1. Soft toilet paper. St Andrew Mills, Walthamstow
It’s 1941, and Nazi bombs are raining down on a terrified capital. However, unbeknownst to ordinary Londoners, technicians at the stateof- the-art St Andrew paper mill in Walthamstow are working on a secret project that will bring some comfort to the nation. One year later, success! Two-ply soft paper is produced for the very first time and soon issued to Britain’s top brass. By 1945 the Third Reich is wiped out.
The year 1666 was a tough one for Charles II. Having survived the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London, the famously sociable king was faced with an outbreak of syphilis. Happily, his physician, Dr Condom, was up to the job. Building on the work of the Italian Gabriel Fallopius (who developed a fabric sheath in the 1500s), Condom delivered the ‘easy on’ oiled sheep intestine. Good news for Charles’s mistress Nell Gwyn.
After inventing black-and-white TV in Frith Street, Soho, in 1925, Scottish genius John Logie Baird moved south of the river to work on the logical next step. Perhaps unwisely, Baird based himself in a villa directly opposite the Dulwich Wood House pub, and it took him a further 15 years to nail it. Today, in an ironic twist, the Dulwich Wood House is one of the few pubs in the whole of south London not to have a massive colour TV in it.
Although Southwark’s Michael Faraday is better known as the man who discovered electromagnetism, children’s parties would have been pretty dull affairs for the last 189 years if the Newington Butts-born genius hadn’t also invented the blow-up balloon in his Mayfair laboratory in 1824. Experimenting with a form of rubber known as caoutchouc, Faraday found that ‘bags made of it… have been expanded by having air forced into them’. And they still do.
Previously noted for producing ‘My Old Man’s a Dustman’, the Portland Place studios created history in August 1964 when Muswell Hill’s Kinks recorded ‘You Really Got Me’, regularly acclaimed by musicologists as the first heavy rock record. The next 50 years of very loud music was made possible when Dave Davies stabbed out his first staccato riff via an amp he called ‘the fart box’.
6. The post. Bruce Castle, Lordship Lane, Tottenham
On the edge of rural Tottenham, the impressive Bruce Castle was the home of postal reformer Rowland Hill. After being asked by the government to find a way of getting letters from one place to another, he came up with the first stamp, the Penny Black, in 1840. Go there today for the collection of old post boxes in a shed, especially the racy blue one.
In operation from 1857 to 1989, Peek, Frean & Co’s Bermondsey confectionery works was so large locals called it ‘Biscuit Town’. Having seized control of the sweet-tooth market with the garibaldi and the bourbon, in 1929 Frean invited their French food technician, Monsieur Rondalin, to think outside the biscuit box. Disappearing into a lab with yeast extract and dough, he emerged some weeks later with the world’s greatest savoury snack.
Sir Hiram Maxim, the American inventor and boxing bigamist who became a naturalised Brit, bequeathed the world a bloody inheritance when he invented the Maxim machine gun in his Hatton Garden workshop in 1884. However, as well as inventing the lightbulb before Thomas Edison (or so Maxim claimed), he made up for some of the misery caused by his weapon with this sprinkler device that has saved countless lives since.
December 1868, and such is the crush of horses, carts and cockneys selling stuff in Parliament Square that the Home Secretary erects the world’s first ever traffic lights at the junction of Bridge Street, Parliament Street and Great George Street. They are 22 feet high, feature semaphore arms and the lamps are powered by gas. Nonetheless, Londoners ignore the lights until they explode, seriously injuring a policeman.
In 1860, teenage Eastern European immigrant and culinary visionary Joseph Malin combined the already established Jewish staple of fried fish with the humble spud, and opened an eatery in Cleveland Way, Whitechapel. Although a rival claim was made in Preston, Lancashire, the National Federation of Fish Friers recognised Malin’s in 1968 as the world’s first fish and chip shop.