London secret finds: a police station, a clock and a road that got it ‘wrong’

By Hannah Silverman

It’s funny how we can walk the same routes regularly and yet miss so much. Especially in a city like London.

Are we just busy and distracted, ignorant and unresearched or simply on our way to the optometrist? They say “it’s the journey not the destination”, but every time I hear this I just want to nod my head and think about something else – something a little less clichéd, a little more ‘tell me something I don’t know’. Yet there is a powerful truth in this and they (whoever ‘they’ actually are, Hallmark poets?) are onto something. We tend to assume as a phrase it’s in reference to large scale adventures of our travelling futures, not the roads already well travelled. And that’s where we’re getting it wrong.

I’ve recently been reminded me to keep my eyes up and over the iPhone as I walk and to always chat to the barmen. Find out what I found out here…

1. The world’s smallest police station, Trafalgar Square

There’s a darling little attachment to Trafalgar Square that resembles a Doctor Who Darlek. Perhaps you’ve seen it? Maybe you saw it and figured, hey if they can have a giant bright blue rooster, why not feature a nod to science fiction?

Yet this was actually a one-person police look-out. It’s been around since 1826 when it was commissioned as an ornamental light fitting, but Scotland Yard took it over in 1926 and hollowed it out to make it police-purpose friendly. In its hey day the police used it as a watch post of the square, which was known to attract protesters and rioters, and today it’s widely quoted as the “world’s smallest” police station.

It’s still technically usable for observing the naughties, but when I peeked inside recently it was just filled with maintenance equipment.

Had no one pointed this out to me I would have supposed it was another quirk of the square, but now its one of my favourite facts of Westminster. You’ll find the station in the square’s south-east corner, near the South African High Commission.

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2. The clock in the barrel, Lyceum Tavern

After a few “I’m only going out for one” wines I began chatting to the Lyceum Tavern bar tender about the surprisingly cockney pub we’d found ourselves in on The Strand. We talked about its former life (the pub was once the dressing room for Lyceum theatre performers), its current life (family run and all that jazz) and finally the little nugget I was looking for.

“‘D’ya know that clock out side?” The bartender asked.

“It’s the second oldest working public clock in London after Big Ben”.

Now it’s a tricky one to date with a cross reference, but if anyone has any more information on this clock, let me know. In any case, it’s a clock in a barrel and that’s pretty cool, too. Look up, or you’ll miss it.

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3. The road with the ‘wrong way’ traffic, Savoy Court

The Savoy is somewhat of an institution with its rich history of splendour and glamour from the the golden age of hotels. But for more than 100 years vehicles including horse drawn carriages, entered and exited Savoy Court on the right-hand side of the road.

Say what?!

One of the reasons for this is steeped in chivalrous tradition. When being chauffeured in a carriage, the lady or dignitary would traditionally sit behind the driver, so when pulling up to the hotel it was a a much safer, easier option to drop passengers off closer to the hotel entrance. It was also closer for the doorman so they could open the door without walking onto the road.

Savoy Court is privately owned property so it’s not breaching any city regulations, despite the confusion to dazed pedestrians. To this day the traffic takes the same route, and now you know why.

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(If this kind of thing is right up your alley, comment below and I’ll set up another instalment. Over to you, travellers…)

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