A look at life

Once in a while a nugget comes along which encapsulates the raison d’être of CabbieBlog. This 1960s gem gives an insight of a lost London: few cars; drab dirty buildings; and a commentary spoken in received English. It features one of the last Hansom cabs and a cabbie who made the switch from horsepower to motorised transport. It has Knowledge boys on push bikes, and if you are observant enough you might notice that the cyclists then, as today, ignore the Highway Code.

[A]n excellent Look at Life video clip from The Rank Organisation dated March 1960 looking at the London Taxi cab and learning The Knowledge. I think the featured image is of an 1950 Austin FX3 driving west down Mile End Road.


A chip of the old block

I can remember my father telling of his surprise when the ‘newly completed’ elephant house at the London Zoo was vandalised. The structure up to that point was adorned with vertical flutes of poured concrete. On that day workmen with hammers started to chip off the newly poured flutes exposing the rough aggregate beneath [left]. Little did we realised at the time but that moment was probably the day that extreme Brutalism architecture had come to London.

[T]he Balfron and Trellick Towers followed in the mid-60s with the most controversial child of this style of architecture – The Barbican Estate.


Balfour Tower


Trellick Tower

Loved and loathed in equal measure the Barbican’s concrete was allowed to set for at least 21 days before workmen with hand-held pick-hammers exposed the coarse granite below the surface.

Built upon the biggest bomb site I’ve ever seen this gargantuan scheme took several decades to complete with many design changes. Its modest sized arts centre enlarged to compete with the newly completed South Bank Centre. The existing railway was moved to accommodate its ambitious design. Spread out over 40 acres the plan was for a place to live and work, with a school and landscaping including a pond where it was hoped the middle-classes might be tempted to stay and work. By its completion it had become the largest self contained development in Europe.

The site was originally known as Cripplegate before the Luftwaffe finished its work. For over a century London was an exodus of people leaving and the design hoped to reduce the trend which had left just 48 people living in the Cripplegate area.

In the event he scheme was dogged with problems extending its completion date the escalating the final cost. Major design flaws coupled with health and safety hazards made for very poor industrial relations with workers subject to backward and dangerous conditions.


Barbican balconies

Now Grade II listed it gets its name from the Latin ‘Barbecana’ referring to a fortified outpost or gateway such as the outer defence of the city.

Now an exhibition in the main foyer traces its progress over that 20-year period. The Barbican Exhibition: Building a Landmark runs to 29th November. Three decades of the estate’s construction from the mid-1950s to 1982 with rarely seen photographs of the construction trace the progress of the gargantuan scheme which saw the bomb site turned into a Brutalist architectural landmark.

Picture: Barbican balconies Andy Mabbett (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The hearse cab

Old cabbies never die; they just join the rank in the sky. Here is another in the occasional series which features uses for which the eponymous London taxi has been put.

London Taxi Exports once had an FX4 hearse on their books. The company who deal exclusively in ‘retired’ London driven cabs, owing to the fact that the regulations pertaining to London licensed vehicles ensure they are well maintained.

[E]ven if those same authorities have deemed them now unfit for living passenger transport, I don’t know how many cabbies die every year but a funeral director could do worst than offer this vehicle should his deceased client require a different mode of transport on their final journey.


London Taxi Exports are not the first to offer such a vehicle. In 1970 an advertisement appeared in the November issue of The Funeral Director featuring a converted Austin Fairway. Its features comprised: a full size traditional coach built body constructed to your design as a deck 2 bearer/deck or 4 bearer hearse. One wonders what ever happened to the vehicle, and more importantly was it ever used?

The London Grill: Andreas Kambanis

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.

Andreas Kambanis

[A]ndreas Kambanis runs the LondonCyclistBlog. It is the most popular cycling blog in London. Inside, he covers topics such as great cycling routes in the capital, staying safe on two wheels and reviews the cycling gear that is worth the money.

What’s your secret London tip?
As a cyclist, my tip would of course be to get on two wheels. It’s often the fastest way around the capital and it’s friendly on the wallet. You may be shocked at the number of pleasant routes through our city. If you don’t have the London knowledge then iPhone and Android apps such as BikeHub will show you the secret routes around London, acting like a GPS for cyclists.

What’s your secret London place?
Just last weekend I was introduced to the Captain Kidd pub in Wapping. This is probably one of my favourite beer gardens in London, with a view over the Thames. Also, it’s a Sam Smith’s pub so the drinks prices are reasonable.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?
I’d love to see more cycle lanes through the city to keep cyclists separate from traffic. I think drivers are often confused about cyclists and cyclists are often scared by traffic. Therefore, a raised path or somehow physically separated route for cyclists is the widely agreed best way forward. I’d love to see an end to stories about cyclists been crushed by heavy goods vehicles.

What’s your favourite building?
The Hampstead Pergola. It feels like a secret garden from a movie set. I love how nature is reclaiming this building. A great quiet spot to wonder around.

What’s your most hated building?
I absolutely adore the small gardens near the Mayor’s office by Tower Bridge. However, a housing development is going up behind it. I really think this will change the feel of this part of London. When it’s built, that will be my most hated building!

What’s the best view in London?
Waterloo Bridge at night – I struggle to keep my eyes on the road when pedalling over it.

What’s your personal London landmark?
I’m not sure why, but Marylebone station always feels like home to me. I travel back to Birmingham occasionally to visit family and the familiar site of Marylebone always makes me feel at ease with life.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
I’m a sucker for the old Hitchcock films. Frenzy in particular was a good glimpse in to familiar sights in London many years ago.

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?
An almost impossible question to answer! There are so many. However, I can never say no to a pint in the Lock Tavern in Camden. The music is to my taste, as is the atmosphere and crowd.

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
It would almost certainly involve a bike ride. I’m a creature of habit and a favourite ride of mine is from Tower Bridge, along the Thames Path to Greenwich Park. You even get to cross over the Thames using the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. On the other side, Greenwich is a particular pleasant part of London. Little shops, restaurants and an enormous park to lie down and slow things down in this busy city of ours. I’d end the day with a drink in one of the pubs lining the Thames. I’m a particular fan of the ones by Tower Bridge.

This ‘Grill’ was first posted on the Radio Taxis blog.

Toilet trivia

The more observant among you might have seen that recently I’ve been reading The Great Stink of London: Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the Cleansing of the Victorian Metropolis by Stephen Halliday. In it the author paints a pretty disgusting picture of London before Mr Bazalgette’s sewers.

The old curmudgeon and diarist Samuel Pepys gave us a flavour, if that is the right word, of life in 17th century London, writing:

. . . and going down into my cellar to look, I put my foot into a great heap of turds, by which I find that Mr Turner’s house of office is full and comes into my cellar, which doth trouble me . . .

Mr Turner, the diarist’s neighbour, had let his ‘house of office’ overflow, presenting Pepys with some poops.

[A]part from the Romans, London it would appear was the trailblazer when it came to defecation aids. The perforated loo roll, it is claimed originated in – ah – Hackney Wick. On White Post Lane there is a blue plaque proudly announcing the birthplace of the modern loo roll, although others dispute this claim.


One indisputable fact is the origins of Andrex. Created in 1942 (I suppose with bombs raining down from above toilet rolls were in demand) gets its name from a Walthamstow street where it was first made – St. Andew’s Road. Originally called Androll (St. Andrew’s made roll); it was later changed to Andrex.

I would have though that most dogs in Victorian London were feral with very few owners going walkies armed with a dog poop bag. At that time the streets weren’t paved with gold or dog poo for that matter. Colloquially known as ‘pure’, collectors would scour the streets for dog do-dah to sell to the leatherworkers in Bermondsey for tanning the hides.

The same can’t be said of human excrement with the banning of cesspits, due to the occurrences that Mr. Pepys experienced, London’s effluent was taken by rudimentary sewers and discharged in the Thames.

The result was that the sludge wasn’t discharged into the sea but merely slopped back and forth causing the Great Stink of 1858 and galvanising MPs to authorise the building of Bazalgette’s sewer system.

Twenty years later the Thames was still being used as a dumping ground, 650 drowned or choked when the Princess Alice collided with the coal-carrying Bywell Castle shortly after 75 million gallons of effluent had been discharged from nearby Barking and Crossness treatment works.

In today’s sanitised world we forget just how big the problem really is. Matt Brown at the Londonist has been busy with his slide rule. He has calculated that a day’s total dump would, if laid end to end, go round the M25 four times.

Photo: Blue Plaque Diamond Geezer (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)