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London experiences,

April 02 2024

London Curiosities

London definitely has an eccentric side. There are historic secret societies, coffee shops in unexpected places, museums with strange pickled creatures and plenty of sights, sounds and experiences to spark your imagination. We’ve curated our own cabinet of London curiosities for you to delve into. 


University College London’s preserved bodies

This reputable learning institution is London’s first university. University College London (UCL) also has two of London’s strangest historical artefacts: an auto-icon and a jar of pickled moles. Your first question is probably “what is an auto-icon?” Well, it’s a glass case containing the preserved body of Jeremy Bentham who died in 1832 and requested his body be preserved and displayed. He currently sits on a chair in the student centre’s foyer. 


Next is the jar of moles, one of the more bizarre and popular specimens at UCL’s Grant Museum of Zoology. These moles have caused quite a stir on social media and become a bit of a museum mascot, with visitors keen to see the jar up close. It’s by the museum door in case no. 12, shelf 3. The museum is free to visit, but there are a lot of skeletons and brains here too, so be prepared for some stomach-churning sights! 


The House of Dreams

From a university containing the stuff of nightmares to a dreamhouse in London’s East Dulwich. From the outside, this is an ordinary home, but inside is an utterly eccentric and artistic feast for the eyes. Textile design artist Stephen Wright started his House of Dreams in the 1990s, and it is now an incredible museum bequeathed to the National Trust. 


Weird and wonderful objects made or collected by Stephen Every fill every ground floor surface. There are dolls, tinsel, mosaics, wigs and bottle caps galore. This small museum is the artist’s creative outlet, and you can visit by booking a Saturday slot on his website. This is definitely one of London’s hidden curiosities and an utter delight to see in person. 


The Seven Noses of Soho

This is another unusual artistic endeavour, but unlike the House of Dreams, this installation goes largely unnoticed. The Seven Noses of Soho are hidden in plain sight, protruding from walls around this central London neighbourhood. Created by Rick Buckley in 1997, these nasal oddities are on Dean Street, Bateman Street, Meard Street and Great Windmill Street. 


Why are they there? They were installed as a protest against the number of CCTV cameras sticking their noses into other people’s business. They’ve remained in place ever since but often go undetected even by people who have walked through Soho thousands of times. So if you’re in Soho, look up, see if you can pick out the nostrils. 


The Magic Circle Museum, London

The Magic Circle is the world’s most famous society for magicians and is full of secrets to keep the magic alive. Its London Magic Circle museum is part of the clubhouse and is crammed with amazing illusory curiosities. But you can’t simply walk in off the street to see them. Instead, you need to monitor the events page for rare viewings or become a Magic Circle member – but that requires magic skill and trickery. 


If you’re lucky enough to go inside the museum, you’ll see a fantastic archive of magic. There are posters, artefacts, props and curiosities covering the history of magic – from Houdini’s handcuffs to Tommy Cooper’s Fez. Excitingly, King Charles is a member of the Magic Circle – you can see the cup and ball prop he used to perform a trick to earn his membership here as prince.   


The Attendant Toilet Cafe, Fitzrovia

After all those strange goings on, relax with a cup of coffee in London’s weirdest coffee shop. Fitzrovia’s The Attendant is a one-time Victorian public convenience converted into a coffee shop. But that doesn’t mean all signs of its past life have disappeared. The Attendant still has the ornate Victorian urinals (not for use) and uses them as a café feature. 


It may sound thoroughly unhygienic, but this Fitzrovia underground cafe haunt is surprisingly stylish and clean and is a little peek into Victorian daily life in London. Plus, the coffee is great, which also matters.   


If you’d like to go further down the rabbit hole of strange places in the capital, visit our Freaky London post and the intriguingly titled Sounds worse than it is

If you’re curious about our Thistle Hotels, we have fantastic stays waiting for you in prime London locations, from Thistle Trafalgar Square to Thistle Bloomsbury Park. So stay in comfort and style with us and enjoy your delve inside London’s curiosities.