London Oddities # 6: Tower Subway
Unnoticed by many of the visitors to the Tower of London is what looks like an oversized brick post box. It is, in fact, the entrance to the second tunnel that was to be built under the Thames. The first tunnel now runs the tube line from Wapping to Rotherhithe and took fifteen years to dig and at an enormous sum in those days of £600,000. A South African by the name of James Greathead said he could dig a tunnel under the river in under a year at the cost of £16,000 using his own invention of the Greathead Shield tunnelling digger. Digging commenced at four and a half feet a day and took ten months to complete - a staggering success for those times, even allowing for some delay when the digger unearthed 300 silver coins from Henry III times. The tunnel was used for foot passengers and when Tower Bridge was erected around fifty years later the tunnel became redundant. Today it is only used for carrying cables and pipes under the river.
London Oddities # 7: Tothill House of Correction
Just across the road from Westminster Abbey, unnoticed to all the thousands of tourists that visit every day, is a quiet street named Little George Street. This gateway was the prison gate for Tothill Fields House of Correction and was recited here in 1959. On the site of the present Westminster Cathedral stood a correctional facility named Tothill Fields Prison. This was said to be a more desirable place to be incarcerated than most others due to the more humane (in comparison) treatment handed out to its inmates. Maybe this is the reason it only lasted for a period of fifty years. Or was it because the land was wanted for the building of the Cathedral? The main punishment seemed to be the rule of silence; prisoners were not allowed to converse with each other. The other main form of punishment was to withhold their food and the main reason for this to be imposed upon you was being caught talking to another prisoner. According to records of the time, a whipping had only been authorised twice between 1851 and 1855. Henry Mayhew visited the prison in 1861 and in his book 'Criminal Prisons of London', praises the staff for ensuring discipline without the need for physical punishment. Most of the inmates were in their early teens but children from the age of five years and upwards were sentenced to be detained there.
London Oddities # 8: The Turkish Baths
Built-in 1895 by Henry and James Forder Nevill to house a new Turkish bath. This is a hidden gem that stood up to the bombs of two world wars and I.R.A attacks in this Bishopsgate area. It also stood up against property developers in the mid-1970's who kept the historical baths untouched. It is now used as Ciro's Pizza Primadoro Restaurant. It was once a Turkish restaurant named Gallipoli, where you would be dining down in the baths to belly dancers and Turkish music. When the developers moved in, the owners of the Gallipoli would not sell for under £1 million. Thank goodness the developers would not pay and so left this priceless building intact. To find this hidden treasure, walk along Old Broad Street from Liverpool Street, it is hidden on the left side behind the office courtyard.
London Oddities # 9: The Panyer Boy
When the Panyer boy first sat on his basket, the Great Fire of London was only 22 years old. He has now been sitting on his basket for more than 320 years. Panyer Alley in the Middle Ages was London's bread market and on a wall of a house in the alley was this stone with a boy seated on a panyer, or breadbasket. The little ditty inscribed on the stone is the motto for this website:
"When ye have sought the city round yet this is the highest ground. August the 27 1688."
During several rebuilding's over the years the boy has been moved a few times. During the Second World War, he was placed in the safe custody of the Vintners Company. Nowaday's he is hidden above the steps of St Paul's Underground Station, unnoticed by most travellers, he is one of the best-hidden gems of London.
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