Leap Year London

The leap year’s extra day is necessary because of the “messiness” of our Solar System. One Earth year (a complete orbit around the Sun) does not take an exact number of whole days (one complete spin of the Earth on its axis). In fact, it takes 365.2422 days, give or take.

This extra day, not to mention those few extra nano-seconds, give rise to some unusual traditions.

[I]n tradition of giving the opportunity for ladies to propose to their beau (if he hasn’t already done so, don’t bother girls) gave Harry Craddock at the Savoy Hotel the idea to make the proposal more amenable to the recalcitrant lover. First available at the bar on 29th February, 1928 the Leap Year Cocktail was said to have spurred many a marriage proposal:

2 ounces gin
½ ounce Grand Marnier
½ ounce sweet vermouth
¼ ounce fresh lemon juice
Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass
Serve with a twist of lemon

[B]ear with me on this one. The Queen sent no centenarian birthday telegrams on 29th February 2000, because there was no 29th February in 1900. A person born on 29th February 1896 would have celebrated their first birthday in 1904. The year 1896 was a leap year, thus February had 29 days. The next leap year was not until 1904. Leap years, which have 366 days instead of the common 365, are those years divisible by four, except centesimal (those ending in 00) years unless they are divisible by 400. Therefore, three of every four centesimal years are common years, including 1900. No, I can’t get my head around that either.

[O]n 29th February 1977, two members of Lynyrd Skynyrd were knocked unconscious after a scuffle broke out- between the band and members of the metropolitan police boxing team, who were holding a dinner at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in London.

[I]n an attempt to assist the ladies endeavouring to catch their man, on 29th February 2000 the London Aquarium offered a quirky service for women who wish to take advantage of 29th February. First there was a guided tour (it’s very dark in there so that should have given a more romantic ambience), then when the man might have suspected that something fishy was afoot a diver emerged in the tank clutching a personalised sign that pops the question.

That’s all for new, watch this space in four years time.

The Blue Plaques of London

The Blue Plaque Scheme

The Blue Plaque Scheme is a system which celebrates the diverse range of achievements and residents that have been a part of

There are almost 900 plaques proudly displayed on buildings around London, visible to the public, where famous people have lived and worked.

[O]riginally suggested by William Ewart MP in 1863, the Blue Plaque Scheme was founded in 1866 by the Royal Society of Arts, known only as the Society of Arts at that date. The scheme is thought to be the oldest of its kind in the world.

The Royal Society of Arts began by designing the plaques with a decorative border reading the Society of Arts. The London County Council administered the scheme from 1901 and kept the round border used by the Society of Arts, also adding a wreath decoration underneath the content of the plaques, which can be seen on the plaque dedicated to Charles Dickens.

From 1965, the Greater London Council handled the scheme and they developed the terms of acceptance for a plaque to include significant events at a building in addition to someone having lived or worked there. Following the abolition of the Greater London Council in 1986, the English Heritage began to manage the Blue Plaque Scheme and continues to do so to this present day.

The earliest blue plaque was for Lord Byron, placed in 1867 at his birthplace at Cavendish Square. Unfortunately, this building was demolished in 1889 and the plaque is no longer. The earliest surviving plaque was also installed in 1867 and can be seen in Westminster, commemorating Napoleon III.

Each plaque is hand crafted and they have been tested with a variety of materials, shapes and colours. Including: bronze, stone, lead; square, round, rectangle; brown, sage, terracotta and, of course, blue.

Today, you will find plaques being designed out of cast aluminium, round in shape with a dark blue background and white lettering. You can find the almost 900 plaques around London in all but three boroughs.

The Green Plaque Scheme
The Green Plaque Scheme was launched in 1991 and recognises people who have made lasting contributions to society, focusing mainly on buildings in Westminster.

To be eligible for a green plaque, the person must have been distinguished in their career, genuinely contributed to human welfare and sufficient time must have passed since their life to recognise their contribution to society.

You may have happened upon the Twiggy and Donovan statues in Mayfair London in the past, which is a tribute to the professional photographer Terence Donovan, who famously photographed Twiggy and has a green plaque on the studio where he worked, which is currently on the market through Wetherell, having being given a designer makeover.

The Effect of Plaques on Property
Although a plaque installed on a property does not offer that building any protection, the awareness of historical significance and interest in cultural icons has saved some building from demolition and in some cases led to preservation, even for fictional characters, like Sherlock Holmes. His famous address on Baker Street has been turned into a museum, with the plaque present on the outside of the building.

As the protection, the plaques do not necessarily increase value to a property. However, the interest in buyers, especially from outside of the UK has seen a huge increase in property values with a plaque installed, which has actually led to estate agents listing the plaque status as a feature of the building.

Buyers rushed at the chance to buy Margaret Thatcher’s property when it went on the market, just because of the blue plaque status. The property sold for £35million, even though it had sold for only £4.16million the previous year.

The Blue Plaque and Green Plaque Schemes are exclusive to London, but you may notice similar schemes around the UK. These are generally maintained by individual council bodies and each will have their own set of eligibility criteria and value to their plaques.

Anyone can propose a plaque to the blue or green scheme and all suggestions are considered if they meet the conditions for acceptance.


CabbieBlog-cabThis is a sponsored guest post for which CabbieBlog has received a fee. Proceeds from these articles help keep the wheels turning on this site offering free content for anybody with an interest in London. All links here conform with guidelines set out in Write a Post.

The London Grill: Jane Parker

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]ane’s London, is almost 8 years old. Jane is a graphic designer by day with a keen eye for composition and detail. She has lived and/or worked in London for over 30 years and has always been interested in the little things on London that most people walk past every day, such as coal holes, weather vanes, boot scrapers and old signs. Jane has uploaded over 6,000 of her London photos to Flickr and many of these are used to illustrate her observations, recommendations and rants on Jane’s London. Jane also collects clay pipes fragments from the Thames’ foreshores and uses them to fashion unique pieces of jewellery which she sells at Spitalfields market for details see her website.

What’s your secret London tip?
London is much smaller than people think… forget the underground and get walking… the straightest and quickest route isn’t always the one you first think of. For instance, The City to Westminster is a short stroll if you go south over London Bridge, walk to Waterloo via Borough, and then cross back over either Westminster or Lambeth Bridge. You’ll avoid the crowds and find some unusual things on route.

What’s your secret London place?
Well, it wouldn’t be a secret then, would it?!

What’s your biggest gripe about London?
The prices of bus and tube fares. They go up by way more than the percentage quoted every year and it’s embarrassing trying to justify this to tourists. LRT certainly isn’t spending the money on keeping the public-facing areas of these service clean (see middle part of this: http://www.janeslondon.com/2012/03/cleaning-up-south-bank.html)

What’s your favourite building?
This changes almost monthly. I like functional solid beauty with clever enhancement as on St Olafs House (Tooley St), or Summit House (Red Lion Sq) and Holland House (Bury St EC3).

What’s your most hated building?
The bloody Shard of course! It’s just a pointy glass tower. That’s all it is; glass arranged into in a pointy shape. With an extra bit added on the top to make it even taller. I fail to see that it’s anything to be proud of. I am sick of these “iconic” bullying buildings that look like they have been clipped together from off-the-shelf component parts, with no style, design or finesse. So what, that you can see it from all over London! No thanks. It just doesn’t compare with the wonderful tall buildings of the past century, especially those in NYC, such as The Chyrsler Building or The Empire State.

What’s the best view in London?
I like the view from Suicide Bridge in Hornsey Lane, especially at dusk.

What’s your personal London landmark?
The place that comes to mind is the Lighthouse building at Kings Cross. I have been watching it for years to see what will happen to it, and was very upset when someone got up there and sprayed graffiti on the uppermost parts.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
I just read West End Girls by Barbara Tate in which she tells her fascinating and in-depth story of working in Soho from the 1940s onwards. As regards films, I love End of the Affair (1999) set in WW2. And I always try to watch any old film set in central London, such as The Lavender Hill Mob which has many scenes filmed in and around the post-war bomb sites that make up the area between St Pauls and Cannon Street. Fascinating stuff.

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?
A pair of Sam Smith’s Angels . . . outside on the river at Bermondsey Wall watching the sunset through Tower Bridge, or inside at St Giles, within one of the little sectioned bar areas.

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
If the weather is good I will be out just following my nose down streets I don’t know taking lots of photos. Or I might be on an obscure guided walk. I almost crave dull or rainy days so that can stay in and sort through the photos at home.

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

Down Your Alley: Fleet Street-1

This month Down Your Alley moves to Fleet Street and the alleys to the north. We look at the alleys which Dr. Johnson would have been familiar when compiling his dictionary and giving Boswell the benefit of his views about places to be discovered in London. There are many alleys remaining in Fleet Street, despite the war damage, some of those alleys running north and on the south side of Fleet Street will be featured in a later post.

[W]e start facing east just after the Royal Courts of Justice and will continue down Fleet Street until we reach an alley bearing the name of the great lexicographer which curiously, apart from being frequently used by him, is not named after him.

We are just inside the City of London, Bell Yard [below] which dates back to the early 15th century when a tavern or inn known as ‘Le Belle’ stood at its southern end. It was pulled down around 1580 and some years later was replaced by another tavern also called the Bell, but that too has long since gone. As might be imagined the dominating theme of Bell Yard is law, as the west side the Royal Courts of Justice takes up the entire length of the Yard.


We may, with a high degree of surety, presume that Bell Yard has not always been the agreeable place it is today for in 1736 Alexandra Pope referred to it as ‘a filthy old place’. Joe Frances, breeches maker, had his lucrative shop here but, as was usually the case in those days, prosperous business men didn’t invest their money wisely. He was a gambler and a heavy drinker, preferring to sit every evening in the Three Herrings tavern a few door away. His sons were both thieves, the eldest following the trade of a pickpocket and the other spent the daylight hours posing as a blind beggar, sitting in the gutter with hands out stretched. His daughter was of no better character; a notable prostitute, regularly seen loitering around the courts and alleys off Fleet Street.


Between Chancery Lane and Fetter Lane is Cliffords Inn Passage. In 1307 Robert Clifford was granted the lease on a substantial house and a plot of land towards the northern end of the passage. At that time lawyers had not settled into any particular area of London and it was completely by chance that when Clifford died in 1343 his widow leased the house to a number of law students. Clifford’s Inn, or Clifford’s House as it was called, was the first established Inn of Chancery and from this beginning the long history of legal London started. The house remained in the ownership of the Clifford family until the mid-17th century when it was sold to a group of lawyers as residential apartments. Clifford’s Inn ceased to function as a legal establishment in 1802 and one by one the buildings were demolished until the last survivor went under the demolition contractor’s hammer in 1935.


Leaving Fleet Street through a narrow covered opening, Hen and Chicken Court continues as a passage before opening out into an elongated yard lined with a number of a-little-the-worse-for-ware buildings. This is a quaint court – but perhaps not, as might be imagined, so quaint as when the Hen and Chicken Inn stood on the spot. Documentation relating to the inn is extremely thin on the ground and although Boswell, in his Life of Samuel Johnson, makes mention of a fair selection of Fleet Street inns and taverns he conveys no reference to this one. Of course the name could have been an affectionate handle for one of the more familiar establishments. There is now no great activity in Hen and Chicken Court. Funnelled away from the bustling main street and almost sealed off from its roar, the only audible sound is the rattle of odds and ends sliding down a rubbish shoot.


Don’t be fooled by this narrow approach, Crane Court quickly takes on wider dimensions to reveal the grace of rehabilitated antiquity. It was in rooms at number nine that the first edition of the magazine Punch was published and The Illustrated London News started its long life at number ten. Under the presidency of Isaac Newton, the Royal Society established their headquarters at the far end of the Court in 1710. They stayed for seventy years and sold the property for £1,000 in 1780. Although major redevelopment has taken place in this area over recent years, Crane Court in modern day London still radiates a pleasing character; brightly painted doors adorned with shiny knockers, knobs and name-plates are plentifully in evidence.


Nestling in the midst of a modernised block on the corner of Fetter Lane the narrow passage of Red Lion Court branches from Fleet Street undeterred by the rolling years. A little way along, the passage widens out and here, until quite recently, stood the Red Lion tavern – after which the Court was named. There has been a tavern in Red Lion Court since 1575 but unfortunately the long establishment came to an end when redevelopment encompassed the area a few years ago – alas, the Red Lion is no more. Within the square there once was Riscatype once one of the largest type founders in the world from which as an apprentice I would have to collect packets of type.


Ask anyone ‘in the know’, who inspired the naming of Johnson Court, and as sure as night follows day the answer will come back – Dr Johnson. It is true that Samuel Johnson did spend 10 years of his life in Johnson’s Court, but he had nothing whatsoever to do with its naming; That honour goes to Thomas Johnson, a City tailor, who lived here during the reign of Elizabeth I. Little else is known of Thomas, but of Samuel there are volumes and his name is as alive today as it was in the 18th century. Samuel Johnson moved into number eight Johnson’s Court in January of 1776 after leaving his lodging at number one Inner Temple Lane. With him came Mrs Anna Williams, a Welsh lady who came to London seeking a cure for cataracts but after undergoing an operation totally lost her sight. Johnson took pity on her and after the death of her husband, Zachariah, gave her a room in his house. Boswell described her as ‘very peevish; and I wondered at Johnson’s patience with her . . . She was as active as bad health and blindness permitted; though sometimes impatient, for her temper was “marked with Welsh fire.”. Also in the court, the first edition of the John Bull Magazine rolled off the press in 1820 under its founder and first editor, Theodore Hook. Throughout much of its length it is still a narrow covered way as in the days when the lumbering figure of Dr Johnson trudged along the dark passage. He must have trodden this route hundreds of time, for not only did it lead to number seven, but also his house in Gough Square where he lived between 1748 and 1759.

Photos: Cliffords Inn Passage Basher Eyre (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Sweeney Todd’s barber shop Joel Does London. Also notice Hen and Chicken Court alleyway to the side. The original Barber shop of Sweeney Todd, which is now the Dundee Courier building. Sweeney Todd killed over 150 victims and Mrs. Lovett butchered the bodies to be used as meat for the meat pies in her store. They lived off any money and goods the victims happened to be carrying with them. To transport the victims, there was an underground tunnel from the barber shop that led directly to Mrs. Lovett’s Pie Shop. This tunnel actually went underneath St Dunstan’s Church shown in the top feature image.

Crane Court by Period House: The oldest speculative buildings by Nicholas Barbon, in Crane Court off Fleet Street (c1670)


CabbieBlog-cabMuch of the original source material for Down Your Alley has been derived from Ivor Hoole’s GeoCities website. The site is now defunct and it is believed Ivor is no longer with us. Thankfully much of Ivor’s work has been archived by Ian Visits and Phil Gyford.

Lies, damned lies

and statistics . . .

There is more to a blog than just writing: design, load speed, and your Google ranking among others. One aspect that all ‘experts’ tell you to avoid is statistics, which means, of course, you become obsessive about your data. So for many this will be the most boring post of the year, but for the few, including this writer, these stats are compulsive reading.

[F]or all of you who have managed to stay awake thus far and are ready to devour all this information comprehensively amassed over the last year I’ve broken it down to bite sized chunks with a comparable figures for the previous year.

Blog visitors and page views
I would have stopped a nascent CabbieBlog back in January 2009 if nobody clicked onto the site. The numbers of visitors and page views have increased steadily, and for that I’m mighty proud, and dare I say it humbled?

Visitor views – 28,793
Page views – 55,212

Visitor views –  28,813
Page views – 55,126

CabbieBlog’s readers from abroad
Many of you might not be foreign, but simply ex-pats longing to reminisce of the good times spent sitting in the back of a London cab. The different countries represented by readers of CabbieBlog seem to be on an upward trend.

2014 – 129

2015 – 136

Number of comments
The yardstick of a blog must be how many of its readers decided to metaphysically put pen to paper and comment. To all of you a huge thank you for your encouragement or discouragement. Your comments keep me submitting posts for your perusal. Comments are slowly diminishing (apart from Nigerians offering to improve the apparent deficiency in my manhood) year-on-year seemingly diverted to Twitter, Facebook or whatever community you lot spend all your time chattering in these days. But at least what comment remains is intelligent, relevant and insightful. I’m delighted, obviously.

2014 – 103

2015 – 87

Followers of CabbieBlog
For those of you who can’t be bothered or don’t have the time, to check out my missives, you lot would have signed-up for regular e-mail updates or get a heads up from Bloglovin’ or WordPress. I can calculate how many time you have taken the trouble to read my rantings, but thanks for following CabbieBlog.

2014 – 115

2015 – 130

Posts written
This should be posts published as sometimes a Guest Post has been uploaded, and it would be appear you are rather good, last year’s most read post ‘Ten cheap alternatives to Uber’ was a guest post.

2014 – 109

2015 – 128


Most viewed and least viewed posts and pages
I has to be said that some subjects take on a life of their own while others just sit in cyberspace minding their own business. At the bottom of the table lie many posts with only one view a year, and some I suspect just sit there patiently waiting to be noticed.

Highest post
Tin Pan Alley 3,423
Lowest Post
Look behind you 1
Highest page
Green cab shelters 4,888
Lowest page
de Londoniens 31

Highest post
Ten cheap alternatives to Uber – 1,174
Lowest Post
Dear Diary . . . – 1
Highest page
Green cab shelters – 4,405
Lowest page
Pundon Calling – 4

Pages written
Once in a while I’ll get round to writing a page that remains visible permanently and not buried below the twice weekly posts. Here are the number pages I’ve been bothered to write recently.

2014 – 5

2015 – 4

Number of words written
I endeavour to keep posts down to 500 words, this I usually manage unless I come over all animated about the article’s subject matter.

Words – 59,959
Characters – 345,961

Words – 57,033
Characters – 330,413

Sitting in the back
I devote a page of CabbieBlog to my bums on seats and in the past I’ve enjoyed the company, among others, of John Hurt and Barbara Winsor. Unfortunately I wouldn’t recognise most sportsmen, or women, so they are not so faithfully recorded – although I did once see Boris Becker in the back.

Andrew Buchan (actor from Broadchurch)
Elizabeth Richard (actress – don’t know her? She’s the Queen lookalike often seen on adverts and the like)

Andrew Wilson (author and journalist, better known as A. N. Wilson)
Adam Boulton (journalist – Sky’s heavyweight)

In conclusion
Why it’s taken the best part of two months to gather this information is a matter for conjecturer. I say it is to give you comprehensive stats, although you might think I’ve just been lazy. One of London’s best bloggers Diamond Geezer has been compiling this sort of data for the best part of 10 years so if he can why not CabbieBlog getting off his backside and coming up with a few stats? Next year I’ll publish this riveting information earlier – if I get round to compiling it in time.