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20 UK Landmarks That Aren't What They Seem

20 UK Landmarks That Aren't What They Seem

20 UK Landmarks That Aren't What They Seem
05 October 2015

The UK is blessed with a host of magnificent landmarks for tourists to gawp at, and us residents to be quietly proud of.

But not all of them are quite what they seem: many have dark histories; unlikely beginnings, while some are even the subject of curses and secrets.

For some solid gold facts, read on to discover 20 famous landmarks that aren't quite what they seem.

(Images: WikiCommons/Rex)

Big Ben is the bell, not the tower

Despite the famous tower on the side of the Houses of Parliament being commonly referred to as Big Ben, this is actually the nickname for the great bell of the clock itself. The larger structure is actually named the Elizabeth Tower and was called this to celebrate the queen's Diamond Jubilee in 2012 - prior to this it was known simply as Clock Tower.

Leeds Castle is not in Leeds (but is in Leeds)

It is, in fact in Kent, which we imagine must have led to a few long arguments with a Sat Nav once 'destination had been reached'. It's named after the village (and civil parish) of Leeds in the Maidstone district of Kent, rather than the city some 240 miles north, and the site has been used for a castle since 1119 - Catherine of Aragon used it until Henry VIII moved on to the rest of his wives.

The Tower Of London was the original London Zoo

While primarily a royal Palace and defence system, the famous Tower hosted a royal zoo from the 1200s for around 600 years. Henry III had a polar bear which went fishing in the Thames while it is known that lions, leopards, kangaroos, ostriches and elephants lived there. By the 18th century it was open to the public: admission cost three half-pence or the supply of a cat or dog to be fed to the lions. The animals were eventually moved to Regent's Park to become London Zoo.

Canterbury Cathedral is famous because of a very un-Christian act

It's the home cathedral of the head of the Church of England and one of the most famous Christian cathedrals in the world, but it owes its prominence to the murder of an archbishop, Thomas Becket in 1170 by the King's knights. He became a martyr, the cathedral a place of pilgrimage, which brought it wealth and led to its expansion.

The BT Tower was officially a secret for 28 years

Hard to believe, but London's BT Tower was classed as an 'official secret' for 28 years from its opening in 1965. It was omitted from all Ordnance Survey maps, despite being 620ft tall and slap bang in the middle of central London. It was only 'revealed' under parliamentary privilege by Kate Hoey MP, who stated that "the British Telecom tower does exist and that its address is 60 Cleveland Street, London". Shhh, don't tell anyone...

We still don't know how Stonehenge was built

The biggest of the Stonehenge stones, the nine-foot, 25 ton sarsens came from Marlborough Downs, 20 miles to the north. While 20 miles is a long way, at least that's vaguely close. However, the smaller stones, which weigh 4 tons each, come from several different sites in western Wales - as far as 140 miles away. Water transport through rafts have recently been deemed unlikely, so we have no idea how they made it down to Somerset.

The Manchester Midland Hotel nearly became the Nazi headquarters

Architecture fan Adolf Hitler was a big fan of The Midland Hotel and considered it for a possible Nazi headquarters in a conquered Britain. American intelligence suggested that the surrounding area was spared from bombing in order that it might avoid damage. Ironically, the building was the place where Charles Stewart Rolls met Frederick Henry Royce, which led to the formation of Rolls-Royce in 1904. 36 years later, Rolls-Royce Merlin engines would power the Spitfires and Hurricanes of the RAF to victory in the Battle of Britain, which prevented Hitler invading and claiming the Hotel for himself.

The Roman Baths in Bath use Geothermal Energy

Despite being nowhere near any active fault line, the Roman Baths utilise hot springs. These are produced by rain falling on the Mendip Hills, which percolates through limestone aquifers, where it is heated by the earth before rising to the surface along the historical Pennyquick fault line - it emerges at a thoroughly warm temperature of 46 degrees Celsius.

The Greenwich Meridian Isn't On The Meridian

All those photos of people stood with one foot on either hemisphere or the earth are wrong - the actual Prime Meridian - which runs from the North Pole to the South Pole - lies 334 feet (100 metres) to the east of the line, cutting across a footpath and positioned close to a bin. The error arose from astronomers not taking account of local gravitational distortions - and was shown up by modern GPS.

Brighton Pier is not actually called Brighton Pier

It may be the only functioning pier left on the Brighton coastline, but you'll make Brightonians and the Piers Society very angry if you refer to it as 'Brighton Pier'. The structure is actually called the Palace Pier. The West Pier was its rival until it was closed in 1975 before being damaged by storms and fires - it's now partially demolished. Historically, the first 'Brighton Pier' was the Royal Suspension Chain Pier - but none can really claim the title of 'Brighton Pier'.

The Eden Project exists in hostile conditions

Cornwall's hugely-popular visitor attraction consisting of a series of huge biodomes, which house a huge range of plants collected from around the world. But the site on which it stands is a reclaimed, exhausted clay pit - what's more, parts of it lie fully 15m beneath the water table, a state of affairs which led to flooding from torrential rain when construction began in 1998.

The Forth Bridge Isn't As Hard To Paint As You Think

The famous expression "Painting the Forth Bridge" as a synonym for a never-ending job arose from the idea that the bridge took so long to repaint that, once you'd reached the end, you'd have to start again. Sadly, this isn't actually true: weathered areas are just repainted as and when necessary.

Balmoral Castle is Actually Privately Owned by the Royal Family

Most royal property belongs to the State - not so Balmoral. It was bought privately by Prince Albert in 1852 for the, ahem, princely sum of £32,000. It has since been inherited by descendents and is now managed by a trust, but no revenues from the estate go to Parliament or to the public purse.

Blackpool Tower was built around a menagerie

Dr. Cocker's Aquarium, Aviary and Menagerie had existed on the site of Blackpool Tower since 1873 and was kept open during the tower's construction to earn revenue while it went up around it over the next three years. It then went on to became one of the tower's major attractions, boasting an aquarium, a menagerie and an aviary, featuring lions, polar bears and tigers. It only closed when Blackpool Zoo opened - and even then the aquarium continued until 2010.

Lincoln Cathedral was once the tallest building in the world

Yeah, you can stick your pyramids and all the rest: the tallest building in the world for 238 years, between 1311 and 1549, was none other than Lincoln Cathedral. Sadly, its reign came to an end when the central spire collapsed - presumably under the weight of its own awesomeness - and was not rebuilt. Nonetheless, it remains a magnificent building, with Victorian writer John Ruskin stating: "I have always held... that the cathedral of Lincoln is out and out the most precious piece of architecture in the British Isles and roughly speaking worth any two other cathedrals we have."

St. Giles Cathedral is not actually a cathedral

The principal place of worship of the Church of Scotland is St Giles' Cathedral on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, with its distinctive crown steeple standing tall. However, its proper title should be The High Kirk of Edinburgh rather than a cathedral as, for much of its post-Reformation history, the Church of Scotland has not had bishops, dioceses, or cathedrals at all. It was only formally a cathedral - the seat of a bishop - for two short periods in the 17th century.

Buckingham Palace Could Have been a Mulberry Garden Instead

The site on which the Queen's gaff Buckingham Palace is built was originally a mulberry garden, planted by King James I in the early 17th Century in order to cultivate silkworms. However, he chose the wrong kind of mulberry bush and the project failed. If it had been successful, presumably the Palace would have been built elsewhere.

Tower Bridge Once Had a Serious Prostitute Problem

The walkways that link the two towers now host artwork and offer spectacular views along the River Thames, but for the first 16 years after the opening of the bridge in 1894, it was a popular hangout for prostitutes and pickpockets. They were rarely used by normal pedestrians who would prefer to wait for the bascules to come down rather than walk all the way up to the walkways and then back down again. They were closed in 1910 and not reopened until the Tower Bridge Exhibition began in 1982.

Belfast has its own answer to the leaning tower of Pisa

The Albert Memorial Clock in Queen's Square is one of Belfast's most famous landmarks: yet really it's a bit of an engineering cock-up. The 113 feet tall clock tower was completed in 1869 yet, as a result of being built on wooden piles on marshy land, it eventually listed four feet to one side - for comparison, the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa is displaced nearly 13 feet from the centre. 2002 work means that the tower is now stablised - for now...


The away dressing rooms at the Millennium Stadium might be cursed

Cardiff's Millennium stadium has an awful lot to commend it: a wonderful atmosphere, excellent design, and costing £121m to build - £546m cheaper than Wembley. But if you're given the 'away' dressing rooms in a match, you won't be so pleased with it. The first 11 major cup finals at the stadium were all won by the teams in the home dressing room. The run came to an end only after TV 'feng shui doctor' Paul Darby carried out a blessing before the 2002 Division 2 play-off final, where Stoke City beat Brentford 2-0.