Get to the point

I have to say I’m a little miffed. For the last three years I have been craning my neck out of the cab window marvelling at the way construction workers assembled – and that’s the right word – assembled The Shard.

So it was late last Monday that I found out that cabbies could – for free – go up to the viewing platforms instead of paying £24.95 if you pre-booked or if you should just turn up on the day a whopping £100.

[T]he Shard has polarised opinion, during the last year I have been authoring a feature entitled the London Grill in which the same 10 questions are asked of the guest contributor. Two questions are: ‘What is your most hated/loved building in London’.

The Shard comes up time and again. One contributor was so enthused by its construction she had photographed it through every stage of the build.

This Marmite of a building reminded me of the anecdote when after its construction the Eiffel Tower was highly controversial amongst the Parisians. One famous quote is from novelist Guy de Maupassant, who hated the tower but still went to its restaurant every day. When asked why, he said it was because it is the only place in Paris were one cannot see the structure.

Luckily for the Eiffel Tower haters, Eiffel only had permit to keep the tower for 20 years, after that it would be demolished. However, as the tower proved valuable for telecommunication purposes, it was allowed to remain intact even after the time had expired. As time passed, more and more people started to like the building. Today, almost all Parisians love the tower.

The Shard, symbolising London’s burgeoning wealth has a 75 year specification written into its design, but will this new icon prove to be as ephemeral as the 1960s buildings which once graced London Wall or, as with the Parisians, Londoners take it to their heart?

The Shard by Christine Matthews

The Cabman’s Nemesis

Today we have a guest post from Heather Tweed which first appeared on the Public Domain Review site, under the title Mrs Giacometti Prodgers, the Cabman’s Nemesis.

Here Heather Tweed explores the story of Mrs Giacometti Prodgers a woman whose obsessive penchant for the lawsuit struck fear into the magistrates and cabmen of Victorian London alike.

[I]magine, if you will, strolling towards a Hackney cabstand in late 19th century London. Suddenly the cry ‘Mother Prodgers!’ echoes around the streets. The cab drivers scarper, leaving the stand empty but for a seemingly innocuous, overdressed woman: Mrs Caroline Giacometti Prodgers, nemesis of cabmen, zealous litigant and infamous music hall conversation topic.

Over the course of two decades she was to lead a one woman campaign against the notorioulsy truculent cabmen of London. She took to court the publisher of a major newspaper and even her own cook. Her stubbornness was caricatured in print and sung about in music halls. One desperate cab driver went so far as to burn her effigy on bonfire night.

Her first taste of life in the courts came in 1871, when she began proceedings to divorce her husband of ten years, an Austrian naval captain called Giovanni Battista Giacometti. The case set a precedent for divorces in which the wife was wealthier than the husband (the Prodgers family found itself with a considerable fortune through her mother, a wealthy heiress whom her father, the Reverand Prodgers, had married after rescuing her from drowning). The details of Giacometti v Prodgers would regularly make the papers, including such oddities as Mrs Prodgers questioning the legitimacy of her own children, presumably in an attempt to try and disinherit Giovanni from her family fortune. Following the actual divorce there were other legal wranglings. It was reported that her husband Giovanni had given up his whole career at Mrs Prodgers’’ request and that, after the divorce, he had taken her to court over non payment of a yearly settlement. The Prodgers family, taking his side, agreed on an additional several hundred pounds per year. Mrs Prodgers found herself again in court after failing to pay a shorthand writer she had, debatably, hired during the divorce proceedings.

It was soon after the divorce and its various spin off cases that Mrs Prodgers began her infamous crusade against London cab drivers. Her modus operandi was to catch a cab to a specific destination to which she knew the exact distance (she had familiarised herself with the cost charts), then ask the cabman to stop just at the point where the fare would change. Invariably the cabman would attempt to charge her for the next part of the fare, which she would dispute. One or other party would then threaten a lawsuit and she would continue to goad the often irate cabman into verbal abuse and swearing whereupon she’d immediately threaten another writ.

Cab fares from Waterloo Station

Chart of cab fares by distance from Waterloo Station: (Source)

She was remarkably successful and ended up bringing over 50 cases to court – many of which descended into farce. Reports on the various cases are packed with amusing incidents. There is extended banter over the use of her full name (which she always insisted upon). One judge suggests that it might be cheaper for her to purchase a carriage than keep returning to court.

In addition to cab related litigations she was involved in a string of court cases regarding other matters. She sued her dismissed cook for refusing to leave her house (and continuing ‘to sing about the place’). She sued a newspaper publisher for accidentally tearing her dress during an altercation after she refused to pay the full penny for a paper (which she thought she might be mentioned in). She sued a watchmaker for returning the wrong watch to her house. Her obsessive and sometimes bizarre activity in the courts did not go unnoticed.

In 1875 she had the dubious honour of having an effigy of her burnt on bonfire night, a ‘gigantic figure’ paraded around on a cab. The police intervened and arrested the cab driver – rather bizarrely on the charge of ‘begging’ (the accounts don’t report if Mrs Prodgers had any influence over the arrest). The judge dismissed the case saying that the cabbie was ‘acting as a showman for the amusement of the public’ and that it was merely meant as a joke.

Mrs Giacometti Prodgers appeared several times in Punch magazine. A satirical piece in 1890, the year of her death, coincided with controversial plans to fit each Hackney cab with a mechanical device to measure distances and calculate the cost of each journey:

A Autumn-attic happaratus
For measuring off our blooming fares!
Oh, hang it all! They slang and slate us;
They say we crawls, and cheats, and swears.
And we surwives the sneering slaters,
Wot tries our games to circumvent,
But treating us like Try-yer-weighters,
Or chockerlate, or stamps, or scent!
Upon my soul the stingy dodgers
Did ought to be shut up. They’re wuss
Who earned the ‘onest Cabman’s cuss.
It’s sickening! Ah, I tell yer wot, Sir,
Next they’ll stick hup―oh, you may smile―
This:―”Drop a shilling in the slot. Sir,
And the Cab goes for just two mile!”
Beastly! I ain’t no blessed babby,
Thus to be measured off like tape.
Yah! Make a autumn-attic Cabby,
With clock-work whip and a tin cape.
May as well, while you’re on the job, Sir.
And then―may rust upset yer works!
The poor man of his beer they’d rob, Sir,
Who’d rob poor Cabby of his perks!

Such was her notoriety that the reverse of her name, Sregdorpittemmocaig, was used for a character in The Sunless City, a novel by J.E. Preston and Punch punnily suggested that she had penned her own book after the Hansom cab: ‘Hansom Is As Hansom Does’. She also made it onto the pantomime circuit when comedian Herbert Campbell performed a verse about her:

‘All great men have their statues and it’s but their due,
But I wonder why the ladies don’t have them too;
If they did, to the Academy I’d like to send,
A bust of Mrs Prodgers the Cabman’s friend.
Of all the strong-minded females she’s the worst I ever saw,
Oh, wouldn’t she be lovely as a mother-in-law?
At the corner of every cab-rank her flag should be unfurled
As a horrible example to this wicked world.’

The press painted a picture of a formidable if eccentric woman who should be avoided at all costs if one did not wish to encounter her wrath. One might speculate that a certain amount of misogyny and sexism fuelled by the women’s suffrage movement may have played its part in the press coverage and urban mythology. Had she been a man might she have been hailed as a champion of consumer rights, rather than dismissed as a caricature?

Cabbie cartoon

Illustration of a funeral cab passing outside the Old Bailey, from Omnibuses and Cabs: their origin and history (1902), by Henry Charles Moore: (Source)

One person who seemed to take her seriously was the explorer and Victorian polymath Sir Richard Burton, who entertained her in his house, and reportedly supported her campaign. According to Burton’s biographer Thomas Wright two of Burton’s cousins had a running family joke about the relationship between Mrs Giacometti Prodgers and Sir Richard:

At the (Athenæum) club he was never at home to anybody except a certain Mrs. Giacometti Prodgers… according to rumour, there was a flavour of romance about her marriage. It was said that while the laws of certain countries regarded her as married, those of other countries insisted that she was still single. However, married or not, she concentrated all her spleen on cab-drivers,…and having a profound respect for Burton’s judgment, she often went to him about these cab disputes, and, oddly enough, though nobody else could get at him, he was always at the service of Mrs. Prodgers, and good-naturedly gave her the benefit of his wisdom. To the London magistrates the good lady was a perpetual terror, and Frederick Burton, a diligent newspaper reader, took a pleasure in following her experiences. “St. George,” he would call across the breakfast table, “Mrs. Giacometti Prodgers again: She’s had another cab-man up”.

Sadly first hand anecdotal evidence does nothing to alleviate the true awfulness of her character. She appears to have been as rude to fellow members of the public as she was to porters and cab drivers. Upon being offered a cup of tea by another passenger on a ship she was travelling on, she allegedly replied “I have only had afternoon tea once in my life, and that was with the Duke of Sutherland”. Her arrival in various ports around the world was often reported upon in the local press – followed by a sigh of relief when she departed. Unfortunately one has the impression the same might be said about her departure from life in 1890. Her obituary as reported in foreign papers was blunt and concise:

Mrs. Giacometti Prodgers, the terror of London cabmen, is dead. Her habit was to drive the fullest possible distance for the money, pay the exact legal fare, and then cause the arrest of the cabman for expressing his feelings.

Heather Tweed is a multimedia artist and educator based in the UK. She has exhibited pieces widely throughout the UK as well as in New York, Tokyo and the Library Of Congress in Washington. She has worked with organizations including The British Council Cairo, Bristol City Council and Arts & Business. The ever expanding installation ‘Anubis Other World Tour’ has been visiting art galleries, caves and other interesting venues scaring, delighting and perplexing in equal measure since 1997. Her website:

Tip Top Hat

When times are hard we tend to want escapist entertainment. Some of the greatest musicals were penned in the austere years following in Wall Street Crash during the depression of the 1930s. Many of these are the classics that are screened on television on Sunday afternoons.

We must be going through tough times again for no fewer than 31 musicals are playing or opening soon in the West End.

[L]ast week we went to the Aldwych Theatre to see Top Hat a musical loosely based on the 1935 Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film. The original version was based on a play written by Alexander Farago which seems rather appropriate for a story based on the single premise. Yes Shakespeare made a good living writing these plot lines, but for Top Hat this is the only plot line.

Starring Tom Chambers, who won Strictly Come Dancing a few years ago, and Summer Strallen who both thankfully don’t try to reprise the Astaire/Rogers routine but give the numbers a modern twist.

They make a sterling job of injecting life into the routines. Chambers is personable and a very good dancer, while Strallen is attractive and manages to convey sensuousness in the routine Wild About You.

As the audience tends to be well past their prime the two leads manage to keep the auditorium awake. But beware when climbing the stairs, Zimmer frames and sticks are the order of the day.

The sets have an Art Deco look and I particularly liked the stage device to imagine somebody dancing on the floor above Ms. Stratten by having a dancer in a stage above her in shadow, mimicking Tom Chambers on stage.

If you like black and white Sunday afternoon films don’t miss this piece of nostalgia. But for me they left out The Continental, yes I know it was from the Gay Divorcee and not written by Irving Berlin but it should have been included.

Or maybe it was and at my time of life I had dozed off for 5 minutes.

The Knowledge Alphabet

Today we have a guest post from @knowledgeboy10 whose blog London Taxi Knowledge records his journey that starts with buying a scooter to hopefully receiving his Green Badge so he can work as an all London taxi driver.

He invites you to share his highs and lows on the Knowledge as he works his way through the 25,000 streets and learn every point [places] on them.

I thought I would write about something a bit different and slightly light hearted as I am getting very stressed about my progress so far, I’m half way through book two and seem to have hit a brick wall with my calling over, I just can’t remember the runs, so I’m having a week off to re-charge my batteries and I thought this would be fun . . .

[A]ppearances. The meeting with the examiners when we find out just how much we know or don’t as the case may be, the joy of sitting in front of someone feeling very stupid and hoping all out hard work shows through.

[B]lue Book. Our bible, all 320 runs in a nice little book this is what our lives now revolve around!!!!.

[C]alling Over. The bane of our lives, we love being out there doing the runs visiting the points but then we have to call over either the BB or P2P hate it really hate it lol

[D]edication. As Roy Castle used to sing, if you haven’t got it give up now it’s gonna take years to do, gonna take over your whole life nothing else will matter – if you’re not dedicated then may as well not start.

[E]x. Ex wives/girlfriends, unfortunately many of us Knowledge of London peeps can end up losing our partners as they can’t put up with what we have to go through – I hope it doesn’t happen to you!!!!!!

[F]ifty-six. The start of it the appearances, once the map test is out of the way the real fun begins!!!!!

[G]reen Badge. Why we’re doing this, the Holy Grail lol

[H]elmet. A Knowledge of London boys best friend for the times that you come off the bike due to Addison lee cutting you up!!!!

[I]mpossible/Inspiration. How the Knowledge of London feels and what you need to get through it.

[J]ob. Something most of us have to do to pay the bills while doing the Knowledge of London, a few lucky sods give up work but for the rest of us we have to fit in the Knowledge of London around it.

[K]nowledge Schools. Somewhere to go to meet other Knowledge of London peeps and get help and advice, or somewhere to go to find out you know a damn sight less than you thought you did!!!!

[L]ost. We all do it, don’t deny it one of the pleasures of doing the Knowledge of London.

[M]aps. Second only to our Blue Book we love our maps we study them, write on them and when I’ve finished the Knowledge of London I never want to see another map again in my life.

[N]ew Friends. One of the joys of the Knowledge of London is meeting new people who are doing it, they are the people we can talk to about it and they understand what we’re going through, and even when they pass out we’re pleased for them even though we are soooooo jealous.

[O]ver and Over and Over. What we do when we call runs, visit points EVERYTHING OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER and eventually it sinks in ( we hope)

[P]oints. What we have to learn, all of them, every single bloody last one (for those of you that don’t know a point is a place of public interest, on any road within a 6 mile radius of Charing Cross. Could be a hospital, church, shop, club police station or government building or anything else, and yes there are lots and lots and lots of them!!!)

[Q]uit. Out of every 10 people that start the Knowledge of London only 3/4 will get the Green Badge the rest quit. You can’t fail the Knowledge of London only quit it.

[R]ed-lined. What happens on appearances when you don’t get enough points, means you could go from 28’s back to 56’s happens to the very best of us.

[S]cooter. The Knowledge of London peeps best friend, what we use to take us around London in all sorts of weather and hopefully it doesn’t break down, I spend more time on my scooter than I do my missus!

[T]transport for London. The organisation responsible for putting us through this. Used to be the Carriage Office now TFL.

[U]nderstanding. What our Friends and family need to be while we have 3 years worth of mental breakdowns because we can’t remember whether it’s a right turn or a left turn.

[V]ictories. We have little ones everyday, we find a point we couldn’t or we finally work out how two roads link up, everyone of these is personal and no one else will understand just how great it feels when you get one.

[W]eather. Out on the scooter in the freezing cold or the pouring rain or when it’s boiling hot – we take on the weather and win because we are on the Knowledge of London.

[X] – XXXX. Pick any swear word you like, and you’ll say it a million times when you miss a turn, miss a point, come off your scooter or call over a run wrong, in fact if you don’t swear then you’re not doing the Knowledge of London right.

[Y] – Why? I ask myself this question everyday and it is a great motivator, we all have our reasons for doing the Knowledge of London, and we also ask ourselves why we put ourselves through it, but it’s worth it at the end.

[Z] – ZZzzzzz. Sleep, What we all seem to miss out on doing the Knowledge of London, and when we do finally go to sleep we’re thinking of the best lines to call or where a certain place is. How I wish for the days when I would fall asleep and just dream of me and the spice girls and a very large bottle of vodka.

I hope you enjoyed my light-hearted look at the alphabet, until next time stay safe and be lucky . . .

London Forum

Question-Mark-400x500Today launches a new project for CabbieBlog. It occurred to me that I’m always being asked by my passengers questions about London. Often I don’t have the answers but I’d like to bet that thousands of Londoners do know the answer.

Now in its fledgling state I have no idea of the popularity of the London Forum; will it be inundated with requests about being a cabbie in London or requests for trivial facts about our city; or will the idea be just another ego trip that remains forever lost in cyberspace. Only time will tell. If, and it’s a big if, this works you follow the query link on the right sidebar which will take you to a request form.

[L]og in, fill out your query and wait. Or alternatively you may attempt to answer a question posted by someone else. All contributions will be moderated so hopefully the new feature will have a certain degree of authenticity, not to say become a source of information.

Want to know Boris Johnson’s official roles as Mayor or the amount of rubbish collected in our streets; the best seats in a theatre or if you have to pay the congestion charge ask away, somebody out there knows the answer.

Conversely if you have some idea as to the correct answer to someone’s question, help them out.

Give it a go, but for the more enthusiastic (or foolhardy) if you feel the urge to write a post CabbieBlog is always open for submissions – it helps me from having to come up with two new posts every week. Anyway click this link for more information.