Royal Wedding Cock-Ups


[T]he bunting’s been put up; souvenir mugs purchased; we all have an extra day’s holiday; and all the participants have been practising for months. So what could possible go wrong?

Well, if the track records of Royal weddings have anything to go by, quite a bit.

Lady Diana Spencer at her marriage ceremony in St. Paul’s Cathedral referred to her husband to be as Philip instead of Charles, was she thinking he was her future father-in-law?

When Charles’ mum was married in 1949 at Westminster Abbey the future Queen’s bouquet went missing. It was eventually discovered in a refrigerator where it had been put by a helpful footman to keep it fresh. Later that day Prince Michael of Kent while serving as a page boy charged with carrying the bride’s train tripped and fell over.

When George IV first clapped eyes on his future bride, so shocked was he by her physical appearance was he, that he demanded a large brandy. Clearly the drinking didn’t stop, for on their wedding night Caroline complained he was horribly drunk and smoked a pipe in bed. She later was to stick pins in a wax effigy of the King and then threw it into the fire.

Charles I, more the gentleman insisted after his own nuptials that “you can get used to anyone’s face in a week”.

Frederick, Prince of Wales when marrying in 1736 found his bride Augusta of Saxe-Coburg had been sick down her wedding dress. That was the least of his problems, he died before being crowned.

A word of warning to the Archbishop of Canterbury, keep your sermon short. At Edward VII’s wedding so fed up with the length of the monotonous sermon the orchestra struck up to drown him out.

At least William has seen Katherine before the nuptials, Henry VIII was not so lucky, seriously disappointed he nicknamed her the Flanders Mare, declaring on her demise “God be praised, the old harridan is dead”.

William is only the second heir to the throne for 300 years to marry an English girl, the first was his dad, and hopefully this union will last.

Does AV mean Another View?

Urban myth has it that every London cabbie is the oracle of all knowledge. We are often asked on how the trade is going; bankers it would seem regard us as a barometer of London’s business.

Now I don’t for a moment think that after a short chat with a cabbie our customers take an option on Russian wheat or buy shares in Acme mousetraps, but the question is still asked.

[S]imilarly politicians want to test the water on their latest madcap proposals on cab drivers. Tony Benn famously asks of cabbies “What were you BEFORE you became cab driver?” the replies presumably are then entered into his famous daily diary.

So it was recently that on a short journey to the South Bank, my passenger asked of me: “How are you voting on next month’s referendum?” We were heading, he explained to me, to the campaign headquarters of the YES to AV.

“Will the referendum be conducted under the Alternative Voting system or First Past the Post”, I enquired. He patiently explained to me that at the present time, Britain uses the first past the Post so in a Referendum the same rules would apply.

“So if you win, would future referenda on, say, capital punishment or leaving the EU be run under AV auspices?” With a shake of the head and a rather irritated countenance he replied “No it will be still First Past the Post of course” as he got out of the cab – and no I didn’t get a tip.

I don’t understand that if AV is as fair and its advocates suggest, why is it they intend to keep the old system for when it suits them? After all there is a third choice on any referendum and that is – I couldn’t care less – which might be voter’s 2nd, 3rd or even 8th choice.

I’ve read the explanatory booklet twice; for First Past the Post, 59 words and one illustration were required for setting out in detail how it’s conducted; for the Alternative Vote, 351 words and three illustrations still couldn’t convey to me the principal behind the AV voting system.

If somebody knows, could they explain to me, so as an oracle of all knowledge, I can tell my customers when they ask.

Avoid idleness and intemperance

In 1837 a young woman found herself the monarch of her country, she was to remain Queen during an unprecedented time of burgeoning industry and wealth creation, giving her name to the 64 years she reigned and a time Britain was at its zenith of influence and power. That same year a novel was printed which would change a country’s attitude to the most poor and venerable, that novel was the second major work by Charles Dickens.

[C]harles Dickens was no stranger to poverty. In 1823 when his father lost his job and was sent to Marshalsea debtor’s prison 11-year-old Charles worked in a blacking factory pasting labels on shoe polish bottled for six shillings a week. At that time he also certainly worked alongside children from the workhouse, it was an experience that would remain with him all his life and be the subject of his novel Oliver Twist.

In 1834 a Poor Law was enacted, with the sole purpose of discouraging claiming relief in times of poverty and forcing individuals to take work offered to them however low the pay. Welfare assistance was only available inside the workhouse, once admitted the unfortunate inmates would be deloused and forced to wear uniforms, families were broken up and if individuals were capable of working they would be sent to labour for unscrupulous employers. The very young, ill or old who were unable to produce an income were in most cases refused admission to the workhouse and starved to death.

In a fascinating piece of research Dr. Ruth Richardson has established the source material for Oliver Twist which tells the story of the illegitimate orphan Oliver who endures a miserable time at the workhouse and during his parish apprenticeship with an undertaker, before running away and being taken in by a gang of juvenile pickpockets.

It was known that Charles Dickens lived in a certain Norfolk Street twice in his early life for a period of four years. Dr. Richardson has established that Norfolk Street once was the southern continuation of Cleveland Street which exists today and that Dickens lived only nine doors away from the Cleveland Street workhouse ending years of speculation by historians to the exact location of Dickens’s childhood home.

Cleveland Street Workhouse was constructed in about 1780 on what at that time was a burial ground. Starting life as the parish workhouse for St. Paul’s, Covent Garden in 1836 its functioned as an infirmary, maternity unit, insane asylum or a place to deposit those suffering from highly contagious diseases.

Even by workhouse standards 44 Cleveland Street was dreadful, a contemporary account by Dr. Joseph Rogers the chief medical officer at the workhouse from 1856-68, reported: a laundry in the basement filling the dining hall with foul-smelling steam; carpets regularly beaten directly outside the men’s infirmary; the nursery both damp and overcrowded; “nursing” provided only by elderly female inmates, many of whom were apparently habitually drunk; the brutal indifference of the Guardians of the workhouse; the “dead house” adjoins the main structure. This led him to campaign for better standards in the medical care available to workhouse inhabitants.

After the Poor Law was reformed the Cleveland Street Workhouse passed first into the control of the Central London Sick Asylums District, then to the Middlesex Hospital and thence to University College London Hospital complex. Closing in 2006 when UCLH have moved all their services onto a single unified site.

The building is believed to be London’s only existing purpose built Georgian workhouse, a rare example of social engineering from the 19th century; now after a five-year long campaign the most famous workhouse in the world has been saved thanks to its Grade II listing.

Without it would Charles Dickens have written so passionately his most successful novel and then spent a lifetime campaigning for better welfare to be given to the poor? Now 44 Cleveland Street has been given Heritage listing we have an opportunity to convert this rare Georgian building into flats whilst keeping its integrity, and use some of that income to provide a teaching and resource centre at the very heart of social and welfare reform that has benefitted us all today.

In an echo of Dachau with its sign “arbeit macht frei” (works brings freedom), above the gates of the Cleveland Street Workhouse was a statute of an old man pointing to the words: “Avoid idleness and intemperance”, as with Dachau, 22 Cleveland Street’s importance to our lives should not be forgotten.

It’s a two-way street

Royal Exchange 1896

Royal Exchange 1896

[I]t was the Peruvians – that’s if Wikipedia is to be believed – who invented the first one-way street for their capital Lima.

The idea to the layman appears obvious, traffic flows better if all vehicles are moving in the same direction. Find two parallel streets in a city and you have the makings of a one-way traffic system, and with the correct signage or today’s SatNavs, nobody should get lost or confused.

Now conventional traffic planning appears to have been turned on its head. The first scheme to remove a one-way system was the Aldgate East gyratory, built in the 1970s it was criticised ever since for creating a “racetrack” mentality among motorists, terrifying pedestrians and cyclists. The word racetrack in this context is a euphemism for no traffic jams, and was about the only road left in London where you could travel at 30mph. Now at Aldgate the surrounding areas of Whitechapel and Spitalfields are gridlocked for virtually the entire day and the queue of stationery traffic spreads throughout all the small residential streets around the area.

The next one-way system to receive attention was Piccadilly Circus. By creating a bus lane at the southern extremity of Shaftsbury Avenue and making the west side of Piccadilly Circus two-way by inserting a 200 yard long bus lane has improved journey times for buses travelling south. Unfortunately for buses travelling north on Lower Regent Street the effect can only be described as gridlock with dozen of buses stationary. Anecdotal evidence suggest that Freedom Pass holders are alighting from their bus at the back of the jam, walking past the Piccadilly Circus pinch point to get on to the next available bus exiting the jam.

The latest roads about to get a £14 million two-way makeover are Piccadilly, Pall Mall and St. James’s Street which is but a stone’s throw from Albemarle Street which was the first one-way street in London. The occasion prompting this decision was a series of lectures given by Samuel Taylor Coleridge at the Royal Institute. The resulting traffic jams caused by those eager to attend resulted in such horrendous queues of horse drawn carriages that the measure was quickly adopted to remove the congestion and the road remains one-way to this day.

Supporter of the two-way movement, the Head of the New London Architecture Centre, Peter Murray, said: “One-way streets reflect the dominance of the car and the failed go-faster policies of the traffic engineers. As we begin to realise that walking and cycling should be the dominant forms of transport, the one-way street should be consigned to the dustbin of history.”

The two-way movement believe that a lot of gyratory systems were built in the Sixties and it is timely to remove them believing two-way streets make journeys easier for drivers and keep more traffic on the main road and out of side streets.

Other thoroughfares in the traffic planner’s sights include: Wandsworth; New Cross; and I can’t believe I’m writing this; Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street; followed by Baker Street and Gloucester Place once the 2012 Olympics are over.

No doubt there is a wealth of computer simulations that turn conventional wisdom on its head to prove two-way is the way to go, but they should remember the best laid schemes of Mice, Men and Macs can go wrong.

In 1864 London’s first traffic island was built in St James’s Street, one of the roads currently being turned two-way. It was funded by one Colonel Pierpoint who was afraid of being knocked down on his way to (and more likely from) his Pall Mall club. When it was finished, the good colonel dashed across the road to admire his creation, tripped and was bowled over by a cab.

Cabbie’s Monopoly – Part V

HouseNow we have visited most streets and squares on my Cabbies’ Monopoly board, it’s time now to build a house. The houses in the true 1930s Monopoly fashion should be semi-detached with bay windows with the ubiquitous privet hedge marking their road boundary. The CabbieBlog houses here are just a little grander than your average semi.

Northumberland House, the London home of the Percy family; the Dukes of Northumberland demolished in 1874. Standing just south from Trafalgar Square it was the last of the great Strand mansions to succumb. His grace did have another house to fall back on though; Syon House in Isleworth and it was to this estate the giant emblematic Percy Lion – which had stood guard over the main gateway facing the Strand to Northumberland House for over 150 years – was taken. In the 17th century the house formed part of the dowry when the Earl of Suffolk’s daughter married Lord Percy.

Once one of the biggest houses in London once stood on his large square. Celebrated for its rather dangerous entertainments in 1672 John Evelyn dined here and was beguiled by Richardson “the famous fire-eater, who before us devour’d Brimston on glowing coales, chewing and swallowing hem downe”.

Life here was even more dangerous 100 years later when the father of the future “Mad” King George III, when still the Prince of Wales died after being hit in the throat with a cricket ball. And here’s one for the pub quiz: In 1780 the Toxophilite Society was inaugurated here.

The site of the King’s Mews, a vast building in which the Royal Hawks were kept, falconers lodged and daily services held in the “Chapel of the Muwes”. Geoffrey Chaucer once toiled there as a clerk of works. After a fire the mews were rebuilt as stabling during the reign of Elizabeth I. During the civil war the mews became barracks for the Parliamentary Army and after the Battle of Naseby about 4,500 Cavalier prisoners were incarcerated there. In its last years the main building was used as a menagerie and a store for public records, demolished in 1830.