Building site lines

Ask Londoners what their favourite building would be and they’ll probably say St. Paul’s Cathedral. With this in mind the capital’s favourite has been protected by a series of sightlines for decades.

During its construction I watched a television programme about the design of the Leadenhall Building, or Cheesegrater to you and me, and was impressed by architect’s consideration in saving the silhouette of St. Paul’s.

[W]hen viewed from Fleet Street his building’s distinctive slanted shape didn’t impinge on St. Paul’s, I was left with the impression that the decision had been voluntary, preserving London from becoming a copy of downtown Dubai. [Below St. Paul’s from Fleet Street before and after]



It took the excellent American website devoted to lovers of London – Londontopia – to point me in the direction of a short video about the statutory requirement planners have to adhere to when designing London’s buildings.

The New London Model now on display at the Building Centre with touch screens allowing buildings and major infrastructure projects to be brought to life across the surface of the model shows the key areas of change and revealing the sheer scale of proposed development in the capital.

It hopes to explain how the capital’s building regulations have prevented the visual clutter obscuring or degrading the view of St. Paul’s from well-known landmarks around London. Unfortunately these fine ideals called the Abercrombie Plan which featured in Andrew Marr’s BBC documentary Britain from Above have been watered down to the point of no return.

As each world-famous architect strives to put a permanent marker as his legacy on the capital the visual importance of St. Paul’s, and to a lesser extent the Houses of Parliament, is diminished.

When the Abercrombie Plan was first mooted London was being re-built after the Blitz. No one could have imagined today’s brilliant engineering which has made it possible to build these astonishing structures. Unfortunately London’s skyline has not benefitted.

Photo: By .Martin. Inside the New London Architecture, The Building Centre, 26 Store Street, London (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Hire today, gone tomorrow

Recently I went to see the summer blockbuster film Jurassic World. Coming out of the cinema it occurred to me that the film was a perfect metaphor for the demise of the London cab trade and with it what many regard as the gold standard for the world’s taxis. Thirty years ago there was no viable competition to the black cab and given its dominance customs and practices flourished in the trade.

[T]hriving cab ranks where punters outnumbered available vehicles. The Green Shelters, a perfect forum to voice opinions while taking a welcome break. The London Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA) who translated those opinions into action, but in reality had little to do as the trade was self-governing.

The radio circuits run by members for their members. A plethora of small garages servicing the vehicles, not always cheaply, but always available on demand when a problem arose so you were soon back on the road, or back in the Green Shelter.

You had vendors selling all the sundries needed: signage, receipt pads, account books, coin dispensers. Selling maps to light bulbs, you name it, somewhere in his multi-pocketed waistcoat the man walking down the rank had what you needed.

Companies renting and servicing the meters; specialists in retailing only cab tyres, repairing gearboxes, or cab auto electricians. A host of companies obtaining advertisers needing to promote their company’s product on the sides of London cabs.

Knowledge Schools teaching the thousands who every year who applied to undertake studying, for what still remains one of the hardest to achieve in the world. And of course the manufacturers of the iconic black cab which has been sold around the world.

Seemingly overnight this industry, with its attendant suppliers of goods and services has collapsed.

Gone the way of Gamages, the red telephone box, Fleet Street newspapers, the London docks, much of London’s markets with their suppliers like Gardner’s disappearing, or the blue police call box now only seen in Dr. Who.

Once you could fill up with diesel in central London but with property prices soaring most have closed. Remarkably the Waverton Street station in Mayfair catering almost exclusively for cabs only closed a decade ago, the site must have been worth millions.

Unlike the dinosaurs our demise has been a long time coming – death by a thousand cuts if you like.

First the mini-cab, an old vehicle driven by someone with limited English and very limited knowledge of London’s geography. Usually with an aerial affixed to the roof, you had to be very drunk, or desperate, to use their services. Seeing an opening large companies supplied a complete ‘package’ to drivers; providing vehicles, satnavs, mobiles, and sometimes even clothing. Those companies at that time were very efficient at attracting accounts and proved to be the first real threat to the black cabs’ monopoly.

Rickshaws soon followed becoming a minor irritant, but never a realistic threat to one’s livelihood.

By now you would have thought that the trade, which by then had swelled to over 20,000 would become united and fight off the competition. Instead over half of drivers didn’t even belong to a trade association carrying on in the manner of cabbies in better times past.

London’s road network then started to be altered. The old ‘rat runs’ learned by rote on the Knowledge which gave us an advantage over less informed drivers were slowly blocked off due to pedestrianisation, cycle lanes, CrossRail or just at the whim of local councils. This meant that traffic was funnelled into the capital’s main arteries that any fool could follow.


The fatal blow has been the ubiquitous smart phone. Hardly surprising that we weren’t ahead of the curve as there are three times as many taxi drivers over 70 years of age as there are under 30 years of age. In fact in 2013 the average age for a cabbie was 52 among London’s Licensed Cab Drivers.

Today to meet the demands made by American app Uber, the London Cab Driver’s blog Taxi Leaks claims that Transport for London has issued 20-30,000 additional licences. While official figures make for grim reading. May saw a 50 per cent reduction in new cab registrations compared to May 2014 and it gets worse. The total number of drivers licensed fell again in May to 25,116, down 466 from May 2014. This means for the first time in a generation the trade is experiencing a net loss of 10 drivers a week.

The Office for National Statistics have said in the first quarter this year the economy has expanded by 0.3 per cent, you don’t need to be a student of John Maynard Keynes to realise that in London there are too many drivers chasing an ever smaller customer base.

We cabbies are on course to become a tourist attraction, much like the dinosaurs in Jurassic World, and not a vital part of the capital’s transport infrastructure.

Photo: Ms Sara Kelly Black cab scrap yard on Three Colts Lane near Bethnal Green overground station. This road has lots of Londo

Twenty’s plenty

I’ve always thought of the 30 mph speed limit in London as having been imposed since the dawn of time.

The recent seemingly draconian measure by many local authorities to reduce this to a blanket 20 mph to many is a novel and unnecessary step.

Yet for many years 20 mph was the norm it being introduced 80 years ago.

[S]tatically for every 1 mph reduced in the average speed there are 6 per cent fewer accidents according to the Department for Transport who say that the limit imposed should be seen by drivers as the maximum speed rather than as a target to achieve irrespective of road conditions. The limit seems to have been successful with 1 death on the roads for every 20,000 cars.

There was a blanket 20 mph speed limit for decades at the start of the last century presumably once the requirement for vehicles to be preceded by a man carrying a red flag.

In 1903 the Motor Car Act made 20 mph mandatory. Presumably at that time a vehicle’s maximum speed was less than 50 mph, and had a stopping distance equivalent to a super tanker.

When in 1930 this Act was repealed carnage on Britain’s roads ensued. By 1034 with only one-tenth of the cars on the road compared with today’s traffic there was 4 times as many deaths.

A controversial Act was passed imposing a 30 mph speed limit, just how that figure was agreed has been lost in the mists of time and as with all British compromises chaos ensued.

Pieces of paper were plastered over existing signs, or tin discs used. Where authorities had managed to erect a regulatory sign these were often torn down, some ended up in lakes.

Now with greater traffic volumes and the huge increase in cyclists on London’s roads the debate has been re-ignited.

The Lib-Dems considered a 10 mph maximum in some areas, while many more pragmatic types of council have opted for 20 mph in residential streets supplementing this with as many road obstacles as it’s possible to imagine.

At 20 mph, if we adhere to Department of Transport guidelines, our average speed should be around 17–18 mph about the rate of travel for more sedate cyclists.


Unfortunately the modern car (or cab) hasn’t been designed to be driven at a continuous 17 mph. The gear ratios are incorrect, fuel consumption higher and engines emit more particulates. In a world of electric cars this wouldn’t be a problem.

Failing this utopian world the most effective way I’ve seen is the average speed camera. Only a fool and the thief would fail to comply with the speed limit under those watchful eyes.

Local authorities will just have to bite the bullet and invest if they want everyone traversing their land adhering to their diktats.

Oakley Square Gardens Lodge

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 rather forgotten area south of Camden Town now dominated by the Eurostar was intended to be a model suburb for the lower and middle classes.

[B]uilt piecemeal from 1845-59 it was named after Oakley House near Bedford, one of the seats of the landowner, the Duke of Bedford. At the north end is St. Michael’s Church built about the same time to the Gothic design popular at that time.

To the south-east side of the square is a large number of unprepossessing social low rise flats and part of the Euston one-way road system. The other three sides of this green oasis far little better; in fact gates once were installed to bar the square from undesirable traffic.


Oakley Square Gardens were re-landscaped in 1953 to celebrate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Standing in the northern corner rather incongruously is a little gem of a lodge house bearing the Bedford family coat of arms set within a circular plague at roof level.

The lodge was built about the same time as the gardens. This white stucco single-storey building with dentil cornice below the Duke’s crest is a beautiful example of mid-nineteenth century architecture. Listed Grade II it was recently valued at close to £1 million.