Hidden In Plain Sight: London
Millions of tourists visit this city every year yet some things remain hidden
When I say London, these are the pictures that come before most eyes. The ‘Big Ben’ and London’s black cab.
The ‘Big Ben’ as it is so famously called is not the accurate name of the tower. The tower is christened Elizabeth Tower and the bell that chimes inside the tower is called the Big Ben. Now, the Elizabeth Tower is a part of the Houses of Westminster. The House of Westminster is where the parliament of the UK meet and conduct sessions. The House of Lords and House of Commons meets here.
Just opposite the Houses of Westminster is the Portcullis Building that has the offices of the minsters since the old parliament has little space to fit all MPs.
Now for the head turner trivia.
Did you know that the Portcullis building sits on an underground train station called Westminster? If you get out of the station and turn around, the building will be right over your head!
What is more amazing that this entire structure was built approximately 50 years ago. And there is a secret lying there in plane sight.
The London Underground, train network of the city, has multiple lines running across the city. If you see the silver or Jubilee line, it comes down to Westminster right under the Portcullis house.
Here the entire Westminster station has 6 exits. if you notice carefully the third exit points you out to the Houses of Parliament.
Walking a little further, amongst unsuspecting passengers is a revolving door almost hidden in plain sight from the daily commuters. This revolving door leads directly into the Houses of Parliament! Of course entry for non MPs like us is strictly prohibited. But would you give it a shot and appear to be a lost tourist?
The peer at the top of the Houses of Parliament is the Prime Minister. The official residence of the Prime Minster of the UK is the famous address of 10 Downing Street. The 10 Downing Street residence is actually 3 houses made into one. There are about 100 rooms and the room where the PM’s Cabinet meets is sound proof.
This famous address is surrounded by security guards and heavily guarded for more than a century. Number 10 has housed British PMs since 1905.
The PM has a direct access from the house into Whitehall the place which houses almost all government departments.
10 Downing Street also has a direct telephone line to the White House in the US made in 1982.
Let us admire it from the outside. Notice the door of 10 Downing Street. It looks like a plain door, doesn’t it? Look again, what is missing?
It does not have a keyhole! How on earth will the PM get in? The 10 Downing Street door does not have a double sided lock. Rather there is a lock from the inside. Of course the PM always has someone on duty to open the door for him or her.
The Number ’10’ on the door is another mystery. The 0 in 10 looks as if it has been placed at a bizarre angle. The 0 is crooked and this is not done by design or font size. As Britain loves tradition, even the 0 in Number 10 has its own story.
Before the door we see now, there was another door standing in its place, that’s obvious but the old door had a very notorious number plate. The 0 on the old door would always slip and tilt itself. No matter how much one would hammer or try to stick it. So in tribute, the current door has a crooked 0!
Furthermore, the black lion door knocker along with the black and white door was installed around 1770 to 1782 and it hasn’t been changed since.
The Number 10 door which appears to have been made of wood is also very deceiving itself. Did you really think they’d leave the PM guarded behind a easily breakable wooden door? This door is made of reinforced steel.
The Black cabs of London are next in line to these two structures in London. These cabs are so famous that they mostly pass as children’s toy taxi’s as well. The London Black Cabs are also called Hackney Carriages.
The first Hackney Carriage as you might have guessed from the name was a horse drawn coach. They became so many in number that the government had to introduce a licensing body. The earliest licensing of Hackney Carriages can be traced to 1662!
Over the years, horse drawn carriages where replaced by motorised vehicles. This happened in 1901.
The black London cabs are famous but so are the men and women driving them. An average London cabbie, as cab drivers are called, has the map of London tattooed in their eyelids (not literally).
To become a cabbie, you have to pass a test called The Knowledge. It is one of the most difficult exams in the world and of course most difficult exam to become a taxi driver.
The London cabs don’t have a GPS system because a cabbie is supposed to know every nock and corner of the city. It takes about 2 to 4 years to pass the Knowledge.
In that span, a to-be cabbie must memorise all the 20,000 miles of road around a 6 mile radius of Charing Cross, London. They must also know the shortest route to get there with minimum traffic.
This difficult syllabus isn’t something new but made almost 150 years ago in 1865! This was when carriages were horse drawn!
London takes care of its cabbies. There are small green coloured cafes for cabbies in London called Cabmen’s Shelter Fund. These small cafes only let cabbies inside. Its not for the others.
These tiny cafes were built to get tea, water or small snacks for cabbies since 1875. There were only pubs around back then. The cabbies would drink ale and be too tipsy to drive! Cabmen’s Shelter provided a solution.
Next time when in London, open your eyes and let the city trod upon you with its century old traditions.
Take the London Quiz here
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Image Curtesy- Google Images