London has a rich but also unusual history. BAFTA nominated animator and director Martin Pullen, whose credits include Postman Pat and The Wombles, has penned his second book, The Completely Useless Guide to London.
Here are 10 things Vibe learnt about south-east London:
Spend a penny
The Crystal Palace (which gave the area its name when it was moved to Sydenham Hill following The Great Exhibition in 1851) gave birth to the phrase ‘spend a penny’.
The giant greenhouse had the first British public toilet (men only) and, during the exhibition, Pullen writes, 827,280 make visitors paid a penny each to use the ‘Reading Rooms’.
Forest Hill’s Horniman Museum has some wonderful – and wonderfully obscure – exhibits, chiefly its famous walrus. Pullen writes that, in 1870, a Canadian taxidermist was given a walrus skin but no idea of what the animal looked like. He stuffed it full, ‘creating an over-inflated balloon with a pair of tusks, not far short of the size of a small car’.
World’s First Theme Park
Commissioned in 1852, the Dinosaur Court at Crystal Palace Park was designed to be the World’s first theme park, Pullen writes. To mark the unveiling of the first dinosaur sculptures in the world on New Year’s Eve 1853, designer Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins held a dinner inside a dino mould.
Chimps for tea
If you have seen a PG Tips ad, then you’ll know chimps love tea. Well, according to Pullen’s book, during one of London Zoo’s regularly held chimps’ tea parties in January 1951, a chimpanzee escaped and caught the number 53 bus from Plumstead to Hampstead.
The Greenwich Foot Tunnel was opened in 1902 and it is said, Pullen writes, that the champers being drunk by dignitaries at the event seemed flat. That’s until they took the lift 15 metres to the surface where ‘due to the difference in atmospheric pressure, the champagne exploded in their stomachs’.
‘A masterpiece of engineering’ – in Thamesmead
The sir Joseph Bazalgette-designed Crossness Pumping Station in Thamesmead was described by respected architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘a masterpiece of engineering; a Victorian cathedral of ironwork’.
Racism in Chislehurst
Siouxsie and the Banshees got to number seven in the charts in 1978 with the song Hong Kong Garden, which recounts the racist behaviour of skinheads at a takeaway in Chislehurst High Street.
67 and out
Cricketing legend WG Grace died aged 67 in 1915 and is buried at Elmers End Cemetery. Inventor and toilet hero Thomas Crapper is buried nearby.
Spencer Perceval, the only Prime Minister to be assassinated was buried at St Luke’s Church in Charlton after his death in 1812.
Britain’s oldest mulberry tree is reportedly in Charlton Park. Pullen writes that King James I ordered 10,000 sapling to be planted in England as he hoped to tap into the lucrative silk industry, only he got the wrong type of mulberry tree and the silkworms didn’t feed on them.
The Completely Useless Guide to London by Martin Pullen is out now, £7.99