed in 1907 at Holloway Road station, but linear escalators were favoured for the rest of the network. A small section of the spiral escalator is in the Acton depot.

91. A small section of the old London Wall survives in the trackside walls of Tower Hill station at platform level. One of the largest pieces of the wall also stands just outside this station.

92. Finsbury Park station has murals that show a pair of duelling pistols, harking back to a time when men would visit the park after hours to defend their honour.

93. In 2012, the most complained about line was the Jubilee.

94. The coffin of Dr. Thomas Barnardo was carried in funeral cortege on an underground train in 1905, one of only two occasions this is known to have happened.

95. The Underground helped over 200,000 children escape to the countryside during the Second World War.

96. During the war, some stations (now mostly disused) were converted into government offices: a station called Down Street was used for meetings of the Railway Executive Committee, as well as for the War Cabinet before the Cabinet War Rooms were built.

97. Brompton Road (now disused) on the Piccadilly, Line was apparently used as a control room for anti-aircraft guns.

98. Only five London Underground stations lie outside the M25 motorway.


99. The Underground runs 24 hours a day at New Year, during special events (such as for the opening and closing ceremonies of the London Olympics), and on selected lines at the weekend.

100. According to a 2002 study air quality on the Underground was 73 times worse than at street level, with 20 minutes on the Northern Line having “the same effect as smoking a cigarette”.

101. The Oyster card was introduced in 2003.

102. The worst civilian death toll on the Underground occurred at Bethnal Green Tube tragedy in 1943, when 173 people died. It is the largest loss of life in a single incident on the London Underground network.

103. The largest number of people killed by a single wartime bomb was 68 at Balham Station.

104. The largest Tube car park is at Epping and has 599 parking spots.

105. The Central Line has the most tube stations with no surface building (Bank, Bethnal Green, Chancery Lane, Gants Hill, Notting Hill Gate)

106. Of the stations that have stairs, Hampstead Station has the most steps (320 in total).

107. There are 14 journeys between stations that take less than a minute on average.

108. King’s Cross St Pancras tube station is served by more Underground lines than any other station on the network.

109. Seven London Boroughs are not served by the underground system, six of them being situated south of the River Thames.

110. The total number of carriages in London Underground’s fleet, as of January 2013, was 4,134.

111. The total number of stations served on the network is 270.  This doesn’t include the hundreds of network rail and overground stations.

112. Filming on location in the Underground costs £500 per hour (plus VAT) unless you have a crew of less than five.

113. You can now no longer go around the Circle Line in a full circle. From 2009, the Circle Line terminated at Edgware Road.

114.  Greenford on the Central Line was the last Tube station to use wooden escalators. They were replaced in 2014.

115. Arsenal (originally Gillespie Road) on Piccadilly line is the only station named after a football team.

116. There are three tube stations on the Monopoly board: Liverpool Street Station, King’s Cross and Marylebone.

117. The number of stations that only use escalators is 12.

118. Nineteen stations just use lifts.

119. The River Westbourne was funnelled above a platform on Sloane Square in a large iron pipe suspended from girders. It remains in place today.


I’ve never met anyone who believes me on my tours that a river really does run over their heads but here it is anyway. Photo from https://150greatthingsabouttheunderground.com/2012/11/28/69-the-river-over-sloane-square/

120. The first tube station to be demolished was Westbourne Park on the Metropolitan Line. It was re-sited in 1871.

121. There is a mosquito named after the Tube – the London Underground mosquito, which was found in the London Underground. It was notable for its assault of Londoners sleeping in the Underground during the Blitz.

122.The London Underground Film Office handles over 200 requests a month.

123. In Alfred Hitchcock’s first feature film The Lodger (1926) featured the director making a cameo on the Tube.

124. The record for visiting all the stations on the London Underground network – known as the Tube Challenge – is currently held by Ronan McDonald and Clive Burgess of the United Kingdom, who completed the challenge in 16 hours, 14 minutes and 10 seconds on February 19, 2015

125. The Tube Challenge record did not appear in the Guinness book of records until its eighth edition in 1960, when it stood at 18 hours, 35 minutes.

126. An interactive novel has been published, set on the London Underground. You can read it here.

127. In cockney rhyming slang, the London Underground is known as the Oxo (Cube/Tube).

128. Around 30,000 passengers went on The Metropolitan Line on its first day of public business – January 10, 1863.

129. On August 3 2012, during the Olympic Games, the London Underground had its most hectic day ever, carrying 4.4 million passengers – but that record was beaten on Friday December 4 2015, when 4.82 million people used it.

130. St James is the only Underground Station to have Grade-I protected status. It includes 55 Broadway, the administrative headquarters of London’s Underground since the 1930s.

131. The most recent Tube birth – a boy – was in 2009.

132. As Princess Elizabeth, the Queen travelled on the Underground for the first time in May 1939, when she was 13 years old, with her governess Marion Crawford and Princess Margaret.

133. Poems on the Underground was launched in 1986, the idea of American writer Judith Chernaik.

134. A fragrance known as Madeleine was trialled at St. James Park, Euston, and Piccadilly stations in 2001, intended to make the Tube more pleasant. It was stopped within days after complaints from people saying they felt ill.

135. There were eight deep-level shelters built under the London Underground in the Second World War. One of them in Stockwell is decorated as a war memorial.


Stockwell Underground Deep Level Air Raid Shelter. Photo from https://londonpostcodewalks.wordpress.com

136. After the war, the deep level shelter at Clapham South housed immigrants from the West Indies.

137. A 2011 study suggested 30 per cent of passengers take longer routes due to the out-of-scale distances on the Tube map.

138. The first ever air-conditioned, walk-through Underground train ran on the Metropolitan line in 2010.

Line status of London Underground in the summer without air-conditioning!

Line status of London Underground in the summer without air-conditioning!

139. Alcohol was banned on the Tube – and all London Transport – from June 2008.

140. In 2018 the new Elizabeth line will open.   A fleet of 66 new 200 metre long trains built in the United Kingdom will run on the Elizabeth line, featuring nine walk-through carriages, air conditioning, CCTV and live travel information. Each train will be able to carry up to 1,500 people.   Stretching over 60 miles from Reading and Heathrow in the west across to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east, the Elizabeth line will stop at 40 stations – 10 newly built and 30 newly upgraded – and serve approximately 200 million people each year. 26 miles off new tunnels will be added to the network.

The upcoming London Underground Map with the new Elizabeth Line added!
The upcoming London Underground Map with the new Elizabeth Line added!

 List based on an old Daily Telegraph article.

Posted in Heritage, history, Life, London, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A History of Hacking – And how hacking got America into WW1

Going by the furore in the media at the moment, one would be forgiven for thinking that the world is ending because of the likelihood that Russia has hacked into American computer systems.    The truth is, this sort of thing has been happening at least for many centuries if not since the dawn of civilisation.

Does anyone really believe that America and Russia haven’t hacked each before?   China has almost built its current position on the backs of commercial hacking of industrial secrets and processes from western nations.  Indeed it is only a few years ago since the big scandal over the American NSA bugging and monitoring German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her government, supposedly their strong allies.

Screen Shot 2017-01-16 at 08.24.57.png

GCHQ in Britain is possibly the number one intelligence gathering service in the world and the NSA in the United States even pay towards the service due to its perceived expertise.  It is said that it was GCHQ that informed the CIA that Russia was hacking into American systems in the election campaign after fending off similar Russian attacks on our own election campaign in the previous year.  To know of this, one would assume that Britain is also hacking Russia and the USA too. Which is no doubt often convenient seeing as the NSA is supposedly not allow to spy on its own citizens.   This is nothing new however as we’ll see later in this post.

These days, hacking is primarily conducted electronically, using electronic communication systems that carry hopefully codified methods of communication.   Apart from the electronic element, such codes or cyphers have been around much longer than many would imagine.

The Romans for one had various cyphers which are very weak by modern standards but at the time must have seemed impregnable.  ROT 13 is a variety of the Ceasar cypher and works on a simple substitution method where the alphabet is divided into two groups of 13 letters.  Each letter is simply swapped by the letter 13 letters removed.


Britain has a long tradition on cyphers and codebreaking.   In the Elizabethan Era, Thomas Phelippes  was in charge of monitoring the communications of those suspected of plotting against the queen.  He is most famous for breaking the cypher letters between Mary Queen of Scots and Anthony Babington.


Centuries later, George Scovell led a team called the Army Guides.  He was a brilliant linguist and he gathered together a group of individuals, each with their own often dubious gifts and managed to break the French code known as the Grande Chiffre which had been the mainstay of their communications for centuries.



The Grande Chiffre or Grand Cypher


In the spring of 1811, the French began using a code based on a combination of 150 numbers known as the Army of Portugal Code. Scovell cracked the code within two days. At the end of 1811, a new code called the Great Paris Code was sent to all French army officers. It was based on 1400 numbers and derived from a mid-eighteenth century diplomatic code (Grande Chiffre) which added meaningless figures to the end of letters. By December 1812, when a letter from Joseph Bonaparte to Napoleon was intercepted, Scovell could decipher enough of it to read Joseph’s explicit account of French operations and plans. The information gained proved vital to Wellington’s victory over the French at Vitoria on 21 June 1813.

It is no doubt actions such as this which in Iran has Britain known as the sly old fox, sneakily and cleverly manipulating events behind the scenes in a more dangerous or productive way than others might be by using outright force.

Here is a political cartoon from the Iranian Farhang News where you can see The Queen posing for a selfie standing outside the British Embassy in Tehran.

Here is a political cartoon from the Iranian Farhang News where you can see The Queen posing for a selfie standing outside the British Embassy in Tehran.

Of course apart from the theatrics of James Bond and the infamous  hacking of the Engima Machine codes and indeed doing the opposite and ‘faking news’ through actions such as Operation Mincemeat.


Once less well known occurrence of historic hacking which had grander repercussions more likely than even Vladmir Putin could ever hope for is the case of The Zimmermann Telegram.

The Zimmermann Telegram, as it came to be known, was critical to the Americans entering the first world war, which was crucial for the Allies to gain victory. More than this, in January 1917, the efforts of the young codebreaking genius Nigel de Grey, and his eccentric colleagues, shaped the thinking of President Woodrow Wilson on America’s future role as a supremely powerful interventionist force that lasted until the present day.

An old Etonian by the name of Nigel de Grey who was then a 30-year-old Balloon Corps veteran transferred to the Admiralty intelligence department, would become one of the most senior figures at Bletchley Park during the second world war. He would also go on to have a vital role in constructing the modern post-war form of GCHQ. But the interception of the Zimmermann Telegram was a uniquely pivotal and indeed for many years a classified moment.

At the beginning of 1917, in the aftermath of the Somme and with the land war slogging bloodily on, the Germans planned a new and terrible submarine offensive in the Atlantic. The idea was to target all merchant shipping heading for Britain. No matter where they came from, cargoes and crews would be blasted into the dark icy depths. That even meant ships from America.

Even at this late point in WW1, America was doggedly pursuing its policy of neutrality.   Aware that their new plans might not go down well in America, the German Foreign Minister, Arthur Zimmermann, got in touch with his ambassador in Mexico.  Deciding that German many as well go the whole hog when upsetting the USA, Zimmermann wanted to encourage Mexico to attack America by promising Mexico the return of Texas. With Germany helping out with money and arms, the USA would be fighting on multiple fronts and its power diffused so less willing and able to help the British in Europe.

German telegraph cables across some parts of Europe had been cut but they could still send messages via circuitous neutral routes. One of the connecting cables, used by Americans, ran under a Cornish village prior to crossing the Atlantic seabed. The British codebreakers were secretly tapping it. And so it was that they got hold of the encoded message from Herr Zimmermann.


The Zimmerman Telegram

Back in a rather dusty corner of the Admiralty, Nigel de Grey and his team got to work. This department, Room 40, was the forerunner to Bletchley. Codebreakers then tended to be classicists rather than mathematicians. De Grey was rather brilliant on languages, but he also had the extra element of lateral-thinking genius rather like Sherlock Holmes is portrayed in the BBC show, Sherlock. One section of the department had — randomly — a large bath at the end of a corridor where his colleague Dilly Knox monopolised it, often sitting naked and quite still in the hot water, miles away in abstruse thought.

The German codes they were tackling  were exquisitely complex, so much so that the Germans assumed they could never be cracked. This was some time before machinery could be involved to help break the codes.  Instead and almost unbelievably, cryptology involved almost unimaginable mental gymnastics, plus blackboards and chalk.

Nonetheless, having got hold of the telegram, Nigel and his team decoded it in a couple of days. They instantly understood the importance of their discovery and rightly concluded that if the American president and the people could see this proof of German treachery in black and white then that would change everything.   Whilst at worse, it was a very real possibility that Germany might fight the Allies to a standstill forcing the French to sue for peace and at best, an Allied victory might be years away, this hacking discovery was an unbelievable breakthrough.

The Zimmerman Telegram, hacked and decyphered.

The Zimmerman Telegram, hacked and decyphered.

De Grey himself described the scene when he took the find to his boss, Admiral William ‘Blinker’ Hall:

We had got a skeleton version, sweating with excitement because neither of us doubted the importance of what we had in our hands… As soon as I felt sufficiently secure in our version, even with all its gaps… I ran all the way to [Blinker’s] room… I burst out breathlessly, ‘Do you want America in the war, Sir?’ ‘Yes, why?’ said Blinker. ‘I’ve got a telegram that will bring them in if you give it to them.’
In Blinker’s version of the event, he referred to de Grey as ‘dear boy’.

That was only the beginning however as it was vital that the Germans did not twig that their codes had being broken on an industrial scale.  At the other end, It was also vital that the Americans did not know that the British were tapping their cables, so it was made to look as though the cypher-snatch had happened in Mexico.

A few weeks later President Wilson, who had been so determined to keep the US out of the carnage, was presented with Zimmermann’s plot. There was initial scepticism, but the British codebreakers allayed it. The day before Zimmermann’s letter was made public to the press, President Wilson told colleagues: ‘If you knew what I know at this present moment, and what you will see reported in tomorrow morning’s newspapers, you would not ask me to attempt further peaceful dealings with the Germans.’

Publication brought conspiracy–theorist howls against the media. According to the historian Adam Tooze, an American–German activist called George Sylvester Viereck protested bitterly to newspaper proprietor William Randolph Hearst that ‘the alleged letter… is obviously a fake; it is impossible to believe that the German foreign secretary would place his name under such a preposterous document.’

Some weeks later, Arthur Zimmermann confessed that the message was real and America entered the war in April 1917.

Because of decades of official secrecy, the codebreaker who changed the future was never given a hint of public acknowledgement. It was only some years after his death that his brilliant work could be summoned from the shadows.

The WW1 code-breakers at work in Room 40.  Photo copyright Aberdeen University

The WW1 code-breakers at work in Room 40. Photo copyright Aberdeen University

Curiously, in those interwar years, Nigel was quite forgotten about by the code-breakers of the Government Code and Cypher School, until the darkness of Nazism crept over. The Admiralty wrote to him in early 1939, asking if he had any sort of experience in the field of intelligence. Nigel’s sardonic reply brought a scramble of apologies and exhortations that he return to the cryptology fold. The business of codebreaking was so secret that even its own heroes could disappear.   In fact very similar events happened at Bletchley after WW2 with Churchill orderi9ng the entire programme shut down and in doing so, gifting the embryionic world of computing to America.

Nigel de Grey was relatively small of stature — hence his nickname ‘the Dormouse’


Nigel de Grey, still so secretive that a 20 minute google search for his photo, only came up with this.


Today, Nigel de Grey is one of the most revered names by the cryptanalysts of GCHQ in Cheltenham, themselves the successors to the geniuses of Bletchley Park. His part in establishing codebreaking as one of the most vital means of defending the realm now spans a century just as it looks like America may start pulling back from that global interventionist vision which he himself set in place.

If you’d like to know more about WW1 including sections on the new scientific inventions of the war, why not check out my easy to read history book on the First World War.

Lest We Forget

My easy to understand but comprehensive history of WW1 in Kindle and Paperback.

Posted in history, Science and Engineering, WW1, WW2 | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Bacton Altar Cloth Revealed To Be The Only Surviving Gown of Queen Elizabeth I

One of the things I like to do both when I am giving tours or merely pottering around the countryside in my own time is to stop off an explore village churches.  Each one is a veritable box of delights and you can never tell what you will find inside. Almost always there will be something of interest inside and you can get to tell a lot of the history of the village and surrounding area when you learn how to read a church properly.

Often they have quite unique features or even treasures as a result of an unexpected historical blip or wealthy benefactor centuries ago.  Sometimes you find something really special in an isolated church, miles from anywhere.  The locals unaware of the significance of an item that has been an ever-present for centuries or even longer and the church never having been visited by anyone with the knowledge to make the discovery.

Over the last year or so, something of a major discovery has been made in the sleepy village church of Blacton in the rural county of Herefordshire.

As with most church altars, they are covered in beautiful cloths, sometimes, embroidered, often ancient and intricately designed.  Like pew cushions, wall hangings and other items in churches, they are often recycled and put together by local parishioners.  The Altar cloth at Blacton though has been found to have an extra special heritage.

Eleri Lynn, curator of historic dress at Historic Royal Palaces (HRP), first discovered the cloth hanging on a wall in the 13th-century church of St Faith, Bacton, last year.

“I knew immediately that it was something special. I felt I had found the Holy Grail, the Mona Lisa of fashion.When I saw it for the first time I knew immediately that it was something special. As I examined it, I felt as though I had found the Holy Grail, the Mona Lisa of fashion. None of Elizabeth I’s dresses are known to have survived, but everything we have learnt since then points to it being worn by Elizabeth.”

The botanical pattern on the cloth bears a striking resemblance to that on a bodice worn by Elizabeth in the so-called Rainbow Portrait of 1602 and Ms Lynn believes it is “not inconceivable” that the skirt, which cannot be seen in the painting, is part of the same outfit.


St Faith's Church in Bacton, Herefordshire.

St Faith’s Church in Bacton, Herefordshire.

The country’s leading experts on royal garments have spent the past year piecing together clues about the provenance of the beautifully embroidered textile, which had been cut up and used for hundreds of years as an altar cloth in a Herefordshire parish church.

They say all the evidence points to it having once been a skirt worn by the Tudor queen, making it the only known survivor of her famously lavish wardrobe.


The Altar Cloth with a royal heritage?

The Altar Cloth with a royal heritage?

The story of how the cloth came to be hanging in a glass case in the church is almost as fascinating as the fabric itself.

Ms Lynn explained: “We have 10,000 items of clothing and accessories in storage here, including many items worn by kings and queens, but there is almost nothing from before the reign of Charles II.

“In Tudor times, clothing was so expensive that it would be passed on from one generation to the next, or taken apart and reused for something else, like cushion covers.

“On top of that, Oliver Cromwell sold off every item of clothing in the royal stores, so the only things we have,  including a hat which might have been worn by Henry VIII, have come back to Hampton Court after they have survived elsewhere.”


Elizabeth I, The Rainbow Portrait.  Circa 1600 AD

It was while researching a blog on Welsh connections to the Tudor court that Ms Lynn came across the Bacton altar cloth and paid a visit to the church.

She said the embroidered design, featuring roses, daffodils and other flowers, was typical of the late 16th century, and noticed straight away that it was made from cloth of silver, which, under Tudor sumptuary law, could only be worn by the monarch or immediate members of the royal family.

The connection to St Faith’s made sense because its parishioners included Blanche Parry, Elizabeth’s favourite lady-in-waiting, to whom she is known to have given clothes.

Animals embroidered on the cloth, including butterflies, frogs, squirrels and caterpillars, were added at a later date, and Ms Lynn’s team discovered an illustration of a bear in a book published in 1594 that exactly matches a bear embroidered on the fabric.

When St Faith’s realised the importance of the find, it loaned the altar cloth to HRP, which is about to undertake an 18-month restoration, unpicking stitches from a crude Edwardian renovation and sewing it on to a new backing cloth.

It will then be displayed in its rightful home in the Tudor palace of Queen Elizabeth I, Hampton Court Palace which you can visit with myself at Ye Olde England Tours as indeed you can to her childhood home at Hatfield House where amongst other things, you can see the fabulous painting of the Tudor monarch.


Posted in Heritage, history, London, Religion and Faith, Ye Olde England Tours | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Found! The Lost Welsh City Of Trellech

Many people have their heroes, people that they might want to imitate.  Maybe a film star, entrepreneur or scientist.  Until now, I didn’t really have anyone… at least not alive but now I have in the unassuming form of Stuart Wilson.  10 years ago we were both pretty similar and we both had just over £30,000 to invest.

Me?  I did the responsible thing which I had been doing pretty much since I was born and put a deposit (Downpayment) on a small flat on the edge of London.   Stuart, however, did the really smart thing and he decided not to buy a flat but instead to purchase a field from a farmer in Wales as he believed it to be the site of a lost city.  In my defence that amount of money barely buys a parking space in London!

There are lots of lost settlements in Britain but Trellech was one of the largest and significant.

Stuart explains …. Out of all the decisions I have made in my life I would say buying the field was one of the good ones.  I have to say that even with all the problems that I have had or that may occur, it was definitely the right thing to do.   “I should have really bought a house and got out from my parents’, but I thought: ‘To hell with my parents, I will stay at home and I shall buy a field instead,” he said. “People said ‘you must be mad’.”

The Lost City of Trellech underneath the fields as it has been for centuries.

The Lost City of Trellech underneath the fields as it has been for centuries.

As well as living with his parents, Stuart has also turned down jobs he may have otherwise applied for in order to keep working on the plot.

He started excavating with a small dig in 2004, said the “quite large” settlement, which dates back to the 13th century, would have had a population of around 10,000 people, making it around a quarter of the size of London.

“This population grew from nothing to that size within 25 years,” he said. “Now it took 250 years for London to get to 40,000 people, so we’re talking a massive expansion.

A small part of Trellech uncovered.

A small part of Trellech uncovered.

“And that’s just the planned settlement. The slums would have been quite numerous. There you would be talking even 20,000 plus. It’s a vast area.  If you’re working in the fields you are living hand to mouth every single day – it’s a really hard existence. Suddenly, a big industrial town comes here, this is a great opportunity for you.  You up-sticks – to hell with your land – ‘let’s move to the industrial town where the opportunity is’.”

He explained the settlement was the home of several Norman lords of the De Clare family, who used it as a place to mass produce iron.Its precise location has not been known for hundreds of years after the city was lost to civil war and famine in the 17th century.

Archaeologists and university officials had supposedly located the industrial city near the present village of Trellech in Monmouthshire, but Stuart disagreed.

“We knew from history that Trellech should have been the largest in the area,” he said. “What they had found was not big enough.”

The city, which lies between Monmouth and Trelleck, is believed to date back to the 13th century and is thought to have been home to around 10,000 people, including Norman lords of the de Clare family who used it as a place to mass-produce iron.

He added that, from what had been discovered so far, it appears as though the inhabitants’ life would have been tough.If you’re working in the fields you are living hand to mouth every single day – it’s a really hard existence.  Stuart said the population swelled to tens of thousands within just 25 years.

The buildings appear seem to date back to 1300 A.D. when the town was reorganised and built in stone after the attacks by both English and Welsh forces in the previous decade.

Mr Wilson said evidence of the earlier town has been found below some of the buildings, with occupation on the site believed to have started 100 years previously.By 1400 some of the buildings had fallen into ruin and by 1650 after the civil war the last of the buildings were abandoned.    So far, Stuart and his volunteers have discovered the remains of a manor house with two halls and a courtyard, enclosed with curtain walls and a massive Round Tower.

In the last 15 years, Stuart has been joined by hundreds of volunteers – both from the local area and, in the summer, from universities and colleges – as they unearthed what he now believes is the hidden city.

Countless historic artefacts have been unearthed.

Countless historic artefacts have been unearthed.

Stuart estimates the project has cost around £200,000 in total over the last 15 years and is now seeking planning permission for an education centre.  As we take more on, there’s a greater need to expand our campsite and while there are several campsites within a walkable distance, it would be better to have something here.

All photos are copyright to Stuart Wilson and if you want to learn more about his exciting project and even volunteer then please visit his website.


You can get a good overview of what is going on by watching the video below.

Posted in Heritage, history, Life, News | Tagged , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

A Cute Salute At Windsor Castle

It’s not often if ever I post anything considered vaguely cute on my blog but having seen this yesterday, I thought it was too good not to share.

The footage of four-year-old Marshall Scott who visited Windsor Castle on Wednesday to celebrate his 4th birthday has gone viral after someone filmed his adorable salute standing next to a guardsman.

Little Marshall Scott was himself dressed as a miniature guardsman when one of the Coldstream Guards posed for a photo with him.

Marshall’s mum Imogen Scott, from Slough, explained: ‘He is very patriotic and says the Queen is “lovely and beautiful”.   On her own Facebook page she wrote

‘Can’t believe how good Marshall’s birthday has been.

‘Want to say thank you to all the people that stopped to have photos with him & wished him a happy birthday, to the family that bought him a soldier teddy, to the group of girls that got everyone to sing happy birthday to him & to the soldier who, after his march, stopped all the other soldiers to come back to Marshall to have photos with him (didn’t get a picture as my phone reset itself) Apparently it has been ‘THE BEST BIRTHDAY EVER’

Marshall has now received an official invite for a very special tour around Windsor Castle from the soldier in the Coldstream Guards who came out to greet the little boy.

You can see little Marshall having the time of his life in the video below.

The official Facebook page of the Coldstream Guards comments on the video by statting ‘By coincidence it was this young lads 4th Birthday when he came and visited us at Windsor Castle. We have a spot reserved for him at the Army Foundation College Harrogate for the March 2029 intake. #FutureGuardsman #ColdstreamGuards.’

It should be remembered that whilst in some nations the guards who are on display are merely ceremonial for the sake of the tourists, in Britain all of the soldiers on public duty are actually real soldiers who fight in places such as Afghanistan and when they are on duty at Windsor, Buckingham Palace or several other places then it just happens to be where they are posted.

They are there 24 hours a day to guard The Queen and others whether tourists are watching or not.   In fact only yesterday it was reported that The Queen was almost shot by one of her own guardsmen whilst out for a stroll in the early hours.

Screen Shot 2017-01-07 at 07.40.30.png

From time to time her majesty is said to struggle to sleep. During a spell of insomnia, the 90-year-old will occasionally put on her coat and go for a short stroll, an ex-guardsman told The Times.

Thinking that he had caught a potentially dangerous intruder, sneaking into the Royal residence at thinking that he had caught a potentially dangerous intruder, sneaking into the Royal residence at 3am, he shouted: “Who’s that?”

But to his surprise, it was actually the Queen.

“Bloody hell, Your Majesty, I nearly shot you,” he is reported to have said, on impulse.

Perhaps realising this wasn’t the tone to be used when addressing the Queen, he told The Times he expected a telling off. But the Queen reportedly took responsibility for putting him in such an awkward position.

“That’s quite all right,” she replied. “Next time I’ll ring through beforehand so you don’t have to shoot me.”

It is believed the encounter happened at the Queen’s normal weekday residence, Buckingham Palace.

On more than one occasion in recent years, soldiers on guard duty have confronted over-eager tourists and genuine assailants with their bayonets ready to run them through if necessary.

So next time you see tourists treating guards disrespectfully remember that the guards are fully entitled to take any appropriate action if they are feeling threatened and by threatening them, you are in fact threatening The Queen.

I’m not sure why people would do that?  What tourist would go to China or the USA and threaten the president or police?

With that all said it just makes the encounter that little Marshall Scott had at Windsor Castle, all the more special.

For encounters that don’t go so well with tourists do check out the video below.  My favourite is the Muppet at 1 minute which as another tourist observes ‘You Stupid Man’.

If you want to see London, Windsor or anywhere else without getting trampled to death then you know who to contact 🙂   https://yeoldeenglandtours.co.uk


Posted in Cool Britannia, Funny & Humour, Life, News, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A timely Sherlock Holmes tour of London

Recently I was interviewed by a wonderful writer who had noticed the guided tours I run and who shares my interest in Sherlock Holmes and the writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. His article is a wonderful mix of classic Sherlock Holmes and the current BBC hit Sherlock. I hope you all enjoy it and check out his wonderful blog. Don’t miss the new Sherlock show on BBC1 on Sunday evening, I can say for a fact that at least one scene takes place right on my usual Sherlock route so I can add that to the tour very easily. Lucky old me! When you see Sherlock reading the note on the bench, that is Byng place in the very heart of Bloomsbury and Sherlock country and just across the road from where the very first Sherlock movie was filmed around 95 years ago!



It’s 130 years since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published his first Sherlock Holmes novel and his character is, after numerous incarnations on screens large and small, probably going stronger now than it has since the early 20th century.

Back in the 1880s, though, Holmes’ creator wasn’t finding life particularly easy. He had moved to London from Edinburgh to set up as an ophthalmologist and things weren’t going quite according to plan.

savini-interior.jpg Savini at Criterion

Holmes’ first bow

Stephen Liddell runs Sherlock Holmes tours of London and has researched many places in the capital related to the author and his creations.

He says: ‘Conan Doyle had set up a practice on Montague Street, opposite the British Museum, but he found out after a while that he couldn’t afford the rent. It was here that he started writing his first Sherlock Holmes novel.’

Possibly for that reason, when Doctor Watson makes his…

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When to take the Christmas decorations down? Or When Christmas used to last until February!

Many people are back at work or at least thinking of doing so whilst for me, this is actually my first day off of Christmas and it is sooooo nice!   Whilst I am enjoying my Christmas lights in the morning and evening, I have seen more than the odd newspaper report on taking down decorations since New Year.  It all seems a bit forced to me.

Like most things related to our celebration of Christmas, the whole idea of taking down the Christmas decorations on twelfth night on or around the 6th January is an entirely Victorian invention.  The Victorians were amongst the first to embrace a truly capitalist society and to be frank, having the masses sitting around and having too much was a complete hinderance to business and commerce.  That combined with the Church of England wanting to boost attendances for Ephinany meant that the idea that Christmas should be wrapped up early in January came to be the norm.  Even more so, it was perpetuated that it was bad luck to keep them up to 13 nights or longer.


Prior to this, the Christmastide season actually lasted until Candlemas on 2nd February.  Recently though Christmas has moved ever forward, whilst Christmas Day itself used to be at the middle or at least the beginning of festivities, now it is almost at the very end.

Commercial and secular pressures now mean in many ways Christmas starts in mid-November which is around a month before it was when I was growing up in the 1980’s when rebels might put their decorations up a week or so before Christmas rather than the traditional Christmas Eve.  Would any of the classic Christmas movies be quite so atmospheric if characters were rushing around to buy presents or their tree soon after Halloween?  Probably not.

These days many people pull their decorations down at New Year, only half way through even the Victorian 12 nights and some on my street even take them down if not on Boxing Day (26th) then the 27th or 28th December.  Admittedly these are often the people who for some reason have their decorations up in November.

I’ve never been one to be quick in taking down my decorations down quickly.  If only for the very practical reason in Britain in winter, it is so dark, cold and even miserable.  Who wouldn’t want to keep things going for at least a little while longer?

The whole idea of January being dark and dreary takes on a different outlook if you keep Christmas going a bit longer.   Perhaps don’t keep everything up to the 2nd of February but maybe a few token lights and sprigs of holly and of course candles for Candlemas, my candles are never really off from October until March.

Taking a more old-fashioned approach even makes more sense with regards to that stupid idea of New Years Resolutions.  Even the most ardent believer would agree that all of a sudden becoming strict on food or exercise on the 1st or 2nd of January is about the worst time possible, even if you don’t keep the whole Christmas festivities going to the twelfth night.


The four candles of Advent

Really the whole Christmas period is very well marked.  Advent doesn’t start on December 1st no matter how many chocolate calendars are in the shops.    Advent starts on the Sunday nearest the Feast of St. Andrew and must cover 4 Sunday which means it can start any time from 2th November.   Similarly, you then have Christmas Day on the 25th which is just the starting point on the 12 day ‘Feast’ which the Victorians decided to conclude on Epiphany which is the day on which the Magi (3 wise men or 3 kings) arrived.

Don’t let the faceless forces of commercialism force you to do what it wants you to do.  Don’t let work force you to forgo happiness and become all serious again, try and keep the Christmas spirit going until February as was always the case.   Then if you really must, use Lent to go on that diet and give up food, sweets, drinks and take up a bit more exercise.  Even on the logical level, it makes more sense to do so in spring than in the very depth of winter.

It’s not often that being traditional can make you something of a rebel but this is one of those times.  Bringing down the decorations and getting back into work mode?  Not me, I’m only just getting started!


Candlemas – 2nd February the real end of Christmastide.

This is actually my 500th blog post.  Who would have thought I’d still be going (strong?) at this stage!


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