Run for the Hills

At the Tate Gallery among the paintings by Constable and Monet was a sight stranger than any picture by Jackson Pollock which would later adorn its walls. Wearing his pyjamas an off-duty policeman dived into the 8ft deep flooded basement to rescue a trapped man.

The policeman would then go on to spend the entire evening rescuing others before reporting for duty for the morning shift.

[O]n the night of 7th January 1928 the Embankment wall collapsed near Lambeth Bridge, right opposite the Tate. Flood water poured across the road destroying homes and forcing local residents in one of London’s most deprived areas to swim for their lives. Fourteen were drowned trapped in basements where they were living and 4,000 were made homeless.

During Christmas 1927 heavy snow had fallen on the Cotswolds. A sudden thaw on New Year’s Eve had swollen the River Thames and coupled with unusually heavy rain had doubled the volume of water. That night a high spring tide coincided with a storm surge pushing down the North Sea towards the Thames estuary had peaked at the river rising to over 18ft above mean average, the training vessel President floated at street level.

Flooding in the capital was far from unknown, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary of flooding in Whitehall and politicians rowing boats inside Westminster Hall. But as today in 1928 in recriminations soon followed.

Dredging the Thames was blamed which had been carried out between 1909 and 1928, deepening the river channel by about 6ft to allow access for deeper-draught vessels into the Port of London. This had the side-effect of making it easier for sea surge to flow up the Thames on a high tide.

The land around Westminster previously was uninhabited marshland that had been reclaimed during the Victorian era and now contained housing and commercial premises where once there was nothing.

Today the Environmental Agency is deliberately allowing areas such as this to revert to a primordial swamp. Have they considered allowing an untamed river, the Westbourne to flood the low-lying, badly drained marshland between Westminster and the western part of Belgravia?

In medieval times it was known as Thorney Island and thus some of its edges were not drained being in the Tyburn marsh itself. In 1850 considerable parts of Westminster were under the high-water mark of the Thames, Victoria Street was designed to drain the area and clear the slums, such developments were termed ‘town swamps and social bridges’ the former street Duck Lane now renamed St. Matthew Street attests to this area was fit for, well, ducks.

Photo: Thames Barrier Kevin Perkins


I think that it must be a bloke thing for every time I point out a great pun Mrs. CabbieBlog just gives me a withering look as if to say ‘will he ever grow up’.

To see a really clever pun whilst driving around London can make my day.
Wok-u-Like for takeaway Chinese; Jack the Stripper, if you haven’t guessed he strips doors for a living; or one of many fish and chips shop puns – Prawnbroker.

[S]ome would have been a great idea at the time, I imagine concrete supplier Jim’ll Mix It now wishes they hadn’t been so clever, or driving around in a pink van with U-benders advertising your ability to unblock drains is a bit close to the knuckle.


So here is a selection of my favourite London puns, If you have seen some pun fun send them to The Punning Man, or if they are worthy of Pundoners send them to CabbieBlog.


Sellfridges – Northwold Road Stoke Newington is my all time favourite. It works in so many ways. His business is emblazoned over the shop, he is getting free publicity on television with the series Mr. Selfridge and if a big cheese from Oxford Street happened to come by they would make themselves look rather silly by taking him to court.


The Codfather – Dock Street. I photographed this through the cab window before the chippy went to the fryer in the sky; alas Brando will not be behind the counter with an offer you can’t refuse. Now another anonymous block of ‘executive apartments’. I believe this could be the first Codfather, there are now many similar, what I like that the sign was a spoof on the original poster for the film.


Highly Sprung – Battersea Park Road. I must have passed this a hundred times but it took Tanksalot to draw my attention to this emporium of bedding for middle class neurotics.


Planet of the Grapes – Queen Victoria Street. This nod to a bygone film has been around since man first roamed the planet, or is that after he left.


Thaitanic – Crouch End Hill. Now it either seemed like a good idea at the time, or their history was a little rusty. Whatever the reason this restaurant has now sunk without trace.


Dolce & Banana – Munster Road. This really could only work in Fulham. Selling, and I quote, ‘sweet bananas dipped in fine Belgium chocolate, sprinkled with a variety of sweet and salty toppings’ under a pun like that in East London, the locals would think you had gone, well bananas.


Bits & PCs – Westbourne Grove. Clever one this, is it bits and pieces or are they politically correct located as it is a stone’s throw from the luvvies in Notting Hill.


Fishcotheque – Waterloo Road. I’ve eaten here a few times and to my recollection ABBA have never appeared dancing between the tables.


Get Stuffed – Essex Road. I think this is just a shop front for it is never open should you have an overwhelming desire to stuff your house with dead animals. Photo from London Shop Fronts (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)


The Saucy Place – Roman Road. This is another example of a fish that is dead in the water. They don’t seem to have puns with chippy names out East. Photo from London Shop Fronts (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)


Go Sing – Lewisham Way. Do you have to Singh for your supper here or do you sing your hook. Either way I think it’s a gonner. Photo from London Shop Fronts (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)


Junk & Disorderly – Old Jamaica Road. The whole road was later junked for a massive new apartment quarter, Bermondsey Spa; mind you it probably got some business before the demolition of its neighbours.
Photo from Shopfrontelegy.


R. Soles – King’s Road. This one is clearly aimed at its young clients. There are probably half-a-dozen girls outside now giggling.


That’s Shoe Business – Leather Lane. This works in so many ways. It implies that they are as professional as actors with as much panache and its location couldn’t be bettered – Leather Lane, unless, that is, they sell plastic shoes.


Nincomsoup – Old Street Station. It does what it says on the tin, sell soup to nins or nincompoops.


Victoria Bark – Grove Road. This proves that someone from East London understands a good pun. You’re located near Victoria Park and cater for dogs; you would have to be barking mad to miss using the pun.

The London Grill: Mick Rose

We challenge our contributor to reply to ten devilishly probing questions about their London and we don’t take “Sorry Gov” for an answer. Everyone sitting in the hot seat will face the same questions that range from their favourite way to spend a day out in the capital to their most hated building on London’s skyline to find out just what Londoners really think about their city. The questions might be the same but the answers vary wildly.


[B]orn in London in 1948. My first real job was in the print – working at The Times (just like Boris). Then I did the Knowledge and passed out in 1970, making me one of the youngest taxi drivers in London. I love the London taxi trade and have tried to put a little back by writing for The Badge as ‘The Nut Behind the Wheel’ and I also represent the LCDC as a rep at Heathrow.

What’s your secret London tip?

If you are from out of town I urge you to try a local dish – pie and mash. You may hate it, you may be indifferent but, if you love it, then there is definitely a bit of London in you.

What’s your secret London place?

Without a doubt it is the London Wetland Centre at Barnes. Even if you are not over keen on wildlife it’s a great place just to walk around and get a few lungfuls of fresh air and de-stress. It also has a great little restaurant and is just a mile south of Hammersmith Bridge.

LCY_cover What’s your biggest gripe about London?

Road works, cyclists, TfL and the Mayor. Take those four away and you will be left with paradise.

What’s your favourite building?

The London Natural History Museum in Cromwell Road – not only for its beautiful cathedral-like exterior, but also for the exhibits to be found inside. It probably nurtured my life-long love of nature when I often visited it as a child. And the tourists always remark on it on the way into town.

What’s your most hated building?

City Hall – it looks like it’s falling over, which hopefully one day it will. The only thing the architects got right was to position it facing across the Thames to Traitors’ Gate.

What’s the best view in London?

There’s many, but the view from the top of Parliament Hill takes some beating. Just don’t go up there wearing a white polo-neck jumper.

What’s your personal London landmark?

Swiss Cottage. Living in north London it’s one of those places that, if I get a job there, I can’t decide whether to keep going north towards home or turn around and go back into the West End to work on. I get pulled both ways and my decision usually depends on how much I’m holding at the time.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?

Apart from the obvious A-Z of Greater London, I like the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: London by Michael Leapman. It’s so well laid out, and the illustrations are 3D-like. I’d recommend this one to Knowledge students, too.

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?

How can you choose? There have been times when I’ve welcomed the sight of a drive-in MacDonalds and others when I’ve envied the well-heeled diners I’ve just dropped off at Le Gavroche. Generally, though, I’ve never been disappointed in any of the many Spaghetti House restaurants scattered around town. However, I must admit that my favourite restaurant is Scott’s in Mayfair. I’ve never been in there but it always looks so enticing. It opened in the Haymarket in 1851 and moved to Mayfair in 1968 – now that’s what you call well-established. I’m saving up to give it a try.

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?

I’d take my grandchildren to London Zoo because children interact so naturally with animals. Then I’d treat them to a pizza in the West End to give them a taste of the hustle and bustle of the best city in the world.

This ‘Grill’ was first posted on the Radio Taxis blog.

Jump on a bus

One of my favourite London films is Brannigan, starring John Wayne as a Chicago detective. It is as if Visit London had commissioned Paul Greengrass to direct a travel documentary aimed at American tourists.

Fast paced it has The Duke pursuing villains around London with each shot featuring a tourist destination with an ability to cross the capital at speed is impressive.

[O]ne minute he’s in Battersea (Prince of Wales Drive), next Buckingham Palace appears behind his shoulder as he tears around London.

Driving a 1973 Ford Capri John Wayne leaps over an opening Tower Bridge in pursuit of justice. This could be just a figment of the writer’s imagination if the incident hadn’t happened before at this iconic bridge.

On 30th December 1952 Albert Gunter, driving a red Route 78 Routemaster (for geeks stock number RT793, registration plate JXC 156) across Tower Bridge. The relief gateman failed to ring the warning bell and close the traffic gates.

Near the edge of the south bascule as the lift started, Albert, a veteran fire engine driver in the Blitz, realised he couldn’t break in time to avoid the abyss rapidly appearing ahead of him, accelerating over the 3ft gap to drop 6ft onto the north bascule which had not yet started to rise.

His 20 passengers left the bus unscathed but the conductor was not so lucky suffering a broken leg and the bus unsurprisingly sustained a broke suspension.

Albert fared rather better the City Corporation honoured his quick thinking with a gift of £10.

Picture: Fog, Tower Bridge, London by Ian Britton (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Cabbies’ sheltered lives

The unpretentious green huts that have sustained London cabbies for more than 130 years are to get a new lease of life, thanks to a £69,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

Only thirteen of the original sixty-one Cabmen’s Shelters survive and their role has been largely overlooked, in fact most passers-by are completely unaware of their function.

[N]ow the Creative Intelligence Agency, a non-profit arts and design organisation, will raise public awareness of their history, help set up a friends group and promote conservation and maintenance to preserve them for the future. It will work with the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund and London Transport Museum.

All the remaining shelters, dotted around central London, are Grade II listed and are still looked after by the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund that built them between 1875 and 1914. Now, as then, they provide the city’s black cab drivers with a place to rest and buy refreshments.

Sue Bowers, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund London, said:

These examples of living history, dotted about London’s streets, would continue to disappear were it not for such a project. This will not only help to conserve them but also give former cabbies a voice bringing their heritage to life.

The Cabbies’ Shelters Project will interview present and former cabbies to build up a picture of life in the London taxi trade since the Second World War. Also interviewed will be some of the people who have run the tiny cafés that operate in each of the shelters.

The recollections gathered, as well as a selection of cabbie memorabilia plus a full map of all the shelters (surviving and missing), will be donated to The London Transport Museum. In addition, this material will be the inspiration for lively and engaging artist commissions by Kathy Prendergast and Emma Smith.

The public will get the chance, during Heritage Open House days, to see inside some of the shelters, normally the exclusive preserve of the cabbies themselves. Local volunteers, including young people, will be encouraged to get involved to record the interviews and help gather the background information for the project.

Alongside commissioned artworks, oral histories, and visual documentation of the shelters, the project’s legacy will include a friends group that will help the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund to ensure ongoing support for the structures so as to keep them maintained and in use.

The shelters were originally built at existing taxi ranks during the day of the horse-drawn cab because cabbies were not allowed to leave their vehicle unattended in order to go for refreshment in a local pub. Their aim was to provide wholesome food and shelter. Because they were to be sited on the highway the police stipulated that the shelters should take up no more room than a horse cab, which explains their diminutive size into which crammed up to a dozen cabbies round a central bench with just room for a stove and a counter for preparing and serving food and mugs of tea. Etiquette was controlled for those using the shelters with an absolute prohibition on gambling, drinking and swearing.

Jimmy Jenkins, Trustee of the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund, said: “These shelters were built in the nineteenth century to provide cabbies with good and wholesome refreshments at moderate prices, which is what they’ve been doing ever since. We’re proud to be looking after them now. Passers-by are always curious about the shelters. We’re looking forward to collaborating with the Creative Intelligence Agency to share this unique bit of London’s heritage.”

Martin Harrison-Putnam, Senior Curator, London Transport Museum, said: “There is a gap in our collection when it comes to material relating to London’s cabbie community so we are delighted to be collaborating on this original and exciting project. We also welcome the way it will work with London cabbies, contemporary artists, local schools and community groups to create, collect and interpret this material.”

Danielle Olsen, curator for the Creative Intelligence Agency, said: “These seemingly modest buildings belie the fact that they are sites of navigational expertise. The cabbies that use them today are experts at getting around London. The shelters are also conversation hubs, alive with the exchange of anecdotes told and stories overheard as cabbies go about their business of transporting Londoners and visitors from place to place. The Cabbies’ Shelters Project will tap into this rich vein of London’s life and heritage. We are thrilled to be commissioning artists to produce work inspired by these distinctive buildings and the knowledgeable cabbies that use them.”

The 13 surviving cabmen’s shelters can be found at: Chelsea Embankment SW3; Embankment Place WC2; Grosvenor Gardens SW1; Hanover Square W1; Kensington Park Road, W11; Kensington Road W8; Pont Street SW1; Russell Square WC1; St George’s Square, Pimlico SW1; Temple Place WC2; Thurloe Place, Kensington SW7; Warwick Avenue W9; and Wellington Place NW8.