Subterranean shrine to silver

According to a 14th century law, all silver items over 7.78g must be hallmarked before sale to verify their purity, in those days forgers were hanged.

Originally known as the Chancery Lane Safe Deposit, London’s oldest safety-deposit, a subterranean store-house opened in 1876 comprising a series of rooms dug deep under Chancery Lane for the wealthy to safeguard their valuables.

[B]ut it wasn’t simply a reinforced basement. To defeat the determined Victorian burglar from tunnelling his way in, the armour-plated strong rooms sat on iron columns, isolated from the exterior walls.

This way a private army of gun-toting guards could patrol above, below and all the way round them. Entry was via a three foot thick door which is still in place. Impressed by the tight security, the silver dealers and jewellers of nearby Hatton Garden began using the string rooms to stash their precious goods overnight.

Before long shrewd dealers began selling silver directly from the vaults, which has evolved into a kind of discount outlet. Many a banquet has been served on a silver service purchased from these vaults.

During the Blitz, the reinforced steel protecting the treasure trove was tested when the building above suffered a direct hit. The vaults mostly survived but cracked water pipes meant they began to flood so clients were contacted and told to retrieve their valuables. Some owners couldn’t be traced so to save their boxes’ contents, they were forced open.

A window into a secret world was suddenly laid bare.

One box contained six live bullets with a note on the packet simply saying ‘One for each of the directors’.

Another contained a single pair of Edwardian ladies’ frilly knickers with a luggage label attached bearing the neatly written words ‘My Life’s Undoing’.

In 1953, a new building, adjacent to the original site, was completed with a system of specially designed secure underground shops – The London Silver Vaults. Today the vaults consist of over 40 shops open to the public containing the world’s largest retail collection of antique silver; London’s Silver Vaults are more like a museum than a shopping mall.

It’s still possible to rent a safe deposit box at Chancery Lane and the company boldly brag there’s never been a robbery.

World’s most expensive teabag

. . . and other trivial facts about a Knightsbridge store that’s not in Knightsbridge but Brompton Road.
Harrods opens its doors to 100,000 shoppers a day rising to 300,000 at peak shopping for Christmas, it has 5 acres of floor space and employs 12,000 staff.
A Harrods male assistant is expected to look ’smart, sophisticated and debonair’, while female employees should present a ’timeless, sophisticated elegance’.

[N]ot an enthusiast of ‘ascending rooms’ in 1898 Harrods manager elected to install an escalator. The novel experience of travelling unaided forced him to engage the services of an attendant dispensing brandy to gentlemen shoppers and Epsom Salts to the ladies.

Rival Harry Selfridge (who did install a lift in his store for mistresses to arrive unobserved) made a bet with the Harrods managing director who would make the greater profit in 1917. Harrods won; Selfridge had a silver replica of the store commissioned. Its replica is on display on the ground floor.

Animals and their parts were once sold. One customer ordered a skunk for his e-wife. Noel Coward bought an alligator for Christmas. President Ronald Regan was given a Harrods elephant and a fossil found in Texas, imported to England, was bought by a Texan and exported it to – Texas.

Others would call them doormen but at Harrods they are ‘carriage assistants’. The seven of them opening doors, conveying packages to awaiting limousines and ensuring Harrods dress code is enforced by those entering its hallowed doors.

In 1959 some bright spark decided 1,100 bulbs could be used to decorate the store’s exterior for Christmas. Today their number has grown to 12,000; 30 bulbs have to be changed every day.

Its motto “All things to all people, everywhere” was once taken to its logical extreme when in 1916 they retailed a kit described as ‘A welcome Present for Friends at the Front’ containing cocaine, morphine, syringes and needles.

Deep pockets are needed for Ambootia Snowmist tea, picked before dawn to preserve their natural fragrance they retail for £4,800kg in Harrods food hall.

Probably the most useless beverage sold was PG Tips diamond encrusted tea bag. Created by Boodles Jewellers using Makaibari silver tips for the British tea brand’s 75th anniversary it was offered to customers at £9,300.

The Non-Mad Way to Run a Car in London

Driving in London is hard work – I should know.

In this Guest Post Daniel Solomou promotes the use of the Toyota Aygo and has some sage advice for London motorists, you could, of course, jump in a cab.

When you approach the subject of running a car in London (particularly central London) the overwhelming response is usually “You’re mad”. This usually being due to . . .

The Cost
You’ll be told how expensive your insurance will be (£985 on average in inner London) and how much it costs to park (£38.20 for 4-24 hours at an NCP). Not to mention the £9 due every day you go inside the Congestion Charge Zone; the amount of parking attendants waiting to slap a fine on you if you park too long; the cost of fuel (currently just less than 130p per litre) and indeed the amount you will need to spend on your road tax, MOT and servicing etc. Some people will also point out…

The Alternatives
You’ll be told about the virtues of the various Car Clubs available in London, such as Zip Car, Car Club and Streetcar Club, who all offer hourly rates of car hire once you’re a member (e.g. £6/hr and £54/day.

There will also be many ready to wax lyrically about the benefits of public transport on financial, environmental and convenience grounds and as a way of avoiding London’s gruesome traffic jams.

They’re all fair points and well made, but what if you HAVE to run a car in London?

Reasons could include the arrival of a new baby, the needs of an elderly or disabled relative, or perhaps due to you having a small business, whatever. So what’s the best way to run a car when all signs still point to “DON’T”?

1. Subscribe to ‘Bangernomics’
‘Bangernomics’ is essentially the practice of minimising your expenditure on everything related to your car, particularly the car itself.

For example with this approach you would purchase perhaps a 15 year old diesel Ford Mondeo estate for a couple of hundred pounds. Your insurance costs would be minimal (even in central London it could be roughly £400 per year) due to the undesirable nature of the vehicle and fuel costs would be low, as even old diesels tend to get great mileage.

You can’t do much about the Congestion Charge or the parking costs etc. but with ‘Bangernomics’ you take such a big chunk out of the cost of running the car your bank balance will still look pretty sane.

You do have to drive a banger around all the time though. And it is likely to break down a bit, but then parts are cheaper too for such a common car.

2. Choose a Hybrid Car
If you wouldn’t be seen dead driving a banger around all day then you should consider opting for a hybrid car. You do get to enjoy the warm fuzzy feeling knowing you are doing your bit to help the environment, but more importantly they offer drivers numerous financial benefits.

Many hybrids boast the ability to cut fuel expenditure by using 15-20 per cent less fuel per mile.

For Londoners bitterly opposed to the Congestion Charge, those with certain hybrids enjoy the ‘Ultra-Low Emission Vehicles Discount’ which is currently a discount of 100 per cent.

As Road Tax (Vehicle Excise Duty) is based on emissions, owners of a typical hybrid sit in a bracket effectively 4 notches lower than non-hybrid vehicles.

Hybrids tend to have much higher re-sale values when compared with non-hybrids of the same age. While some cars lose 20 per cent of their value the second they’re driven out of the showroom, hybrids may only lose 10 per cent over 3 years. This is due to hybrids ability to maintain the same level of fuel efficiency over many years and the fact they are easier to maintain and more durable.

If your choice of hybrid qualifies as an ‘ultra-low emissions’ car, the government may be able to offer you their Plug-in Car Grant to cover 25 per cent of the cost of the vehicle, up to a maximum of £5,000.

Also, as hybrids have been around since 1997, you can now buy one second hand. Saving you a bit on the upfront cost too. Or if you just have to have the latest model, there are an increasing number of hybrid car offers available thanks to the number of new brands offering hybrid models leading to increase competition.

3. Be Generally Smarter
Once you have selected your new/old non-mad car for driving in London, all you have to do is to make smart choices when out and about.

· Don’t go in the Congestion Charge Zone if you can help it
· Don’t park in a multi-story car park for 24 hours
· Don’t park illegally
· Do consider sharing journeys with friends/colleagues
· Do shop around for the cheapest petrol station in your area (usually a supermarket)
· Do compare your car insurance to ensure you have the best deal

With the right car and by making sure you use common sense when out and about, you can easily run a car in London without being considered mad.

Penguin Pool Regents Park

Every month CabbieBlog hopes to show you a little gem of a building which you might have passed without noticing.

The Penguin Pool is now a shadow of its former self as all its inhabitants have flown.

Strictly you are not going to pass this little Grade I Listed gem without having first shelled out to get into the London Zoo but once inside its well worth seeking out.

[A]pparently our dinner-jacketed friends suffered aching joints having to walk on concrete all day. So the penguins were first replaced with Chinese alligators, plants and mud quite unsuitable for a structure designed for an aquatic bird.


Built in 1934 modernist architect Berhold Lubetkin who also designed the Gorilla House, it was intended to display penguin’s most distinctive characteristics. That of waddling, sliding, graceful swimming, nesting and penguin calls. Typically in the tradition of the modernist way was make the design fit the occupant, and not the other way round.

Spectators could easily see the penguins waddling on the concrete staircases that led up to the ramps. The penguins would slide on their stomachs – much like you see in BBC documentaries – down the ramps into the pools, which due to mosaic tiles were strikingly blue in contrast to the white of the ramps and walls.

Nesting boxes were provided alongside the edges and corners, and keepers provided them with twigs for that purpose.

One of the triumphs of design was that the high walls that contained the birds allowed their calls to echo allowing the cry to be heard by both penguin and spectator. This promoted the birds to breed and the sounds were a source of entertainment for the visitors.

The new penguin enclosure provides little interest compared to its predecessor. Apparently when the black footed penguin was introduced, a native of South Africa, it was not well suited to the old pool. The birds burrow, lay eggs but provide little of the amusing characteristics we have come to associate with these delightful creatures.

In contrast the Lubetkin gem looks shockingly sterile now as it purpose was utterly dependent upon the inhabitants. The double-helix ramps still look impressive, but it could be just a rich man’s patio pool. Now overlooked by visitors, children peer over the parapet and walk away disappointed.

Now it stands testament to a time when the ZSL was at the cutting edge of commissioning leading architects to enhance the zoo.