The Thin Blue Line

Exactly 185 years ago on 30th September 1829 at 6pm the first Metropolitan Police Constables marched out onto the streets of London.

Paid 21/- [£1.05] a week there was only 895 of them to keep order in a city of 1.2 million inhabitants.

This is just one of many splendidly curious facts about the Capital’s police force – sorry police service.

Tooled up
Founded by the then Home Secretary, Sir Robert Peel (hence the nicknames ’bobbies’ or earlier ’peelers’), they were unarmed but had access to 50 flintlock pistols and cutlasses should the need arise.

The Guv’nor
The Metropolitan Police Service (’Met’) and The City of London Police Service are the only ones whose head is a commissioner; the rest of England has a chief constable. The Met’s head is England’s senior police officer, its current incumbent has made an arrest at every level of his career.

Just the job
The Met’s official newspaper is called ’The Job’, written not only for service members, the public may obtain a copy from their local nick.

Good Evening, All
The country’s first police TV drama was called Dixon of Dock Green and was a spin off from a 1950 film entitled The Blue Lamp. It would start with George Dixon played by Jack Warner outlining that week’s story standing in front of the station’s blue lamp. But Britain’s original cop shop had a white light. Queen Victoria’s husband Albert died in the Blue Room at Windsor Castle. When she attended the nearby Royal Opera House the lamp was changed to white.

Line of duty
Less than a year after the Met was founded PC Long [G1715] was stabbed to death when he challenged three suspects near Gray’s Inn Lane.

Helping police with their enquiries
On 15th August 1842 after newspapers criticised the Met’s failure to apprehend Daniel Good for the murder of his wife the detective branch was set up with just two inspectors and six sergeants.

Long arm of the law
In 1848 PC Daniel Mink was struck with his own truncheon, made of bamboo at that time, by a man attempting to free a prisoner at St. Giles.

Fire up the Quattro!
In 1858 the first acquisition of police vans for conveying prisoners. These were horse-drawn and known as ’Black Marias’, possibly named after Maria Lee, a large black woman who kept a Boston boarding house in the 1820s with such severity that she became more feared than the police, who called on her to help them catch and restrain criminals.

Drunk and disorderly
In December 1861 police were ordered not to borrow money from publicans, yet two years later 215 officers were dismissed for drunkenness.

Read them The Riot Act
When five pirates from the ship Flowery Lane were executed at Newgate, it took 800 officers to keep the peace still wearing Wellington boots which would later be abolished from the standard uniform.

Bang to rights
On 9th December 1868 the world’s first experimental traffic lights outside the House of Commons exploded injuring a police constable.

Get yer strides on son, you’re nicked
It was not until 1869 that police officers were permitted to wear plain clothes when off duty, beards and moustaches were also allowed to be on shown both on and off duty.

It’s a fair cop
A rule in 1873 stated: ’No candidate for the Metropolitan Police can be recommended to the Secretary of State for appointment if he have more than two children depending on him for support.’

Photo: The Blue Lamp © Geoff Wilkinson – All rights reserved. See Geoff Wilkinson Photography. Geoff believes his picture taken outside Wanstead Police Station could be of the last blue lamp outside a police station in London

Seeing Red

For some time London’s cabbies have felt that TfL has not had their best interests at heart. Rickshaws, unlicensed minicabs, Uber, all illegal and all proliferating.

Heathrow Airport understands the London cab’s iconic status and like British Airways has nailed its colours to the mast. In their transformed Terminal 2 London artist Benedict Radcliffe has created a piece of art inspired by the traditional design of the Black FX4 Taxi.

[T]he ’London Taxi’ is a permanent central feature of the departure lounge at Terminal 2. It creates an opportunity for passengers to take one last glance at one of London’s most photographed sights.

It sits alongside other British cultural icons: Michelin-starred Heston Blumenthal offering his culinary classics including liquid nitrogen ice-cream; John Lewis selling British brands such as Barbour; and Fuller’s whose brewery is a mere 8.3 miles away with their London Pride tipple.

The ’London Taxi’ looks like a designer’s drawing before the engineers get to manufacture a prototype. With its red tubes one can look at the shape and through the vehicle giving it an almost ghostly appearance. The permanent installation will be seen by 20 million passengers a year as they pass through the terminal.

Created using cutting-edge computer programming technology at his Shoreditch studio, and inspired by the London Taxi and The Knowledge Benedict Radcliffe has etched upon its plinth step-by-step directions the journey from his workshop to Terminal 2 at Heathrow.

Bees, boots and baked beans

It is one of London’s most iconic stores and its origins happened upon a chance meeting of two men – a shop keeper and a footman to Queen’s Anne’s household. The result in 1707 was the embryonic Fortnum & Mason with their famous eau de nil brand colour that you can find on many of their products.

Here are some rather curious facts that you might not know about London’s favourite grocer.

[H]ugh Mason ran a small shop in St. James’s Market and had a spare room in his house which he rented to William Fortnum. The Royal Family’s insistence that beeswax candles should be replaced every night allowed young Fortnum the opportunity to sell them, and the profits were sufficient to start in collaboration with his landlord Fortnum & Mason.

In 1794 anybody could set up a postal service (a bit like now) so Fortnums had letterboxes installed in the store for paid and unpaid letters which were picked up six times a day (unlike now). This lasted until 1839 with the founding of the GPO.

Honey, dried fruits, spices and preserves were the sort of vittles soldiers needed when fighting Napoleon. The army really did march of its stomach as was advertised in The Times.

Poultry, game in aspic, hard-boiled eggs in forcemeat (Scotch eggs), dry and green turtle, boar’s head, truffles were advertised as ‘all decorated and prepared so as to require no cutting’. By 1851 and the Great Exhibition convenience food was all the rage. All this evolved into their famous hampers.

Reports from hospitals tending the wounded in the Crimea led Queen Victoria to order Fortnums: “to dispatch without delay to Miss Nightingale in Scutari a huge consignment of concentrated beef tea”.


An unknown American going by the name of Mr. Heinz persuaded Fortnum & Mason to take five cases as samples of his canned food. In doing so Fortnums became the first store in England to sell Heinz’s new canned goods. Baked beans had reached London. Ironically their label nowadays sports a colour almost identical to Fortnums egg-shell blue.

It’s the sort of provisions that any self-respecting Englishman (or New Zealander) would take with him for an ascent of Everest. Sixty tins of quail in foie gras and four dozen bottles of Montebello 1915 champagne, all supplied by Fortnums.

A special officer’s department was opened during World War II to supply insect powder, exotic cigarettes and a silver plated ‘spork’, a fork and spoon, so that standards could be maintained when fighting Jerry.

They made headlines in 1984 when Fortnums sold Bob Geldof’s Do They Know It’s Christmas? raising money for Ethiopia.

When spending one’s weekend in the country no self-respecting Sloanie would go without their Hunters of course in Fortnum’s trade mark colour.

Bees When Steve Benbow started siting bee hives on London buildings, Fortnum and Mason was one of the first to offer roof space.

The hives are of a bespoke elegant Georgian design with gold finials completed in eau de nil. Situated on the roof is a bee-cam to watch the activity. The resulting honey may be purchased in their food hall.

It really is the bee’s knees.

The London Grill: Flora Tonking

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.


[F]lora Tonking is ‘The Accidental Londoner’, a girl from the Midlands who somehow found herself living in London after vowing that she never would. Years later she is learning how to be a Londoner, and writing about her experiences on her blog and several other London-focussed websites. She works in Central London, as an international development consultant, but her heart belongs to North London, her much-loved home neighbourhood within the big city.

What’s your secret London tip?
Walk everywhere (or walk as much as you can). There is so much to see in the city, and you often miss it, stuck beneath the ground on the Tube or whirling by in a cab or bus. And whilst you may discover some hidden secrets walking within the city, it can sometimes also be faster (and more fun!) than waiting on a crowded platform or being sat in stationary traffic on the roads.

What’s your secret London place?
Its hidden gardens; less busy than the large parks on a sunny day, and scattered along backstreets and tucked away behind buildings. Some of my favourites are in Shoreditch, Covent Garden, and Angel, and even high up above the British Library.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?
OK, this is a toss up. It’s either slow-moving tourists or the misery of commuting during rush-hour. But actually, it’s the concentration of people in both of these pet-hates that really gets to me. So, my biggest gripe is probably people who slow me down!

What’s your favourite building?
This is a hard choice, as London boasts some truly glorious buildings, but I think it’s probably the Victoria and Albert museum; fantastically Victorian, full of hidden rooms and galleries (including its lovely courtyard garden) and it’s just a totally calming space.

What’s your most hated building?
I almost said the Shard – after it interrupted the beautiful skyline of the city – but I think instead the building I hate the most is Centre Point. It’s not the only building in the city guilty of brutal concrete architectural crimes, but it’s so enormous that it rather rams them down your throat.

What’s the best view in London?
The view from the top of Parliament Hill; up on the Heath, early in the morning, the entire city beneath you – that’s when London looks at its most beautiful.

What’s your personal London landmark?
The BT Tower; wherever I go in the city, if I can see the BT Tower I can orientate myself. I once worked just underneath it, so it’s become a symbol of my everyday London life.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
This question’s always going to divide opinion, as everyone has their own idea of what their London should look like, but I recently finished reading a charming novel called ‘Greenery Street’ by Denis Mackail, set in a street in Chelsea that is instantly recognisable to me, as I’ve spent a lot of time in the area. It’s wonderfully evocative of the area, even if it’s set in a different time, and gently pokes fun at the sorts of people who live there. (It’s also a publication of the wonderful Persephone Books, who are a London-based publisher who re-print much-loved books for and by and about women.)
There’s a wonderful series of films being developed by Emmanual Benbihy, that feature short film stories of lives and loves in amazing cities; so far his films on Paris (Paris, Je T’aime) and New York (New York, I Love You) have been released, but there are works on Rio de Janeiro, Jerusalem and Shanghai in production. I’d love to see a ‘London, I Love You’ finally released in this series.

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?
You can’t beat steak-frites with a massive glass of red wine at Cafe Boheme on Great Compton Street, in Soho. (It’s a perfect spot for people-watching too!)

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
My ideal day off would start with brunch somewhere with a friend (lots of coffee and pancakes!), before having a wander round an interesting part of town – somewhere with a few good, independent shops, maybe a gallery, exhibition or something to see. Next would come late lunch in a decent pub somewhere and a big walk across Hampstead Heath, before a bit of reading or writing in a cosy cafe somewhere. And then on to the evening . . . which could be anything! This is London after all . . .

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

The two Queens of Fleet Street

This week Scotland goes to the polls
in the most decisive vote in our nation’s history.

At stake is nothing less than the breakup of the Union, which has existed for over 300 years, between England and Scotland, when James VI of Scotland became James I of England.

Will Scotland become a nation state or will it remain part of the United Kingdom?

[B]efore a ’United Kingdom’ was forged two women fought for dominance over their respective territories. And curiously their effigies are to be found in London only a few yards apart.

Mary Queen of Scots

In Fleet Street Mary Queen of Scots House was built in 1905 for a Scottish insurance company. The Queen’s statue was the idea of the developer John Tollemache Sinclair, who was a big fan of the ill-fated lady.

The architect, R. M. Roe, concocted a facade as frilly as a doily with lashings of French flamboyant tracery. Sadly, the carver of the statue is unknown.

The likeness seems to be the only outside memorial of Mary to be found south of the Border which lead to recent demands for a statue to be erected in Scotland.

Ironically, it stands just along the road from a figure of her nemesis, Elizabeth I.

Queen Elizabeth

Hidden inside the courtyard of St. Dunstan-in-the-West a little further along Fleet Street is this effigy of Queen Elizabeth I. This is the only known statue of Elizabeth to have been carved during her lifetime and dates from 1586.

The statue however has had a more glorious past than this obscure churchyard where it has now stood for over 170 years. The statue once stood proudly near the bottom of Ludgate Hill, beside the ’Lud’ Gate, dedicated to King Lud – the mythical King, who according to legend founded London.

Beside the gatehouse was the famous Ludgate prison. After being severely damaged during the Great Fire of London the prison and gate were demolished in 1760. The statue at that time was placed in the basement of a nearby pub for safety.

Forgotten for almost a century and re-discovered by workmen whilst demolishing the pub in 1839.

Eventually Queen Elizabeth was bought by the Marquis of Hertford, along with the statues of King Lud, Androgeus and Tenvantius taken from the same ancient gateway.

These statues once seen by thousands are kept relatively hidden inside the churchyard, a final resting place in the alcove of obscurity.