The Liberal Club

Recently due in part to heavy rain I dropped a passenger off at the Liberal Club only to pick up another fare from the same place.

Nothing unusual except that both men independently related the same story – the demise of the Liberal Club. This was due in part, I suspect, to the defeat suffered by their party at the hands of the electorate. According to my passengers the club is now a fraction of its original size.

[I]t then stretched up the entire eastern side of Whitehall Court. It was then the second largest clubhouse in London. Designed by the President of the Royal Institute of Architects Alfred Waterhouse its foundation stone was laid by William Gradstone in 1884 addressing the audience with these words:

Speaking generally, I should say there could not be a less interesting occasion than the laying of the foundation-stone of a Club in London. For, after all, what are the Clubs of London? I am afraid little else than temples of luxury and ease. This, however, is a club of a very different character.

He had envisioned the club as a popular institution for the mass electorate.

At that time popularity in the Liberal Party was at its zenith with Gladstone having been returned as Prime Minister with 352 seats in a Parliament comprising 652. A huge number compared with the 8 they hold today.

When the National Liberal Club opened in 1887 business emanating from there was so brisk that not only did it have its own dedicated rank but a Cabbie’s Green Shelter stood beside it providing refreshments as seen in this picture:

WHITEHALL PLACE: The title reads: City of Westminster, London. Horse-drawn hansom cabs are waiting for fares outside the recently built National Liberal Club in the Victorian equivalent of a taxi rank. The small hut to the foreground is a cabman’s shelter, which offered some refuge from the elements. York & Son image taken some time between 1887 and 1900.

Here is another picture clearly showing the Green Cab Shelter.


The club’s facilities were impressive: dining room, bar, function rooms, billiards room, smoking room and library complete with a riverside terrace. The total cost of construction was over £150,000.

During World War I Canadian troops were billeted here out staying their welcome after cessation of hostilities. It was only after a ’farewell dinner’ in March 1919 they took the hint and departed donating a moose head as thanks for the Liberals’ hospitality.

There is a well-known story told of the National Liberal Club, that the Conservative politician F. E. Smith would stop off there every day on his way to Parliament, to use the club’s lavatories. One day the hall porter apprehended Smith and asked him if he was actually a member of the club, to which Smith replied “Good God! You mean it’s a club as well?” This story, and apocryphal variations thereof (usually substituting Smith with Churchill), are told of many different clubs. The original related to the National Liberal Club, at the half-way point between Parliament and Smith’s chambers in Elm Court, Temple. The comment was a jibe at the brown tiles in some of its late-Victorian architecture.

Today most of the club’s amenities have been taken over by the Royal Horseguards Hotel only leaving a few rooms, but curiously it’s one of the few London clubs to contain another club within its walls. Since 1990 it has also been home to The Savage Club which lodges in some of the few rooms it has left at its disposal.

Lights are for losers

We are all pedestrians at some time or other even cabbies. The more familiar one becomes of a walking route, the lazier we become and the less likely we are to use pedestrian crossings.

Now here is a little secret you will not find one on any advert selling the ‘classic’ cab. The brakes are as efficient as a 1960s British car. Given that it has the stopping distance of an oil tanker.

[W]hy is it that pedestrians wishing to boycott a crossing choose to walk in front of a moving cab? From childhood we have had a squirrel called Tufty Fluffytail and the Green Cross Man played by Darth Vader among others explaining to us about the perils of ignoring the Highway Code when crossing the road. Unfortunately the more familiar one is regarding traffic flow and light sequences the more laissez-faire is our attitude with our mobile phone holding our attention more than two-tons of metal bearing down.

Near railway stations or shops a herd mentality is adopted as large groups gather to cross en masse regardless of the lights, common sense and courtesy seem forgotten in the throng of humanity.

The worst culprit is the sheep; engrossed in updating their status (one wonders whether their Facebook pages would be amended from beneath a truck) they follow the guerrilla pedestrians and cross the road without looking up regardless of the flow of traffic.

In order to shave a nanosecond from their journey tie the practise of cutting the corner when at a pedestrian crossing, only to be confronted by a vehicle intending to stop at the appropriate place in front of the crossing and not the 10 yards before as the kamikaze clown steps off the kerb.

The next culprit is the lonely vulnerable female, she cross at a pelican crossing when the lights are in the favour of the traffic, then stands Bambi like in the centre of the road waiting for a gullible driver to take pity and allow her to cross to the other side.

The biggest one of contention must be some of the London boroughs who refuse to replace zebra crossings with lights despite the fact that a conga line is walking across the road all day. Great Marlborough Street and Bedford Way are two of the worst offenders.


As I write this whilst sitting in my cab parked in the charming upmarket Edwardes Square in Kensington, a woman trying hurriedly to squeeze into the parking space in front has backed into me two times – see above. The second time she was assisted by her passenger who got out to help. No acknowledgement let alone an apology was given as they hurried off to their soirée.

In this chaotic city when customary courtesies seem to be forgotten whenever any of us sees tarmac I’d like to think there might be hope. But when I see parents picking up their children from school, teaching them to jaywalk across the road rather than use the lollipop lady stand a few feet away from them as they peer out at the oncoming traffic from behind the parked cars I sometime lose hope.

Main photo: UK, London, Shoreditch Fabio Venni

Market overt

In a previous life, before becoming a London cabbie, I could get to Bermondsey Market before dawn and rummage around and see all that it had to offer.

At that time it was much larger than we see today, the development of ‘executive’ apartments and a trendy hotel built on the original site has seen to its demise.

An ancient market, it was once called New Caledonian Market relocating from north London in 1949 which had claim to an ancient law, until that is the amendment in 1994 of the Sale of Goods Act. It had the privilege of Market Overt or Marché Ouvert.

[T]he city of Leicester has King Richard III to thank for its reverse in fortunes after reinterring his remains in their cathedral. Likewise dodgy dealers could thank for last Plantagenet King for giving immunity from prosecution when selling ‘hooky’ goods.

Market overt, French for open market, is a throwback from medieval days which conferred the purchaser of stolen goods at designated markets during daylight hour’s right to title. Condemned as a thieves charter the 15th century law was conferred on 20 markets throughout England.

The principle was sound. In an age when travel by many was unheard of, a victim of theft was allowed to retrieve their goods by going to the market before dawn and searching through the stalls. As the local market was one of the few ways of selling goods (stolen or otherwise) there was a high chance of their wares ending up there.

All that changed during Victoria’s reign, when transport was available to the many and nicked goods could be whisked away from the scene of the crime.

King Richard might have come from a ruthless line of monarchs, but the ‘Del Boys’ over the years have earned a nice little earner from his largesse.


The actress Valerie Hobson, seen here, who was the wife of John Profumo (he of the Profumo Affair) opened the market in 1949 but because it’s in Bermondsey Square people changed the name.

Bermondsey collage: Ramblings of a Feisty Spirit

The Daimler Garage

Every month CabbieBlog hopes to show you a little gem of a building that you might have passed without noticing, in the past they have ranged from a modernist car park; a penguin pool; to a Hanoverian gatehouse.

This Art Deco building holds a certain resonance for the writer. When I first
became a London Cabbie this hugely restored building was an enclave of the taxi drivers.

[T]oilets, cafe, second-hand cab sales cab wash; you name it night and day you could find everything needed to work in London. Its use at the time was what it had always been – a garage.

As a further connection, when researching this iconic building I discovered it once was the London garage of Frames Tours, who I travelled with across Europe in the late Fifties.

The building has an impressive pedigree, designed by Wallis, Gilbert & Partners in the Streamline Moderne style or Miami Deco Style. The architect practice was better known for designing the Hoover Factory on Western Avenue, Victoria Coach Station, and the much lamented Firestone Tyre Factory demolished in an act of corporate vandalism.

The Daimler Garage in Herbrand Street is now the London offices of international advertising agency McCann Erikson.

Built in 1931-3 for the Daimler Hire who provided a luxury chauffeur-driven Daimler limousine hire service from Knightsbridge at £5 per week should the rich and famous not wish to own a car in London.


On the right of the building is a ramp which cars would have driven up and been displayed in the glass-fronted showrooms on the first and second floors, while the basement was used as a car park, for privately owned cars, with a waiting-room, attendant’s office, lavatories and telephones. The ground floor would have been office space where another rising modern invention would have been prominent: telephones.

Each floor had an electrically operated pressure washing plant for the cars. The spiral vehicle ramp on the right, originally entered beneath the ‘McCann’ lettering, was one of the earliest of its type, and is probably the earliest survivor.

Grade II Listed more details can be found at Historic England. When new the building was not originally painted see picture 9 at BBC News: In pictures: Landscape or carscape?

Urban legend has it that the famous Fisher Price garage was modelled after the Daimler Hire garage. Unlikely but it’s a great story.