The first A-Z

The often related story of Phyllis Pearsall getting up at 5.00 a.m. and walking the 3,000 miles in a couple of years along 23,000 streets of London drawing up a map of the capital after she couldn’t find her way to a party in Belgravia is the stuff of urban legend.

The story is almost certain in the main untrue, the first street-indexed map of London was drawn up in 1623 by John Norden and Phyllis Pearsall probably just filled in the blanks.

[T]hat hasn’t stopped collectors wanting to get their hands on a first edition A-Z published just before the advent of World War II. Seeing these first editions passing hands for thousands the Geographers’ A-Z Map Company has reproduced its original 1936 edition for those with less deep pockets.

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It makes for fascinating reading. What has happened to the Little Theatre on the Strand; the Gaiety Theatre which stood where the curiously named ME London hotel now stands; and who knew the Shaftesbury Theatre was once the Princess?

Most of the clubs still exist but had I been around then I’d like to have belonged to the Eccentric club located in Pickering Place, just down the road from Boodle’s Club.

A quick look at the ‘Underground Railways of London and Suburbs’ map reveals that the Northern Line ended at Archway, even with that truncated line it still probably had the worst service on the network.

On the street maps the detail is so poorly defined it’s surprising that anyone could find their way around the capital’s back streets, and to make matters worse, on the inside back cover is a pull-out three-dimensional map attempting to show a representation of the building as they appeared from the air, printed so small they remain as splodges.

So I decided to put Mrs P’s endeavours to the test. Using one of he most infamous of London’s addresses namely 10 Rillington Place.

We know from numerous contemporary accounts this part of Ladbroke Grove was old, in fact, the buildings were in a state of dereliction by the 1950s. and it was situated west of St. Mark’s Road, just north of Wesley Square.

On the 1936 edition – nothing, nor are many of the surrounding roads at that time are to be found.

A more poignant page is 51 19L to be exact [illustrated below], here is the ancient district of Cripplegate obliterated by German bombing less than four years after this first edition was published. Barbican (a street); Red Cross Street; Playhouse Yard; Jewin Street and Crescent; Paul’s Alley, and more are illustrated, many of which are illegible in this reprint as the streets were so closely packed together.


Cripplegate before the Blitz

‘Places of Interest’ gave Kew Gardens entrance fee as 1d (12 would equal 5p in today’s money), and my favourite the engrossing Parkes Museum which is described thus: 90, Buckingham Palace Road, S.W.1 Station: Victoria D). Contains exhibits relating to modern hygiene in architectural and food values ; disinfection, etc., for presentation of disease. OPEN : WEEKDAYS, 9.30 A.M. to 6.30 P.M. 9.30 A.M. to 7 P.M.). ADMISSION FREE.

Presumably, the late opening is to cope with the extra demand at the beginning of the week.

Walk the Line

M25 to The River

For the purposes of CabbieBlog London starts – and ends – at the M25. So to start following the Meridian Line we have to commence at precisely that point on the motorway at 51° 40’ 53” N if you were driving clockwise it’s just after the A112 bridge. Now I’m not suggesting park up on the hard shoulder (there isn’t one!) and climb up the steep embankment there to Walk the virtual Line. But should you decide . . .

[O]n your left is the Eastern Hemisphere while the western world, and therefore civilisation as we know it, is open to you should you turn right.

As we tramp across Quinton Hill Farm I should offer a note of caution when the Meridian was being discussed in 1884 the French wanted it for their own, but we had the support of America, and as with other battles with Europe, the Yanks came to our aid and we got Greenwich Mean Time. Europeans tried recently to have the honour taken from Greenwich but again were unsuccessful, that as we shall see later was achieved by your mobile phone.


After stomping through Gilwell Park the first tangible evidence of the Meridian, as if to make up for any sign before, are two obelisks on Pole Hill, the tallest hill in north-east London. On one there is an apology:

This pillar was erected in 1824 under the direction of the Reverend John Pond, MA, Astronomer Royal. It was placed on the Greenwich Meridian and its purpose was to indicate the direction of true north from the transit telescope of the Royal Observatory. The Greenwich Meridian as changed in 1850 and adopted by international agreement in 1884 as the line of zero longitude passes 19 feet to the east of this pillar.

Now as you stand by the obelisk and move 19ft east as instructed, then continue in that direction for another 334ft, now the Meridian runs through your head. Modern GPS has taken account of the Earth being not perfectly round, which affects the gravitational pull and the planet’s bulge. Accurate measurements have only been made possible with satellite technology.

All this is to say that instead of forking out £9.50 to straddle the Meridian at Greenwich here you can do it for free and have a great view of Essex thrown in.

But we can’t hang about admiring all that Essex has to offer from this vantage point, we must move on. Next negotiate Chingford Green, Chingford Hatch and Highams Park, it’s station is just yards from the line, contemplate that the next time the train’s delayed.

Cross the North Circular Road via Hale End Road Bridge, for the more pedantic among you with the exact line is to your left, via a slip road and 8 lanes of fast moving traffic.

Continue down Fulbourne Road and Wood Street, when you reach Wood Street Station you’re pretty well on the money, in fact, a prosaic concrete slab outside the 14th Walthamstow Scout Group testifies to you straddling two hemispheres.

When Wood Street reaches the Lea Bridge Road it splits for vehicles entering and leaving a roundabout, stand in the middle and the line passes through you. Note how the traffic circulating around the roundabout seem unconcerned as they enter and leave each hemisphere, the local authority really should erect a sign, they did, after all, declare the borough nuclear free.

In 2000 The London Borough of Waltham Forest took seriously they had the Meridian Line through their neck of the woods. As a result, dozens of faded yellow and green signs populate the pavements.


This one in Peterborough Road is only slightly out at 00° 00′ 92″ W. The actual line runs through Whipps Cross Hospital and as far as I can ascertain has done nothing to mark the Meridian’s presence, nor, it should be said, the fact that David Beckham was born here.

Yomping on south our next obstacle is the relatively new A12 which, it seemed to me, was constructed to give easy access to the Olympic Village and to speed up the opportunity to join the jam to enter the Blackwall Tunnel.

Crossing this obstacle by means of the B161 Cathall Road gets us bang in the Meridian button. Likewise, the small St. Patrick’s Cemetery on your right where Mary Jane Kelly, the Ripper’s last victim; Timothy Evans, wrongly convicted of murder at 10 Rillington Place, whose body, when he was given a posthumous pardon, was reinterred here; and over 12 members of Alfred Hitchcock’s extended family.


Unfortunately, the cemetery appears full so any desire to be buried with one’s head in the west and feet in the eastern hemisphere are dashed.

Trekking south we come to Stratford Station where according to Diamond Geezer the conveniences at the bus station needs a marker, for the Meridian passes through one of the cubicles.


At this point, I would suggest you get the train to East India station on the Docklands Light Railway, for between Stratford and there is a wasteland of gas works and industrial buildings.

East India station is 00° 00′ 08″ W just a stone’s throw from our intended position.

Walk out the station into Newport Avenue right into Jamestown Way and 100 yards along this road is the Meridian Line, it is also the furthest south we can get without a boat.


Next time we go Sarf of The River heading towards Greenwich, even if the observatory is in the wrong location, and then we strike out for the M25.

If you remain unsatisfied or lazy and really, really want to enjoy a close-up physical manifestation of the Meridian Line, simply don’t park your car but pop off at J25 or J26 and head for nearby Waltham Abbey, where the vertical centre of the earth is in fact marked out by a symbolic blue arch within the Abbey Gardens.

East India DLR station: The elevated nature of the DLR, so typical of this area, is shown with this view of East India station. A westbound train is just arriving. The road is Blackwall Way, and the distant high building is the HSBC tower at Canary Wharf. By Nigel Cox (CC BY-SA 2.0)
St Patrick’s Cemetery, Langthorne Road, Leytonstone, London E11 by John Salmon (CC BY-SA 2.0)

London Trivia: Father of modern philanthropy

On 26 March 1862 to repay the ’courtesy, kindness and confidence’ he had received from the British public American banker George Peabody announced the creation of a fund that carries his name. Designed to ameliorate the condition of the poor and needy of London, from the first estate in Spitalfields opening in 1864 Peabody Estates now houses more than 70,000 Londoners. Born poor in Massachusetts he is today regarded as the ‘father of modern philanthropy’.

On 26 March 1973 women were finally allowed on the trading floor of the London Stock Exchange for the first time in the institution’s 200 year history

HMP Wormwood Scrubs was built by its inmates, nine inmates built 50 cells, then more inmates joined and built more cells to house even more etc, etc

Tins of Old Holborn rolling tobacco once featured a drawing of the front of Staple Inn, Holborn one of the last timber framed building left in London

Poet Shelly met second wife Mary, author of Frankenstein, in St Pancras Old Church graveyard where she visited her parents’ tomb

Margaret Thatcher used to stand on a chair in her Commons room to check the top of the door. “It’s the way you know if a room’s really been cleaned.”

Wyndham’s theatre programme 1940: ‘In the interests of public health this theatre is disinfected with Jeyes Fluid’

Hamley’s toy store was founded by Cornishman William Hamley in 1760, first named Noah’s Ark and sited in Holborn

Harold Abrahams (Chariots of Fire) from Golders Green won gold at the 1924 Paris Olympics, the first European to win an Olympic sprint title

Gordon Selfridge wanted Bond Street tube renamed Selfridges Station but he couldn’t persuade the Underground’s managing director to agree

Constantia Philips, a retired courtesan, opened London’s first sex shop in 1732. Her “preservatives” – condoms – were hugely popular

On 26 March 2014 Sesame Street star Kermit the Frog was made Honorary Bridge Master of Tower Bridge by the City of London

CabbieBlog-cab.gifTrivial Matter: London in 140 characters is taken from the daily Twitter feed @cabbieblog.
A guide to the symbols used here and source material can be found on the Trivial Matter page.

Down Your Alley: Tweezer’s Alley

Turn left out of Temple Station then left into Temple Place, which runs round to the rear of Temple Station.

Walk straight ahead towards the north-east corner and through the gate into Milford Lane. Follow the path round to the left then to the right for about 90 yards and Tweezer’s Alley is on the left, a passage of little visual interest. It is bounded on the south side with high buildings faced with white glazed tiles.

[T]he oldest legal ceremony in England apart from the coronation itself, the Quit Rents Ceremony, where six horseshoes are presented to the Queen’s Remembrancer, the official of the Court of the Exchequer, along with sixty-one nails as a rent for permission to have a forge in Tweezers Alley. This was granted by King Henry II and first entered into the rolls of the Exchequer in 1235.

Quit Rents are a medieval mechanism brought in to allow someone to go quit of an obligation (to raise a levee of men to fight in an army, for instance) and to substitute some other goods or service for the obligation.

When this particular rent is first recorded, a man named Walter le Brun, probably a Norman Knight, had gained permission to have a forge in the corner of a field of the grounds used by the Knights Templar, now called Middle Temple.


This probably gained the name Tweezers Alley after the tweezers used by smiths to heat items in the forge that stood there.

As a quit rent, this would not be so remarkable, since all of London ran on horsepower up to the twentieth century and horseshoes and nails were valued items, carefully crafted.

In 1237, it was commuted by Emma of Tewkesbury from eighteen pennies to six horse-shoes and sixty-one nails, which may have been commensurate with the value of the original rent. What is unusual is that the same horseshoes and the same nails are used every year, making these the oldest horseshoes in existence in England.

The shoes themselves are massive. much bigger and heavier than a modern shoe and flat in design. They were meant for a Flemish warhorse, a breed that has since died out but would have been larger and heavier than a modern shire horse. Each shoe is holed for ten nails rather than the usual seven. Sixty of the nails are identical, held in bunches of ten by green ribbons and counted out before the Queen’s Remembrancer during the ceremony. The extra nail, the sixty-first, is subtly different from the others, discounting the theory that it is provided merely as a spare.
In a normal quit rent the horse-shoes and nails would have to be made each year and presented accordingly, but in this case, they are not. Furthermore, the rent is rendered by the City of London, who acquired the obligation at some point, but the forge is not in the city, residing in the parish of St Clement’s Dane, just south of the Strand and therefore in the city of Westminster.

Photo: A large brown hoarding conceals a long, narrow site between Milford Lane, Maltravers Street and Water Street, while some large-scale building work goes on. The fourth side is a passageway called Tweezer’s Alley, one of my favourite London street names, and is currently inaccessible while the work is carried out. By Chris Downer (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Additional information on Tweezer’s Alley from Mike Shevdon writer of The Courts of the Feyre series of four historic fantasy books.

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 more. Thankfully much of Ivor’s work has been archived by Ian Visits and Phil Gyford.


It’s enough to make a king cross

Is it a place where monarchs line up to traverse Euston Road; where kings get angry; or perhaps the spot outside McDonald’s where a giant monument once stood commemorating the life of a very unpopular king.

Going by the cavalier use (or not) of the apostrophe in this area we would never know.

[T]he architects of the revamped frontage seem to have hedged their bets. Gone is the truly awful 1960s additions which boasted King’s Cross in 3ft high letters [featured image], today just the modest signage above various entrances written in the Underground’s trademark Johnston Sans informs us that indeed it is in a spot named after a king’s cross.

The bible of the cabbie, the A-Z gives it the possessive squiggle, while Google Maps, the new kid on the block cannot make up its mind, allowing it and then soon after taking it away.

King’s Cross Central which boasts of the improvements in the area via the web, nails its colours firmly to its mast and even sports a red apostrophe in its title.


While Kings Place, home of the politically correct Guardian newspaper resolutely refuses to accept the area has anything to do with a constitutional monarchy.

Likewise, the republicans over at Network Central favour the absent tadpole and even to accept that they are proper nouns opting for lower case cross and station.

So what are we pedants to do? Just when confusion seems to reign the Londonist have come to our aid and drawn up the definitive list for London. Anyway, I’m off to Apostrophe for a coffee.