Memorials to mortality

The coronavirus is just the latest in several pandemics that have struck London over the years. some are forgotten, while others have lasting memorials to their passing and the huge number of their victims.

One of the most dreaded diseases of the 19th century was cholera, thought at the time to spread through the air, the so-called ‘miasma theory’. Using precise mapping Dr. John Snow established that the outbreak was transmitted by contaminated water, by removing the handle of a water pump in what is now Broadwick Street proved is theory.

A replica pump – minus the handle – installed in 1992 by the Royal Society of Chemistry now commemorates his achievement. Nearby is a public house that carries his name.

Not quite a memorial, Vinegar Alley in Walthamstow is so named because locals used vinegar to sanitise the soil after a plague pit was dug here, one of many needed in 1665 outside the City to accommodate the huge number of dead as spaces ran out.

In Trafalgar Square on 17th May 1858 Albert, Prince Consort unveiled a statue of Edward Jenner, the pioneer of the world’s first vaccine. The figure holds a document, presumably relating to Jenner’s theory of vaccinating James Phipps with cowpox in 1796, thus preventing dreaded smallpox. He predicted at the time the worldwide eradication of smallpox, not finally achieved until 1980.

The Albert Memorial depicts Queen Victoria’s husband holding the catalogue of the Great Exhibition. Albert died at 42 from typhoid, just three years after unveiling Jenner’s statue, which has since been moved from Trafalgar Square to Kensington Gardens.

On 30th September 1848, 22-year-old John Murphy showed symptoms of cholera, he was the third case identified in what was to become the 1848-49 Asiatic cholera epidemic. He died in Lambeth the next day with Dr John Snow writing: “The people had no water except what they obtained from the Thames with a pail . . . or from streams up which the Thames flows with the tide. It is quite what might be expected from the propagation of cholera through the medium of the Thames water. On the Albert Embankment, there is an unusual memorial to the thousands who died in the Lambeth cholera epidemics.

In Postman’s Park, there is a memorial to Dr Samuel Rabbeth. Thanks to vaccination diphtheria, a highly contagious bacterial infection are almost unheard of nowadays. In 1884 tending four-year-old Leon Rex Jennings who had been admitted to the Royal Free Hospital Dr Rabbeth ignoring his health, contracted the disease, which forms a thick grey membrane in the throat, eventually suffocating the host. A plaque commemorates him sucking on the tracheotomy tube to clear the child’s airway, giving the little boy temporary relief.

William Freer Lucas is also commemorated here. Another doctor who paid for his devotion performing a tracheotomy on another child suffering diphtheria, when the child coughed in his face, he refused to clear the spittal before he had attended to the child.

Pictures: Vinegar Alley and (part of) the church and churchyard of St Mary The Virgin by Mike Quinn (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Memorial to Samuel Rabbeth in Postman’s Park by Marathon (CC BY-SA 2.0)

One of the best in the world

According to a new study – with all the ‘improvements’ TfL have made to London’s roads – research has found 73 hours a year are spent in traffic jams, which ranks London the seventh worst city in the world for congestion. Two of the six ahead of London are South American cities with little spent on their infrastructure.  You couldn’t make it up, after spending many millions of pounds, causing gridlock with numerous roadworks to encourage cycling in London and presumably better health. It is now more dangerous to sit on a bus due to pollution than at any time since the ‘pea-soupers’ of the 1950s.

In reply . . .

In November 2008 I joined Twitter using the handle @londoncabbie, adding @cabbieblog the next year, and for a time both accounts hung around in cyberspace untroubled by my interaction.

Later I started tweeting trivia on an old Nokia handset to the @cabbieblog account, and without the Twitter app, did I realise that you’re supposed to join in with strangers who, with others, are minded to engage in a pointless conversation.

Today that daily trivia has been ‘tweeted’ uninterrupted for well over a decade, but it was not until I had an i-phone that I’ve realised that people actually bother to comment on both my accounts.

The Sun and Guardian newspapers had tried to contact me, as did the BBC World Service, although I still don’t really understand how you can monitor the mass of messages received, and take the time to reply, but there again, I was born half-a-century too early.

Looking at the replies that my ‘followers’ have been minded to bring to my attention, I have discovered a plethora of well-meaning, and not so informative information, regarding the trivia on @cabbieblog and links to blog posts on @londoncabbie.

The favourite that I’ve unearthed takes me to task with my ability to compose acceptable prose in 140 characters:

poor grammar

funnily enough no
1 last try….

and finally:
Pathetic you still cant get it right, your lucky the cab trade saved you and gave you a job….not the sharpest are you

While this table dancing venue made me an offer it seemed churlish to ignore:
Thanks for your twitter add,looking forward to your tweets-we offer 100% of ££ customers you bring us pay at the door

My hippocampus was at the centre of a discussion between a professor and someone undertaking a post-doctorate:
@hugospiers, the professor
Why choice to do the Knowledge training? – that is I think because they love the joy of problem solving a massive jigsaw of London. The freedom to operate and roam London they really enjoy. @CabbieBlog & @EvaGriesbauer might have more to add…
@vikbladh replied
Isn’t it hugely time-consuming and costly though? Maybe this isn’t right, but I thought drivers had to just drive around for weeks unpaid to learn the streets.
@hugospiers the prof clarified
its about 2-4 years! Its crazy and hugely expensive to train. It does pay reasonably well at the end and you are your own boss, so it is attractive to many still.
But you could still have licensing but not necessarily based on the knowledge? I would never challenge that acquiring the knowledge isn’t an impressive feat, but is the benefit for the industry worth the cost for individuals who have to take it? How do people think about this?

Apart from getting my day in the Sun newspaper, these opportunities were missed:

To become a zombie cabbie:

Or as a tour guide:
Hi guys, I’m putting together a visitors/beginners guide to London taxis, do you have any tips?

While some were more suspicious:
Wots your blog about?
That link looked a bit dodgy to me…

Others were more gushing with their praise:
Just discovered your blog, its a great read! Added it to my top London blogs
read your blog your quite an asset sir to the trade in my humble opinion
More please, i love this sort of trivia,
You’re too kind, Gibson Sq! If I were not a cabbie though, I would have no inspiration…
Some people just don’t know a visionary when they see one!
@CabbieBlog doesn’t even tweet his own blogposts. Odd, because they’re great.

This driver offered this rather quixotic advice:
If I was u I wouldn’t be able to resist slipping the odd pile of bollocks in. I trust u hv greater resolve than I…

Apparently, a lyricist follows me:
Can you imagine Ray Davis and the kinks singing strand bridge sun rise , it would have fu**ed up a great song

Unsurprisingly, London cabbies did not keep their own counsel on Twitter:
I was always convinced that “keep your feet off the seats” was Spanish for .. “Put your feet up immediately” … Lol
have you seen the signs in exhibition rd? “give way to pedestrians”. Ridiculous. So are we now driving on the pavement?
I apologise mate for my language Iv been a little quite lately it’s just twitter can sometimes ware you down with muppets …
1829 v 1654
So we as a trade have 175 years seniority yet still get treated like ……
you can still turn right but you won’t be able to soon cos its going to be a contraflow bus lane which we cabbies can not use.
And to emphasise his point:
just to make you even happier no left turn from Hampstead rd in to Euston rd, dont you just love tfl?
and the best taxi service in the world gets discarded by @sebcoe and his cronies! I hope you get plenty of stick
thank you, you’re a real gent, and theres not many of us left.# be lucky
Have they moved Manor House haven’t been there for 38 years?

My favourite from an ex-London cabbie, who claims to be part-owner of a Hebridian Island:
I had that Fred Housego in the front of my cab, once . . .

London Trivia: The wrong finger

On 28 June 1838 Queen Victoria was crowned at Westminster Abbey. The long ceremony was enlivened by the aged Lord Rollo living up to his name when he stumbled and rolled down some steps; further mirth ensued when the Archbishop of Canterbury put the ring designed for Victoria’s little finger on the wrong digit ensuring it would remain wedded to her during the ceremony, the whole coronation service lasted five hours.

On 28 June 1830 PC Joseph Grantham became the first British policeman to be killed on duty after intervening in a fight in Somers Town

On 28 June 1994 McDonald’s sued Greenpeace for alleged libel printed on leaflets, this became longest civil case in British legal history

Waterstone’s elegant premises in Piccadilly was the world’s first steel-framed shop built at the time for Simpsons the previous owner

50 Berkeley Square is reported to be the most haunted house in London, the attic room is haunted by a young woman who died there, and a whole range of deaths followed throughout the 19th Century

The Thames is the second oldest geographical name in the country only Kent pre-dates it. Julius Caesar called it Tamesis, no one knows why

Lilian Baylis, the manager of the Old Vic, cooked her meals backstage during the show and the aroma filled the theatre

The Great Eastern Hotel once boasted two Masonic temples, its own railway siding and weekly sea water deliveries for its natural brine baths

Old English skittles, once popular in pubs across the southeast, but now confined to a single alley at the Freemasons’ Arms in Downshire Hill, Hampstead

A taxi rate of a shilling (5p) a mile was established in an Act of 1662 by King Charles II it was not increased until 1950 nearly 300 later

St. Margaret Pattens Church in Rood Lane has a memorial to James Donaldson, a ‘City Garbler’, and a person who specialised in selecting spices

The Japanese term for a business suit is a sebiro, a simple transliteration of Savile Row a street famous for London’s finest tailors

CabbieBlog-cab.gifTrivial Matter: London in 140 characters is taken from the daily Twitter feed @cabbieblog.
A guide to the symbols used here and source material can be found on the Trivial Matter page.

Taxi talk without tipping

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