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Beyond the streets of London

Keep on running

As London shivered through April, once again the fantastic annual Virgin Money London Marathon saw thousands of people take to the streets in the largest single charity fundraising event in the world. Little did Pheidippides know quite what he started when he ran from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to tell everyone about the Greek victory over the Persians in 490BC!

But London did not come up with the idea of a city marathon. No, that accolade belongs to Boston which has had city dwellers pounding the streets since 1897. London is a relative newcomer, having only started the event in 1981 but has since become one of the six major world marathons, the others being Boston, Tokyo, Berlin, Chicago and New York City. In that time, over one million runners have crossed the finishing line in the UK capital, raising around £1Bn (€1.27Bn) for charities and good causes.

London can also claim credit for the length of the modern marathon race (26.2 miles). This was an increase on the original distance, which was some 4 miles shorter, so that the Royal Family could see both the start of the race at Windsor Castle and the finish from the Royal Box at White City Stadium in West London, at the London Olympics in 1908.

Over 35 glorious years, the London Marathon has become a major national and international event, watched around the world on TV in over 200 countries. There is eccentricity and fun, including this year a guy dressed up in full, antique, deep-sea diver’s equipment, two lady apples and a Pepperami of unknown sex!

The streets of London

History, some of it quite gruesome, abounds as you run, walk or crawl in a car through the capital. Pudding Lane in the City of London is famous as the location where the Great Fire, which destroyed most of the medieval city, started 350 years ago this year. But where does that rather homely name come from? Actually you probably won’t want to know this, but it derives from the street effectively being used as a drain into the Thames for the entrails of animals (known colloquially as ‘pudding’) from local butcher shops!

Houndsditch on the edge of the East End was where, yes, you may have guessed, the capital’s dead dogs were dumped and then there is Bleeding Heart Yard, also in the City. This rather pleasant cobbled courtyard was apparently so-named after the gruesome murder of Lady Elizabeth Hatton in 1626. Her still beating heart was found on those very cobbles beside her mutilated body! Work continues at the office of your columnist to find the history behind Bollocks Terrace in Tooting, south west London, so watch this space!

More generally, some interesting facts on the streets of London have been sent in by a good friend and reader of this column. He tells me there are no ‘Roads’ in the City of London – only ‘Streets’, ‘Lanes’, ‘Squares’ etc. The explanation is simple – the word ‘road’ was not in general use before the late 16th century, by which time everything in the Square Mile had already been named!

And moving to the smarter end of town, London has a road which required a special act of Parliament in 1902 to allow cars to drive on the right – and as such is the only road in the United Kingdom where this is permitted.

Savoy Court leads from the Strand to the famous hotel and whilst people claim it was to make American hotel guests feel more at home or allow women, who traditionally sit behind the chauffeur to alight from a car on the side nearest the hotel entrance, the answer is a little more mundane.

The Savoy theatre is on the corner of Savoy Court and the Strand and there was a concern that carriages and cars dropping people off or picking them up would block the entrance to the hotel! And quite right too as the queues around the Savoy Theatre are big at the moment with the wonderful Sheridan Smith appearing in the lead role of Funny Girl.

New tenant at City Hall

It was all a lot tighter than expected in the battle to become the next Mayor of London, one of the most powerful political positions in the country.

Sadiq Khan, the former human rights lawyer and son of an immigrant, Pakistani bus driver, won despite infighting in his own party and has now become the first Muslim Mayor of London. Regardless of politics, this result clearly demonstrates just how much progress the UK capital has made, in terms of tolerance and multi-ethnic integration, in the last 30 years.

Meanwhile, the son of the late Sir James Goldsmith lost and the Conservative tenure at County Hall (previously with Boris Johnson as incumbent) came to an end. Zac therefore remains the serving Member of Parliament for the leafy west London suburb of Richmond Upon Thames. His pledge to stop Heathrow expansion was at the top of his agenda and he says he will continue to fight this corner. For me though, the most memorable part of his campaign was at one of his hustings meetings where someone had scrawled the words “and crack” on a poster beneath his slogan “Back Zac”!
A close shave indeed.

Much ado about something

Last month saw the 400th anniversary of the death of the world’s greatest playwright, William Shakespeare. Known as the ‘Bard of Avon’, Shakespeare moved to London in 1587 and it was here he wrote much of his work.

It is less well-known that he was also a leading actor in a company called the ‘Lord Chamberlain’s Men’ and performed in many of his own and other plays at the newly-built Globe Theatre on London’s Southbank. Or that he was also a shareholder in the theatre and, as his fame and wealth grew, he amassed a property porfolio in London and Stratford which would be the envy of any modern day investor!

The original Globe Theatre burned down on June 29, 1613, in less than two hours, when a theatrical canon set fire to the thatched roof during a performance of ‘Henry VIII’, a collaborative play by Shakespeare and John Fletcher. It was rebuilt the following year sadly only to be torn down by the Puritans 30 years later! The current painstaking reconstruction opened in 1997 and performs the Bard’s plays every day of the week. It is well worth a visit to take in a play or a guided tour.

Shakespeare retired to Stratford Upon Avon and died there on April 23, 1616 at the age of 52.