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Hello again! ...I can’t believe that it’s already the final week of my time here in London. These last three months have been nothing short of incredible, and I’d like to thank HKS again for the opportunity to experience our firm abroad. In honor of everyone that has commented on my ‘top 10’ lists, I’m turning my entire final blog into a list of ‘fun facts’ I’ve learned while living in London:
The London Underground ....Rivers?
All across London, there are hidden rivers beneath the city that have been buried over the centuries to help maintain sanitary living conditions. Most of these rivers are piped silently beneath the streets and outlet into the Thames without ever being seen, but there is one in particular that’s still visible to the public:
The Westbourne River, whose blue-green conduit runs overhead at the Sloane Square Tube station, unknown to many of the commuters waiting beneath it.
The Texas Embassy
As the UK's capital, London has many foreign embassies scattered across the city. However, there is one of particular interest to HKS employees:
The Embassy of the of the Republic of Texas at no. 4 St. James Street. There is similar plaque in Paris, and only these two locations indicate the foreign relations of the short-lived Republic of Texas.
London’s Protected Views
Like many metropolitan areas, London has building codes that prevent future development from encroaching on particular sight lines. Many of these focus around St. Paul’s Cathedral and strongly influence the design of future construction:
This phenomenon explains why new skyscrapers, especially 122 Leadenhall Street (“The Cheesegrater”, pictured above left), have been built in such distinctive shapes and locations.
The Noses of Soho
If you walk around London’s streets, you may notice the frequency of CCTV cameras guarding entrances and alleys. When the installation of these cameras began in the 1990s, naturally, there was public pushback. One of the most lasting is that of artist Rick Buckley:
His plaster noses can be found in and around Soho, installed directly ‘under the noses’ of the CCTV cameras. Have a hunt around for them next time you're in the area!
British Bollard Design
It turns out that London street bollards are actually French—and in a few remaining cases, literally. After the Battle of Trafalgar, the British took ownership of the defeated French naval cannons. When it was discovered that the cannons were too big to be re-purposed on British ships, they were turned muzzle-down and buried in the ground, effectively forming bollards:
This one above is not an actual cannon, but you can see how modern bollards reflect their heritage and have been replicated across the city.
The Origin of the Iconic Phone Box
Although it was a product of design evolution, the lineage of London’s famous red phone boxes can be traced directly back to the St. Pancras Old Churchyard:
This is the mausoleum, designed by architect Sir John Soane for his wife, whose dome was directly copied and placed atop the iconic red boxes.
Britain’s Separate Taps
Locals don’t seem to find issue with darting their hands between separate hot and cold faucets to “mix” the water:
And while I find this mostly inconvenient, it turns out that there’s an actual reason for this design. All cold water is pumped directly from water mains and is considered drinkable. Meanwhile, many older water systems utilize a separate hot water tank that if not properly maintained, can breed bacteria and other nasties. There’s no mixer on these systems, because if there ever were a valve failure, the entire system could become tainted by the contaminated hot water.
And so, the final top ten before I board my next flight: