The Weirdest Things That Have Ever Happened in London

London can be very weird, and if you need proof, look no further than pretty much any Boris Johnson photo-op -- or you can just dive into these fascinatingly strange events that've marked the capital's bizarre history:

Flickr/Quinn Dombrowski

That time there was a beer flood

This is one kind of liquid damage that might not be covered by insurance. In 1814 the streets of London were plunged under a deluge of beer from a mysterious explosion at a local brewery that created a destructive wave that havoc on Tottenham Court Rd. Two houses were ruined and eight people kicked the beery bucket.


The flying bouncy castle incident

One part art installation, one part bouncy castle where the walls changed colours, this inflatable structure (named Dreamspace V, and designed by artist Maurice Agis) was meant to stay securely on the ground. Except it didn’t. In 2006, it somehow managed to get untethered and take to the sky, soaring 50ft into the air and landing 150ft away taking the people inside along for the ride. Two deaths and thirteen injuries later, they still have no clue what caused it.


When birds traveled in time

Big Ben, with its massive four-sided clock, is one of the most iconic sights in London, and is generally regarded as unimpeachably reliable, except when, in 1945, a flock of starlings decided (consciously or not) to turn back time by all landing on the minute hand simultaneously. Their combined feathery weight pushed back the clock -- and the city -- by five minutes.


When a skyscraper melted cars

Yes, we’re talking about the Walkie-Talkie building. Its powers were first observed while it was still under construction, when a reflected sunbeam melted parts of an unluckily parked Jaguar. Despite the addition of a “sunshade,” there were reports of shoes and bicycle seats becoming scorched, and even an egg cooked from the bright reflection. The destruction doesn’t stop there: the downdrafts created by the shape has caused winds so strong they have literally knocked people walking on the street below off their feet. And the weirdest thing? The architect had the exact same problem in another city, and STILL didn’t change the design.


When pollution killed 4,000 people

While these days most of us are no strangers to pollution warnings in big cities, in 1952 it was a bit more unusual. A combination of cold weather, coal smoke, and windless conditions covered the city with a smog storm that lasted for days. Far worse then the semi-normal “pea souper,” it managed to make its way inside homes and in the course of five days killed nearly 4,000 people with another 100,000 people becoming incredibly ill. With modern technology it is even speculated that the death toll made its way up to over 120,000.

Flickr/Andrew Stawarz

The tube smells. So it makes sense that in 2001 London Underground scientists developed a fragrance called “Madeleine,” which was trailed at St. James Park, Euston, and Piccadilly stations. Unfortunately, it only made commuters feel ill, and the project was quickly ended.  

Yes, in 2006 a woman from Wood Green was a little behind on her rent, so the Housing Association broke down the door, only to find a skeleton sitting on her sofa, still watching TV. It turns out, she’d been there for the last three years.

Flickr/Ewan Munro

One fine day in 1810, a merry prankster named Theodore Hook bet his friend that he could turn any house in the city into the most talked-about address within a week. After a random place on Berners St was picked, he ordered (on their behalf) a dozen chimney sweeps, a fleet of carts carrying large deliveries of coal, cake-makers delivering large wedding cakes, doctors, lawyers, vicars, priests, fishmongers, shoemakers, and over a dozen pianos, as well as asking the Governor of the Bank of England, the Duke of York and Albany, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Lord Mayor of the City of London, among others, to turn up. The city was bought to a virtual standstill. He watched the chaos unfold from across the street... and won the bet.

Flickr/Mike Stenhouse

Hailing from Holborn in 1681, Whipping Tom would stalk the streets alone, and when he saw a similarly unaccompanied woman, would lift their dress, and slap their buttocks yelling “Spanko!” He apparently attacked with such speed that people thought he had supernatural powers, and male vigilantes began to prowl the streets dressed in women’s clothing. After he was caught, the attacks stopped until 30 years later when a copycat sprung up in Hackney.

When there was a train service for dead people

No really. Back in 1854, the dead were overcrowding London’s cemeteries and as a result they started moving burials out to Surrey, using the London Necropolis Railway to shift the bodies. It had its own platform in Waterloo fully equipped with private mourning rooms, funeral areas, and even a hydraulic lift to move the deceased ready for their final journey.

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Haley Forest is a London writer who considers herself to be one of the weirder things to happen to the capital, too. See the proof at @HCForest.