Female London Cabbies

What is it really like being a female black cab driver?

Clegg Gifford interviewed Stella Wood to find out what life is like as a female cabby

Earlier this month, Clegg Gifford interviewed Stella Wood to dig deeper into the tips of the trade and find out why she decided to become a black cab driver. Fewer than 2 per cent of black cab drivers are women and intrigued by this statistic.

[C]legg Gifford sought to find out whether there were any issues that held women back from working in the black cab trade. Here are their findings.

Stella has been a black cab driver for 14 years and first decided to embark on ‘The Knowledge’ when a friend requested that she do it with her. Stella subsequently enjoyed ‘The Knowledge’ although at times found it tiresome and long-winded. She found the benefits of choosing her own working hours highly appealing though, especially as she had children who were dependent on her.

Stella typically works the night shift, starting at around 5pm and finishing at midnight or sometimes later. She often works weekends when business is more lucrative. Asked whether she’s ever felt intimidated, she answers that she doesn’t, but occasionally has uneasy feelings about some of the passengers who get into the back of her cab. On the whole though, she feels safe in her job and exercises caution. The flexible working hours more than make up for any negative aspects (such as the difficulty in arranging social meetings with friends who work regular office hours).

If you’d like to read the full interview with a female black cab driver then you can do so by visiting the Clegg Gifford blog. Clegg Gifford is a Lloyd’s broker and was founded in 1967 and has been arranging taxi insurance for over 40 years under the ‘Westminster’ brand name.

One for the road

Near Tower Bridge is an apartment block, well two in fact, and called The Circle. A road runs between these two crescent shaped buildings, and in the centre is a rather magnificent sculpture.

The life-size representation of a dray horse named ‘Jacob’ was lifted into place upon its plinth by helicopter in 1987.

It stands testament to the industry that once stood nearby.

[T]he Horseleydown Brewery was founded in 1787 by John Courage who had paid £615 for the building. Its curious name was taken from the parish of St. John Horseleydown.

The name Horseleydown derives its name from Horse-Lie-Down, when from the 16th Century horses would lie down before making the river crossing at London Bridge to enter the City.

The Courage Brewery stabled their horses upon the site and Jacob completed in 1987 by sculptress Shirley Page stands testament to their hard work and marks the spot where of the brewery’s stables.

The London Grill: Ambrose Hide

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.

Ambrose-Hide [F]or many years writer and producer Ambrose Hide had a growing sense of unease about his beloved city’s increasingly nostalgic ‘heritage industry’. Realising his love for London derived from the city’s imperfections as well as the foibles of its inhabitants he created the idea of virtual plaques to mark sites where (to put it bluntly) ‘s**t happened’. His Black Plaques London iPhone/iPad app lets users retrospectively rubberneck some of the city’s least proud episodes and has received great critical acclaim – ‘like a welcome breath of foul air’.

What’s your secret London tip?
When it comes to London’s history, don’t take what you’re told as gospel – beneath the carefully-placed rug there’s inevitably a nasty stain. The portrayal of some of London’s heritage has reached almost parody status – the story of ravens at the Tower has become so entrenched the Yeomen Warders are obliged to tell it, even though the birds (and myth) arrived in Victorian times.

What’s your secret London place?
The triangle of lawn outside Westminster Abbey. Today it stands amid busy traffic and gawping tourists but in 1555 a heretic was burned at the stake on the site. Unfortunately the authorities underestimated the amount of firewood needed so the man (who happened to be piously devout, though regrettably of the wrong gang) suffered hideously. Standing on the spot and reliving the story, surrounded by people oblivious to the fact (since the site is neither marked nor mentioned) is an immensely powerful experience.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?
Trying to get a drink/meal/Tube/anything after midnight.

What’s your favourite building?
Sadly it was knocked down in 2006 but it’s Mondial House.

mondial_1024_1In 1975 what looked like an oversize first-generation word-processor landed straight from outer space onto the riverside next to Cannon Street station. It was BT’s shiny, futuristic nerve centre but unfortunately Prince Charles didn’t like it one bit.

What’s your most hated building?
After the nondescript counting house that replaced Mondial House it has to be Paternoster Square next to St Paul’s – a kitsch, faux-Classical Legoland with massive pretentions. Unfortunately Prince Charles likes this one. My only consolation is that London is so relentless in its redevelopment it will probably be torn down in a few years time.

What’s the best view in London?
I have yet to experience it but I imagine it’s the view from The Shard because a) it’s so high and b) you can’t see The Shard.

What’s your personal London landmark?
Hardly original: St Paul’s Cathedral – but for a less obvious reason. Despite countless visits and extensive reading over the years it was only relatively recently I stumbled upon the tale of a man murdered in the (old) Cathedral by a red-hot needle up his nose. His story has all the elements of a Hollywood film script: gruesome murder, intrigue, tragedy, mystery, courtroom drama, the King and the Pope. Needless to say the site of the poor chap’s demise was honoured with the very first Black Plaque.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
Constantine Fitz-Gibbon’s book The Blitz. It vividly tells of those on the receiving end of the Luftwaffe’s 1940 re-modelling of London – a moving tale of both tragedy and triumph with haunting illustrations by Henry Moore.

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?
The French House as a last gasp of old Soho, or the Roebuck in Richmond where drinkers are treated as adults and can take glasses (not dreaded polycarbs) across the street to Terrace Gardens to drink in the view from Richmond Hill.

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
Making fresh discoveries in the British Museum followed by refreshment in one of the old pubs around Bloomsbury.

Photo: Mondial House © ugarthr 2006
An earlier version of this ‘Grill’ was first posted on the Radio Taxis blog.

Alhambra House

With its constant traffic jam, when travelling north along Charing Cross Road you have plenty of time to look at the landscape.

One has always puzzled me, for this uninspired building [left] has a very exotic name Alhambra House.

Near to Capital Radio, itself no tour de force of architecture, stands this building with its bank of four Barclay’s ATMs.

[S]urely Barclay House; Acme Apartments; or Prosaic Point would have been a better choice of name? But with a little digging the building’s curious name appears very appropriate.

The Alhambra was a Moorish style theatre boasting two minarets, a huge hall, hydraulic lift and a 97ft high fountain.


Opening in 1854 as the Royal Panopticon of Arts and Sciences it displayed the scientific wonders of the day. Predictably two years later it closed and was sold for £8,000 just 10 per cent of its original cost.

Its fame derives from its re-invention as a circus and later a music hall. Charles Blondin who had recently tightrope walked across Niagara Falls performed there, as did the man who inspired the song ’The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze’ and who would give his name to the Victorian version if the onesie – Jules Léotard [below].


However the Alhambra lost its licence in 1870. London’s first hosting of the Can-Can was staged during which: ’Wiry Sal lifted her foot higher than her head several times towards the audience and had much been applauded’.

Demolished in1936 this dreary office block marks the spot of entertainment staged within a Middle Eastern building named after a Royal Palace.

My Beloved Phoenix

Going to the cinema is not just about the film, it is, or should be, a total cinematic experience and for me, there is a special place in London where you can find just that – The Phoenix Cinema in north London. East Finchley, N2 to be exact.

As you sink into your maroon upholstered chair and the lights dim, around you is
the history of cinema going in this

[O]pened in 1911 as the Premier Electric Theatre having been built in 1910, the Phoenix is one of the nation’s oldest cinemas. The vaulted ceiling was built with live orchestras for silent films in mind and now it provides perfect acoustics for special events with live music or Q&As. The  auditorium was originally the other way around but in the 1930s and by now known as The Coliseum,  the projection box was moved  to the High Road end,  the lovely art deco frontage was added, the wonderful Mollo and Eagen gold reliefs were installed alongside the aisles and an enhanced ‘rake’ was put in place. That means, even today, if someone with ‘big hair’ sits in front of you, you can still see the screen!

The name was changed again, this time to The Rex. Under Charles and Kitty Cooper in 1975, it became The Phoenix and programmed the best of world cinema. Under threat of property development in the mid 1980s, public support refused to let the Phoenix go and it became a charitable trust devoted to showing the best of independent films and to reach out to the local community and beyond. This gem of a building is still doing what it was built to do over one hundred years ago.

There is a lovely cafe too, famous for its excellent home baked cakes. Visit and enjoy! The Phoenix Cinema, High Road, East Finchley, London N2. Nearest tube: East Finchley

This is a Guest Post from prize-winning Blue Badge Guide and author of Jewish London Rachel Kolsky. With Go London Tours she leads guided walks throughout the year focussing on the ‘human stories behind the buildings’. Rachel is a Trustee of The Phoenix and previous Grillee.

Picture: Phoenix auditorium ©Maurita Van Droogenbroek