Cab detritus

As the London cab trade continues to implode with no sign from Transport for London stopping the freefall into oblivion, today we have a photo montage going down memory lane when the Black Cab was recognised by the powers that be as the premier taxi service. The picture on the left is a rogue taxi rank in Mansfield. With a lack of provision for cabbies waiting for a fare someone has created their own rank. The council threatened to strip the Hackney licenses of those responsible.


The Ghost Phone of the Langham Place Taxi Rank ©London.Cabbie
For years this phone has been at the front of the taxi rank in Langham Place. Totally forgotten about, it sits there waiting to ring . . . Is how the photographer describes this picture. No single image evokes the times past for cabbies. Situated between the Langham Hotel and the BBC in my nearly 20 years I‘ve never heard it ring. No anxious punters on the hot-line urgently requiring a cab. A relic of better times.


Green Cab Shelter at Chelsea Embankment
Once there were 61 of these shelters scattered around the capital. Only 13 remain providing refreshments for cabbies. Here in Chelsea in their wisdom the local authority has put double yellow lines on the major roads and forbidden parking on resident bays before 10.00 pm. Only two bays are allocated for cabs with a shelter catering for up to 12 diners plus take-away it’s hardly surprising it remains unused and empty. The most picturesque shelter in London.


Cabmen skylarking notice
Spotted this sign at a garage, once London’s best auto electrician for cabs, now no longer in business: Notice to Cabdrivers. Any Cabman skylarking or otherwise misconducting himself while on the Managing Committee’s premises or Smoking whilst his Cab is standing alongside the Platform will be required to leave the Station immediately. By order.


The ghost of Dunbridge Street
Once this street was a hive of activity: garages, spares, repair shops, companies installing adverts on the sides of cabs, insurance companies you name it anything for the cab driver was to be had in this street adjacent to the railway lines. A Ben Adams picture of an abandoned cab seems to sum it all up. Abandoned London black cab by Ben K Adams (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Top secret stowaways

Almost nightly in the news are reports of asylum seekers trying to cross the Channel to gain domicile in England. Most try to hide inside lorries bound for Dover, and if you believe the right wing press, knowing if they succeed the chances of being deported are minimal.

Situated in Pointon Road were the Government Car and Despatch Agency (’GCDA’) and Metropolitan Police Garages.

[S]ited behind a large Royal Mail depot adjacent to Christies Fine Art Auctioneers. This organisation provided vehicles to the Government for Ministry of Defence use and also for Cabinet Ministers. It also offered secure confidential waste handling and destruction. Much of this department has now been absorbed into the Ministry of Transport.

I say ’used’ to house the GCDA as this area is now being redeveloped and soon will be home to the relocated United States Embassy from Grosvenor Square. The high security and secrecy surrounding this department naturally makes locating its current whereabouts almost impossible.

With such a high level of security the circumstances surrounding an event in September 2007 beggars belief.

The Metropolitan Police’s Counter-Terrorism Command had ordered a 7-series BMW from the German giant’s Headquarters in Munich. The adapted grey car had bullet proof windows, reinforced doors and with a price tag of £100,000 had all number of top secret modifications. The vehicle was destined to transport the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair on official business.

The container duly arrived at the Metropolitan Police Garages, again a high security depot next door to the GCDA. When they opened the container four stowaways – asylum seekers from the Indian sub-continent jumped out, having managed to gain access in northern France. The lorry and its load should have been impregnable.

A source at that time remarked:

They had a nasty surprise when they realised they were in a police yard. We had an even worse surprise when we saw how they had arrived.

The police arrested the asylum seekers and the car returned to BMW, as its security had been compromised. It probably ended up being used by a regime with a sunnier climate than England’s.

A load of old bollards

Like many I love an urban myth: pigeons knowingly travelling on the tube; Jimi Hendrix was responsible for releasing the original breeding pair of parakeets; or cabbies have to keep a bale of straw in their boot ’to feed their horse’; and best of all, London’s bollards are French cannons from captured ships taken at Trafalgar.

The tale of the recycled cannon could almost be true.

[A]fter all the four bronze relief panels on the pedestal of Nelson’s Column are cast from captured French guns. When you look at many bollards they do have a striking resemblance to an upturned gun with a cannon ball jammed into its muzzle. Many except the City of London’s bollards, the City, after all, like to do its own thing.

First the navy didn’t actually own its guns, The Office of Ordnance was responsible for the testing and supply of the Nation’s guns. There is no doubt that redundant cannon were put to further use they had value. Two types were produced: bronze cannon barrels composed of 90 per cent copper, 9 per cent tin, with zinc and lead thrown in for good measure. These were used by the army being lighter. While the navy was supplied with a cast iron equivalent.

Bronze cannons had high scrap value and were melted down. Cast iron on the other hand had no value and was put to use as purpose-made road posts or bollards, usually in the vicinity of the dockyard.

Gun Wharf at Wapping derives its name from once being an ordnance depot supplying the navy, but alas has no cannon bollards nearby. In fact some sources disclaim it ever was used to military purposes.

The urban myth goes along the lines that after Nelson’s victory over the French at Trafalgar, eager to flaunt their power; the English stripped the captured vessels and reused anything of value. When it came to the French cannon they found they were too large to be retrofitted into the English fleet’s ships. Determined to show just who was victorious in the fight against their long-term adversary the obsolete weapons were put to use adorning the roads around the dockyards and East London.


One authentic piece of ordnance probably of English origin can be found close to Shakespeare’s Globe beneath Southwark Bridge. There is no doubt that obsolete ordnance was used for this purpose, but as Dr. Martin Evans’ research has discovered, the East End bollards are unlikely to be from captured French ships at Trafalgar. After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo (its bi-centenary recently commemorated) much of the French bronze field artillery would be valuable and have been recycled. At Trafalgar the spoils of war were much less. At the end of the encounter on 21st October 1805 Nelson’s fleet had captured 17 French and Spanish warships. The next day a violent storm lasting nearly a week plus a counter-attack made it necessary to stop towing the captured ’prizes’ and turn them loose only to flounder on the Spanish coast.

In the end only 2 prizes remained in British hands, plus the re-captured English vessel Swiftsure, and both the prize ships were Spanish, thus no French-built warship captured at Trafalgar was ever brought back to England. In addition the guns of the prize vessels were probably thrown overboard to help survive the ravages of the storm.

Other skirmishes with the French have led to French guns reaching England’s shores to be recycled to not Trafalgar.

An excellent blog about bollards – Bollards of London – was started by London cabbie John Kennedy. It has since been taken over and not updated of late. But it does contain a plethora of pictures on these forgotten pieces of street furniture.

Main picture: Bollards ©Jane’s London
Single bollard ©Radio Taxi Group

The Ice Cream Cab

It never fails to amaze me the uses that the London cab can be put once it stops ferrying passengers around. He is another in the occasional series of novel uses for cabs.

Tom, a cabbie himself, felt that the traditional ice cream van with the tinkling bell was so passé. So he has now a vanilla colour (what else?) cab and his Ice Cream Cab is available for events and occasions.

[T]om in his own words had an idea for his cab that would soon be coming off the road:

It was late one summer’s evening after a long, hard day’s work and I suddenly had a craving for a real traditional ice cream. It was then that the idea dawned on me! Could it be possible? That I could transform my loving London Cab into a ‘one of a kind’ ice cream van?

After much research and I suspect some considerable expense ’Freddie’ his trusty cab of 16 years has been transformed.

Using Styles Ice Cream Tom offers 20 flavours made from Jersey cows’ milk and unusually 4 flavours from sheeps’ milk for those with dietary needs or are just trying to reduce their calorie intake.


Freddie can be taken anywhere for any occasion and if he has to stay overnight doesn’t make a sound as he keeps his delicious desserts cool.

The London Grill: Jonathan Lovett and Marianne MacRitchie

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.


[J]onathan Lovett and Marianne MacRitchie run Tales of Plague – part gory guided walk and part theatrical event around the city of London. Having studied in London they decided to combine two of their favourite periods, the Black Death of the 14th Century and the Great Plague of the 17th Century, into one tour focusing on the effect these cataclysmic events had on the capital. Every week you’ll find the plague-obsessives leading members of the public around vast plague pits and beautiful ancient churches, discussing strange ‘cures’ and bizarre rituals in the colourful company of medieval peasants, the sinister plague doctor and one Samuel Pepys. Discover more at: Tales of Plague

What’s your secret London tip?
Cheap theatre! Either become a ‘groundling’ at The Globe and watch quality plays for just a fiver, check out deals online such as The Donmar Warehouse’s ‘Front Row’ seats for a tenner or get up early and queue outside one of the West End venues for your cheap seats and save a bag of cash.

What’s your secret London place?
The new Reading Room in the Wellcome Collection. Reopened just a few months ago it’s a fascinating cornucopia of pleasures boasting 100 objects and over 1,000 books – as well as a beautiful space to boot. It also hosts talks and readings and the other day we dropped into a talk about Jonathan’s namesake, Edward Lovett, a Victorian cashier in a city bank who spent his spare time collecting and writing about amulets he found in working class folk’s homes.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?
Probably its rudeness. We’re both from the country and whenever we return to the city it’s as though we have to suddenly put on a protective shell just to get us through the utter joy of the tube!

What’s your favourite building?
St Olave Hart Street which features prominently on the walk. John Betjeman described it as “a country church in the world of Seething Lane” while Charles Dickens christened it “St Ghastly Grim”. Our fascination is that St Olave’s can be both pastoral and pestilential and it’s an important landmark for us being the burial place of Samuel Pepys who lived and worked on Seething Lane, as well as hundreds of plague victims during the time of the Great Plague.

What’s your most hated building?
Our present pet hate is a monstrosity called The Monument Building, currently being erected right next to the historic Monument and therefore obscuring – from some directions – views of one of the most iconic London buildings. Each time we do our walk in this part of town another blot on the landscape seems to be raising its ugly head and it does make you wonder where this downtown Dubai will end.

What’s the best view in London?
The final stop on our walk is a bit of a stunner which we only discovered fairly recently. It takes you right next to the Thames and the view incorporates London Bridge, The Shard, HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge.

What’s your personal London landmark?
The Dulwich Picture Gallery where we’ve spent many happy hours. Besides the gorgeous permanent collection it also features cracking temporary exhibitions including the one on British artist Eric Ravilious running until the end of August.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year. It’s a coruscating account of 1665 that is not just one of the best records of the Great Plague, capturing the sheer terror of the times, but is one of the most detailed accounts of Restoration London life in all its feisty filth. Many of the places he mentions still exist today and part of the fun of our walk is in following the footsteps of his narrator.

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?
The Devonshire House pub in Crouch End. It’s a boozer that celebrates the local area – we never knew Hollywood star Jean Simmons was from these parts until we stumbled across the pub’s tribute to her – and attracts some great characters drawn by cheap beer and grub.

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
A massive fry-up in a good greasy spoon – perhaps The Workers Café in Islington – then a trip to one of Marianne’s favourite buildings, The British Museum. Across the river for a beer in The Anchor, a matinee at The Globe next door, back across the river for dinner in Delauney’s then back again for a film at the BFI before collapsing in a culturally sated heap at The Devonshire House!