Crowns, coronets and coronations


It was, I think Cecil Rhodes who, without a trace of irony, stated: “Remember that you are an Englishman, and have consequently won first prize in the lottery of life.”

He might have said those words with more than a hint of arrogance but as we see this week we are blessed with the continuity that a Constitutional Monarchy gives and pride we can have by being British.

With such a long pedigree as a nation it is not surprising that we have many traditions surrounding our Monarchs and some surprisingly remain with us to this day while alas many barmy ones have been abandoned. It is those curious and quirky anachronisms which bind us together and make us proud to live in this Sceptred Isle.

This is the first part of Coronation Trivia:

A Monarch’s spurs

Samuel Pepys loved to see a lady who ‘showed off her pretty, neat legs and ankles’, unfortunately for brandy-loving Queen Anne when her turn came to be crowned her ankles had grown too fat for a functionary to buckle on a new pair of spurs and so this quaint custom was abandoned.

Quiet at the back

When George III was crowned the service went on for so long – six hours – that the congregation decided they were hungry and sat down to eat, drowning out the ceremony with the clattering of their knives and forks.

Who nicked the silver?

When Charles II was to be crowned, marking the restoration of the monarchy, the ceremony had to be postponed as Cromwell had disposed of all the appropriate regalia.

Which finger?

The Archbishop of Canterbury is usually a fellow well past his prime, and thus it proved when Queen Victoria was crowned. The Coronation Ring had to be made smaller for her dainty finger, the incompedent cleric then jammed on ring on the wrong finger and as a result it got stuck and remained on the wrong finer for the rest of the ceremony.

Somebody has to clear up the mess

In 1953 after the Queen’s coronation, cleaning in the Abbey found three ropes of pearls, twenty brooches, six bracelets, twenty golden balls from peers’ coronets, most of a diamond necklace, numerous sandwich wrappers and an undisclosed but impressive quantity of empty half-bottles of spirits. It is not recorded who kept the booty.

Welsh rare bit

J. Evans Dairy a Grade II listed building on the corner of Warren Street and Conway Street. Built 1793 and tiles circ. 1916 a rare surviving example of a Welsh dairy.

It is a cut through we cabbies use when wishing to turn into Euston Road from Tottenham Court Road, by turning down Warren Street we miss the traffic and join the bus lane at Great Portland Street which also has the added advantage if you time it correctly of enabling you to collect your evening newspaper without the inconvenience of having to stop as the friendly vendor standing on the corner presses the paper into your hand. I have used this cut through numerous times and have always admired this little corner shop with its blue tiles hardly realising how important the shop was.

French's Dairy, Rugby Street

French’s Dairy, Rugby Street

[B]efore we had supermarkets which now supply all our provisions, we were served quite adequately by door deliveries and one of the last to survive is the milkman.

From about 1860 onward, as a result of hard times in Wales, many Welshmen, especially from Cardiganshire set up dairy businesses in London.

Keeping cows on the premises in the middle of London, many if these dairies were set up in close proximity to the Marylebone/Euston Road which leads directly from Paddington Station, the mainline terminus of the Great Western which serves South Wales (in fact until very recently all early morning trains were still called ‘milk trains’).

Diary Outfit

In King’s Cross Road there is a faded sign of a company that supplied all the paraphernalia needed to produce milk products.

Lloyds Dairy Amwell Street

Lloyds Dairy, Amwell Street

London is home to the oldest and largest Welsh community outside Wales. The middle of the 19th century saw an exodus of Welsh dairymen to London with many setting themselves up as dairies. By 1900 it is estimated half of all dairies in the capital were Welsh.

Even by 1950 there were still over 700 Welsh dairies in the City. The last survivor in Clerkenwell is believed to have closed as recently as 2001.

Code of Conduct

Highway Code

[T]he first Highway Code was published in 1931 and as it was just 18 pages long the publication only cost 1d, on its first page the Ministry of Transport stated that it’s primary aim was to promote:

good manners for all courteous and considerate persons

In my world when drivers are meaner and ruder re-examining this little antiquated gem of a book shows one how driving standards have declined.

Its first piece of advice stated:

As a responsible citizen you have a duty to the community not to endanger or impede others in their lawful use of the King’s Highway.

In London nowadays every BMW driver before starting his car should be required by law to recite this piece of sage advice found between its covers:

Never take a risk in the hope or expectation that everyone else will do what is necessary to avoid the consequences of your rashness.

The latest habit of sounding your horn when traffic lights are changing are more akin to Beirut than genteel London town and The Men from The Ministry must have anticipated this trend when they gave this recommendation:

Remember that your horn is intended to be used as a warning and an indication, if needed, of your presence on the road

Stating sternly:

It should not be used as a threat . . . [motor horns] should never be used to show annoyance or impatience.

Sometimes I feel that I’m a roaming tourist information centre, so often am I asked directions. But could it be they are just taking advice given in The Highway Code:

Do not pull up alongside a constable on point duty in order to ask him a question which other people could answer. His full attention is required for his duties.

Even Boris Bikes have been anticipated, the pamphlet opined:

Do not wobble about the road but ride as steadily as possible . . .

If you fall, you may be run over.

Or the rather patronising:

Beware if high winds when on your bike, especially when wearing a cape

As for rickshaws:

You must not ride furiously so as to endanger life or limb.

This Penny Dreadful seems to have achieved its purpose. When it was introduced in response to the high number of deaths on Britain’s roads, 7,000 a year were being killed despite there only being 2.3 million vehicles – a figure not helped by there being no compulsory driving test. Today with more than 30 million vehicles on Britain’s roads fatalities are closer to 2,000.

The cabbie’s nemesis?

According to a London Chamber of Commerce report around 3.2 million people take taxis and minicabs in London each week, even if each fare averages only £10, that means total annual revenues are in excess of £1.6bn, with a windfall to come with the Olympics in a little over two months’ time. Where should a Londoner’s cab-riding loyalties lie – with Black Cabs or private hire including Addison Lee?

[W]ell as any service industry, it should be with one that provides the service you require at a price you are willing to pay, and in this John Griffin Addison Lee’s Chairman has a good business model.

By taking on low skilled drivers, with many who are recent arrivals to our shores, and providing a complete package: vehicle, uniform, SatNavs, vehicle cleaning and phone, he has no shortage of takers. But many find working the long hours needed to make a decent living too much and leave after the first year.

Their enthusiasm sometimes stems from the novelty of having a job. A lady once told me of an African Addison Lee driver carrying her suitcase full of books up six flights of stairs balanced on his head.

Griffin has form when encouraging his gullible drivers to break the law. He declared that they should drive up the M4 bus lane. As traffic enforcement on motorways is the responsibility of the police, quite naturally they had more important things to do than catch Griffin’s miscreants. Eventually the bus lane was scrapped and Addison Lee got their way.

The same seems to apply to Paddington Station’s new entrance. The signage clearly states no vehicles except taxis – and yes you’ve guessed it – Addison Lee seems to be exempt while all other private hire vehicles are excluded.

As a London Black Cab driver of over 15 years I’ve seen our customer base diminish year on year.

When our only competition was a rusty Datsun with an aerial affixed to the roof by means of a magnet, Black Cab drivers would frequently decline jobs. “It’s not on my way home”, “I’m not going South of The River”, “Sorry Luv, I’m not going there”, “That suitcase looks heavy”. The excuses were endless.

It’s hardly surprising then that London Cab usage has declined when some of my colleagues felt their wishes came before their customer’s reasonable requests.

The younger London cabbies are more professional, with newer vehicles on the road and with a plethora of apps available from established radio circuits as well as independent developers we are starting to take back work.

You might not want John Griffin to run TfL but it has taken a maverick like him to shake the cab trade out of its complacency.

Where should a Londoner’s cab-riding loyalties lie? I would suggest dear punter that it’s you who is in the driving seat and not the other way round.

Not a good sign

On a recent trip to Dorset I was obliged to the local authority for erecting a sign which informed me that the adjacent beach was subject to flooding, it’s always good to know what hazards lay ahead.

In London we have to blame King Henry I for the plethora of superfluous signage littering our streets imparting useless information. The good king deemed that a street could not be named as such unless it was paved and was wide enough for sixteen knights to ride abreast, while a lane had only to be the width of a beer barrel rolled by two men.

[T]his Royal Declaration must have started a growth industry in signage that has continued to this day and is now cluttering every road in London.

Beach warning

“Humps for 263 metres”, “New Road Layout Ahead”, “Signal Priorities Changed”. Am I really going to check the distance I’ve travelled to ensure that I won’t encounter another street calming obstacle, or that I’m so bright my memory can clearly remember the timings of every traffic signal in London?

We now employ somebody to type drivel into a gizmo that controls the M25 overhead gantries, they give us such gems as: “Road Ahead Clear” with the approximate time it will take you to reach a destination you have no intention of reaching.

Only last week while driving along the A12 the Olympic Delivery Authority shared – via a matrix board at the side of the road – the priceless information that trials were taking place within the Olympic Park.

Sign not in use

Frequently we’re told, just in case there was any doubt, that “Sign Under Test” rather implying that the upper sixth is taking its finals and we should be quiet lest we disturb the examination.

Each time I pass a sign announcing “Concrete Curing” I have visions of a group of men in high-viz jackets performing a laying on of hands to make the road better.

Once I naïvely thought that they had been put up for the benefit of the public, but of course they are for the benefit of the erectors of the signs. So obsessed are they in our liability culture they put up these signs so when asked they can reply “well, you were warned”.